Star Wars Rebels had a lot of expectations riding on it as the first post-Disney Star Wars product, and for the most part it did not disappoint. The first season got off to a slightly rocky start before finding its feet and a distinctive voice in the Star Wars saga. Season two was stellar, juggling several plot threads as it balanced between the history of the prequels and The Clone Wars and events to come in the original trilogy. However, season 3 seemed to lose its way a little bit, with a few too many plot threads for it to handle comfortably and some exceptional episodes balanced out by some entertaining-but-unnecessary ones. Unfortunately, the last season of Star Wars Rebels feels like it’s splitting the difference between seasons 2 and 3, with more focus and some exceptional high points getting marred by some more filler or episodes more concerned with continuity than sense, and other episodes where characters make some truly baffling decisions.
One definite improvement from the last season is a much greater sense of focus. This is due in part to the 16-episode season (as opposed to season 3’s 22 episodes), but also because the bulk of the season is spent in an extended struggle to reclaim Lothal, home planet to young Padawan Ezra Bridger. The season spends its first two episodes following up on Sabine’s main plot thread to take back Mandalore from the Empire, and find a Mandalorian worthy to wield the fabled Darksaber and unite the fractious clans of Mandalore. The episodes are quite stirring and include several ties back to events from The Clone Wars, and the series could have easily spent half the season on the war for Mandalore. The next two episodes mark the return of Saw Gerrera (again voiced by Forrest Whitaker), depicting his break from the Rebellion and throwing out a few plot threads that won’t pay off until Rogue One. They’re not bad episodes, but they can still feel a little dissatisfying since their resolution is deliberately excluded.
After that, the next dozen episodes focus on the fight for Lothal, with the Ghost crew smuggling themselves onto the planet and linking up with a bare-bones resistance fighting force. This particular Rebel cell gets little support from the Rebellion leadership, leaving the crew of the Ghost to take on the Empire practically on their own. They do manage to obtain help from a surprising source, which has the side-effect of furthering Ezra’s connection with the Force. These new elements are among the best elements of this season, with their inscrutable motives and “the Force moves in mysterious ways” mysticism leading to a kind of intriguing and pleasant sense of bafflement. One truly gets the sense of mechanics at work that are just beyond our comprehension. Grand Admiral Thrawn is removed from the scene in another callback to Rogue One, leaving behind the unctuous Governor Pryce and his personal assassin Rukh, a deadly Noghri that soon gives the Ghost crew fits. These episodes alternate between grounded outer-space combat and strange Force-related mysticism (with one pair of episodes, “Wolves and a Door” and “A World Between Worlds” alternating between these two sides explicitly), leading up to an explosive conclusion that neatly wraps up the series while leaving doors open for future stories.
Unfortunately, these last episodes are regularly marred by baffling decisions made by characters who really ought to know better. One especially vivid example of this happens late in the season, when the Rebels decide to release an Imperial for no reason other than letting him return to plague them during the endgame. When the episodes were airing live, I was hoping that this was part of some larger plan, but if it was then it wasn’t clearly defined enough or it was just a really stupid plan. It also highlights an aspect of Star Wars morality that grows increasingly irksome in that the Rebellion in general and the heroes of these movies in particular have no problem mowing down hordes of faceless Stormtroopers or blowing up space ships with hundreds to thousands of people on them, but named characters are often spared or offered debates on ethics and morality and not stooping to the Empire’s level. One such decision mars a moment in the final episode, when a character is offered mercy despite never having shown the slightest sympathetic character trait to deserve it — a moment made especially ironic for the hundreds of other Imperials who die with this character just a few minutes later but who aren’t offered a similar way out. However, the biggest mistake that Star Wars Rebels makes in its endgame is in undoing one of the sharpest and most poignant moments earlier in the series. As much as I like the character involved, the seeming death had real emotional weight and meaning; undoing it makes that earlier moment feel cheap in hindsight.
From a presentation perspective, all of the season sets for Star Wars Rebels have been terrific so far and this season set is no exception. The best bonus features are probably the commentary tracks by executive producer Dave Filoni (sometimes joined by other crew members) for 6 key episodes in the season. There is very little duplication between these commentary tracks and the rest of the bonus features, which include three featurettes (one retrospective on the crew of the Ghost and other key players, one on the Force and the unusual ways it manifests itself in this series, and one on the excellent music of composer Kevin Kiner and his sons) and the complete set of “Rebels Recon” recaps and behind-the-scenes discussion. I suppose it’s too late to ever get that marathon play feature I wished for way back with the season 1 set, where each episode is followed by its “Recon” recap, but I’ll wish for it again anyway in the hope it will be implemented in some future series set.
In the end, season two of Star Wars Rebels remains the series high point. Despite its flaws I’d probably rank this fourth season closely behind it, although this is due as much to greater weaknesses in the first and third seasons as it is to this season’s strengths. Still, Star Wars Rebels managed to sustain its mandate of bridging the prequel movies and the original trilogy while introducing several terrific new characters to the Star Wars universe.