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MAJOR spoilers ahead for the midseason finale of Star Wars Rebels Season 4, called "Rebel Assault." Read on at your own risk if you haven't watched the episode yet.
The action of Star Wars Rebels is fast-approaching the beginning of Rogue One in the Star Wars timeline, but there have still been some key pieces of the puzzle missing in the fourth and final season. In "Rebel Assault," the Ghost crew and the rest of the Rebel Alliance were dealt a major blow, and the tragedy will almost certainly set the stage for the events of Rogue One. The Rebellion's first major military assault on the Empire failed rather spectacularly.
In "Rebel Assault," the long-awaited attack on the TIE Defender factory on Lothal kicked off. Kanan and Co. were the ground assault team taking care of the defenses on the planet surface, while Hera led an X-wing assault on the Imperial blockade with the intention of breaking through and blasting the factory to smithereens. At first, it seemed like the rebels would win the day, as the ground team successfully blew up the anti-ship guns, and Hera's squadron of X-wings broke through the line of the blockade. Unfortunately for all the pilots, Grand Admiral Thrawn was ready for Hera, and the X-wings were met by far too many TIE fighters for them to possibly defeat.
The ground assault team saw projectiles falling toward the factory, but they weren't missiles fired by the victorious rebel pilots. No, they were the flaming remnants of the rebel X-wings and Y-wings. The entire squadron had been shot down, with only a few able to crash land and survive. In fact, at this point, the only survivors who turned up after the assault were Hera, Chopper, and Mart Mattin, although Wedge must have survived offscreen as well, given his role in the original Star Wars trilogy. Basically, the attempt to destroy the TIE Defender factor and liberate Lothal was a resounding failure, and the Rebel Alliance lost a lot of lives (and ships) in the process. That totally sets the stage for Rogue One.
In Rogue One, the Rebel Alliance was unwilling to commit their forces to an assault to try and obtain the plans to the Death Star. At the time, it seemed like Mon Mothma and other Rebel leaders were being overly cautious, as the Death Star had to be destroyed. In hindsight, however, it's easy to see why Rebel command was so hesitant about what basically amounted to a suicide mission with no guaranteed gains. Nobody knew for sure if they could get the Death Star plans or if the Death Star was as big a deal as Jyn claimed, and acting on such a hypothetical would naturally seem inconceivable after the loss of so much over Lothal.
The assault on Lothal was relatively straightforward, with forces on the ground and in the air to achieve a pretty simple objective: blow up the factory. In Rogue One, things weren't quite so simple, and the Alliance had relatively recently sustained a huge loss. The opening crawl of A New Hope guaranteed that the Rebels could never win a major victory prior to the timeline of Rogue One/A New Hope, and there's no way the attack on the TIE Defender factory will be considered a victory now, even if they do ultimately destroy it. Too much had been lost for the leaders to want to jump into action in Rogue One. Now, speaking of loss...
Things aren't looking too great for good old Kanan right about now. Somebody definitely would have mentioned Kanan to Luke in the original trilogy if Kanan was still around, and Kanan isn't the type to just quit the Rebellion, especially since we know Hera will still be around circa Return of the Jedi. Mon Mothma and Bail Organa also sent for Obi-Wan in Rogue One when they decided they needed the help of a Jedi, and that wouldn't have been necessary if Kanan was on hand. Still, Kanan's fate has never felt so dire as in the aftermath of "Rebel Assault."
In "Rebel Assault," Kanan took off on his own to try and rescue Hera from a city crawling with Imperials on the hunt for Rebel pilots who crashed after the failed attack. With Imperials everywhere, Rukh running around, and Thrawn not giving the order for Kanan to be taken alive, he's in a lot of danger. Then, there's the fact that he was stopped on the road by a Force-sensitive Loth-wolf with a message for him. The episode didn't reveal the message, but Kanan seemed oddly sure of himself when he rejoined the action at the end. He even went ahead and told Mart that there's something he could do, even if Mart couldn't do it.
Personally, my money is on the Loth-wolf telling Kanan that Hera is going to die unless he takes her place. If I'm right and since we know Hera isn't dying... well, Kanan doesn't have much time left. I wouldn't be shocked if Rebels gave Kanan and Hera that big on-screen kiss as a last hurrah before they were separated forever. We'll have to wait and see. More heartache is undoubtedly in store.
On the plus side, those TIE Defenders were nowhere to be seen in Rogue One or the original trilogy, so the rebels will probably succeed in taking out the factory in Lothal, even if they did have to lose a squadron of X-wings and possibly Kanan in the process. Star Wars Rebels will return for the rest of Season 4 and its series finale in 2018. For all the other shows that won't be back, take a gander at our breakdown of 2017 TV cancellations. If you're in the mood for more Star Wars sooner rather than later, you can catch The Last Jedi in theaters in December. Don't forget to take a look at some Star Wars Rebels details you may have missed in our list of all the Star Wars questions answered by Forces of Destiny.