Rebels Revisited: Part of the Family

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Mike: Well, you can debate whether or not this was inevitable—lord knows we have—but you can’t debate that it’s happened: Kanan Jarrus is no more.1 There are two angles, I think, from which to discuss this development—did it really need to happen, and did they handle it well? I reject the notion that it was absolutely necessary from any sort of continuity standpoint, but I do think in the context of this story it’s dramatically justified. And since fans have been perfectly happy to spend the last few years debating whether Kanan should die, I’d rather not rehash that again here, and instead focus on how he died, and whether Star Wars Rebels managed to earn this moment that, arguably, they knew all along was going to happen.

Just in terms of the artistry involved, the score, the pacing, the characters’ reactions, I thought it was beautifully and naturalistically done rather than some kind of idiot-ball situation where the plot gods reached down and smooshed him because they wanted to (though okay, I could argue that his eyes randomly healing for two seconds was a smidge over the top). But while I never didn’t like it, the more I think about it the more I appreciate how it seems to fit into not just Rebels‘ larger narrative but the overall Star Wars story at this point in time.

In the heat of the moment, and with a couple months off between this episode and “Rebel Assault”, it’s easy to forget how important the TIE Defender factory has been to the last couple seasons, and underestimate how big a deal it is for Pryce to effectively destroy it just to take Kanan down. Both “Jedi Night” and “DUME” even take the extra step of establishing a competition for resources between Thrawn’s Defenders and Krennic’s Death Star project, meaning that the films could have gone very differently with that factory operational and Thrawn coming out on top. And speaking of Thrawn, it sure looks like his and Pryce’s happy working relationship has come to an end—once again, he’s undone not by his own failure but by the rash decision of an underling. Whether Thrawn or Pryce emerge from this mess intact remains to be seen, but unless Rebels gets too wrapped up in Mortis shenanigans to give this plotline a satisfying payoff, I suspect Kanan’s messy demise will prove to be one of the most important events the show has portrayed—and thus, I’d call it very much earned.

Sarah: I’m a little bit torn on how I feel about Kanan’s death in this episode. Before season four started I would have argued that it wasn’t an inevitability, and in fact I’m on record as disapproving of how segments of the fandom seem to root for the deaths of the main Rebels characters. But I felt the first half of season four so heavily foreshadowed his demise (specifically in how it suddenly brought the Kanan/Hera relationship screaming into the forefront with Kanan asking what their life would be like after the rebellion) that by this point I had resigned myself to the inevitability of Kanan not making it out alive.

I agree that it was a poignant moment and fits well with the franchise’s take on how fascism destroys itself in the long term by short-sighted obsessions with scorched-earth attacks. Pryce’s obsession with killing the Jedi leads to basically the destruction of the TIE Defender project, just like how Vader’s obsession with destroying Obi-Wan allows the Millennium Falcon to escape with the Death Star plans, and how Kylo’s obsession with killing Luke on Crait gives the Resistance a chance to escape and fight another day. The sacrifice of a mentor that ends up having far-reaching consequences is a classic Star Wars trope, and Kanan’s death fits beautifully within that paradigm.

Plus, I’m heartened to know that Filoni didn’t approach it out of a slavish deference to continuity with Yoda’s line in Return of the Jedi. I think there are certain times when characters “have” to die, but it should be as a natural result of the story they’re in and not because of something that happened in a movie forty years prior.

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However. My issue around this is less with Kanan’s death itself and more with my uncertainty that Rebels will care about it past the immediate aftermath. While we saw the Ghost crew spend the second episode of the mid-season premiere grieving I worry that this will be yet another example of Rebels quickly wrapping up plotlines within an episode and not giving them time to full develop. Kanan was a major character for three and a half seasons, and while I’m not asking for the remaining five episodes to be all about the crew sitting around grieving him, I hope that his absence still looms large over the crew as we finish up their story. I don’t want this to be another Kallus defection, another Sabine on Mandalore, another Ahsoka, another Zeb leading the Lasat to sanctuary, where things are neatly wrapped up within an episode or two and we never hear about it again. To my eternal frustration, Rebels is a show with a lot of potential that is never really allowed to develop, and I would hate for Kanan to be the latest in that trend because his character deserves better.

Kanan’s death was a beautiful sendoff to the character that fit well with a long legacy of beloved characters. However I’m cynical that we’ll be allowed to explore the lasting effect his sacrifice has on the crew and the Rebellion at large, though of course I’d love to be proven wrong. Perhaps his legacy will be a constant presence in these final five episodes and I will happily eat my words if so. But based on Rebels‘ track record with such things, I’m not hopeful.

Ben: Kanan’s big climactic scene is one of the show’s most beautiful so far, in terms of animation, storyboarding, musical scoring and acting. Let’s put that out front. Another thing to put out is, as the climax of Kanan’s character arc from the beginning of the series, regaining his previous identity as Caleb Dume and ultimately sacrificing himself to save his family is the perfect coda for Kanan to go out on. I have no quarrel or problem with anything about the scene itself.

