Season One of Star Wars Rebels has come to an end, and all things considered, they had a pretty great first season. I certainly wasn’t expecting to completely fall in love with a new Star Wars cartoon, especially not to the point that it would actually compel me to go back and sit through the mostly dreadful five-and-a-half seasons of The Clone Wars so I could better contextualize this show. I also never expected that in the 14 weeks we spent with this show, the team at Lucasfilm would have the confidence to completely shake up its status quo heading into its second season. Now, all that’s left is to speculate wildly about these changes and how they will impact the show when it returns this fall, so of course that’s exactly what I’m here to do.
Just to cover all the bases here, I’m going to point out the obvious by saying that, yes, this article will spoil the entirety of Star Wars Rebels Season One, so if you haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to pick up the full season of the show from either Amazon or iTunes, or, if you (unlike me) already have a cable package you should be able to watch the episodes for free on WatchDisneyXD.com.
Anyway, as I mentioned in my review for Rebels’ Season One finale, there are a few major events that take place right at the end of the episode that are going to have dramatic repercussions on the series moving forward. First is the death of the Inquisitor and the introduction of Darth Vader as (presumably) Season Two’s “big bad.”
This is an interesting development on a number of levels, the show’s M.O. up to this point has been to keep our heroes skating along the edges of the major Star Wars narrative we’re all familiar with – bumping into recognizable characters from time to time, but always staying somewhat isolated in their own story. The creation of the Inquisitor as a character in the first place reflects this goal. The Ghost crew’s story is too periphery for direct involvement from the big guns of the Empire, so we have them face off against mid-level threats like Agent Kallus and the Inquisitor – characters that have ties to the major players in the Star Wars story, but are not directly involved in it. This changed, though, in the last few episodes. First, Grand Moff Tarkin shows up, sidelines Agent Kallus and Minister Tua and has the Inquisitor kill off the show’s other recurring, low-level Imperial goons. Now, the Inquisitor himself is dead and Darth Vader has stepped in to fill his place. Kallus and (as far as I know) Tua are still around, but they’re not calling the shots anymore. The two primary villains from the original Star Wars are now also the big bads for Rebels going into its second season.
On one hand, this could be incredibly exciting. For the last 35 years, the menace of Darth Vader has been gradually chipped away. He went from the iconic pop culture villain, to a regretful old man, to an annoying moppet, to a whiny, beta male MRA Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, the redemption arc in the original trilogy works, but if you look at it in the context of the whole series, the redemption of Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi was just the first step in a trend that would go on to completely undermine Star Wars’ image of Vader as this ruthless, unfeeling agent of evil. As much as I ended up liking the Inquisitor as a villain, I’ll admit to feeling somewhat disappointed to find out that Vader was pawning off the task of hunting down the surviving Jedi to some lackey. Now, though, we have a chance to see Vader as mean and as scary as we has in 1977, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
On the other hand, I do worry about the stories of the Ghost crew being overwhelmed by a Clone Wars-like tendency to dive into the mythology and world building of Star Wars at the expense of its characters and stories. I don’t want the arrival of Vader and Tarkin to pull focus away from our ragtag band. I want to spend more time exploring the relationships of the Ghost crew and their stories and less time on the construction of the Death Star or Vader’s hunt for surviving Jedi. Sure, as a fan I’m interested in those things, but the show is about the crew of the Ghost, and it needs to continue to be about them, not just an excuse to tell more stories about the Skywalkers.
