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Star Wars Rebels went nearly four seasons without killing off one of the main good guys, with even Ahsoka's apparent doom turning out to be a misdirect. Sadly, the death-free streak was broken halfway through Season 4 when Kanan sacrificed his life to save the rest of the Rebels family in a twist that was no less heartbreaking for the fact that a lot of fans had a pretty good idea that it was coming.
Now, more than a year has passed since Kanan died and fans have had some time to come to terms with his tragic yet heroic end, Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni explained how voice actor Freddie Prinze Jr. decided that Kanan had to die and stuck to it until the bitter end. At Star Wars Celebration's recent Star Wars Rebels Remembered panel, Filoni said this:
And I have to give Freddie a lot of credit, because he really kept me on track with this throughout the whole series because he was adamant about Kanan needing to go. Even at a point when I was like, ‘Man, Freddie this is depressing.’ He was like, ‘No, man, you gotta do it. You have to make it happen.’ I was like, ‘Okay. I guess I will.’ I was very sad. It was very moving.
Even Star Wars Rebels' showrunner was having second thoughts about Kanan dying like he did in Season 4! Kudos to Freddie Prinze Jr. for sticking to his guns about Kanan's death from the very beginning, although I have to wonder if it was a bit easier to deal with his character dying with the knowledge that the show was almost done anyway.
As upsetting as Kanan's death was after years of the Rebels rebels escaping impossible situation after impossible situation, Dave Filoni and Co. did handle it in a way that honored everything Kanan fought for. In a chat with CinemaBlend after Rebels ended, Filoni explained why Kanan died several episodes before the series finale. The goal was to show that the characters "could not just go back to being on an adventure the next episode, that the characters had to really feel the loss," because "the audience would feel the loss."
The death did raise the stakes for the rest of the series and made Hera's bombshell at the end of the finale all the more bittersweet. That she had been pregnant with Kanan's child at the time of his death meant that he lived on in a way that few could have predicted before the reveal, but it also meant that he never got to live to build a family with Hera.
Speaking of Hera, voice actress Vanessa Marshall actually didn't know about the Jacen Syndulla reveal in the series finale until she saw the episode for herself, and her reaction to the twist was both understandable and hilarious. At the Star Wars Celebration panel, she shared how it felt to lose Freddie Prinze Jr. from the cast as well as move forward in the rest of Rebels without Kanan as a character:
It was powerful, and I think we all felt it. I know Dave sat us down one day before we started to record to kind of fill us in on this… We were like, ‘Where’s Freddie?’ It was kind of a dark day. But much like the show chose to deal with that in the middle of the season, I think it showed us and all the Star Wars family, that we all have to process these rites of passage. We all lose loved ones, and that together we can heal through them. And just as we watched the Rebels group grow and somehow reclaim that hope, I think that we had a similar journey where we were really bummed out about it. Again, trying not to take it personally when we found out he was campaigning for it. Like, what? [laughs] We were all praying we didn’t die. ‘Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.’ Like, are we gonna make it? We didn’t know. But anyway, Freddie wanted to leave. [laughs] But by the end of it, I think it also when we got to see [Hera's] regret, I think it showed all of us how important it is that we let people know how much we love them, because we have no guarantees, and I think that’s also another very important lesson that this season’s arc gave us. We all got to go through that together, so ultimately yes, it hurt, but at the end of the day it was well worth it. I think it impacted us in our real lives as well.
The cast didn't actually know Kanan was dying until they turned up to work to record an episode set after the death! The characters did have to carry on and continue fighting the good fight without Kanan, so of course the rest of the cast had to keep working. Still, it was clearly impactful to them as actors, their characters on the show, and as people in real life.
Kanan's death was a turning point in Star Wars Rebels, so much so that the series really couldn't have ended the way it did if not for his heroic sacrifice. As Freddie Prinze Jr. said, Kanan's death had to happen.
As somebody who counted Kanan as my favorite character and yet was pretty convinced he was going to die before the end, I'm at least glad that he got a great death scene, and his promise that he and Hera would see each other again (right before taking off on a mission that ended with him blind) got to come true. It was sad but also oddly beautiful.
Dave Filoni spoke about the decision to restore Kanan's sight for those final few moments before he died, saying this:
When I was drawing it, just out of habit, I drew his eyes all the way in in this one moment, and I thought, ‘That actually kinda plays because he is in this one instant not so much a part of the material world as immaterial. He’s almost in that world between that I like so much. And I thought it’s this one instant, like in the reality of it or not, it’s what you believe and what you feel. And I think for Hera, their connection that she can see that and she can see him. And so what does that mean? Do you need it to be about your eyes seeing somebody or not? I don’t know, but that was the way to express in that moment, and I thought it was great.
The second half of Star Wars Rebels Season 4 delved into the world between worlds, and the Force has never been easy to explain. Did Kanan's eyes really return to normal? Or did Hera just get to see them as they once were through the Force because of their connection? Would the death scene have been as impactful to watch if not for that moment when they lock eyes one last time?
Sadly, Star Wars Rebels has come to an end, but that doesn't mean all the characters are done for good. Hera was still fighting for the Rebellion following the Battle of Endor, so she could be in the mix for a while. Sabine and Ahsoka's mission to find Ezra is surely worth diving back into in another Star Wars project, and Kanan himself could turn up in the revival of The Clone Wars back in his young Caleb Dume days. This is Star Wars. No one's ever really gone, right?
The Clone Wars will be back on Disney+, which recently revealed how much it will cost. A couple of live-action Star Wars series are coming to the streaming service as well, thanks to The Mandalorian and the Rogue One prequel series. What we know so far about The Mandalorian promises great things, and Star Wars Resistance on Disney Channel isn't done yet. Oh, and then there's that little matter of Episode IX, which recently received an official title.