“When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be” – Yoda, 4 ABY
For all the deftness with which Star Wars Rebels has told its story thus far, one criticism that it can’t quite escape is something that many would say plagued the Expanded Universe more and more as it went on: it’s allowing Jedi to survive in the Dark Times. Pretty much by definition, every single Force-user roaming the galaxy doing good deeds in this time period makes Luke and his training in the original trilogy less unique. To some, it goes even further, stunting Luke’s actual importance at best and making Yoda and Obi-Wan look bad at worst.
But Rebels is still four-plus years out from the OT, and over eight years from the quote at the start of this piece. There’s lots of time left for any number of fates to befall Kanan and Ezra—and Ahsoka’s fate at the conclusion of The Clone Wars demonstrates the folly of assuming we know where any young Jedi’s story is going. That said, Yoda’s declaration, and his and Obi-Wan’s clear hopes for Luke as their one real chance of defeating the Emperor, offer almost as wide a range of interpretations as there are real possibilities. Some fans aren’t even that keen on them being alive in the period we’ve already seen them. Some don’t mind them being around as long as they don’t actually join the Rebellion—Luke should be the only Jedi with that distinction, they’ll say. And some are concerned only with Yoda speaking the truth in the most literal sense possible; Kanan and Ezra can be and do whatever they want as long as they’re dead by the time Luke shows up on Dagobah.
Of course, this ship sailed long ago in the EU, with dozens of Old Republic Jedi ultimately surviving through the OT era and beyond, but so far the new canon has yet to violate Luke’s perceived importance in this regard. What was a foregone if disappointing conclusion before the reboot is now a fresh and very immediate debate: what are we willing to let happen to these characters, ostensibly the heroes of a major children’s television series? Forget the brass ring; is their mere survival a bridge too far?
For my part, I think the galaxy is much less interconnected than people tend to see it. I draw the line at General Jarrus and Commander Bridger serving in the Galactic Civil War from the bridge of the Mon Calamari Cruiser Whatever, but there’s plenty of room for one or both, having eventually been smacked down by the Empire, to settle into a quieter form of Rebellion on any of a thousand anonymous planets. Jedi aren’t supposed to be warriors, remember; there’s all sorts of good to be done that wouldn’t attract people like the Inquisitor, even if it wouldn’t make such exciting television. It’s my personal suspicion that Kanan won’t live to see that outcome, but what Ezra takes away from his hypothetical sacrifice is a very, very open question. Here’s what the others had to say.
Alexander: Is it a problem for me if either one (or both) is still alive as of ESB? In a word, yes. But that has very little to do with Yoda and Obi-Wan discussing their last hopes. Even if a thousand Jedi are still alive by then, you can simply read it as only a Skywalker being able to defeat a Skywalker. What bothers me is that every living Jedi after Revenge of the Sith cheapens one of the oldest and most fundamental concepts of the entire saga (to say nothing of what it does to Vader’s reputation): that the Jedi are gone. A New Hope is precisely that: a new hope. Their order is dead, and well on its way to being forgotten. The Empire won. The prequels are not meant to be a happy ending. They’re a death sentence for everyone with a lightsaber and brown robes, a guarantee of a brutal and merciless execution for the heroes of the previous age. They can run. They can hide. They can fight. But no matter what they choose, that they’re going to die should never be in question. It’s how they die that matters.
Luke’s construction of a new order in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi has a great deal more meaning if it’s not built on the foundation of the old one. His attempts to seek out Jedi history and lore and survivors should fail. They must fail, otherwise the Jedi are not being reborn, but rather reanimated as a shambling zombie clinging to a legacy of failure. We’ve already seen the New Jedi Order transformed into an almost exact replica of its predecessor once, complete with being run by venerable masters from the prequel era. Let’s not make that mistake again.
Rocky: In contrast, no, it’s not a problem to me if Ezra and/or Kanan are alive as of ESB. Because Luke’s role is completely different from theirs, and it is far from impossible that there are several Jedi alive even by the end of Return of the Jedi. These other Jedi aren’t the centerpiece of the OT, and they’re not going to be the ones who restore the Jedi in the end, and that’s okay. We still need those. Remember, the galaxy is a big place with lots of room for different stories, and the tales of the few Jedi who narrowly survived the Empire are important whether or not those Jedi are Luke and Leia.
Luke is the last hope for the Jedi (other than Leia, of course). Why? Because he’s someone prominent. Luke is definitely not the only one capable of restoring the Jedi and confronting Darth Vader, but he is one of the most accessible. he’s never had Jedi training before, is the son of Anakin Skywalker, and has successfully stayed out of the galactic conflict until the local Jawas bring a bunch of droids for sale by his uncle’s farm. It may be easiest for the one who reestablishes the Jedi to be someone who hasn’t been involved with the Jedi before, without the baggage of remembering Order 66 and the darkest days of the Empire.
Ezra and Kanan are not exactly the most suitable candidates for the job Luke ultimately gets. Kanan is probably more familiar with being a Jedi, but has neglected his skills and still does not know a good deal of how to use the Force. Neither Kanan nor Ezra really have the charisma necessary to be the new public face of the Jedi in the future, something that Luke steps into after his instant fame (and infamy) for blowing up the Death Star. And most importantly, Ezra and Kanan are Jedi in a time when being a Jedi is even more impossible. The Rebel Alliance is just starting to come together. There is no protection for Jedi, and the galaxy is under the impression that Order 66 was so complete that no Jedi will have survived. There is simply no spark of hope, no space for them to claim as the saviors of the Jedi. They can fade into the background, since their role is not to confront Vader and reestablish the Jedi. They are simply the Jedi who have helped the Rebellion in its earliest stages.
