One of the more interesting components of the newly Disney-owned “Star Wars” universe is its animated output and that output’s relationship with the former “expanded universe” of material. The “expanded universe,” comprised of all of the novels, comic books, video games, and assorted miscellanea that was officially licensed, but not one of the six “saga” films, was something that fans, for years, considered to be canon. But when Lucasfilm was bought by Disney, the company quietly shuffled all that material into a category of “Legends” (i.e. non-canon material that might have happened but isn’t part of the official timeline or mythology). With “Star Wars Rebels,” the first big post-acquisition animated series set in the canonical continuity (things like “Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Chronicles” are clearly set in a more comical alternate space), the creative team, led by Dave Filoni, have been able to have their cake and eat it too — they’ve been able to create their own original story while folding in pre-existing elements of the series (cameos from established character or voice actors, referencing major moments in the franchise, etc.) and reintroducing things that would have otherwise been discarded or relegated to the “Legends” odds-and-ends bin.
And while the live action franchise has a history of borrowing things from the animated output (Boba Fett first appeared in an animated segment of the infamous Christmas special, General Grievous was introduced in Genndy Tartakovsky‘s brilliant and weirdly underrated 2D “Clone Wars” micro-shorts), the newly-synergized “Star Wars” universe means that “Star Wars Rebels” is even more enmeshed in the narrative framework. Not only was Saw Guerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), who was introduced in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a CGI-animated series that serves as the precursor to “Star Wars Rebels,” a major character in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but several vehicles and characters from “Star Wars Rebels” popped up in the background of ‘Rogue One’ as well. These appearances offered the intriguing possibility of crossing over the finale of “Star Wars: Rebels” with the conclusion of ‘Rogue One.’
This weekend at the Star Wars Celebration panel dedicated to “Star Wars Rebels,” creator Filoni announced, to some shock, the upcoming season of the animated series would also be its last. “It’s tough. I know it’s tough,” Filoni said, pacing back and forth on the stage, wearing his trademark cowboy hat-and-T-shirt combo. And while it’s sad that the show, which was able to synthesize so much of “Star Wars” canon into an easily digestible, only occasionally unmanageable, half-hour animated series, is coming to an end, it’s exciting to think of what this final season could entail, especially given the plot revelations in season three.
In season three Darth Maul returned (it’s a long story) and sought his revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, who by this point is already stationed on Tatooine. Kenobi handily dispatches him, and at the end of the episode, Kenobi watches a young farm boy as he runs towards a small house. “It was something we’d discussed ever since Maul came back. You look at how it affects the character of Obi-Wan,” Finoli explained. “I didn’t feel right about anybody taking him out besides Obi-Wan. What became clear was it was a character arc from Maul and a character arc for Obi-Wan from the confrontation they have in ‘The Phantom Menace.'” The sequence at the end of the episode, with a young Luke, was obsessed over by Filoni and his crew, who took pains to recreate that yellowed Kodak look of the original film and even had Matt Wood, the Lucasfilm sound wizard, scour the archives to find an unused vocal track from Shelagh Fraser, who played Aunt Beru in the original film. (So that’s actually her you hear at the end of the episode calling after Luke.) “It’s all about honoring the past and the actors that came before,” Filoni said.
