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March 05, 2018 at 10:18 PM EST

It ends with a daring battle and the liberation of Lothal, the homeworld of Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), who went from street rat and thief to hero and aspiring Jedi over the show’s four-season arc.

While still grieving the death of Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the crew of the Ghost mount a last-ditch effort to sabotage the Empire’s occupying forces on Lothal, inspiring a full-scale uprising from the planet’s citizens.

Governor Arihnda Pryce (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) was destroyed, and Ezra summoned the “space whale” purgles to seize the Star Destroyer of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen.)

Purgles have a natural (almost mystical) ability to vault into hyperspace, and they lash their tentacles around the starship to rip Thrawn away from the planet and into the great beyond.

The only problem: Ezra is aboard the ship too. Can he survive that cosmic leap in a ship with broken windows and a shattered frame?

We’re led to believe the answer is yes.

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In a flash-forward, we see a bit of happily-ever-after for the surviving Ghost crew.

It is years later, after the Empire’s defeat at Endor in Return of the Jedi. Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) is shown flying in her ship with a new copilot, a son who is clearly part Twi’lek alien, like her, and part human, like his father, Kanan.

In voice-over, we learn that Hera fought with the Rebels on Endor, as did the clone soldier Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), fulfilling the fan theory that the white-bearded old Rebel trooper we see in the 1983 film really is our old friend from The Clone Wars.

Alien strongman Zeb Orrelios (Steve Blum) is shown bringing his foe-turned-friend Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) to the world where the other surviving Lasat beings are rebuilding their society. It’s a moment of bittersweet redemption and forgiveness for the former Imperial.

Then we see Mandalorian artist-warrior Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) looking older, wiser, and with her multicolored hair shorn. She is preparing for a mission to find a lost friend: Ezra Bridger. Waiting for her on the landing platform is a shrouded figure, Ahsoka Tano, who was once feared dead herself.

There is a promise to keep. And miles to go. But that’s a story to be told another time.

The full cast only saw the Rebels finale themselves on Friday, at a screening hosted on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank. Afterward, Nerdist associate editor and Lattes With Leia cohost Amy Ratcliffe conducted a Q&A with the actors and supervising director Dave Filoni that was both insightful and emotional.

Here are the highlights:

Hera and Kanan’s Child

“They had a kid?” This was Taylor Gray’s first exclamation as the panel began.

“Yeah, people do that sometimes,” Filoni said.

Hera and Kanan had developed an intimate relationship over the course of the series, but no one knew for sure just how intimate it was.

Fans witnessed an especially passionate kiss in the episode in which Kanan dies, but now we know that during that time Hera was already pregnant.

This twist caught even Taylor by surprise. Asked about the final sequence, she replied, “Oh … baby. You guys had always asked about that relationship. I think it was pretty serious. Now we have evidence. And I had no idea.”

The fact that humans and aliens might be able to have children also opens up compelling possibilities for future Star Wars stories. 

Chopper’s Voice Revealed

Throughout the run of the show, no one has ever been credited for creating the grunting mechanical sound effects of surly droid Chopper.

Turns out it was Filoni the whole time. Why did he finally decide to come forward?

“Show’s over. So it was kind of then or never,” he said. “I’ll have you know, at [Star Wars] Celebration a little tiny child asked me who played Chopper. I absolutely told her the truth, and she never said anything. Probably because it was disappointing.”

The audio is obviously filtered and warped to sound more like a robot, but Filoni recreated the raw sounds he would make to create Chopper’s distinctive voice. It sounds a lot like the muted trombone of a grownup from the Peanuts cartoons.

“I had a lot of people attempt to do it,” Filoni said of the pilot episode. But none of them were quite what he was looking for.

“I said, ‘Guys, guys, Chopper is a likable jerk. So let me show you what that’s like,’” the producer said. “I’m good at that. I can be likable … but a jerk. Ask my wife.”

One Last Sacrifice

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Even Gray isn’t sure what becomes of the young hero now. Ezra resisted temptation to stand up for what’s right, rejecting the Emperor’s mirage of a reunion with his deceased mother and father. But he ended up separated, perhaps lost forever, from the found family he had built since.

“I have so many questions. I don’t know where everything lies,” he said. “I love the movie Rudy, and every time they chant ‘Ru-dee, Ru-dee’ and he goes out, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. And I got that here.”

The point of Ezra vanishing serves a narrative utility. He’s obviously not featured in the events of the original trilogy, so this explains his absence. But there’s a clear implication he survived and is merely lost in the unknown reaches of space.

If so, it stands to reason that Thrawn, who was ensnared by Purgle tentacles just a few feet away from Ezra before the hyperspace jump, also lives to fight another day.

“I followed Freddie’s lead with Kanan,” Gray said. “He led the way with his selfless act. I just followed in his footsteps as best as I could.”

Prinze was not at the Q&A, but Filoni said the actor was begging for a good death scene for years: “‘Yo, dude, you decide to kill me yet?’ He’s like, ‘I’ve been thinking about that,’” Filoni said. “I found a good way to do it, and he was very excited about that. You need commitment on his part.”

