After Disney bought Lucasfilm, the first new part of the Star Wars saga they produced was Star Wars Rebels. Early on the show defined what the franchise's new canon would and could become in a post-George Lucas world. But now, just as the movies are getting ready for their second act, Rebels is ready for its final one.
For its first three seasons, executive producer Dave Filoni and his team have told the story of Ezra Bridger, a young boy strong with the Force, who befriends a rogue group working as part of a growing Rebel Alliance. Along the way, the show has introduced several new fan favourite characters, as well as featured appearances from Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Maul, Lando Calrissian, Princess Leia, Mon Mothma, and others. But even when the show connects to the movies, it's always been focused on the journey of Ezra, Kanan, Hera, Zeb, Sabine, and Chopper, and their role in fighting the Empire.
Now the fourth and final season is here, which means finally answering some of the most important questions the show has raised. Where are the Jedi Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra during the emergence of Luke Skywalker? How does Grand Admiral Thrawn fit in with Darth Vader and the Emperor? And did any of these rebels play a part alongside Luke, Han, and Leia over the next few years?
"Everything [in season four] is kind of magnified," Filoni told io9. "You have to look at the whole season and say, 'This is all the space I have to tell this story of how this all goes.' So you can't waste anything. Especially knowing where the galaxy's at by the end of it. We have a pretty good idea based on the films what we're dealing with. So those are the challenges. But I have to say I'm pretty pleased with how it all worked out in the end."
Rebels executive producer Dave Filoni. Image: Lucasfilm Limited
The first four episodes of the season alone have already wrapped up a few storylines. In the season's two-part premiere, it was Sabine and her Mandalorian roots. This past week explored Saw Guerrera's beef with Mon Mothma. Soon, things will turn more acutely to Ezra, who is conflicted about the overall needs of the Rebellion versus his desire to specifically help his home planet.
"Sometimes, unfortunately, in answering things, you're only asking more questions," he said. "What is an end for people? Right? Is it only when the character dies? Is that when it's finally over? You know, I don't know quite what the exact answer to that question is."
What he does know is that by the end Rebels will try to answer the questions about the questions raised by the series. Anything beyond that is beyond his control.
"I'd like to think we answer some of the more important questions. But there are always, I suspect, things that people are left wondering," Filoni said. "And I do think that's a good thing. It's kind of what fuelled many things that we loved growing up. Just wondering 'Why?' or 'What happens next?'"
So... what does happen next? In typical Star Wars (and Filoni) fashion, he's not saying, other than that he's extremely happy with the finale.
"The end of the series really satisfies a bunch of different needs for Star Wars fans," Filoni said. "Because, you know, Star Wars really takes on many different shapes. It accomplishes many things. Sometimes it's a space-oriented battle. Sometimes it's about Jedi mysticism or the camaraderie of the characters in a Butch Cassidy shoot-em-up. We really found a way to incorporate all these different aspects of Star Wars into our finale in a way to make the characters shine with an eye on connecting many different things."
And, much like Emperor Palpatine, everything that has transpired on Rebels has done so according to his design. "As a die-hard Star Wars fan for many years, I was able to set things up in season one of the series that really pay off finally in season four," Filoni teased. "It was difficult, [but] there was some architecture that I was laying around the Jedi that we were really able to pay off."
Although his animated series usually get overshadowed by the movies, Filoni's work building the Star Wars universe can get overshadowed, too. But Filoni was there years before Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, or Rian Johnson came aboard, making The Clone Wars animated series alongside George Lucas himself. Including Rebels, Filoni and his team have been creating visual Star Wars stories for more than a decade, many of which are the primary stories for a younger generation. Filoni is arguably the most important creator of the new Star Wars canon without the last name "Lucas."
"Certainly, I never dreamed in my wildest imagination that I would be someone defining the Clone Wars alongside George Lucas," Filoni said. "My brother and I used to talk about the Clone Wars as kids. I hope we've done that for kids, and I look forward to seeing their stories or shaking my cane at them because they got it wrong. But... either way, it will be fun."
Filoni won't say what's next on his agenda after Rebels ends, but he clearly wants it to be Star Wars.
I have an incredibly talented group of people working here [at Lucasfilm]. They have worked for me all 12 years that I've been here. SoI feel indebted to them and want to keep creating work for them so they can use their abilities and tell great stories. I also want to keep pushing myself into areas that are challenging and new. I've had a lot of experience now interacting with live-action directors like Rian Johnson who's been really wonderful to me and showing me what their production is like.
I want to celebrate stories, and it doesn't matter what medium its in. I don't care — big screen, small screen — I just need space to tell a story. And do it as best I can. That's my goal in the end. So we'll have to see what form that takes in the future. ...But let's just put it this way. I learned from the best."
And if Filoni isn't at the helm, he wants to pass on what he has learned. Which is just oh, so Star Wars. "I feel rather indebted to George for the knowledge that he gave me," Filoni said. "And it's part of my responsibility to try to help other people maintain what makes Star Wars such a wonderful universe to visit."
Image: Lucasfilm Limited
The final season of Star Wars Rebels is currently airing Mondays on Disney XD. The first three seasons are streaming and available on Blu-ray.