I don’t think I’m alone in recognizing that this fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels was its best yet. Instead of a handful of standalone episodes and mini-arcs, all of which had their moments of greatness intermixed with moments of sheer mediocrity (and outright awfulness), this fourth season opted for more or less a season-long arc–an arc which began with “The Occupation” (right when I stopped writing reviews for this site, natch), in which the Ghost crew return to Lothal to investigate intel of a new TIE Defender. This led to some amazing moments: tense chases from an actual effective henchman named Rukh; deep spiritual Force connections with Loth-Wolves; the appearance of many previous recurring characters; an intriguing expansion of the Force as a mechanism to literally control time and space; and the most important moment of the season–the self-sacrifice of Kanan Jarrus.
That moment was an unexpected narrative game-changer. It was a powerful, potent event that provided the season, and honestly the show as a whole, with real major stakes. It forced the remaining Ghost crew to process their grief and reestablish their relationships to each other and the rebellion as a whole. Zeb and Sabine double down on their fighting prowess and acumen (becoming particularly badass in “A Fool’s Hope,” which I’ll get to in a bit). Hera, who always had been guarded with her emotions, regrets opening up to Kanan so late, only to steel her resolve and continue her fight against the Empire–and in effect break past her reluctance to allow others to do the same. And Ezra... woah, boy. The young Padawan had certainly gone on a journey during his time of grief, a journey which included delving into a pure metaphysical space within the Force itself, providing the Star Wars canon-expanding idea of literally controlling all life, death, time, and space through it. (The episode doesn’t explore that concept too thoroughly, and I suspect that’s because the logistics of that within the canon might be too much for the show to handle so late in the run, but it’s there now, and maybe worth exploring down the line?)
But I can’t get too much into that, since this review is primarily focused on these last two episodes (but please, talk about the season in comments!). “A Fool’s Hope” is more of an action-packed calm before the emotional-impact storm that is “Family Reunion–and Farewell,” but they flow together quite well, especially if you take stock of how Ezra has become all but become a true Jedi. “A Fool’s Hope” isn’t a weak episode by any means, but it is a bit more straight-forward than some of the other high points this season. It’s filled with explosions, shoot-outs, and some pretty slick double-crosses and twists that keeps the scant narrative on its toes. The overall plan to sneak into the Dome (the central Imperial headquarters of Capital City on Lothal) is pretty wild, but in order to do that, Ryder Azadi pretends to give up the rebels’ location, in order to lure Governor Pryce to them. (We can quibble over the likelihood of the plan succeeding, such as wondering what would the rebels do if Pryce decided not to personally go, but we could chalk that up to Azadi having a pretty good hunch reading his ostensible rival. Besides, we certainly don’t want to have yet another endless debate on rebel plans that assume too many assured outcomes).
Pryce’s arrival and the battle around it is really a directors’ showcase: Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching provide a tight, serviceable script, but it’s Dave Filoni and Saul Ruiz’s direction that stands out. “A Fool’s Hope” amasses a Who’s Who of past characters–Rex and the clones, Azadi, Cikatro Vizago, Hondo Ohnaka, and even Ketsu Onyo and Mart Mattin for... reasons–and has them going toe-to-toe with the encroaching Imperial army, resulting in some impressive action scenes. Sabine and Zeb really get the best moments: the Mandalorian takes out a number of aerial Stormtroopers with her jetpack and some fantastic flying, while the Lasat hulks out and takes down several troops with a really large gun. There’s a lot of great visual moments, but the quiet reveal of Ezra as the originator of the entire plan–and the notable control he maintains in running things, giving orders, and fighting against Rukh–is the real highlight. The overall action masks his leadership skills, really up until the reveal of him unleashing the Loth-Wolves (indicated by the header image). It all clicks into place. Ezra is driving his own destiny.
With that and the subsequent episode “Family Reunion–and Farewell,” i becomes clear: this is Ezra’s journey, from mourning his apprentice, to his sense of loss within the Force-world, to accepting his true responsibility of becoming a Jedi. Unlike previous episodes of this series, this all happens in the “now” (as opposed to visions and dreams and other internal conflicts made all too mystic, vague, and visual). Ezra makes intense, hard choices–choices that seem to have been developed through his meditation, paralleling the ones Kanan made before his death. His meditation allows him to see the many paths that opened up before him, and he chose the toughest one, the one that would most likely allow the scant remaining rebels to succeed in their risky plan: infiltrate the Dome using Pryce as their way in, gather all the Imperial troops into said Dome with a fake emergency evacuation recall, launch said Dome, and then blow it up sky high. It’s sounds crazy, even made tougher when Thrawn returns and reacts by threatening to blast the surface of Lothal, and all the people on it, into oblivion.
What follows at first is the basic story beats of a typical Star Wars Rebels episode, one in which the various rebels come up with insane plans to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In this case, it would be to fight through the tons of Imperial troops that they themselves summoned back to the Dome (as Zeb hilariously recognized) in order to raise the planetary defense shields to protect the populace from Thrawn’s bombardment. But that only occurs when Ezra makes the silent, poignant decision to give himself up to Thrawn. Once again, the direction by Dave Filoni, Bosco Ng, and Sergio Paez sells this moment, as Ezra quietly fades into the background to sneak off as everyone else begins to strategize. (Remember how Ezra used to yell over everyone to make his voice and points heard during these strategy sessions?) Only Sabine notices this, and accepts it, understanding that that distraction is what’s needed for the rebels to have any chance in succeeding.
