This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 4 Episode 7
There’s something wonderfully earnest about this episode of Star Wars Rebels. It does away with any suggestion of filler; the introduction of a new (and/or returning) character is just one of many stand-out moments that are sure to get fans talking. It also sets up a battle for Lothal that resonates thematically with the show as a whole. Maybe it’s because Dave Filoni has been putting references to wolves into his shows since The Clone Wars, but I thought I could detect a sort of fannish glee, a detailed attention, to the loth-wolves in “Kindred.” They symbolize the spirit of the planet, and it works.
Family and home have always been an important theme of Rebels, but sometimes they felt more like phrases on a planning board than actual bones beneath the story. Whenever the dialogue emphasized the show as a found family, I thought it was pushing expectations a little high. This episode shows Lothal as a dynamic place with a past and future, though, and the characters reference some pretty weighty history of their own. It feels much more natural than Rebels sometimes does, just in time for the stakes to get higher.
After the Rebels steal the TIE Defender, Thrawn sends the assassin Rukh after the team. In the Expanded Universe, Rukh was one of the loyal, deadly Noghri in Thrawn’s employ. Rebels doesn’t reveal that yet, instead presenting Rukh as a simian killer with an elegant (if a bit over-processed) voice. I’m not sure, but it sounded like Warwick Davis was heavily modified to sound a bit mechanical. He feels very Star Wars, able to hold his own against humans and aliens alike but clearly surprised by Ezra’s Force powers. Even with his role confined for part of the episode to trailing along with a pleasantly furious Governor Pryce, he makes an impression — and if this episode hadn’t been so chock-full of plot points, he might have made an even bigger one. Fans of the books know to expect Rukh and Thrawn’s story to continue. Maybe he’ll get some more characterization by then. For now, he’s an only mildly intimidating antagonist who pushes our heroes toward their next step: the loth-wolves.
I’ve said before how much I like that Ezra’s Force powers connect to animals. The mysticism of this episode emanates from the wolves, but this isn’t exactly a case of Ezra being a Jedi prodigy and just summoning them. Throughout, there’s a sense of a larger power at work, some lower-case force in the planet itself. Unencumbered by either excessive lore-wrangling or Mortis-style mumbo jumbo, the wolves are a powerful, mysterious clan that got right at the part of me that would have been drawing reams of half-decent loth-wolf fanart when I was a teenager. Wolves are cool, Dave Filoni says gently. We the fans nod and agree.
The wolves don’t lean too heavily into the mysticism that divided fans over the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars. There’s little outright explanation here, but plenty of ways to piece the puzzle together, and no “it was all a dream”-style ending. Instead, the wolves are like gentle spirits of Lothal itself, plus some dinosaurian claws and dragon-like faces. I love them.
Then there’s Kanera. Kanan and Hera’s kiss after a long time of will-they, won’t-they, and have-they-already is both a gift and a nudge to the shippers; the script still doesn’t answer a lot of questions about their relationship. To me, it’s a very interesting way to handle a relationship between two adults with their own complex lives and emotions on a children’s show. I like to think that it’s presenting them in the way in which Ezra or Sabine might understand the relationship. The details aren’t shown — the emotion of the scene is half about the kiss and half about the cheering and exaggerated expressions going on in the background. Viewers who know about Hera’s tendency to clam up from season one and the flirty, almost-veering-into-pushy attitude Kanan had toward Hera in the novel A New Dawn can extrapolate. I imagine that the two of them have grown together a lot since then.
I’m also okay with all of that character development staying entirely in fans’ imaginations. The show isn’t focused on the relationship, and that’s okay. But the kiss also comes exactly when the two characters are at an emotional breaking point — Hera about to fly to Yavin 4, Kanan defending Lothal — and so of course the relationship gives viewers one more reason to hope Kanan will make it out okay. (Thanks to Forces of Destiny, we know Hera does.) I might have been a bit of a cliche if they had broken out the full “I love you” now. As it is, I wouldn’t complain about a resolution that explains a bit more about what exactly the two of them talked about — that interruption during the first attempted kiss was almost too comedically timed. But the relationship isn’t detailed enough to become boring or cloying, and, thankfully, doesn’t lean on the tired trope of couples badgering one another. Instead, it’s just sweet. When Hera shows up on Yavin 4, that bright lighting again does a great job of contributing to the feeling of victory and hope.
“Kindred” answers plenty of questions about Rebels, and after four seasons, that’s exactly what the show needs right now. I trust that these threads will be neatly tied up at the end. These are reveals that are based in character development, not in cameos (although Rukh fills the cameo quota). This was some solid space fantasy with a kind of earnest, indulgent love for its own ideas. My inner teenage self loved it, and my present-day Star Wars fan self was pretty happy too.