With the imminent finale of Star Wars Rebels, I thought it was a good time to take stock of the recurring villains of the show. Where did we start, and where did we end up? Are the villains satisfying? Are they evil, without seeming cartoonishly so? Or should they be cartoonish, because this show is actually a cartoon? When this show started, Grint and Aresko were among the first Imperials we saw – and they were spending their time stealing from jogan fruit vendors and threatening to lock them up for treason on ridiculous pretexts. Thankfully, those clownish villains weren’t typical of the villains we’d get in the show. The use of Thrawn in “Jedi Night” and “DUME” is what got me thinking about how villains have been portrayed throughout the show’s four seasons and it’s as good a time as any to take a villainous retrospective.
The end of the show isn’t the first time that it’s made sense to take stock of the villains of the show. There have been a lot of new villains introduced, and a lot of change. What’s the villainy of Maketh Tua (RIP) next to Vader and Tarkin? Was Kallus’s defection earned, or was he “honorable” all along? Would the return of fan-favorite Thrawn result in white-washing, or a nuanced portrayal? The villains’ competence reflects that of the heroes – every time the Ghost crew up the stakes, the Empire did so in turn. Tracking the arc of the major villains is another way to track the arc of the show and its main characters.
Ultimately, Rebels is a kids’ show that belongs to the Star Wars franchise: it’s clear to everyone who the villains are and who the heroes are. The complexity is never in terms of moral gray: the show will never make us ask “are the Imperials good?” or “are the Rebels bad?” Instead, the villains are given complexity in other ways: the petty evils of Grint and Aresko give way to the likes of Thrawn and even Darth Maul. They’re bad people but they’re evil in different ways. We might even forget for a second that they’re villains, until the show rightly reminds us that they are.
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So. Farewell then, Kanan Jarrus, Jedi Knight.
Caleb Dume’s sacrifice in “Jedi Night”, holding back the fire so his family can live to fight another day, stands with the final acts of the greatest masters, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. His selflessness will surely inspire the Ghost crew to find some measure of victory, holding back the spread of darkness, and inspiring others in turn.
But Kanan’s journey is also unique, and in the current era of Star Wars “canon”, he stands as the first (chronologically) to forge a path to becoming a Jedi without the structure of the old Order or the guidance of a Master. His knighting in “Shroud of Darkness” raises some interesting questions – what is Kanan’s essential “Jedi-ness,” the thing that earns him this title without the structured progression of Padawan-Trials-Knight-Master? What precedent does it set for Jedi who follow similarly unconventional paths, even decades later? And what does it say about Kanan the person that he achieved all this without that structure?
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Going into Rogue One my only thoughts on the character of Draven had to do with the since-debunked speculation that he was really Agent Kallus from Star Wars Rebels. After walking out of the film, however, I found that I was fixated upon the Alliance general. Many fans I have talked to say that they disliked the character, or that while they understood his purpose and saw him as a necessary irredeemable jerk they still did not have much love for him. I was honestly surprised by this reaction because for me he was incredibly interesting and I wanted to see more of him as soon as possible.
Throughout Rogue One we see a lot of shades of grey within the Alliance. Jyn, Saw, Cassian, and Draven are the biggest examples of this. Within each of those two duos is one protégé and one old warrior who has given everything to this war dating as far back as the Clone Wars. Saw and Draven are incredibly fascinating to compare to one another. Each man is an embodiment of the shades of grey within the Rebellion, and yet they are vastly different people.
Saw was hardened due to being a ground-level revolutionary. He lost his sister Steela early on and has sworn to do whatever it takes to win. As he explained to Jyn in Rebel Rising, “Steela was the best part of me”. When Saw’s new war against the Empire began, “I was smarter that time. I didn’t make the same mistakes I had when Steela was still alive.” Saw never got to stop fighting. He never stopped being the revolutionary with nothing to lose, and that shaped him into a brutal, violent soldier who would do whatever it takes even if he had to be a monster. Saw lost his sister, his soul, and has to force away his daughter to protect her. » Read more..
