When Star Wars Rebels entered its fourth season on Disney XD, the action was fast-approaching the timeline the original trilogy, and fans had to start thinking about why only two members of the Ghost were known to still be around by Rogue One. Since there were no Jedi handy to give Luke Skywalker any pointers, Kanan and Ezra seemed to be in danger of dying in the finale. Well, we now know that Ezra survived to embark on the next leg of his adventure in the galaxy far, far away, but Kanan lost his life in the second half of Season 4 in a devastating (although not altogether unexpected) twist.
Well, it was something we knew was going to happen from very early on. It’s something that Freddie was adamant, he felt needed to happen. And he was right. But you have to do it in a way that’s not like, ‘Well, of course that was going to happen because he’s the mentor character.’ George [Lucas] had taught me a long time ago [that] when you kill off a character, especially a main character, that it has to be meaningful. The kids watching especially have to understand why we’re doing it, why was that necessary, how does it feed the story. So something that we spoke about very early on in the story was that I wanted to do this episode but I wanted to have several episodes after that deal with that event, that they could not just go back to being on an adventure the next episode, that the characters had to really feel the loss, because I felt the audience would feel the loss. And I wanted them to understand why Kanan does what he does and that it’s a selfless choice, that it’s out of love and compassion for his friends.
Many Star Wars fans are somewhat used to characters dying in the films and then their deaths not being mourned for very long before the plot moves on. Luke didn’t get to mourn Han Solo for long after he discovered his friend’s death in The Last Jedi, and the very first Star Wars film ever produced didn’t spend too much time on the deaths of Owen and Beru, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or even the entire population of Alderaan. While this works for the movies, viewers who had spent nearly 70 episodes watching Kanan through his highs and lows needed more than a few minutes to deal with his fate, with youngsters in particular needing time. Kanan had to give his life if he wanted to save his family, and so he did. Oh, Kanan.
Dave Filoni’s decision to let Kanan die when he did allowed viewers the chance both to mourn the character and watch the rest of the Ghost crew deal with the fact that he was gone and not coming back, even as a Force ghost. The episodes following Kanan’s final act of self-sacrifice saw everybody reacting in their own way, with Hera (who had a whole new reason to want Kanan around) and Ezra in particular reeling from what happened. Even knowing that they would have died if Kanan hadn’t delayed the explosion of the fuel pod, they struggled to resign themselves to the tragedy, and that made sense with how people mourn in real life.
Star Wars Rebels allowed the characters to face that Kanan wasn’t coming part especially in the “World Between Worlds” episode that saw Ezra given the chance to save Kanan (and therefore allow the fuel pod to explode on all of them) and Hera seeming to feel Kanan’s presence on Lothal. With Ahsoka’s help, Ezra was able to find some closure and not interfere with Kanan’s sacrifice, and Hera understood that she wasn’t going to get Kanan back. Dave Filoni went on in his chat with CinemaBlend to explain why Kanan died the way he did:
And so you just try to start to formulate, to get him in a position where you believe that he can’t get out of it, and then later I stressed that in ‘The World Between Worlds,’ when Ezra sees the whole thing unfold again, and I think naturally thinking that ‘I wish there was something I could do, if I could just done something differently’ are natural things, so I kept comparing it not to events in the Star Wars universe but in our universe, in our real world. How do you feel when these things happen? And at the end of the day, very personally, while I was in the middle of directing those episodes and staging them, my father passed away, so you’re suddenly confronted with these very real feelings and what it’s like to be on the other side of that, losing a parent, which is a very very different thing. And I talked a bit with Freddie about it while I was doing it, while I was staging the actual scene, because I wanted it to be important and heartfelt and meaningful, because we all liked that character and I think that you can relate to it and then it has meaning. Because if you’re doing it, you have to do it not just for shock value. That’d be pretty meaningless to me, so if it was heartfelt and sad for people, I think that’s good, but I think they hopefully got through it with the rest of the crew who survived and went on to help everyone else and you see the outcome of it.
As fans, we have to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to enjoy the Star Wars ride, but the Ghost crew’s reactions to Kanan’s death felt very true to how people deal with real-life tragedies. As somebody who counted Kanan as my favorite Rebels character, I was certainly saddened by Kanan’s death, but the way he gave his life (and was able to see Hera one last time) definitely made it meaningful. Of course, the foreshadowing of his death didn’t hurt. Still, if you’re going to lose your favorite character, losing him in an act of epic self-sacrifice isn’t a bad way for it to happen.
In case you want to relive Kanan’s final episodes, you can find Star Wars Rebels Season 4 on Blu-ray now. There’s still plenty of Star Wars action coming to the small screen with Star Wars Resistance, the live-action series, and the highly-anticipated return of The Clone Wars, which will reveal ways that Star Wars Rebels impacted its new episodes. For some viewing options while we wait, take a look at our fall TV premiere guide.