I thought the linking material could have been stronger, but I’m also not upset with it. Getting Kanan from point A to point Dead is a big, heavy event. He’s one of the show’s main characters, arguably the second or third on that tier below Ezra and possibly Sabine. Moving into this stage of the show, with only a handful of episodes left, carries a lot of narrative and dramatic weight. The lead up to this episode has been suitably weighty, with Hera captured, most of the Rebellion on the run, and a renewed focus from the entire Ghost crew on what matters most to them. Sabine re-focused on Mandalore, and Ezra focused on Lothal. “Jedi Night” and “DUME” brought that renewed focus to both Kanan and Hera on what mattered to them: each other.

Thing is, there were foreshadowed moments of this throughout this season. Kanan and Hera had a conversation just a few episodes ago about what the future would hold, one where Kanan urged her to think about the future beyond the war they were fighting. Of course, Hera being Hera, she focused instead on her next mission. But being shot down and injected with truth serum, and interrogated by Thrawn and taunted about her family, apparently gave her time to think about what Kanan had said.

Kanan and Hera have been all about each other through the show’s entire run, right from their very first short before the show had even premiered, with the sort of casual kids-show levels of flirting that spoke of familiarity, dependence on each other, and a sense of close camaraderie that didn’t exist between any of the other members of the crew. Kanan says (and demonstrates in A New Dawn) that it’s because of Hera that he’s even in the fight against the Empire at all. Separating them permanently needs to have a profound impact on whoever is left behind.

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Thus, while “Jedi Night” gives us the event, “DUME” has the impact. Kanan’s death affects the entire Ghost crew for the worse: Zeb is alight with rage and nearly beats Rukh to death, Sabine seeks revenge in order to send a message, Ezra runs away and temporarily abandons the Rebellion entirely; but seeing Hera, the unflappable mother figure who has been the bedrock of their group from the beginning, fall almost catatonic with grief, completely shut down and questioning even being a part of the Rebellion at all since it cost her something incredibly dear to her, is incredibly effective. Hera is the one member of the crew who has, above all else, believed in their mission, believed that what they are doing is the right thing. Kanan’s death shook her so deeply that she wonders if it would have been better if he had persuaded her to turn away from her path, instead of the other way around.

Knowing Rebels, we will probably be along to the next major story beats with the next pair of episodes, focused on Ezra getting over Kanan’s death and finding his own way without him. But the fact that we got an entire episode spent on nothing but recovery and dealing with the fallout from what happened in “Jedi Night” is already more than the show has done for most of its major moments, excepting Ezra’s parents’ fate; even Malachor’s events had most of their fallout occur during a between-season time jump. Giving both the audience and the characters that amount of time to decompress is honestly more than I expected after the breakneck pace of this season thus far, and depending on how fast events move after it we may not get much else. And I’m okay with that.

Jay: I’m so torn on this.

It was beautifully acted and animated, with standout performances all around. Kudos to Freddie Prinze Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Tiya Sircar, Taylor Gray, and Steve Blum. Kudos to the entire art and animation staff. It was a heavy emotional moment delivered with emotional heft. Heck, even the villains had great acting this episode, though Thrawn and Pryce’s drama had to do with the other consequence of Kanan’s death.

But…I can’t help but think it’s emotionally manipulative with the will-they-won’t-they stuff. Like, it was definitely a strong moment and a surprise but…it feels like a Game of Thrones-style twist, and that is not a compliment. I am not a fan of this kind of stuff. Overall? With the impact it had on the war and the arc on Lothal and the growth of Ezra and where it takes Hera and the rest of the Ghost crew? That’s a different story and we still haven’t seen the consequences of that. So I’m going to keep an open mind and I’m sure that Kanan’s passing serves a storytelling purpose. I just think the particular circumstances of it, while poignantly staged and acted, and a wonderfully double-edged sword for both Imperials and Rebels…also gives me pause.

So I’ll quote Gaius Valerius Catullus here: odi et amo. I hate it and I love it.​

  1. Okay, this is Dave Filoni and it’s possible he’s a wolf now, but that’s beside the point. []

One comment

  1. chriswerms says:

    I don’t mean to rehearse the obvious, but I thought it was a brilliant ending for the entirety of Kanan’s story. Within Rebels? Well, harder to say (which is admirable that you all had great takes on it, even with the disagreements). But the first (chronologial) story we have with him is running during Order 66, and now we leave him as he finally stops to protect his family. In a war that he never really felt at home in! One he actively disagreed against for a while! I think that’s a great ending for him, all things considered. He left the Order, but came back and took up the mantle of someone’s Master, and channeled Bilabba in protecting his family at the cost of his life. He’s truly come full circle.

    That being said, I’m with Sarah here. The show probably won’t give much more time to this, and that stinks. I didn’t notice how much was quickly glossed over until I saw her list again, and wow. That’s a ton. People always say that this material can be covered in other media, and granted, that is true. But why should it be? They were all made to be a part of the arc of the show, so why should a comic come and recover the sameish ground to flesh it out? Dume showed that they are okay with slower, reactionary episodes (and boy was it slow at times), so I wish we had more episodes like that sooner in the show.

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