This article contains spoilers for Star Wars Rebels Season 3, Episode 6
Battle Droids versus Imperial Stormtroopers—the Star Wars showdown you never dreamed you’d see!
Or maybe you did.
“The Last Battle” makes me think about the epic confrontations my kids stage between their many Star Wars Galactic Heroes figures, blissfully ignoring movie and TV series distinctions. I’ve seen the Separatist Alliance’s “Roger, Roger” robotic defenders go up against the Empire’s warriors in white many times in my own living room! But I enjoyed seeing this episode of Star Wars Rebels grant such a face-off canonical status.
This week’s 22 minutes were fast-paced and full of action, but they also offered some chances to reflect. Here are 3 questions “The Last Battle” prompted me to ask—and they’re all pretty sobering ones:
1) How do warriors heal from the trauma of war?
This season, Star Wars Rebels seems intent on raising a question that has very obvious, pressing real-world ramifications. We glimpsed it in last week’s episode, “Hera’s Heroes,” as Chopper stood his mournful vigil by the Y-wing wreckage on Ryloth. We see it even more plainly this week, when Rex regains consciousness and believes, for a moment, that the Clone Wars have never ended.
“The war is over!” Rex tells Kalani. But this episode reveals the war has raged on in the minds of both clone captain and tactical droid for nearly two decades. I appreciate how Star Wars on the small screen frequently takes time to acknowledge the physical and psychic toll of warfare in a way the Star Wars movies seldom do. Without becoming morality plays, episodes like “The Last Battle” lead viewers to consider war’s cost on the lives of those who fight it long after they leave the battlefield (should they be fortunate enough to do so)—and maybe even ask what they can do to help.
(Appropriately enough, the “Force for Change” charity contest that accompanied last year’s premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens included, by Harrison Ford’s nomination, the fStop Warrior Project, which helps wounded veterans transition to civilian life through digital photography.)
2) How different are we from our enemies?
Several times, “The Last Battle” invites viewers to question how different Rex and his foes really are:
- Winning the war “means a lot to [Kalani’s] programming,” Rex tells Ezra. “It means a lot to mine, as well.”
- “He needs to finish his battle his way,” Kanan says of Rex. “Just like that droid,” Ezra replies.
- “That droid’s too old,” Rex says after destroying the droideka, “just like me.”
What should we make of these moments? The parallels make sense, to a point. Clone troopers and battle droids were both created for combat; they existed for no other reason. And yet both Rex and Kalani are more than interchangeable fighters. They have distinct, individual identities. By the episode’s end, they are even working toward the same goal.
In real life, wars depend on each side viewing the other as monolithic. Military indoctrination (analogous to clones’ and droids’ “programming”?) cannot, for good reason, encourage soldiers to consider “the enemy” as individuals, let alone individuals who may turn out to be a lot like them. What lessons, if any, can or should we take away from this episode, in which the most battle-hardened foes turn out to be more alike than different?
3) Can wars ultimately have winners?
By the episode’s end, Ezra realizes neither the clones nor the droids were ever meant to win the Clone Wars. This insight leads rebels and robots to join forces against their common enemy, —but Kalani’s calculation that a rebellion against the Empire stands a less than one percent chance of succeeding sounds a cautionary note. While we may laugh at the line as the dramatic irony it’s surely meant to be, we might also consider that, in The Force Awakens, thirty years after the Rebel Alliance “wins,” the galaxy is still embroiled in war.
No intellectually honest assessment of Star Wars can conclude it promotes pacifism or political quietism. It affirms, strongly, that evil’s tyranny is real and must be resisted. But “The Last Battle” shows how this swashbuckling space saga full of lightsabers, blasters and big explosions includes a subtle lament that violence, even in the service of a righteous cause, tends to lead to more violence. Can wars really and truly have “winners”—either a long time ago and far, far away, or right now and right here?
What did you think about “The Last Battle”? Let’s talk in the comments below!