Endings are hard. They’re especially hard for beloved television series, tasked with wrapping up years’ worth of storylines and pleasing legions of fans. And they’re even harder still when the series in question is part of the biggest movie franchise in history. That’s the task Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni and his team were faced with this year - and it’s a task they rose to, as the final season’s Blu-Ray release attests.
In 16 episodes (six of which are compiled under two-parters), Rebels’ fourth season did a remarkable job of charting new territory while bringing the familiar in for a landing. Narratively speaking, the season had several functions. It had to wrap up all its various character arcs and tie off loose ends, as any show must. But it also had to link up with the greater Star Wars saga - specifically, bringing its birth-of-the-Rebellion story into continuity with Rogue One.
In the process, Rebels told some shockingly emotional stories and brought in even more shocking expansions (and callbacks) to Star Wars canon. The season saw fewer filler episodes than seasons past, with everything more or less fitting into a few key story arcs and pushing towards a moving conclusion. Surprising and gratifying longtime fans, much of the season is dedicated to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s TIE Defender programme, first seen in LucasArts’ TIE Fighter, which ends up as a failed alternative to the Death Star - and Thrawn, accordingly, a failed alternative to Grand Moff Tarkin. Every character gets closure of some sort, some to long-running stories; they're not all necessarily happy, but they're all the right endings.
Most excitingly, Rebels’ final season continues the show’s bold broadening of what the Force means. If fans disliked The Last Jedi’s additions to Force canon, they ought to hate this show, which introduces wild new concepts like “the world between worlds,” a parallel dimension linking all of space and time. Alongside some wonderful Star Wars animals and creatures, which are indisputably tied into the Force, such concepts don’t so much redefine the Force as they do shape it into a more cosmic sense of connectivity. That’s what the Force was always meant to be, and Rebels is possibly the greatest expression of it.
The Blu-Ray release boasts a largish handful of special features, though with little that’s particularly revolutionary. Most disposable are the "Rebels Recon" episode recaps, which are already available on YouTube, but of most substance are the commentaries with Filoni on six key episodes. On the audio tracks, Filoni unpacks various narrative decisions made on the show, particularly concerning the wrapping-up of storylines, while also discussing production processes and his personal connections to various story elements. The best commentary puts Filoni alongside sound editor Bonnie Wild for “A World Between Worlds,” as the pair discuss the overall sound design of the show, and in particular the way sound was used to help illustrate Rebels’ particular vision of the Force.
Also on the disc are a trio of featurettes. “Ghosts of Legend,” at half an hour long, covers the creation and story arcs of each of the main characters, via interviews with Filoni, co-creators Simon Kinberg and Carrie Beck, producer Kiri Hart, and the cast. Of most interest are anecdotes as to why the team decided to tell the story of the Rebel Alliance’s birth; discussion of the family dynamic within the cast of characters; and adorable stories about the cast’s initial auditions (which none of them were told were for Star Wars).
Running at 15 minutes, “Force of Rebellion” is probably the most essential featurette here, as Filoni outlines his vision of the Force and how he depicted it on screen. Filoni stresses that the Force isn’t a superpower, and being a Force-user is not a search for power. Rather, it's all about listening and paying attention and helping others - something that’s echoed in the show’s sense of family and its obvious love of the natural world. There’s a lot of metaphysical, philosophical stuff going on in this little doc, and it’s a strong distillation of the show’s spiritual ethos.
Finally, a ten-minute featurette entitled “The Rebel Symphony” is a surprisingly enjoyable look at composer Kevin Kiner’s work on the show. Given the task of following and adding to John Williams’ iconic score, Kiner rose eagerly to the task, weaving classic themes in with new and even experimental music. Non-traditional instruments (for Star Wars, anyway) like the bass recorder and pipe organ were used to bring to life both speaking characters and creatures, and Kiner’s sons, composers in their own right, chipped in to help flesh out the hours upon hours of music required for the show. The doc is a shallow-but-broad precis overview of the ideas side of composition, if not the nitty-gritty compositional process, and Kiner is an energetic, enthusiastic subject.
If you haven’t seen Star Wars Rebels, you’re gonna want to catch up. Much like The Clone Wars, it’s got some of the strongest and most creative storytelling in the Star Wars franchise, but gets unfairly ignored by virtue of being an animated series. Newcomers are probably best to stream the show from the start, just due to the volume of material. For fans of the series, however, the Season 4 Blu-Ray is a strong package, offering a great deal of insight into the show’s storytelling and themes. With Star Wars Resistance on the horizon, it’s also a fascinating look into Dave Filoni's process. Let’s see if he can end up three for three.