Space-traveling animals, long-expected romance, Thrawn’s old-canon personal assassin, and Lord of the Rings imagery: that could be, in short, the summary of the most prominent elements of Kindred and Crawler Commandeers, Rebels seventh/eighth double-episode of the final season.

The Assassin of Legends

The appearance of Rukh, Thrawn’s personal assassin (of the Noghri species, even if this wasn’t mentioned in the show), is a homage to Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy from early 1990s. In that story (where the character of Thrawn appeared for the first time, and his popularity eventually pushed him back into the new canon in Rebels), Rukh’s role was, without giving up any spoilers, crucial. In this light, his brief visit in Kindred seemed somewhat disappointing (and to be honest, his visual design was a touch disappointing as well). I am sure many fans are hoping he will get more screentime in some of the following episodes. At the same time, it seems difficult to see how his character is going to get enough time to develop in such a way that he could play the same role he did in the Thrawn trilogy. And especially now, since this is the last season, and the creators seem to be rather focusing on closing up existing story arcs (as they should be) rather than opening new ones.

There are two nice small touches regarding Rukh, however. One was Thrawn’s pronounciation of his name, which sounded “proper”: unlike most Imperials, Thrawn, being the cultural expert, would know how to pronounce alien names and take care to do it right. Another pretty little detail was governor Pryce’s attitude towards Rukh. At first, upon his arrival, she acted politely and treated him with respect – presumably based on her respect for Thrawn, which clearly beat her first impression of the strange creature. Already after a while, however, once she had a reason based on Rukh’s “failure”, she dismissed him and addressed him merely as “assassin” with obvious contempt.

The Destroyers of Nature

The Loth-wolves’ strange ability to space-travel calls back to the Purrgil in the earlier seasons of Rebels. Generally, the emphasis on “nature” (in the broadest sense) seems to go hand in hand with the theme of Lothal’s devastation and Ezra’s animal connection. The Loth-wolf encounter made it clear that my earlier predictions regarding Ezra’s (and, from the looks of it, Kanan’s) future are on the right track. As Kanan told Hera during one of their several romantic scenes in Kindred, the fate of the Rebels seems to be strongly connected to Lothal. Now we have a proof (in the form of the Mining Guild’s crawler) that Lothal is being systematically devastated in order to speed up the efficiency of the Empire’s construction projects.

Incidentally, this entire subject of massive acquisition of resources regardless of the damage caused echoes the broader interest in this theme in some of the new canonical Star Wars material. Basically all the novels operating with the timeframe of building the Death Star published in recent years emphasise the massive damage Imperial industry has done to various worlds and the complete disregard for the planetary ecosystems. In Thrawn, Arihnda Pryce, who hails from Lothal herself, does not seem to care about her homeworld’s ecosystem when it comes to mining and economy. In Catalyst, the book prequel to Rogue One, millenia old “natural reserve” worlds are open to mining and many worlds end up devastated as a result of the Death Star project’s hunger for raw materials. Even Kanan and Hera’s first meeting in the novel A New Dawn happens against the background of similar ruthless mining operation.

I believe this is a new angle to present the Empire’s ruthlessness, and the newest Rebels episodes are going along with this trend. Given how much the original Star Wars emphasises the presence of the Force in all living things, it is only logical such issue should be addressed. It offers a fresh perspective on how and why the Empire is “evil”, and it seems like a good way to avoid the moral questionability of Rebel resistance that could arise if the struggle between “dark” and “light” became solely a matter of political opinions. If the Empire is clearly “the destroyer” and the Rebels protect and defend that which cannot protect itself, their resistance is clearly justified.

At Least The Trandoshan Didn’t Have Wings

It has been long apparent that Rebels are intentionally drawing on some Lord of the Rings themes. So far, the similarity has been “on the inside”, thematic: this episode, however, introduced some “outward” similarity. The scene undisputedly alluding to the familiar moment with Gandalf and the Balrog in the Fellowship of the Ring was Zeb being pulled by the falling Trandoshan slavemaster’s fiery whip. There were a few other moments reminding specifically of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation, which may or may not have been intentional: most of all, Ezra’s battle with the mining guild boss in the reactor, where the little creature behaves like Gollum and eventually ends up falling into the furnace after slipping. I am not sure whether these homages had any other function, but it seems like something the show’s original creator, Dave Filoni, must have approved of, given his proclaimed love for LotR.

Since I have mentioned Zeb’s battle with the Trandoshan, I should remark that it was good that the purple Lasat, too, got his own screentime in this double episode. The fourth season thus continues in its apparent effort to “rotate” between the Ghost’s crewmembers in secondary roles (while the main role remains more or less reserved for Ezra and, to a degree, Sabine). Kallus and Rex (and maybe Hera), by all logic, should be next.

The battles in Kindred and Crawler Commandeers also seem to contain a “wrestling mini-theme”. I don’t believe we have seen so much focus on hand-to-hand (and leg-to-leg) combat on such a small space before. Rukh kicked this off (literally), but the mining guild bosses also seem to prefer this style of fighting. It is almost as if the makers told themselves “we made this kind of animation, we should use it as much as possible”. Sure, it provides variety.

The Battles To Come

Both episodes are, all things concerned, not as good as the previous ones, but still decent. Hera’s epic escape (with her jump to hyperspace clearly alluding both to Han’s in The Force Awakens and Cassian’s in Rogue One) provides the kick-off for some grand future events. A battle for Lothal (this time, for real – or so we hope) is on the horizon, and with it, the destiny of many characters should start taking shape. Thrawn’s dream of a TIE Defender factory needs to be destroyed (simply because we know the Empire doesn’t have these at the time of the original trilogy), either by Rebel attack or by the Empire’s decision to abandon it for the Death Star project – my money is on a combination of both. Thrawn himself needs to get out of the picture. How important is Rukh going to be? Ezra and Kanan’s connection to Lothal needs to be sealed, and their active part in the Rebellion as Jedi must end. Governor Pryce’s personal connection to Lothal also makes it likely she will play a big part in future events. And was Hera and Kanan’s brief moment of happiness, their first kiss on-screen (“better late than never” is probably the best description for the occasion) and their discussion about future a sign of something to come – good, or bad? I guess we all have to wait and see.