by Ross Brown
Season Two of Star Wars Rebels revealed The Clone Wars DNA built into the show, due in part to its incredibly talented team’s past working on that show. It drew upon The Clone Wars stories and characters, from Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice, to Captain Rex, the most popular Clone Trooper to fight at the side of the Jedi against the Separatist threat. In “The Last Battle,” Rebels opted to fully commit to its animated predecessor for the purpose of exploring Captain Rex’s character, and additionally, to underline how the prequel trilogy was not just about the fall of Anakin Skywalker, but also Emperor Palpatine’s manipulative rise to power. It begins with a trip into the past.
In search for supplies for the growing rebellion, Hera and Sabine deposit Rex, Kanan, Zeb, Chopper and Ezra on the planet of Agamar, the location of a former Separatist base from the Clone Wars. Rex’s character is immediately the topic of discussion after Ezra ridicules the threat posed by the Separatist droid armies and is chastised by Kanan, who explains that Rex might suffer from scars – post-traumatic stress – from his time in the war. The scope of the war, its countless battles, and as Rex describes it, the tens of thousands of droids he faced and fought, is laid out for the viewer to appreciate in the lead up to the surprise appearance of fully functional battle droids. The team, minus Chopper, are captured and knocked unconscious. They awake to the sight of a super tactical droid and for a brief moment, a groggy Rex confuses time and place, believing himself back in the Clone Wars. It passes and why the droids remain functional is quickly explained.
At the end of the Clone Wars, after the elimination of the Jedi, the decommissioning of the Clone Troopers, the droids of the Separatist armies were sent an order to shut down. The super tactical droid, however, believed it simply a ruse and stopped the shut down order from reaching its droids. It’s a nod to Japanese soldiers, who refused to believe that their nation had surrendered in 1945, and continued to live in remote pockets of the Pacific for years after the war’s conclusion ready to fight. At risk of execution, the super tactical droid forces Kanan, Rex, and Ezra, to participate in a life and death war game to prove that the Separatist forces should have won the Clone Wars.
“The Last Battle,” moves beyond simply being a nostalgic spin for fans of The Clone Wars to commentate on the Clone Wars themselves and their role in the history of the Star Wars universe. When the ‘war game’ concludes with a stalemate followed by an Ezra lead discussion about the war, the role of the Clone Wars to facilitate the rise of the Galactic Empire is made clear. By extension, the sacrifices of the droid and clone armies, in reflection, can be seen to have fought for nothing, a sober fact which unites the opposing sides in “The Last Battle,” when Imperial forces arrive, lured to the planet by a distress call sent earlier by Chopper. The similarity between the two sides, beyond their role as a tool by Palpatine to gain power, is referenced by Rex, who explains that both droids and clones were essentially programmed for war and not much else.
In a larger sense, a show which has the word ‘wars’ in its title artfully uses a Clone Wars referential episode to subtly make an anti-war statement. The Clone Wars, through its five plus seasons, made an earnest effort to never glorify war, humanized its clone troopers, and at times, made it a point to show the negative ramifications of war on civilian populations. Star Wars Rebels, which itself is a show about the beginnings of a war against a galactic evil, casts sympathetic eyes on soldiers of both sides of the previous conflict as victims, while delineating the soldiers of the current struggle as fighting a truly just war to end tyranny. “The Last Battle,” then, is both a warning against war, but also an attempt to say that some wars are necessary. The combatants of the two wars, now in comparison, cookie cutter combatants in the former, created to serve a need to fight a war to serve the personal needs of one man, contrast against the diverse fighters of rebellion, against an enemy which still employs an army of identical combatants, who exist only to continue to further the aspirations of Sheev Palpatine.
In the swells of familiar music written by Kevin Kiner, who also scored The Clone Wars, and the familiar, whimsically laced actions of battle droids, it’s easy to watch “The Last Battle,” and see it as nothing more than one last “glorious day in the Grand Army of the Republic,” an homage to The Clone Wars. In fairness, it is exactly that, but in honoring the show which made Rebels possible, Rebels also honors the message that The Clone Wars, and to a large degree, the prequel trilogy, conveyed. War should be examined. Why it is fought, who fights it, and what are the ramifications to follow, are questions that arise in those installments of the Star Wars franchise, as well in “The Last Battle.”
Perhaps the only unnecessary aspect of “The Last Battle” is its conclusion, which requires Rex to have an epiphany over Ezra’s thoughts spoken earlier in the episode concerning the purpose of the war. Rex claims Ezra resolved the war, something no one else during the time of the war was able to do, from the Senate to the Separatists. This odd addition to an overwhelmingly satisfying episode might serve to suggest that a younger generation should have a voice because they can see things that others entrenched in the past cannot, but it does so at the expense of Rex’s character in an episode built around sympathizing with him over the losses of friends and comrades he suffered and how the war continues to affect him nearly two decades later. Ezra didn’t need the gold star of approval from Rex, whose experiences Ezra began the episode making light of while studying the head of a battle droid. More so, Ezra did not bring an end to the Clone Wars by simply convincing a super battle droid to work with the rebels to escape the Empire, because the Clone Wars, as the episode outlined, were never about the combatants in the first place.
“The Last Battle,” is an episode which deserves to be watched and then rewatched, and while knowledge of The Clone Wars is not necessary, it, along with the prequel trilogy films, enriches the meaning and message of the episode. Ultimately, it succeeds because it adheres to the words of Jedi Master Yoda, “Wars not make one great,” which reflect how Star Wars approaches the ‘wars’ in its title. Wars are a setting for its stories, but those wars are not what make the franchise great. Instead, it’s the message about those wars which do.
For more on “The Last Battle” check out the episode guide on StarWars.com.
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.