As announced at Star Wars Celebration Orlando over the weekend, Season 4 of Star Wars Rebels will also be the show's final bow. In what will play out as one season-long story arc, we'll come to a conclusion for the cast of characters fans have fallen for over the last three years and see how this once-ragtag group has truly become a family.
Of course, at the start of Star Wars: A New Hope, and throughout the trilogy, we don't see these characters -- heck, Yoda says Luke is the last Jedi, and there are two Jedi on the Rebels team, and that means for their story to end something major will have to happen, and the final season won't exactly be fun and games.
"The point of this show, and just what Star Wars should be, is the experience – there will be episodes that have a somber moment or ending, but you have to go through those things, both with the characters and as the characters, to get to some type of conclusion of perhaps joy and a feeling of victory. What is your victory without the consequences or knowledge of what defeat can be?" EP Dave Filoni told assembled press and bloggers at a special press conference for the final season.
While the season will have "some tragic things and difficult things along the way," Filoni hopes that in the end people see it as fitting the essential Star Wars themes. "So we have these ups and downs, but I think always Star Wars represents a happy thing, a thing that exhilarates people, a thing that gives you hope, a thing that makes you feel like you can attack the day better, a thing that inspires you, that inspires kids. That's always been the goal that I had with this show, is to inspire all of you guys, especially the kids in the audience. So I'm working toward that end."
That feeling of inspiration is something all the cast members have felt, both from their characters and what they hope their characters are sending out to fans.
"For me, one of my favorite lines that Hera says is, 'We have hope.' That's something that I feel we all need right now, I know I do," Vanessa Marshall said of drawing inspiration from the Twi'lek pilot and captain of the Ghost. "I draw on Hera's strength in that capacity, and that in the face of impossible odds, she's always hopeful."
For Steve Blum, Zeb's journey has been about "finding a place of vulnerability and trust." While he came into the series "with nothing left to lose," now he's built a family for himself and "has everything to lose."
"I hope that kids walk away from this knowing it's okay to be vulnerable and okay to trust, okay to have hope and see that there's something bigger, even in your darkest moments," Blum said.
Actress Tiya Sircar's character Sabine Wren went through quite a lot when it came to family in Season 3, rediscovering her biological family and truly letting her Rebel family in. "This girl who was on her own, doing whatever she was up to, finding a safe space with these people who were not her blood relatives, in having this shared cause they became a family. Just that there is hope out there for people in similar situations, that you might be able to find that family bond somewhere, even if it's not where you expect," she said.
Ezra's been through similar things as those two, said Taylor Gray, finding that "willingness to trust" and finding "his independence," but it comes down to his inner strength when Gray looks at what to pass on.
"“With Ezra, it depends where you break it down, but I would say his strength, really. I wish that I was as strong as Ezra when I was a kid. I feel like that's something that enables you, if you believe in yourself the way that Ezra does, you can accomplish things that seem impossible," said Gray.
Ezra will have to draw considerably on that strength, as Gray teased the youngest member of the team, and a capable Jedi warrior on his own now, will have to take the "selflessness that he's now learned" into Season 4, "where he's in a position to make a decision as to who he wants to be." Gray said that to him, Ezra learning to both shoulder and share responsibility has been very important. "If you look at the very first episode, he's come so far, and he's changed a lot; it's been super cool. Season 4 is interesting because a lot of decisions are made for Ezra. There's a major turning point for Ezra in Season 4, but I can't say that," he said with a laugh. "I think Ezra realized his calling, in that he needs to go back to the place he's from and help his people of Lothal. Watching Sabine's trajectory through Season 3 will help define part of who Ezra is."
One bit of hope was offered to a specific set of fans, though, and that's the fans that "ship" Kanan and Hera as being more than just partners.
"It's obvious that they've had a connection, and that is explored further, and I think I should probably just leave it there," Marshall teased. In the trailer, there's a moment where the two touch faces in a way that's clearly more-than-friends. "But I think many fans who have been rooting for the #SpaceMarried will find it very moving.”
As for villainy, of which there will be plenty, Filoni would not give a definitive answer on whether Darth Vader or his master the Emperor would be seen, seemingly implying they could make an appearance. But this is still Thrawn's battle to fight at the moment, and he will come into this final season with nothing but total victory on the mind.
“Thrawn in Season 4 is operating from a position of victory. He, in his mind, has really set back, and he's correct, the Rebel Fleet with a crushing blow. He's also tempered their aggressive tendency, which you'll see the after effects of all the way through to Rogue One, where you see their reluctance to actually fight on a bigger scale. It takes a lot to draw them out because they lost so big," Filoni said, referring to the most recent Star Wars film.
In that movie, the Rebel Alliance council hesitates to help Jyn Erso and her crew in what could be a major battle. Taking place a couple of years after the climax of Rebels Season 3, that direct connection gives the blue-skinned baddie a lot of weight. "It's interesting to see the effects of Thrawn, which is what you want. You want him to be an important character, and be a villain that's affecting everything. He's operating from a position of having total control of the fallout, and the Rebels in some ways have been deconstructed. They're trying to amass all these ships, all these starfighters, and one has to start to wonder what will ever be the point of that. Are they ever going to have as much hardware as Thrawn to fight him? Let alone his tactical genius?”
In the end, of course, it all comes down to the will of the Force, "the core of Star Wars," as Filoni refers to it, and how Ezra and Kanan commit to it. As Kanan learned, and then taught to his padawan in Season 3, it all comes down to facing fear, and letting go of it. It's Yoda's original lesson, that fear is the path of the dark side, expressed as the finale of this team's journey.
"I think what we'll explore in Season 4 is we'll get to the depth of Ezra's commitment and Kanan's commitment to the Force, that ultimate choice that you become more dangerous and turn to wickedness, or if you in the face of fear turn to good. Fear is the root of all evil. Fear destroys everything. Fear makes you make decisions you would not make. Fear makes you think you're making good decisions and they're poor decisions, because you're afraid. If you take nothing else away from Star Wars, you should make no decision out of fear. When the Emperor stands before you and has destroyed your father and ruined your life and made you powerless and hate your father, almost, that you throw it down. You must remember at that critical point to throw your weapon away because you love the person that's your father, you love your mother and nothing you do can destroy that. You stand on your commitment, and that inspires the hope, inspires the love, which is something that evil does not understand. That's the core of Star Wars. That is the power that you can't possibly imagine if you're evil, that Obi-Wan speaks of. So maybe we'll get to that," Filoni said to open applause.
While fans may fear the end and cannot possibly imagine leaving Star Wars Rebels behind, it sounds like they're committed to their decisions and ready to show us that if we trust in the Force, all things are possible.
Star Wars Rebels returns to Disney XD for its fourth and final season in Fall 2017.