Coming out of the Star Wars Rebels panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, there was a lot to process and look back on, especially during the moments when Executive Producer Dave Filoni provided lengthy and insightful answers.
Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, and Tiya Sircar joined him and host Amy Ratcliffe on the stage, where they re-visited the journeys of their characters and certain parts of the final season.
To wrap things up, fans got a special look at the final cover for The Art of Star Wars Rebels book coming out in October.
“Kilian Plunkett drew that,” said Filoni. The cover is a less stylized version of the painting we saw during the series finale. “Kilian has been in charge of this Art of Star Wars Rebels book that they’ve been making. He asked if he could be involved and I said, ‘You go for it.’ Kilian and I have worked together now — it’s hard to believe — pretty much 14 years… He is a real, to me, force within Star Wars. He knows so much about it. He does so many little things on a daily basis to make the designs in the art department look great… I’ve given him a bunch of stuff, a bunch of sketch books. I don’t know what he’s done with it, so I’m excited… There’s so much great artwork that gets done that’s never seen. You always see the finished product, but I always liked the work behind the work on the old movies. He tried to capture a bit of that and I think he’s done it.”
It’s the perfect cover for the much-anticipated art book, especially since it looks like a family portrait. It’s evidence of how far they came together, and I can’t imagine anything else representing that journey.
You know what I love most about Star Wars Rebels? It wasn’t afraid to explore the weirder aspects of the Force and introduce mind-blowing concepts in the process. Take, for example, the Loth-wolves and their ability to transport from one location to another or acting as spiritual guides through the Force. They are a clever part of the story — even dating back to the Mortis arc, where they first appeared as a constellation — and made the events in the final season all the more fascinating.
“You always have to have a purpose or reason for doing something,” Filoni said and mentioned how he didn’t put them in there solely because the wolf is his favorite animal. There had to be a reason to bring them into the show and weave them into Ezra and Kanan’s story. “I started to think about them in a nature connection to the Force and the way the Force expresses itself and how it exists as something outside of our agency. It exists because life creates it and it surrounds us and it’s just there. And then, there is a dark and a light within nature because there’s life and death, and thus, there’s balance and that’s how the Force is… I started thinking of wolves and how they are something that’s balanced in nature. They are seen as a villainous thing. They’re also seen as something that is a beneficial thing to nature, so these ideas express themselves over and over again in real life or in stories… They’re an expression of light and dark and how Ezra and Kanan choose to interact with them defines more about their own character than the wolves themselves.”
That final sentence is significant because Ezra and Kanan learn more about themselves as a result of their interactions with the Loth-wolves. When Hera was captured, Kanan tried to go back to the city and rescue her. They stopped him from going further and that’s when he realized his attachment to Hera was clouding his judgment. When Ezra let Kanan’s death sit on his mind, they pushed him to action and reminded him how there was more at stake.
In the end, the Loth-wolves helped them discover they were essential pieces of a different part of the bigger picture. It was necessary to have something embody the Force and communicate those objectives with them, and given Ezra’s natural ability to connect with living creatures and our long history of wolf symbolism and imagery, massive space wolves was the perfect way to go.
It’s no surprise Filoni did extensive storyboarding throughout the final season in order to visually get across the story he had in mind, especially when it came to the parts related to the Force. There’s only so much you can pack into one episode, so it was crucial to get it right because the story depended on it.
“I needed them to be shot a certain way, so I would sketch constantly,” he said. “I would do all these drawings and hand them to the episodic directors and say do it like this. They shoot it beautifully, but I needed to give them insight because it was a difficult thing. And for a while, I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work, but the staging and the framing of everything helps the audience connect. And so, I really needed to have a close hand on most of what was going on in season four to really land it correctly because it was the first time we got to end a series in the animation division and there was a lot of pressure on that. It had to have a purpose, it had to have a true expression of what I was taught about Star Wars and its deeper meanings. I wanted it to resonate with George’s overall sense of structure and being for what he wanted in Star Wars.”