The Search For Ezra

It takes courage to end a series with another beginning, but that’s what Rebels did.

Ahsoka and Sabine are venturing off to find their friend, and they could encounter anyone at all — even beloved figures from the original Star Wars trilogy.

Filoni deflected about what comes next. He said he does know if there’ll be more stories, but can’t say anything yet. (That sounds like a yes, FYI.)

“I’ve always felt the best stories end and then other stories begin, and there’s no better way to take two of my favorite characters and have them ride off into the sunset, like I’ve seen so many cowboys over the years, or Indiana Jones,” he said.

“One thing ends and another begins, and the story continues,” Filoni added. “That’s a saga.”

Blum said he wouldn’t mind seeing Zeb headline his own show too. “I got my man in the end. That was the greatest gift you’ve ever given me. We get our own show now, right? The Kallus and Zeb Adventures!”

Saving the World, If Not the Galaxy

Rebels was never going to be about defeating the Empire. That was Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo’s job. But Ezra and his found family had another goal — liberating the world of Lothal.

In that, they succeeded. And their brazen effort is meant to inspire another: the theft of the Death Star plans on Scarif in Rogue One, which was the first major victory of the overall Rebellion.

That success and the events of 1977’s original Star Wars are meant to explain why the Empire never returns to reconquer Lothal.

Lothal 1, Emperor 0

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“I wanted people to understand that once they overthrew the Empire, there were expectations of a large battle [on Lothal] that never happened,” Filoni said. “Our story ends, and Scarif and the whole Luke Skywalker thing happens. The Emperor’s attention is completely refocused.”

Lothal is the beginning of the end for Palpatine, who also turned up in the Rebels finale (voiced by Ian McDiarmid) as a hologram tempting Ezra.

“He has a series of defeats,” Filoni said of the Emperor. “He loses the Death Star when his entire plan of fear is based on having a Death Star. His effort to subject fear on the galaxy is completely inversed, and now the Emperor is actually afraid. The secret of every evil character and every real villain is they’re the most afraid. The reason they accumulate this power and persecute people is because they’re terrified inside. They cause pain and devastation to compensate for these fears.”

And so Lothal distracts him, which weakens the Empire enough to allow the raid at Scarif to take place, which destabilizes it even more as the Rebels launch their attack on the Death Star. Then Luke Skywalker’s presence rattles the Emperor even further.

“His fear of Luke Skywalker drives his attention away from Lothal, so those people end up benefiting in the end,” Filoni explained.

 A Surprise Happy Ending

“We didn’t know if any of us were going to survive except for Hera,” said Blum. Hera’s fate was assured because we hear her being summoned over the intercom in Rogue One, and the animated Forces of Destiny shorts featured her on Endor.

But none of the others knew what would become of their characters. “It was a little disjointed and disconcerting. We just had to trust,” Blum said.

In a twist, it turned out most of them survived.

“So many people were obsessed with everybody dying,” Filoni said. “I was bewildered by it, because I’ve seen the original trilogy of Star Wars that people like so much, and it’s not a death-count type of movie making. It has a rather positive outcome.”

Finding the Light

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That’s why Rebels had to end on an upbeat note. Darkness is about failure and bitterness. About resentment and contempt.

Even when the good guys lose their lives, there is victory in having done the right thing. Filoni said it’s a simple, perhaps obvious, but nonetheless important message.

“Stop thinking of the Dark Side as some pathway to power. That’s the Emperor lying to you,” he said. “It’s destructive. Darth Vader is miserable. He lost everything. He has nothing. He has no one in his life. Absolutely nothing, until his son comes back and says, ‘I love you.’ That’s it. Other than that, his life is a wreck. You get that power, but at what cost? The Emperor has no one, nothing around him but fear and hate. And that’s no way to live your life.”

George’s Toybox

After the finale, Filoni paid tribute to the master who inspired him — and countless others. Before George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, he and Filoni collaborated on the Clone Wars series.

“I made Star Wars with George for almost a decade, and then I suddenly had to make it without him,” Filoni said. “It’s a huge responsibility. No matter what I had to do on Clone Wars, I could ask him and count on that as the right thing to do.

“I believe very strongly that Star Wars has been a cultural phenomenon for more than 40 years because George really knew what he was doing,” Filoni added. “I’m a big believer in his storytelling and his message. And that’s what Rebels passed on to me. I have to try my best to remember what I learned, and pass it on to the crew. It’s a special thing, Star Wars. It’s a limitless galaxy of imagination. Anything is possible there, but there are certain rules that apply.

“George always pushed it. always pushed it farther than anybody else,” he went on. “He was never afraid to try things and experiment. Everyone else would say, ‘We can’t do this, and we can’t do that.’ He used to say to me, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ And that’s the whole key to this. When you’re afraid, you start to make mistakes, you wall yourself off, you stop listening, you don’t trust other people, you go inward, and you get angry. Then you lash out. That’s all the Dark Side.”

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