I don’t mean to dismiss the Dome battle for those space generators. It is really good action (although the action in “A Fool’s Hope” is a bit more dynamic). Some significant moments do occur. Rex’s teammate Gregor is killed. Zeb takes out Rukh finally by trapping him against the charging generators. Hondo and Melch’s antics add a bit of levity to everything. But it’s hard not to compare that to what Ezra goes through. After standing up to Thrawn, he’s presented to the Emperor and provided an opportunity (that is, a temptation) to be reunited with his parents just by opening up the pathway to that Force-world from the excellent “A World Between Worlds.” The boy is tempted, but he not only manages to resist it, he takes down the portal, resists the Emperor, and fights off those red-clad Imperial guards by Force-pushing the rubble of the pathway on top of them. This allows the rebels to boot up the shield generators right before Thrawn’s final bombardment, and allows for Ezra’s super secret plan to come to fruition.
The return of those goddamn Space Whales.
I spent a lot of watching season four pretty enamored with how it was developing, and I more than once said out loud, “Well, we’re sure a far cry from the episode about those Space Whales!” (Yes, I know they’re officially called Purrgil). It looks like the writers–which include Dave Filoni, Henry Gilroy, Kiri Hart, Simon Kinberg, and Steven Melching–were a step ahead of me. I don’t know how far in advanced this was planned. But it is so fitting that these creatures would return to save the day–to stop Thrawn and destroy all those Imperial ships with incredible ease. Ezra has always had a deep connection with animals in particular: the Loth-Cats, the Loth-Wolves, the Convors, the Purrgil. They’ve all helped him in some way, responding to his circumstances. And now they’ve come to assist Ezra one last time, right as the Padawan makes the purely Jedi decision to sacrifice himself to restrain Thrawn and hyperspace jump with the creatures far into the unknown. It is an incredibly powerful moment, narratively and visually paralleling the sacrifice Kanan made five episodes earlier. Writing about it is genuinely getting me choked up. Even the remaining rebels can’t help but stare off in disbelief, before finally regaining the sense to finish the job.
So it goes: the rebels launch the Dome and escape just in time to watch the massive craft explode in mid-air. The streets of Lothal are filled with celebration as the crew watches from above. It is an amazing, celebratory moment, even as the bittersweet sting of the departed Jedi hangs in the air, which includes both Kanan and Ezra. In the months (years?) to come, a much different Sabine reflects on the events in the post-Occupation era: Zeb shows Kallus the new home world of his people, and Hera continues to fly in a post-war universe, along with her son (which... raises some questions). Sabine herself, however, joins Ahsoka (rocking some sick new robes) to find Ezra, who confided in Sabine a level of trust that goes beyond any sense of camaraderie or family that the crew developed over all these seasons. Her mural is a symbol of their lives through some of the toughest, craziest moments of their fight against the Empire. Now they, and the show itself, have gone their separate ways. Star Wars Rebels has had a rocky run for sure, but it absolutely finished strong, the Force guiding our heroes far into the unknown, just like Star Wars itself.
- I know I missed a ton of stuff from these last two episodes, let alone the season as a whole. Please talk about them in the comments!
- Just a quick aside: I liked The Last Jedi quite a bit, although I kind of had the thought that it was very... for the lack of a better word, “televisual”? This isn’t meant to trigger an argument between the merits of TV and film, but I just wondered how much of The Last Jedi could have explored more in depth in a mini-series format.
- Other than a faint memory of Kanan lightly holding onto Hera’s shoulder during one emotional moment, Star Wars Rebels makes the bold choice not to have any spiritual version of the Jedi appear to anyone, not even to Ezra himself. Ironically, that makes his (non)presence in the final two episodes even more significant.
- Another indication Ezra has gone “full Jedi”: the clones take orders from him.
- Ezra saved Ahsoka from that final battle with Darth Vader way back in “Twilight of the Apprentice” in a strong moment during “A World Between Worlds.” It’s fitting she would go off to find Ezra at the end. I do wish she and Ezra had more time to connect with each other over the course of this show though.
- Ketsu Onyo appears in both episodes, but primarily as a glorified cameo. It’s a waste of Gina Torres, really. At the very least she and Sabine should have had some kind of conversation.
- Mart Mattin was the one who was assigned in contacting the Purrgil. I’m not sure why he was chosen specifically. I think it’s because he reflects Ezra’s past cocky attitude the closest? I guess that’s fine but this show has way better characters it could have chosen from.
- Rukh was annoying, but in a good way, the kind of outlier villain that keeps popping up and antagonizing the rebels despite everyone thinking he’s dead. It made his final demise all the more sweeter.
- Governor Pryce is the latest in a number of desperate Imperial bureaucrats who, in their arrogance and self-interest, fall victim to their hubris. Pryce never really got much characterization but she did come across like a true believer in the Empire, which makes the final defiant shot of her (before being evaporated in the Dome explosion) somewhat admirable.
- God, I would kill for an Ahsoka/Sabine team-up show in which the two travel across the galaxy doing good deeds while trying to find Ezra.