As he spoke about developing the story and trying to visually capture the events as he envisioned them, fans were treated to never-before-seen storyboards from season four. Some lines of dialogue were blurred out probably because many things changed between the concept and final stages, including the parts pertaining to Kanan’s story.
In a past interview, Freddie Prinze Jr. made it sound like there was more to the story and said, “You will learn, quite specifically, that where you think Kanan is from, he is not. You’ll learn where his roots and origins are and what he specifically meant to the Jedi Order. Some of this story will be told and has already been told… through hieroglyphs in a cave. And you will start to discover more of that and discover more of Kanan’s connection to the planet Lothal, which he’s even questioned himself in episodes that have aired.”
We learned about Kanan’s connection to Lothal and why he and the Ghost crew kept coming back. As for the hieroglyphs on the cave walls, we didn’t learn much about them and how that pertained to Kanan’s story, if at all. At the time, fans were theorizing Kanan was born on Lothal, making his connection to the planet that much stronger.
Looking closer at this particular set of scenes from the episode “Kindred,” they might have been right. Ezra asks Kanan, “How does the wolf know that?” after Kanan reveals his birth name is Caleb Dume. In the episode, Kanan didn’t answer Ezra’s question directly. He simply approached the Loth-wolf with his hand extended out before him and said, “It has a deep connection to the Force, to the energy of this planet.”
But in the storyboard, Kanan starts to answer Ezra’s question. He says, “Because…” and the next line is blurred out. After squinting and trying to make the words out, I believe Kanan says in the lower left-hand corner, “I was born on Lothal.” Ezra looks shocked and starts to say, “What?”
My mind could be playing tricks on me and making me see what I want to see, but I still firmly believe there was more to Kanan’s story than what we got in the final episodes. Even if that’s not the correct dialogue, the emotions playing out on the page are completely different from the final version. Both Kanan and Ezra look genuinely shocked and it’s not just because they were transported to the other side of the world via a portal summoned by the wolves.
Speaking of which, after taking a closer look at the hieroglyphs in the cave, I couldn’t help but focus on the different portals and bridges above Lothal’s Jedi Temple. Then, a crazy thought came to my mind (and it turns out, the mind of a close friend last year). What if Kanan is from a different timeline? It’s a far-fetched theory, but the idea of sending an individual from a different time to stop something from happening at another point in time isn’t all that bizarre.
All that said, whatever else they had planned for Kanan, I hope we see it resurface in the near future. It would be fascinating to learn more about him and fill in some of the gaps of his past.
Hera and Kanan’s journey
Up until recently, I thought of Hera as someone with a fully developed personality and who had her time of growth prior to the start of the series mainly because she was so sure of herself and had figured out her life goals when she was a young girl. The thing is people don’t stop growing and learning from their experiences at a certain age. Moments of growth and character development happen constantly. While Ezra, Sabine, and Kanan had more moments like that throughout the series, Hera also had a few of her own.
For the most part, she only had one thing in mind: fighting back against the Empire. She was such a rigid character because she never lost sight of that goal and she often relied on it to keep her grounded, especially when Kanan entered her life. When she finally gave into her feelings years later, it was too late, but it wasn’t a total loss.
“There seemed to be a bit of a softening of her heart,” said Marshall and mentioned how there’s strength in that. “I think she was so focused the entire time… that she wouldn’t sort of have any distractions, like romance or anything like that… When she came to sort of soften and recognize her affection for Kanan, I felt that was also emboldening in a way I wouldn’t have imagined. Sometimes it seems like you don’t have time that, but I think it made her even stronger.”
“I always felt that with Hera that she was leaning out of the relationship because… of the responsibilities she has and the bigger picture,” added Filoni. “She’s very intuitive about Kanan and the role he has to play. She’s very sure of him and she needs to get him motivated to be more than he’s being in his life. And if she gives into this attraction, it will actually make both of them stop doing this more selfless thing, which is a bigger picture… He loves in her her ability to see impossible things happen… she has a hope and a faith and a determination that’s rare, and I think that’s what sparks for him. For her, he’s this person that has all the potential in the world, but he’s not accessing it, which in a way is actually in some ways kind because he’s not using his power selfishly.”
