by Ross Brown
In just over a week, the third season of Star Wars Rebels debuts and the lives and adventures of the crew of the Ghost will once again grace our favorite small screens. Accordingly, the time between now and the September 24th premiere is the perfect time to delve deeper into the past of one of the show’s most fascinating characters, Kanan Jarrus. In the show, Kanan’s past has been touched upon briefly, but never in depth. A Padawan survivor of Order 66 and the Empire’s best efforts to hunt and kill every remaining Jedi since, Kanan’s struggle to reconcile his own limited training with that of Ezra Bridger’s has been a significant theme throughout Rebels. The elements of his Jedi past that have been revealed through the show have been limited, but thankfully, with Marvel Comics’ Kanan: The Last Padawan and Kanan: First Blood, fans of the pony-tail-rocking Jedi Knight can learn about Kanan Jarrus’ life before and after his world and life changed forever.
Written by Greg Weisman, a writer for Rebels’ Season One, and illustrated by Pepe Laraz, the two volumes represent twelve issues which cover Kanan’s life as apprentice Caleb Dume before and after Order 66. The first volume, The Last Padawan, begins with a brief glimpse of the adventure enjoyed by a Padawan assigned to his Jedi Master in the midst of the Clone Wars. For fans of The Clone Wars, the pairing of Dume with his master, Depa Billaba, is reminiscent of Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker, as both split time between leading clone troopers into battle, making mincemeat of battle droids with their lightsabers, and conversing about the role of the Jedi. Readers are offered little time with Master Billaba, who appeared in non-speaking roles in the prequel trilogy films, but her abilities and wisdom as a Jedi overcome this short exposure as extremely impressive. Unfortunately, these halcyon days for Caleb Dume come to a quick end when the leaders of his clone trooper battalion receive the tragic order from Chancellor Palpatine.
For viewers of Rebels, it’s no surprise that Master Depa Billaba is killed under an insurmountable hail of blaster fire, and her death initiates the tipping point in Dume’s life when he begins the transition from Caleb Dume, Padawan, to wanderer and Force user in hiding, Kanan Jarrus. The remainder of The Last Padawan opens a window just glimpsed in the devastating montage of Jedi deaths in Revenge of the Sith, when former allies become foes and the Jedi are declared traitors to the Republic. Dume finds himself wandering the dark alleyways and streets of the planet recently liberated from Separatist control by him and Master Billaba, constantly short on food and a safe place to rest his eyes. In the course of evading one clone trooper patrol after another, he encounters Janus Kasmir. A Kalleran as two faced as his name suggests, the tall green lizard-like alien offers Dume a momentary sanctuary and, eventually, an alternative perspective to the galaxy at large. An undeniable rogue in the vein of Lando Calrissian (minus the cape) and Han Solo (minus the Wookiee), Kasmir presents Dume the opportunity to find a new path in life, one which leads far away from that of the Jedi.
At Kasmir’s side, Dume sheds his Jedi robes and signature lightsaber – reducing it to the two part weapon familiar to Rebels viewers – and engages in a profession of questionable legality that provides both a home and the ability to remain steps ahead of two former loyal clone troopers, Commander Grey and Captain Styles, in constant pursuit of the Jedi that got away. It’s his relationship with Kasmir which leads Dume to eventually surrender to his pursuers, but also leads Kasmir to attempt a fool-hardy rescue of his own unique Padawan learner. The conclusion of Dume’s capture and subsequent rescue attempt represents not only the climatic finale of the first volume, but also the defining moment when Caleb Dume finally allows himself to let go of his attachments to the Jedi and the life that could have been.
Kanan: First Blood, meanwhile, represents a multi-issue length record scratch and freeze frame regarding Kanan’s past, essentially saying, “Before Caleb Dume became Kanan Jarrus, he was fighting at the side of his Master, Depa Billaba, on the planet Kaller, and this is how he got there….” Is First Blood essential to understanding Kanan’s past and his path to becoming the Jedi Knight? Not in the least, but that also doesn’t matter, because dessert is always delicious regardless of how filling the dinner before it – and that’s exactly what First Blood represents, a savory seven issue collection which takes readers back beyond the opening of The Last Padawan to the moment when Caleb Dume meets and is ultimately assigned to Master Billaba. Then, over the course of the collection, it follows their growing relationship as student and teacher, as they fight in campaign after campaign to free planets from the Separatist threat. Consider it The Clone Wars: Side Story Edition. In First Blood more of Billaba’s teachings to Kanan are explored, while the opportunity is seized to offer a deeper characterization of Billaba’s character than the films and The Last Padawan allowed. Additionally, more of Dume’s background at the Jedi Temple is offered, giving fans of Kanan a chance to know even more of his Padawan past.
Fans of the Rebels Season Two episode “Protector of the Concord Dawn” will appreciate the in-universe introduction of Fenn Rau, and a depiction of the Third Battle on Mygeeto, both mentioned in that episode. Likewise, both The Last Padawan and First Blood are framed within a “present day” mission by the crew of The Ghost, and the final chapter of First Blood features both a cameo from the prime antagonist of Rebels Season One as well as one of the best new woman characters to grace an Imperial uniform, Rae Sloane. Ultimately, First Blood is a glorious dish of fan service that wasn’t necessarily needed, but quite wholly appreciated by anyone who loves Rebels and The Last Padawan. Together, the beautifully illustrated volumes offer fans the long desired telling of Kanan’s Jedi past and a glimpse into the horrific circumstances that followed Order 66. Neither volume is essential to enjoying Rebels, but undeniably both provide a deeper appreciation and exploration of one of its most fascinating characters, Kanan Jarrus.
Ross Brown spent much of his childhood in the “Dark Times,” before new Star Wars films existed beyond myth and rumor, subsiding on way too many hours of Star Wars novels, games, and repeated viewings of the original trilogy on VHS. In the enlightened era of The Force Awakens, Ross continues to spend too many hours on Star Wars novels, television shows, and comic books, but does so under the guise of being a mild-mannered attorney by day. To avoid frightening friends, family, and random strangers with his passion for Star Wars, Ross writes about the franchise at Brown’s Review on tumblr, on Facebook, and on Medium. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Wolfesghost.