This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 4
“The Last Battle” is a farewell and a celebration, a re-creation of the Clone Wars in the days of the Empire. It’s also a re-creation of The Clone Wars in Rebels, with a lot to unpack about the relationship between the two shows and the dynasties they portray. Writer Brent Friedman paces the episode well and gives unique voices to both Rex and Ezra. However, those voices don’t quite match what came before, and the episode just barely touches on fascinating ideas about why the Republic fell, instead becoming an introspective story that leans on the fans’ (and crew members’) fondness for an earlier show.
The episode starts out with characters investigating the bones of the dead. A Separatist battleship went down during the Clone Wars on the planet of Agamar, and Rex, Zeb, Kanan, and Ezra go to scavenge it for weapons. When they arrive, though, they find General Kalani, a super tactical droid and survivor of the Clone Wars. (His appearance is also a roundabout Rogue One tie-in: Kalani commanded the droid forces on Onderon, where Saw Gerrera fought for the local militia.)
Kalani wants to prove that his droids can outfight the Jedi. So, he takes Zeb captive and insists that the Jedi and Rex participate in a war game to recreate the type of battle Jedi faced during the Clone Wars.
On a purely visual level, this episode is an odd delight; the aging Rex taking down droidekas, Ezra facing off against battle droids, and the later appearance of the Empire all feel refreshing and different, like a fan’s toybox dream of putting Rebels characters in The Clone Wars. The animation is striking – one shot lingers on the detailed aftermath of a droid being hit with a blaster bolt. The wrecked ship is colorful and beautiful, and dangerous when cloaked by fog. The music is also exceptional, with a fun melody brightening up some pretty standard adventures for Chopper.
But the real stars of the episode are Captain Rex and Ezra. Gone is the increasingly snide, opportunistic apprentice Ezra is becoming; instead, he’s a mixture of unwieldy Padawan and deep-thinking strategist here. He becomes the vehicle for some of the episode’s most interesting commentary on the prequels. Who actually won the Clone Wars? Ezra asks, and just the question is enough to stop other characters in their tracks. After all, that’s the crux of Revenge of the Sith; the Empire won because nobody saw it coming.
I love that Ezra asked this question, but wish it had been pushed a little further. Other characters don’t ask many follow-up questions afterward, and they never talk about the center of it all, the emperor. This may be by necessity: no one in this group is given any reason to discuss the emperor, but everything they do talk about was part of Palpatine’s design. Ezra figures out in a flash what the Jedi Council couldn’t see: that the Clone Wars weren’t designed for either the Republic or the Separatists to win. In “The Last Battle,” everyone, including Rex, has a second chance to answer that question. Ezra brings up a fascinating point, but his assessment also seems to come out of nowhere, and the episode doesn’t move forward with the plot about his dark side tendencies or his search for the “twin suns.” The focus is firmly on the past.
With Rex, though, that’s generally a good thing. The aging clone has been serving as the disciplined, level-headed advisor to Ahsoka Tano and to the Rebels for a while now, so it might be easy to forget that not too long ago he was an old man living on a galactic fishing boat, letting his life spool out alongside his brothers’. The Rex we see in “The Last Battle” feels more like his character in The Clone Wars, which is entirely appropriate, although it feels oddly as if his earlier plot on Rebels didn’t even happen.
However, Rex’s story is solid and full of pathos. From the moment he steps on the crashed ship, he displays the way clones are as “programmed” as droids are. He slips into battle mode easily and usefully, working with the Jedi just like he used to work with Anakin and Ahsoka. He gets frustrated more easily, too, and throughout the episode you see Rex almost consumed by the past, falling easily back into an old groove. It’s jarring and sympathetic. At first I considered saying that it felt too disconnected from who Rex had been in Rebels, too different. However, I think that was exactly the point.
As for the other characters, they don’t have much to do. Conspicuously, the two female Rebels are part of a successful mission that is barely portrayed on screen. The Imperials Kallus and Pryce also appear only briefly, but pile some fuel on fan speculation when they do.
With that, “The Last Battle” is an interesting meta-commentary on The Clone Wars, if a bit too dependent on viewers’ prior knowledge of and attachment to characters like Rex. With Rex and Ezra, “The Last Battle” shows a Jedi too young and a clone too old to fight in the Clone Wars fighting anyway. The resulting conversation between Rebels and The Clone Wars is affecting and smart, even though it feels a bit disconnected from the episodes around it.
I also wondered how this episode would have been different with a non-droid Separatist leader involved instead of Kalani. However, having a droid running a war game to replicate a decade-old battle was completely the point: with Palpatine running the show, the Clone Wars were always as fake as Kalani’s war game.