It’s fascinating how Hera acted more like the Jedi of old than Kanan ever did, specifically in her need to not give into attachments and to do as much as possible for the bigger picture. To me, she spent most of her life on the extreme end of the spectrum and didn’t properly balance herself. Dedicating yourself to the bigger cause is an incredibly selfless thing to do, but self-care and enjoying the small things in life are also important. Otherwise, life slips by you. It’s not selfish to give into moments of love and desire. However, if you let those things dictate your actions, you end up on the other side of the spectrum as a selfish individual. Life is a constant balancing act, and everyone struggles with it, including Hera.
“Kanan is kind of just a ‘take it by the day’ guy when you meet him and then he has to come into a greater responsibility of training Ezra. Remember, it’s Hera’s idea that he should go after and train Ezra. She is the unifier. She is an important character for me in Star Wars because she’s a mother, she’s a matriarch, she is a powerful female figure that takes on the role as being a mother to all of them… I’m proud of all the characters, but Hera in general, she represents so many different things and her relationship with Kanan is just one aspect of it. That doesn’t define her, which I think is also important.”
That final sentence is critical because as fans, we often get caught up in the romance between characters. Sometimes, the romance is not even there and it solely exists in our imaginations. Regardless, the important thing to remember is how that’s just one aspect of their fictional lives. Hera and Kanan’s connection helped make them better people, but individually, they are so much more than their relationship.
Not everyone’s going to feel the same way, but I think Kanan’s death and Ezra’s subsequent disappearance were impeccably done. Some wish Kanan hadn’t died, and while his death makes me burst into tears every time I think about it, it was a necessary thing to happen. Could it have been done differently? Sure, but regardless of where or how it happened, it still had to happen because sometimes, the best way to lead is by example. Learning to let go was a crucial lesson for Ezra and everyone else, including the audience, to understand. The lesson needed to have weight for it to have an impact. Not only that, but Kanan had to serve a higher purpose through the Force because there were bigger things at play.
Both characters committed selfless acts, and in doing so, they carried out what it truly means to be a Jedi. Filoni said it best in an episode of Rebels Recon, “Jedi have the ability to turn the tide, to make a significant moment, to give hope where there’s none. That’s their ultimate role to be this example of selflessness and that’s what makes them a hero when no one else can match that heroic thing and then our job is to emulate that, to use that example and further our own lives.”
Losing a beloved character sucks, but in losing Kanan, I learned the importance of letting go. Avatar: The Last Airbender also touched on that theme, but I didn’t feel the weight of it. Kanan’s death drove that lesson home and made it abundantly clear what it means to be a Jedi because believe it or not, I didn’t really grasp the concept of a Jedi before. Sure, they have cool abilities and spend their time “keeping the peace,” but the true meaning of being a Jedi was lost on me. Kanan’s selflessness taught me that and that’s why I wouldn’t change anything about his death.
The different expressions of grief following Kanan’s final moments also felt incredibly real and relatable to me, especially Hera’s regret. There were so many things she wished she could have said or done with Kanan, but she put them aside with the thought of doing them another time — a mistake we often commit ourselves.
“By the end of it… when we got to see her regret, I think it showed all of us how important it is that we let people know how much we love them because we have no guarantees,” said Marshall, pointing out a truth we often take for granted. “I think that’s also another very important lesson that this season’s arc gave us and we all got to go through that together. So ultimately, yes, it hurt, but at the end of the day, it was well worth it and I think it impacted us in our real lives as well.”
While some may think of it as just a simple television show, there are plenty of lessons embedded in Star Wars Rebels that are essential for growth.
Sabine’s epilogue role
Years before the show ended, Filoni mentioned at a press conference how Sabine’s role would become just as important as Ezra’s role in the later seasons. We saw evidence of that through the darksaber storyline, her involvement in the liberation of Lothal, and her narration of the epilogue at the end.