And that leads me to another major development: the Ghost crew meeting, for the first time, other rebel cels. Again, this is both exciting and potentially worrisome (are you sensing a theme here?). The show is called “Rebels,” so the promise has always been that we would see, in some form or another, the formation of the Rebel Alliance, and this is our first big step to fulfilling that promise. I think about the possibilities of seeing how our heroes react to becoming part of this larger world and having greater purpose and responsibility, but again, this moves the show further away from the periphery and into the core Star Wars narrative. Dave Filoni has promised that in Season Two, we’ll be spending more time away from Lothal and that the scope of the show will be much bigger, but I have to admit, I was kind of fond of Rebels’ smallness. I don’t want the show to be too big, I don’t want the scale of a full Star Wars movie. I want a more intimate exploration of that galaxy, narrowing in on the things we don’t get to see when we’re caught up in these grand, operatic tales of good versus evil. Rebels is a story about how ordinary people live their lives in the face of these conflicts that are so much bigger than them, and it should remain about that. It’s a show about a group of misfits – a warrior without a people, an Imperial deserter, a Jedi who never completed his training, a kid who lost his parents, an outdated droid, and a passionate revolutionary – and it should stay that way, even if we are adding one more misfit to the crew.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Ahsoka Tano. I discussed her briefly in my editorial piece on The Clone Wars, but now that she’s returning – at least as a recurring character on Rebels, if not a core member of the cast – I should probably go into a bit more depth. The incredibly short version of Ahsoka’s story is that she was assigned as a Padawan to Anakin Skywalker after he achieved the status of Jedi Knight during the early days of the Clone Wars. She was specifically chosen by Yoda as a way to test Anakin’s tendency towards attachment, and in the first few seasons of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka, like so many other characters in that show, was completely insufferable. She was petulant and obnoxious and could easily be ranked among the worst characters in the Star Wars canon (side note: anyone who still considers Jar Jar to be the nadir of George Lucas creations hasn’t watched much of The Clone Wars). But then a funny thing happened, around the mid-point of Season Three, she changed – in both appearance and demeanor – into a genuinely worthwhile character. Fans love to tell you how much better The Clone Wars gets in later seasons, but it’s not really true – sure, it improves from the virtually unwatchable first season, but it’s still mostly bad. Ahsoka, though, experiences the kind of radical improvement fans like to project on the show as a whole. By the end of it, she became the heart and soul of the show, and the final story arc of the series (not counting the unaired sixth season) is all about her.
These four episodes (“Sabotage,” “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much,” “To Catch a Jedi,” and “The Wrong Jedi”) end up being the absolute high point of The Clone Wars, and they’re probably the only episodes of the show you need to watch now that Ahsoka is onboard for Rebels Season Two. The story essentially plays out as a Star Wars-themed remake of The Fugitive with Ahsoka framed for a bombing of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and on the run from the Jedi. In the end, she manages to clear her name, but she choses to leave the Jedi Order that abandoned her when she needed them to trust her.
This puts Ahsoka in an interesting position by the time we meet her in Rebels. She’s just as much a misfit as anyone else on the Ghost crew – a disgraced Jedi who left the Order shortly before all of her former friends and acquaintances were killed during the rise of the Empire, and I’m incredibly curious to see how that has affected her over the past 15 years. Ahsoka ends up being such an interesting character that she’s literally the only Prequel-era character I’m okay with showing up in Rebels. The problem, though, is by bringing in a Prequel-era character, you’re opening the door for all sorts of Prequel-era badness.
It’s no accident that both Ahsoka and Darth Vader are set to become regular characters in Rebels Season Two, and this dynamic worries me. The last thing I want is for the show to get mired in a bunch of silly master/apprentice drama between Vader and Ahsoka. In fact, I really hope that Ahsoka doesn’t even realize that Vader is her former master and that Vader’s too far gone at this point to feel any kind of human emotion toward his former apprentice. Remember, Vader of this era strikes down Obi-Wan without hesitation, as well as ruthlessly killing however many other Jedi he once knew. Going back to my comment about the softening of Vader, I don’t want the presence of Ahsoka to give us the same kind of passive character we see in Return of the Jedi. It’d be a real shame if the arc of the second was just a retread of the same beats we’ve already seen both Luke and Obi-Wan go through. Also, on a completely different note, I really, desperately hope that Ahsoka – someone who shares a somewhat similar past to Kanan – doesn’t get cast in a love triangle between Hera and Kanan. It’s the kind of dumb, tropey nonsense that this show is too smart for, and I hope they avoid that particular path like the plague.
Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot else we know about Season Two at this point. That, however’s not going to stop me from making some predictions about the upcoming season. For instance…
Someone is going to die.
This feels inevitable. By bringing in Vader as the show’s new “big bad,” they’ve dramatically raised the stakes. You can’t have THE Star Wars villain as the main antagonist in your show and have our heroes make it through no worse off than they were with the Inquisitor. No, by the end of Season Two, one of the main cast members of Rebels is going to bite the bullet, and my money is currently on Ahsoka. I’ve been saying for a while now that Kanan won’t make it to the end of the series, and I still think that’s true, but I think his death will come later. Again, it’s no accident that they’re brining in both Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano for this season. Even more so than killing Obi-Wan, having Vader kill his former apprentice – someone who admired him, respected him, and was his friend – is the ultimate representation of Anakin’s fall from grace. As much as I hope we don’t, I’m almost positive that we’re going to get at least some master/apprentice drama between Ahsoka and Vader, and this is the only way that particular story can end. Beyond that, there’s the vision Ahsoka has in The Clone Wars episode “Overlords” wherein an adult version of herself appears to warn her that Anakin would end up being in some way responsible for her death*. Not to mention Yoda’s vision in the episode “Destiny” where Ahsoka is shown dying along with the rest of the Jedi during the rise of the Empire.
We’ll meet at least one of the “big three.”
As much as I wish they wouldn’t, I’ve already started to hear rumors of Han Solo showing up in Season Two, and with the Ghost crew now plugged into the larger rebel movement and the formation of the Rebel Alliance imminent, we’re bound to see Leia at some point as well. I’m more okay with Leia showing up than Han, but the one character who is completely, 100% off limits for this show is Luke Skywalker. We can talk about all the flaws about fetishistically adhering to the Hero’s Journey as a formula, but in the case of Star Wars, Luke’s moment of crossing the threshold is extremely important. To have the larger world come to meet Luke before his journey in the original film would be a huge betrayal of the core Star Wars story. I feel like this is something that is a no brainer and I shouldn’t even have to say, but the show burned through a lot of fan-favorite cameos in its first season, and if they keep going at this rate, the temptation to bring in Luke will be too much to resist.
Rebels, as a series, is going to have a bummer of an ending.
This is going to be the most wild of my speculations here, but I don’t think the Ghost crew is going to have a rousing, triumphant ending to their story. We’ve heard that Lucasfilm is only planning to make three, maybe four seasons of Rebels before moving onto another show set in the Sequel Trilogy timeline, and if the show progresses in roughly real time, the series will end one or two years out from the start of the original film. By that point, the Ghost crew – who are presumably important, founding members of the Rebellion – are no where to be seen, and on his death bed, Yoda, who has already interacted with both Kanan and Ezra, tells Luke that he will be the last of the Jedi. If I’m right about Ahsoka dying by the end of Season Two, then I think Kanan’s death will be one of the final moments of the series, and it will be a crushing blow to the crew of the Ghost. Ezra, I think, will probably survive beyond the end of the series, but Kanan’s death will lead him to abandon his role as a Jedi, much in the same way Kanan did following his own master’s death during the rise of the Empire. Perhaps Ezra will even show up in whatever this new series is in the same way Ahsoka is showing up in Rebels. Regardless, I don’t see a happy ending coming for our heroes. I just hope that if I’m right, the show doesn’t follow in The Clone Wars’ footsteps by becoming needlessly grim to appease adult nerds who are self-conscious about watching a kids show.
There are some things to be excited about and some things to be nervous about, but overall I’m very eager to catch back up with the crew of the Ghost when Rebels returns this fall. Thus far the team over at Lucasfilm has done a great job with the show, making smart decisions that maintain the quality and integrity of the series. So for now, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing, and that these changes to the show are going to be implemented in the best possible way.
I suppose we’ll find out nine months from now.
*I do realize that she does die and is resurrected in that same story arc, but it’d be very easy to have this vision apply to her fate in Rebels.