As the first season of Star Wars Rebels draws to a close (and lack of pre-viewing prospects prevents us from writing a piece involving the finale just yet) “Rebels Revisited” is looking back at the setting for a majority of the show’s events thus far. When the show was first teased to Star Wars fans, via propaganda posters and images at conventions, the creators told us that, unlike The Clone Wars that hopped from planet to planet on an almost weekly basis, Rebels would be much more focused and grounded, with a central base for the heroes and villains alike to operate from. Thus, we were introduced to Lothal.
The planet itself is not as visually striking as many planets within the GFFA, it does not have Tatooine’s stark wastes or Felucia’s vibrant life, but its origins as concept art by Ralph McQuarrie lend its landscapes a watercolor feel and texture. It is certainly beautiful in its own way, a very sparse and restrained beauty, with lone structures rising to the sky here and there and mysterious mounds studding the landscape. The sense that this is a large, and largely unspoiled planet permeates almost every outdoor shot of the show, be it the Ghost sitting by itself in the middle of a field that stretches from horizon to horizon, or Ezra resting his chin on the rail of the lonely communication tower he called home.
Lothal, conceptually, is a rather peaceful planet. Outside of a handful of settlements and cities most of its surface is wind-swept grassy plains, studded with farms and benign native wildlife. The Empire’s presence there in such strength is a mystery (unless you’ve read Servants of the Empire that is), and their gradual industrialization of the planet frames much of the show’s early going. Farms are being bought or co-opted, TIE fighters are being produced, an Academy facility is training up the planet’s youth, and the populace falls more and more under the Empire’s thumb. But all in all, the planet is peaceful, and it’s only the advent of the Ghost and her crew that has brought turmoil and unrest.
Our question for the finale and beyond is: should the show return to Lothal in the next season?
The problem with Lothal, as interesting visually as the planet might be as homage to McQuarrie’s artwork, is that it’s also boring. The show’s focus has been entirely on the characters (to great success in that department, but we digress) which is to the unfortunate detriment of the things around them. The setting of the show has received very little focus, our only major peeks at the planet’s history or culture coming from supplementary material. We know nothing about the planet’s first settlers, nothing about what sort of native species might have existed there at some point, why the Jedi showed enough interest in the place to build a temple there (even a small one), et cetera.
The first season’s breakneck pace thus far has left little room for tertiary development, and the planet itself is one of the foremost victims of that. Servants of the Empire gave us our greatest look at the planet’s culture, hinting at a conflict between the miners brought from elsewhere and the planet’s indigenous farmers and showing how far the Empire was willing to go to protect its interests. The planet having untapped mines of kyber crystals lends the whole thing an air of the population living on a minefield, between the Empire and an important component in their weapons. None of this, to this point, has been touched on within the show itself.
With other articles on this site already raising the issue of the planet’s fate being decided with a rain of turbolaser fire from orbit, the theories around Base Delta Zero and the Empire’s five-year-plan for the Outer Rim are just going to be brushed over here. Suffice to say, if/when the planet’s worth to the Empire is at an end, rather than simply taking the cutting-edge tech and valuable personnel elsewhere and leaving the remainder be, they might go with a “scorched earth” policy and just turn the planet’s cities to rivers of molten metal and glass. Such a fate would of course force the Ghost and its crew to relocate elsewhere, opening up a galaxy of possibilities for storytelling. The infancy of the Rebellion is rife with opportunities for the show to tie more plots together with the characters we see throughout the original trilogy, and leaving Lothal would give Rebels the perfect chance to do that.
The other option would be for the planet to remain intact, and for it to be fleshed out more in the second season. We know that the rank and file population of the world is more put-upon and downtrodden than the middle and upper classes; an episode where the plight of the locals moves into the spotlight as they investigate the Empire’s interest in buying farms, or perhaps an episode revolving around the revelation of kyber crystal mining and how that affects the inhabitants, would give us a better look. We have yet to see the planet’s governor in the flesh; an appearance by her in dealing with fractures along class lines would give depth to the planet’s governing system and aristocracy. Lothal is not without room for more stories, the potential is there, it only needs to be capitalized upon.
Lothal has been a rather busy place over the last season. It hosted an Empire Day parade, a Jedi’s training, numerous battles and dogfights, various shenanigans, betrayals, friendships and death. But it has served as little more than a staging ground for those events, without a culture or identity beyond its visual style. Whether it should stay or go in the coming season will depend on how much effort the show’s creators were to expend on making the setting for the show more than just a pretty series of paintings. The question of how far the status quo can or will be altered is hardly a new one for this show (or for this column), but it affects the fate of Lothal as much as it does the Rebels cast.