Besides Ezra and Kanan, my other favorite character in Star Wars is Sabine. She started off as this “I can do anything better than you” type of character with trust issues and a dark past that not even Kanan and Hera knew about. Her story took time to grow over the course of four seasons, but once the darksaber came into the picture, that’s when things started to snowball more dramatically for her.
“When I first started, I thought of Sabine as obviously a total badass,” said Sircar and added how Sabine appeared to be someone who was wise beyond her years. “I would forget that she was only 16 when we started this story because she was so capable and so fearless. Just so cool and calm under pressure. As the seasons went on, I realized she wasn’t quite as wise beyond her years as I thought she was. She did have sort of immaturities and insecurities. I came to realize that over time because I saw her grow as a person… And I think it sort of culminated in my mind when she decides to give up the darksaber. I think that was sort of an ultimate act of strength and maturity and knowing that she could do it… but she knows that there’s someone that’s more capable and is the person that actually deserves this and can do what they need to do with it. She has the strength of mind and character to know that and do what she knows she needs to do.”
Plenty of fans out there would have much preferred the idea of Sabine keeping the darksaber and leading her people, but Sircar said it best. Sometimes, a sign of maturity and growth is accepting when there’s someone else more capable of getting the job done. I also appreciate how the writers put Sabine on an unexpected route because the fan expectation for her at the time was to go back home and help restore Mandalore. While she did play a hand in the early stages by passing the darksaber over to Bo-Katan, I like how her path went somewhere else entirely. Mandalore has its warriors to defend her, but Sabine’s calling is different.
“By that point in the show, your voice had become the other hero voice,” Filoni told Sircar during the panel. “And Sabine had earned that across the show. You earned that. While it was important that the show started as Ezra’s show and it ended as his show, it really sets Sabine up as this other character that became very formative as we went. We discovered so much about her, and your performance brought so much of that out. It was a very natural thing and a way to express this other character’s voice at the end.”
As for how things unfolded for Sabine in the epilogue, some people had issues with it because they thought it took away from Sabine’s overall story. I thought it was a beautiful ending for someone who comes from a warring culture. A favorite scene of mine between Ezra and Sabine is when they’re overlooking the devastated landscape of Mandalore in the episode “Heroes of Mandalore.” She said she never saw grass grow on the planet because it never had a chance to grow back. The constant warring made it difficult for the planet to restore itself. Lothal, on the other hand, had a chance to grow back, and like a work of art, she helped mold Lothal into the place it should have been prior to Imperial occupation.
Even more importantly is how she went from someone with abandonment and trust issues to an individual who learned the importance of having a support system. She will always be part of Ezra’s support system and vice versa because they’ve been through thick and thin together. They trust and depend on each other, and the last thing she wants to do is break that trust. So, what does she do? She goes off into the unknown in hopes of honoring that friendship and bringing Ezra home.
While I would have given anything to see a direct continuation, I like the open-ended nature of the series finale. It allows people to dream up their own story, and I’m a huge fan of anything that promotes having an active imagination.
“I like stories that continue… I get really bummed out when they end. And so, one of the things I really wanted to do — and this is from my childhood, when I grew up watching this TV series Robotech. And one of my favorite things about it was it ends in the first part of the Macross saga with this cliffhanger and you just don’t know really what happened to the main characters… part of the fun of stories is imagining what happened. And so, I felt it a very hopeful to see Sabine still kind of riding off towards the sunset as you see in so many cowboy films or different films, the hero continues on their journey sometimes and that’s what I was trying to convey. It’s just our horse is a spaceship and the sunset is the stars.”
World between worlds
A Force-infused place where all timelines from the past, present, and future converge and exist is one of those far out and original concepts that sits up there with the Mortis arc from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It’s bizarre, but at the same time, it’s proof Star Wars continues to bring genuine wonder to audiences decades later.
Some have a tough time wrapping their minds around it because instead of answering one question, it brings up a dozen more questions.
