‘Star Wars Rebels’ is a Surprising Masterpiece, And We’re Devastated That It’s Done

Star Wars Rebels has officially ended, with the 90-minute series finale having aired on Monday, March 5. It was only four seasons, but there is a serious argument to be made that Disney’s biggest intellectual success with the Star Wars franchise was the kids’ cartoon show they ran on Disney XD. The movies have made far more money, of course, but while there is some division among fans with the films there seems to be universal praise for Rebels.

It was a fitting end, however. Dave Filoni and crew wrapped things up nicely, gave a little fan-service with a cool cameo, and ended with the cherry on top of their masterpiece. Let’s take a look back at Rebels, including what it did for the greater Star Wars universe, how it all came together at the end, and how Disney could use it to transition into their next series.

A brief look back

Star Wars Rebels's Ghost crew in season 3.
Star Wars Rebels | Disney XD

Star Wars Rebels started with the Ghost crew on Lothal, picking up a rebellious 15-year-old kid with no love for the Empire. What evolved from there was a Master and Padawan relationship between Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger that was worth tuning in each week, all on its own. But the greater story focused on the team, with Kanan, Ezra, Hera Syndulla, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper getting into trouble while fighting back against the Empire any way possible.

That eventually transformed into the Ghost crew becoming true parts of the organized rebellion. But we knew, given the established timeline being so close to the beginning of the original trilogy, that not everyone could make it out of Rebels alive. When Yoda dies in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, he informs Luke that he is the last Jedi. So what would become of Kanan and Ezra as they fight to save Lothal?

Next: Tying Rebels to the movies. 

Tying it all together

Kanan and Ezra holding lightsabers.
Fans love seeing all the story arcs connecting in this series. | Disney XD

From this point forward, be warned that spoilers are ahead. The really cool thing about Rebels is the way that it ties everything in Star Wars together. Just the movies, on their own, leave massive gaps between the trilogies. Between the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope is a gap of 20 years, which was mostly unexplored in canon prior to the debut of Rebels. This period covers the majority of the time that the Empire reigned over the galaxy.

Rebels gave us the context that helps enhance the original trilogy even more, in retrospect. We see the day-to-day battle between the people and the Empire in a way that George Lucas never was able to show us in the movies. That’s not necessarily his fault, given that he had only so much screen time to tell his story. But that extra bit of context from Rebels helps.

Even Revenge of the Sith, though often underrated by fans in that it’s unfairly lumped in with the awful two prequels that preceded it, is made better by Rebels. Although it’s clear that the fall of the Republic and Anakin Skywalker is a turning point in Star Wars history, Rebels shows you why.

Next: Expanding our knowledge.

Filling in the gaps in Star Wars

Death Maul in a hologram.
All your questions are answered. | Disney XD

In a similar way, Rebels (and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which preceded it) fills in other gaps in Star Wars. There is only so much that we can see and understand about the Force, the Empire, and the Rebellion in the films. Again, the screen time is limited and a greater story must be told. Because of this, Rebels has helped diehard fans to a better understanding of the minutiae of the greater universe.

Take, for example, the existence of the Bendu — a Force entity that resides neither on the light or dark side. Or how about the Loth wolves, who appear to have a connection to both the Force and Ezra? Characters such as Ahsoka Tano were created in Clone Wars and expanded upon in Rebels. Darth Maul, who was so unceremoniously killed off at the end of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, returned during Clone Wars and saw his story come to an end on Rebels.

The show has allowed us to learn so much about the history of the Jedi Order, the ins and outs of the building of the Rebellion, and previously-unknown characters such as Governor Pryce, Commander Sato, and Agent Kallus. Possibly the coolest gap that Rebels filled was bringing Grand Admiral Thrawn out of the books and into canon.

Next: That excellent cameo.

The return of Emperor Palpatine

Emperor Palpatine in front of blue flames.
Emperor Palpatine | Disney XD

The last few episodes of Rebels featured the return of Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, even if the character wasn’t physically in the presence of our heroes at any time. Palpatine appeared via hologram, even appearing as his pre-disfigurement self in a scene with Ezra. It was all part of a trick that Bridger wouldn’t fall for, however.

Bringing back McDiarmid as the Emperor felt notable for a few reasons. First, it was the first time the actor has reprized the role since Revenge of the Sith, at least in TV or movies. But second, it’s well-established that the Emperor is notoriously reclusive. His ability to rule the galaxy from behind a curtain is part of what makes him so hard to take down and terrifying to outsiders. Having Palpatine back to play a role in the end of Rebels was significant, and it’s a testament to the larger role these characters have played in the Star Wars universe.

Next: Ezra’s fate is revealed… kind of.

Ezra survived, kind of?

Ezra bridger hloding a lightsaber.
Ezra Bridger | Disney XD

With Kanan gone, the final big question for Rebels was whether Ezra would survive. After all, Luke is the last of the Jedi during the time of the original trilogy, right? How can Luke and Ezra both exist, given Yoda’s documented knowledge of Bridger, if Skywalker is the last Jedi? This is where Rebels somewhat reached, but it’s understandable why they may have done so.

Rather than killing off their lead character, Rebels sent Ezra — and Thrawn — out into oblivion. Space whales grabbed onto the Star Destroyer which held both characters and made the leap into hyperspace. The implication is that our hero is still alive and out there, somewhere, but the rebels have no way to track him down.

It’s probably a bit much to expect a cartoon marketed for kids to kill off both Kanan and Ezra, the two main characters. Rebels had to reconcile their story with the rest of the established canon, which is that after Yoda’s death no other Jedi remained other than Luke. Keeping Ahsoka alive is fine because, in her own words, she’s no longer a Jedi.

Maybe Ezra is so far gone that Yoda can no longer feel his presence? Maybe he’s no longer in the known galaxy? It’ll be interesting to find out, if we ever do, what happened with Ezra’s story.

Next: Closure for the rest of the rebels.

Jumping ahead

Jane smiling and looking upwards.
Jacen Syndulla | Disney XD

The last few moments of Rebels jumped ahead a few years. We don’t know exactly how far away the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were from the siege of Lothal, but it’s safe to say it was within a few months. Fast forward a bit to the end of Return of the Jedi, which is where we find that Sabine has remained on Lothal to help protect the planet should the Empire ever return.

There are a couple of cool little reveals in the final minutes, and that includes Ahsoka’s return, Rex’s retrofitted cameo in Return of the Jedi, and Hera and Kanan’s son Jacen — seriously, when did Hera get pregnant? It’s implied that Ahsoka and Sabine, in the wake of the downfall of the Empire, are heading off to find Ezra together. Could that be the start of a new TV show?

Next: What does Rebels’ end mean for Disney and Star Wars?

Where do they go now?

Wedge looking angrily ahead.
What will happen next? | Disney XD

The final question that Rebels leaves ambiguous is whether the events of the finale will somehow play into a new show on Disney XD. It would be torturous for Filoni to simply leave Ezra and Thrawn’s story as is, without at least explaining where they went. Is Jacen Syndulla a Force sensitive child, and what could be his role in the expanding timeline that currently features the First Order and the Resistance?

Rebels created a ton of new avenues for Star Wars to explore. That means more TV shows, movies, novels, comic books, and video games. There will be no shortage of Star Wars media in the coming years, and why not? Despite the grumbling about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the franchise is as popular as ever. That’s thanks in large part to Filoni’s masterpiece, Rebels.

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