For the first time since, arguably, Return of the Jedi, there’s been a proper ending in a galaxy far, far away. After four seasons, Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: Rebels has come to a close, or at least a premeditated line of demarcation between it and the future of the animated Star Wars saga.
The Star Wars that Rebels leaves behind is vastly different than the Star Wars it entered into in 2014, more than a year before the premiere of The Force Awakens. Looking at what Star Wars was then and is now, and considering the now completed story of the Ghost crew in its entirety, we can already gleam some sense of the legacy the (admittedly fantastic) Band-Aid Disney slapped on their unjust, premature cancellation of The Clone Wars will leave behind.
Star Wars: Rebels was the debut of a new era of Star Wars, the post-Lucas, Disney era, and it proved to be a smart, capable and worthy successor, but also a very appropriate one. The end of the Lucas era, the end of Star Wars made by the maker, was The Clone Wars, so it’s fitting that that ending would dovetail into the beginnings of the Star Wars we have today. In many ways, notably the oversite of Lucas’ heir-apparent Supervising Director/Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Rebels was the strain of current-day Star Wars that best carried on Lucas’ adventurous, if divisive, storytelling sensibilities. The show doesn’t skimp on TIE Fighters, which are starting to feel like an incessant nostalgia bell Disney rings throughout its every Star Wars entry, but Rebels was never content to rest on the past glories of the Star Wars franchise. It continually blazed forward, broadening the canvas of what Star Wars can be right through to its finale. The show often engaged with and introduced ideas and concepts that felt jarring, or goofy, or even heretical, challenging the notions of what the Star Wars universe encompassed. Not the controversial character decisions or shocking identity revelations that haunt the theories and vitriol of fans, but big, grand ideas of cosmic and mythological scope. Ideas about what a Jedi is, about what the Force is. It went weird, real weird, and profound, and Star Wars as a whole is more nuanced because of it.
But Rebels was also distinctly effective because of its smaller scale. Where Clone Wars was something of an anthology series bouncing across a sprawling cast spread around the entire galaxy, Rebels stuck like glue to a regular cast of characters, largely on one planet.
While I personally got a little sick of Lothal and relished any chance to see more exotic locales, the show’s focus on one planet lends a viewpoint of the Empire and the Rebellion that Star Wars viewers previously haven’t been exposed to. We’ve always known the Empire were bad guys because they blew up a planet and because the good guys fought them. But Rebels showed us what the Empire looks like on a Monday. It showed us what the Empire looks like to a fruit vendor, to a neighborhood, to a local government. In Rebels we got the day-to-day Empire.
Similarly, we got a better understanding of the Rebel Alliance and its severe limitations. What does the existence of some rumored band of radicals mean to one person on one subjugated planet amongst many? What does that one person mean to the Rebel Alliance? Rebels provides thoughtful insight into the conflict the world was first introduced to in 1977. It isn’t information you need to know to understand the Star Wars films, but if you’re curious, the information is there and it’s been presented with the same amount of thought and care that goes into the films.
Rebels won’t hold the same place in my heart as The Clone Wars, which is very likely more a matter of timing than of either show’s inherent qualities, but as with its predecessor, Rebels has given me some of my favorite moments and characters in all of Star Wars. Where Clone Wars had the daunting task of carrying the torch for the entire Star Wars franchise in its day, Rebels carried the torch for something more fleeting, more specific, that adventurous, beyond-the-establishment spirit that ran through all of George Lucas’ Star Wars, that urge to move the conventions and mechanisms of storytelling forward.
Rebels has now also given viewers something Disney’s Star Wars has yet to confront: something like an ending. And what an ending it was. The finale of Rebels was so exciting and well executed that it heightened the show as a whole, highlighting just how complete a story the series had been all along. Much as you don’t need to see Rebels to enjoy Rogue One, you don’t need Revenge of the Sith or A New Hope to enjoy Rebels. It’s a story with its own beginning and ending, its own heroes, its own challenges, mysteries and revelations. Whatever Lucasfilm Animation does next, if the folks behind Rebels are involved it’ll be well worth watching.