Ben W: I have mixed feelings about whether Ezra and Kanan should survive to or even past the events of Empire Strikes Back and toward the beginning of Return of the Jedi. On the one hand, as Rebels has progressed, both characters have grown on me quite a bit. Both of them are becoming more fleshed out and three-dimensional as the series has progressed, forgoing a lot of the usual clichés with characters of their type from other franchises, showcasing the series creators’ unwillingness to let it be too predictable. Ezra is maturing fast but losing none of his spunk, his world becoming larger every day as he grows in the Force. Kanan is rediscovering what it means to be a Jedi, not just following what the Order once said, but adapting their teachings for a new era. Having one or both of them die would rob the show of a good deal of its internal spark. That’s not to say Rebels would be crippled without them, but it certainly would be a lot drearier.
On the other hand, the higher call of canon, the realities of the Empire’s goal of exterminating whatever is left of their Order and the finality of Yoda’s words to Luke naming him the last of the Jedi, will not let me rest with them being alive. Even discounting the efforts of the Inquisitor and Agent Kallus to hunt them down, Darth Vader is still very much alive and in play at this point, a Sith who made his entrance over the bodies of fallen Jedi. While Rebels has made a point of showing the Empire hunting down the Force sensitive even from infancy, having two Jedi continue to foment rebellion in full knowledge of at least two high-ranking agents only makes the Empire as a whole look rather incompetent.
In the end, the higher need of canon will inevitably trump the internal storytelling Rebels has staged. Even if you do not take Yoda’s words to Luke completely literally, the Empire knows full well that Ezra and Kanan exist and are training, getting stronger. The Inquisitor has already fought them; he knows their faces and can sense them both in the Force. There is no way that Kanan and Ezra will slip that net. Perhaps the Inquisitor will continue to stall their demise and attempt to turn Ezra to the dark side. Perhaps Darth Vader will grow tired of the Ghost crew’s shenanigans and deal with them himself. Perhaps Kanan dies first, leading Ezra to despair, or perhaps they die together, defending the others against the oncoming storm. The point is: that storm is coming.
Ben C: Is it a problem if either Ezra or Kanan are alive as of the time of the OT? No.
The reason being that the plot of the last two films is, in part, about the need for someone to confront both Darth Vader and the Emperor. Not only confront, but win and survive doing so! Ezra and Kanan might be able to the first part, with just Vader, before he steamrollers them into diced shish kebab, lightsaber charred!
Ah, but Yoda was wrong! Yes and Kanan and Ezra surviving mean the Empire no longer has a perfect 100% kill rate for the Jedi, except it never did in the first place – see Kenobi and Yoda. Which, given this is an Empire that spends twenty years and an obscene amount of cash and contractors (and sub-contractors) building a planet-killer that gets blown up entirely by a torpedo in the reactor via an exhaust port! Luke Skywalker gave the Death Star the ultimate case of blowback! Now, shouldn’t that defect have been caught at the design stage? Who was overseeing the plans for the thing? Ah yes, Grand Moff Tarkin, Supreme Egotist!
But that’s what levels out the films and the story – a truly perfectly competent Empire would be bloody terrifying, but an Empire with stormtroopers that can’t shoot straight, that run into doors and can’t build super-weapons that don’t get blown up, while possessing thousands of mile-long starships that can still fuck a planet up permanently, is far more bearable. Similarly, one that has a really erratic track record at killing Jedi, but still posted 99% success, is good for the story – it is imperfect, it can fall.
At the same time, the idea that the ultimate long-shots can be pulled off is compelling all on its own – destroying the Death Star, surviving Hoth, surviving Vader’s Cloud City ambush, killing Jabba and then redeeming Vader by convincing him to commit regicide while being fried! How can Ezra and Kanan’s existence truly impact on this hit record? Simple answer: They can’t. What they do do is underscore the theme of being flawed and imperfect, Yoda doesn’t know everything, nor should he have to.
Sure, Disney could take this as a cue to flood the story with purge survivors but I don’t think they will. Star Wars is set in a galaxy, but in the final years of the Legends EU, you would not necessarily have known that. The focus narrowed to a select group of core worlds. A galaxy comprising billions of stars and trillions of planets became a small place! Size matters. Let the galaxy be a galaxy. The Force shouldn’t allow you to detect everything on a galactic level because it is too large, too expansive. Plenty of room there for Luke, Kanan, and Ezra.
Lisa: While I think it is naïve to believe that in a vast galaxy Luke is the only Force user left, I do think it cheapens the original story to have so many actual Jedi around. I don’t mind untrained Force users, but actual Jedi who did nothing to reunite or take down the evil tyrant who destroyed their order…that bothers me and it bothers me even more to think that none of them would’ve been part of the Rebel Alliance. I get why Obi-Wan stayed hidden, he was protecting Luke who they thought would bring the balance back. I dislike that Yoda hid on a backwater planet but again his purpose was to stay alive long enough to train Luke.
Rambling but geez if Obi-Wan and Yoda could’ve rounded up half the Jedi that were supposedly alive in the old EU they could’ve taken back the galaxy a lot sooner than they did. I don’t want the new timeline to make that same mistake. So yeah I agree with everything Alexander said and second it.