“Is there a place? Is it in your mind? People want to know these things, I appreciate that,” said Filoni, beating around the bush but eventually getting to the heart of the matter. “For me to explain it is just so not as interesting as watching the show again and again and again. Everything I really learned from Star Wars, I learned watching George’s movies. It’s all in there. It’s not a mystery, if you pay attention and if you ask yourself the right questions and the answers are provided. The answers are all in there. Sometimes, you just have to redefine the way you think something is. Is it being literal or not?… Is that a real place? Is it all in his mind? None of that means it’s not real if it’s happening.”
We already know the answer to some of these questions. Sure, it could have been a figment of Ezra’s imagination, but we know from the episode that it is real and the event has real repercussions. Ezra physically disappeared behind a portal, he pulled Ahsoka from her timeline (who later met up with Sabine), and Palpatine sought to enter this mystical place for himself.
That said, Filoni brings up an excellent point about redefining one’s way of thinking. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, after he meets death at the hands of Voldemort, Harry has a conversation with Dumbledore at a heavenly-like King’s Cross station. Harry asks if what he’s experiencing is real or whether it’s all in his head. Dumbledore says, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Whether it happened in Ezra’s head or happened in reality, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take away from the fact that it happened. It doesn’t take away from the more important lesson Ezra had to learn about letting go. It’s a lesson we all should learn at one point or another and not just for letting go earthly attachments, but also to let go of our perceptions of reality.
Filoni also mentioned how one of his childhood stories was the inspiration behind the world between worlds, “For me, one of the inspiration points was definitely in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, when he talks about a wood between worlds. I was fascinated by that concept as a child and how you can go to this place between places…”
In The Magician’s Nephew, protagonists Digory and Polly enter a wooded area — an in-between place — filled with puddles that act as portals or gateways to other worlds. This state of “limbo” is a fascinating concept, and I can understand why Filoni created something similar for Ezra’s story. People who show up in these in-between places, like Harry at King’s Cross station, Digory and Polly in the woods, or Ezra in the world between worlds, are presented with life-altering choices. They’re also quiet places of reflection. Should Harry board the train or come back to the world of the living? Should Digory and Polly jump back home to their own world or jump into another puddle? Should Ezra save Kanan or learn to let go?
Selfless vs. Selfish
Star Wars has different meanings for everyone. Some say it’s about hope. Others stress it’s about family. It’s subjective and there’s no wrong answer. After watching Star Wars Rebels and using that as a way to analyze the rest of the saga, Star Wars, to me, is about selflessness versus selfishness.
“In the end, it’s really about — again, fundamentally — becoming selfless more so than selfish,” said Filoni. “And it seems so simple, but it’s so hard to do. When you’re tempted by the dark side, you don’t overcome it once in life and then you’re good. It’s a constant. And that’s what really Star Wars is about and what George wanted people to know. To be a good person and to really feel better about your life and experience life fully, you have to let go of everything you fear to lose because then you can’t be controlled. But when you fear, fear is the path to the dark side. It’s also the shadow of greed because greed makes you covet things… you surround yourself with all these things that make you feel comfortable in the moment, but they don’t really make you happy. And then when you’re afraid of something, it makes you angry. When you’re angry, you start to hate something. Sometimes, you don’t even know why. When you hate, do you often know why you hate? No, you direct it at things and then you hate it. It’s hard because anger can be a strength at times, but you can’t use it in such a selfish way. It can be a destroyer then. These are the core things in Star Wars, and in the end, it’s a question for Ezra. Can he do what might seem like a selfish thing and change time and space and rescue his mentor? Or should he let that go? Would having the power to do that be the right thing to do? And there are always traps and tricks, especially when the Emperor’s concerned because if he pulls Kanan out of that moment, they’re all going to die. Ahsoka can see that, but Ezra can’t. Those are the things he’s wrestling with.”
And those are the things we constantly see throughout Star Wars. In Star Wars Resistance, Kaz selflessly volunteers himself for Poe’s mission on Castilon because he wants to help the Resistance’s cause. In Rebels, Maul’s selfishness and obsession with finding Kenobi ultimately leads to his demise. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jyn turns her apathy into selfless action. And in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren chooses a path of self-interest instead of joining the selfless path with Rey. Will he continue to be selfish or will he motivate himself to become selfless in the final film of the saga?
