The following contains spoilers about the “Star Wars Rebels” series finale.
“Star Wars Rebels” came with a built-in conundrum: What happened to these characters, battling against the evil Empire, when the first of the movies, “A New Hope,” rolled around several years after the series began?
The DisneyXD animated series resourcefully addressed that in Monday night’s 90-minute finale, which left some loose ends but mostly proved an emotionally satisfying payoff to a program that, before Disney ramped up production after acquiring Lucasfilm, staunchly carried the “Star Wars” banner.
Of course, the dirty little secret of the “Star Wars” universe has been that its animated, made-for-TV efforts — including “Rebels” and before that “Clone Wars” — have often surpassed the movies, certainly in terms of the clunky aspects of George Lucas’ second trilogy. Under the stewardship of Dave Filoni, “Rebels” has inched the ball forward, delicately incorporating higher-profile personalities from that far-away galaxy (Darth Vader, the Emperor, Darth Maul, characters from “Rogue One”) while building its own strong core.
In wrapping up the show, Filoni and his team seized upon a facet of “Star Wars” that makes Disney’s ambitious expansion of the franchise possible — namely, that it’s a very big galaxy, with room for all sorts of stories in the past, present and future.
The finish to “Rebels” thus relied on the notion that several of these characters continued to operate during and after the original movies. We just weren’t privy to what they were up to, what with the focus being on Luke Skywalker and his exploits.
During a question-and-answer session that followed an advance screening of the finale, Filoni spoke about the logistics that allowed “Rebels” to enjoy something of a happy ending, without its principals all being crushed under the boot of the Empire.
“When Luke happens, the Emperor’s attention is completely refocused,” he explained, sparing the planet Lothal from any further attack.
Admittedly, that could be seen as a bit of a copout, or perhaps unduly convenient, with a few of these figures, foremost Anakin Skywalker’s one-time padawan, Ahsoka Tano. But the finishing kick — with the image of Ahsoka and Sabine (voiced by Tiya Sircar) teaming up to search the galaxy for Ezra (Taylor Gray), not only contained an uplifting glimmer of hope but actually looked like the potential foundation for a new series all its own.
The finale, meanwhile, came wrapped in a truly epic confrontation — underscoring the visual freedom that animation allows — while reuniting a number of “Rebels” characters. After the noble death of the Jedi knight Kanan (Freddie Prize Jr.) in the run-up, it also saw Ezra exhibit his own graceful note of Jedi selflessness by sacrificing himself in order to win the battle, enlisting various creatures — including those way-cool Loth-wolves — to help overcome the Imperial forces.
Like “Clone Wars,” “Rebels” goes down as an extremely ambitious program that — despite having aired on a children’s network — clearly didn’t behave as if it was constrained by being calibrated to eight or 10-year-old kids.
While the “Rebels” finale might have been a way of bridging the gap between the series and events that began with “A New Hope,” in capturing the spirit of “Star Wars,” it possessed the same old-fashioned virtues.
For that, Filoni lauded Lucas for having laid the groundwork for everything that the series contained. “I made ‘Star Wars’ with George for a decade,” Filoni said, referring to “Clone Wars,” “and then I had to do it without him.”
“Rebels” might be over, but parts of it will surely live on. In that, the series not only reflects the practical side of mining the “Star Wars” universe for all it’s worth, but its hopeful streak as well.