When no one answers the Resistance’s call for reinforcements on Crait in the final act of The Last Jedi, one can reach for a number of explanations: the chaos following the destruction of the New Republic government, individual systems’ lack of weaponry given the disarmament acts following the Battle of Jakku. One possible factor, however, plays into the heart of one of the sequel trilogy’s chief concerns, the idea of legacy. In the novel Bloodline by Claudia Grey, the truth of Darth Vader’s progeny is revealed, causing a massive scandal that forces Leia to leave the New Republic senate and tarnishes her name. That level of public disgrace could have easily endured the six years leading to the Battle of Crait, potential allies’ silence translating to a deep sense of distrust.
The weight of this scandal is something Leia must seemingly carry on her own—Luke’s place in the galaxy as a legend comes through unscathed, and again arises the idea of legacy. The starkly different effect this news has on Luke and Leia’s public standings is influenced by which institutional legacies they embody—the Jedi or the political—and reflects the splintered nature of Darth Vader’s identity over the course of his life.
Luke Skywalker’s reputation precedes him by light years, tales of heroism during the Rebellion having solidified into legend and spread across the galaxy, from the destitute stable children in Canto Bight to the isolated planet Jakku. The inherent resilience of legends aside, Luke’s own is given an immense amount of power by the nature of the position he steps into over the course of the Empire’s fall: the galaxy’s only Jedi. “Jedi” is a loaded title, evoking not only the idea of a time before the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire but also a potential return to it. Of course, that era was not without its problems, nor were the Jedi themselves, but nearly fifty years and countless Imperial-inflicted traumas lie between Order 66 and the parentage scandal. That is more than enough time and fodder to build the rose-colored glasses making the Old Republic out as an ideal, especially when the generation who actually lived through it has mostly passed. » Read more..
“The biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other” are words uttered by one of the more barbaric characters in the Star Wars canon. But freed of their heavily ironic context the sentiment remains at the core of what drives the story: conflict and action. That’s not unique to Star Wars by any means, and neither is the quote attributed to that character’s daughter in the original film’s novelization: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.” Both thoughts, however, would serve as highly appropriate taglines for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, particularly when it comes to the newest addition that roster of heroes, Rose Tico.
Much has been made of The Last Jedi’s shunning of the typical conceits and objectives that drive people in Star Wars — this is of course done knowingly by Johnson as he comments on motivation and character throughout the feature, across all story lines. With Rose, he starts with as little as possible: she’s stuck on the boat with everyone else, her remit is extremely narrow (don’t let people inspect escape pods from the inside) — she has just lost her sister, yes, but there no natural outlet for action or resolution in the way that, say, Luke has Obi-Wan waiting for him back at the sandcrawler, or Rey has First Order troops hunting for BB-8. In establishing Rose’s involvement in the plot, Johnson inverts a key moment from The Force Awakens: the meeting of Poe and Finn. In that instance, individuals from opposing sides band together for practical purposes, in the interest of survival. There is of course the gag of Finn liberating Poe because “it’s the right thing to do.” Poe cynically sees through this and recognizes it for what it is, identifying Finn’s true need immediately.
Rose, on the other hand, is drawn into the fight because it is indeed the right thing to do. Her insight and knowledge grant her the opportunity to go along for the ride, rather than the luck she sheepishly attributes it to. Whether she or Finn are fit for purpose with regard to the mission they eventually go on is material enough for an entirely separate piece, but for her to earn her seat at the table on merit rather than potential, duty, or coincidence is a refreshing change. There is a lure of the swashbuckling derring-do that she (initially) so breathlessly admires Finn for, but her core drive is an idealistic one. This makes her a fine counterpoint to Johnson’s transformation of Kylo Ren into an ideologically-driven big bad for this particular trilogy, and lies at the heart of how this film propels the saga out of its dynastic dogfight and into something more essential. » Read more..