“Twilight of the Apprentice” storyboards
Ask any Star Wars Rebels fan what are some of their top favorite episodes and most of them will mention “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Not only does it give us the long-awaited meeting between Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano, but it’s a major turning point for both Kanan and Ezra.
The setting is also unlike anything we’ve seen before. Ezra, Ahsoka, and Kanan stumble upon an ancient battle ground and in the distance is a Sith temple, but the ceiling has a star-like effect that helps shed some light on the past.
“I was obsessed with the idea that when you are in the underworld the ceiling looked like stars, and it was an area of light coming into darkness,” said Filoni.
Besides it looking cool, the streaks of light plunging into depths of darkness is reminiscent of the symbolism we often see in Star Wars and how there is often light even in the darkest hearts.
He also added, “I wanted there to be a sense of age and time and history to it, so it seemed like a great place… a foreboding place. At one point, I had more of a cemetery kind of place in mind and then I decided it was the aftermath of a battle. Part of it is also stepping Ezra into this world and seeing the clash between Jedi and Sith and good and evil on a much larger scale than he’s used to seeing.”
It’s easy to forget how Ezra hasn’t been exposed to many of the things Ahsoka experienced growing up. Sure, she wasn’t involved in epic battles between the Jedi and Sith, but she fought alongside the Jedi in a variety of large-scale war scenarios against the Separatists. Ezra has only heard stories and hearing about them pales in comparison to witnessing them in person. At Malachor, he’s able to see with his own eyes the aftermath of an extensive battlefield between forces he’s just beginning to learn about.
It may not mean anything profound to him at that moment, but as fan of his character, I appreciate the variety of places and situations Ezra gets placed in because it makes his journey all the more interesting. Malachor, joining two holocrons, traveling the world between worlds — not many people can say they’ve been there and done that.
Kallus and redemption
Before the panel ended, Filoni touched on the subject of redemption. It’s a term often seen in conversation on social media, especially with the final Star Wars film coming out later this year. A main question people keep asking is will Kylo Ren see the light and change himself for the better? Some people want it to happen. Others don’t. At the end of the day, the decision ultimately comes from the character.
When Zeb and Kallus exchanged their thoughts and experiences on that icy moon in “The Honorable Ones,” the writers seized the opportunity and had Kallus gradually choose a different path for himself, which eventually led him to become a Fulcrum agent. But how is it that someone deep within the Empire easily becomes an integral part of the Rebellion?
“Desperate times, they have to take a chance, they have to believe in somebody,” said Filoni. “I think that in a lot of ways Zeb vouching for him is a really big deal, and Zeb would vouch for him. I think part of Zeb’s path is going from anger and hating somebody that he has a very good reason to [hate] to learning and humanizing that person when they’re in the ice cave… and if Zeb can’t forgive him, what’s the point in the end? So they have to take a chance and trust Kallus, and Kallus comes through. Kallus doesn’t see the evil that he’s supporting at first, but he comes to understand it and it’s too much for him, so he chooses a different way. There’s redemption for most characters, if not all characters in the Star Wars films and there’s an arc and a path of when they let go of being selfish.”
I put those parts in bold because they’re essential. Going back to Kylo Ren, if fans want to see him become Ben Solo again, he has to first understand the evil he’s part of and representing before letting go of his selfish thoughts and behaviors. Kallus gave up his position as an ISB agent as well as his thirst for tyrannical order in favor of a more selfless future by helping those in need. There is no doubt Star Wars characters on selfish paths have room for redemptive arcs, but they have to find themselves in the position to want change and to transform that selfishness into selflessness. Will he make it happen in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? We’ll have to wait and see.
For now, it’s safe to say the Rebels Remembered panel at Celebration Chicago was my favorite. It made me all the more excited for the Art of Star Wars Rebels book coming out in October, but most importantly, it reminded me how Rebels continues to provide so much insight into the story at large.
(Images: Lucasfilm, TWG)