On the subject of returning characters, Filoni said that in addition to fan-favorite villain Grand Admiral Thrawn (a character created by novelist Timothy Zahn and rescued by Filoni from the “Legends” designation), Rebel leader Mon Mothma, who will be a version of the character “you’ve never seen,” will also be back. Once again voiced by Genevieve O’Reilly (the actress who played the character in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and, more remarkably, ‘Rogue One’), Mon Mothma will ” get a little fiery for once,” he said. “She’s a leader for a reason,” Filoni remarked. Also returning: Saw Guerrera (Whitaker will once again voice the character), who, as evidenced by the teaser trailer, is looking more like his war-beaten self from ‘Rogue One.’ “We push him a little further in this season so you see that character you saw in the movie,” Filoni said. “The ‘Rogue One’ aesthetic is what will come through.” The connections won’t end there, we’ll also see iconic landmarks like the Yavin IV Rebel base. In a panel the day before, Filoni also teased a tantalizing connection to the original trilogy. Based on design work he revealed, it seems like the beloved theory that Clone warrior Rex survived and became a Rebel soldier on the forest moon of Endor is 100% true. “He was created through a deception but he’s empowered himself and now he becomes something greater because he believes in something,” Filoni said of Rex. It was also announced at the ‘Rebel’s panel that Warwick Davis would be playing Rukh, another character from the novels, which if you have read them suggests where Thrawn’s storyline could be headed.
But the panel still left lingering questions about the more overt connective tissue to “Rogue One” (and in turn the larger mythology). In ‘Rogue One’ we saw persnickety ‘Rebels’ droid Chopper whiz by in the background of the Rebel base on Yavin IV, a whole character (Hera) was called out over the intercom (what made that even more tantalizing was that she was given a General title) and the titular Rebels’ iconic ship The Ghost is seen in the space battle above Scarif. This battle, of course, ended with the Death Star laying waste to the planet and countless Rebel soldiers. While Filoni and the cast didn’t mention any specific ties to the film, and the teaser trailer and first episode of the season didn’t give much away either, I attended a press conference afterward, where Filoni opened up … sort of.
When asked if Vader would be a part of the new season, Filoni dodged — the character has appeared on the show before, voiced by the legendary James Earl Jones. “No definitive answer,” Filoni said coyly. “You get more Thrawn.” As to the issue of Hera and her ascendancy, Filoni and his cast were marginally more open. Vanessa Marshall, who plays the character on the series, couldn’t believe Hera got a shout out in the blockbuster. “I was elated. I couldn’t feel my legs. My mind exploded. That was a life insurance policy. I was so grateful to hear that she exists,” Marshall said. “I said the other night that they were paging her because she was already warming up the Ghost. She was so ready to get it done.” Filoni then chimed in, explaining why she wasn’t in the meeting where Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) gave an impassioned explanation to Rebel high command about the Death Star and its schematics. “I thought she wouldn’t be at the briefing. I think that you know [Hera] were probably irritated because you knew what Jyn wanted to do and the council wouldn’t listen to her,” Filoni said. He then confirmed: “She’ll be a General before the end of the season. Hera is a really fun character.”
But given the death toll, wouldn’t the finale of the series have to be the battle of Scarif, from the Rebels’ point-of-view? You’d think. But in an interview with ABC News given after the panel, Filoni says no. “I wouldn’t like hanging this entire series we’ve done, and my characters, on something else we’ve already seen,” Filoni told ABC (also keep in mind that Filoni was recently placed in charge of all animation at Lucasfilm and that “Star Wars Rebels” was a spin-off/continuation of “Clone Wars,” so another series could be just around the corner.) Filoni went on: “There would have to be something really epic that my guys are doing in that [Scarif] battle. And if there was something epic, it should’ve been in the movie.” So where “Star Wars Rebels” winds up — and how many Rebels will be there by the end — remains a mystery. However, there’s one character that will survive no matter what. According to EW, an upcoming canonical short reveals the fate (or non-fate) of one key ‘Rebels’ character.
“Perhaps most intriguing to movie fans will be the story set on the Ewok moon of Endor from ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Although plot details are under wraps, Hera Syndulla from ‘Rebels’ and Princess Leia team up for an adventure with Han Solo — and lots of little furballs carrying primitive weapons. “
So, no matter what happens to the ‘Rebels,’ Syndulla survives all the way up until ‘Jedi’ at least. So, one mystery solved. What isn’t a mystery — how important ‘Rebels’ will ultimately be to the larger “Star Wars” continuum and what a continued joy it is to watch, at least for a few more episodes.