Ezra Bridger and Awakening Empathy
"Loth-rat, Loth-cat, Loth-wolf run. Pick a path and all is done.”
It's difficult to choose the right path. It doesn't matter what decision you're trying to make; there are always at least two choices. But how are you supposed to know which is right? Should you pick the one that seems easiest? Or the one that will make you look the best to others? What if the choice in front of you could lead you somewhere dark? For the Jedi, this is supposed to be a simple matter: you do what serves the greater good, whichever helps the most people. What if you weren't raised to reflect that innate selflessness? What if survival was your only goal for most of your life? Would it be easy to embrace connection? To embrace empathy?
For someone like Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels, it doesn't come easily. At age seven, after his parents' arrest, Ezra was left to fend for himself in Lothal's capital city. Most likely unconsciously using his Force sensitivity to find food and evade Imperial capture, Ezra lived alone in a tall, abandoned communications tower, far from anyone but surrounded by stolen Imperial equipment. Being solitary took a toll on Ezra's emotional development, which I will cover in this essay. However, it didn't take much to awaken Ezra's inner good nature, and by looking at his journey through the lens of the poem he uses in the Season One episode “Path of the Jedi,” you can trace his empathetic development. There are three stages to Ezra's empathetic awakening: Loth-rat, Loth-cat, and Loth-wolf. Each animal – all three native to Ezra's home planet Lothal – symbolizes a step in Ezra's Rebels journey, and each of these steps in an integral part of his narrative. In fact, Ezra's Force-empowered Empathy is his secret weapon.
The Loth-rat is a rodent pest and its name is often used as an insult. Ezra is referred to as a “Loth-rat” by Imperial officer Grint in the very first episode of Rebels, and soon-to-be Jedi mentor Kanan Jarrus also calls him a “street rat” in that episode. Since the animals of Lothal share characteristics with Earth animals, it's very likely that they share symbolic meaning as well. Often perceived as dirty, diseased, and tricky, rats aren't exactly welcome house guests. But they're actually clever, hardy survivalists. While Ezra might not have the best hygiene, the second description fits him better than the negative impressions the Imperial soldiers have of him. Ezra survived on his own for eight years, proving that he is very rat-like indeed.
Although he diverts Imperial soldier attention away from a frightened Gotal fruit merchant in the first episode, Ezra still takes a knapsack full of food after “rescuing” the poor guy. He's opportunistic when grabbing a speeder that's towing supplies, and he relishes his ingenuity and daring. It's doubtful that he was going to share the supplies either. That's just not in his current mindset. He needs to fortify his own nest. He's confused when the Ghost crew, also called the Spectres, takes the stolen supplies to Tarkin Town, a refugee camp on Lothal. He hasn't experienced that kind of altruistic behavior in years and feels awkward when someone thanks him. He's used to taking care of himself and not relying on others.
Rats are very social creatures, so Ezra surviving doesn't mean much when he has no community. Hera tells him in the first episode, “If all you do is fight for your own life, your life is worth nothing.” Ezra begrudgingly agrees with this assessment, because he rushes to help the Spectres after a moment’s hesitation. There's a slight blip in his relationship with his new friends when he's captured by Agent Kallus, who suspects the Ghost crew will return to rescue him. Ezra scoffs at the idea, saying, “People don't do that.” His wise-ass street-smart self reasserts itself here, believing he's been left behind. While Ezra escapes the holding cell by himself, he's ecstatic when the crew returns for him. This gives him a reason to attach himself to them and be open to trusting people.
Ezra shows an easy affinity with the captured Wookies the Ghost crew are trying to rescue, foreshadowing his innate empathetic understanding. He might not speak their language, but Ezra has no trouble communicating with them. We see this more often as Ezra matures and grows into his ability.
Ezra yearns for connection, which is what much of Season One focuses on. He's eager to train with Kanan, learns wisdom and teamwork from Hera, gains an irritable roommate and older brother in Zeb, begins a crush that will become a close bond with Sabine, and even earns loyalty from cranky droid Chopper. Kanan and Hera become surrogate parent figures, and Ezra takes to that dynamic quickly, behaving like a typical surly teenager when he's chastised for mistakes. His clumsy early flirtations with Sabine show that he's aware of those around him and ready to give them attention, while his sibling-like rivalry with Zeb reveals his need for comradery, even if begins with squabbling strife. Some of his best moments come when he's concerned for Chopper's welfare, which for droids is something we don't often see in Star Wars. At one point he even covers Chopper's body with his own when they're caught in an explosion. The fact that Ezra cares about a droid speaks volumes of his character. His ability to make and keep friends will be a recurring theme in the show, and the first season sets up that he's very talented at this, even though he can be a moody teenaged pain in the ass.
Another of Ezra's unique gifts is an almost universal understanding and connection with animals, though this doesn't come easy at first. He clings to the stubborn Loth-rat part of his personality. Kanan first tries to get him to connect with a feisty Loth-cat by using the Force, but Ezra fails miserably. Kanan says, “Step outside yourself. Make a connection with another being.” Ezra doesn't see the point at first – he wants to learn how to fight and control his new power – but this is the Force's most important lesson: that he's not alone in the universe. The Force binds him to the Loth-cat as well as other beings, but he can't drop his inner guards. We learn why Ezra was so solitary: his parents were arrested by the Empire for broadcasting anti-government statements, showing Ezra that trying to do good and make connections with others only gets you in trouble. He can't let down his guard or he might share their fate. And he can't forgive the family friend who re-enters his life, the Rodian Tseebo, for abandoning him after his parents' arrest. By closing himself off from this absolution, Ezra closes himself off from the Force.
Episode 9 “Gathering Forces” gives viewers the first real look at how powerful Ezra could become. Tracked to a derelict military fort by the dark side villain Grand Inquisitor, Kanan plans on Ezra connecting with the deadly fyrnock creatures who live in the dark base. Kanan knows that Ezra will never be able to gain control and make connections with the fyrnocks unless he lets go and forgives Tseebo, so he puts Ezra in the position to confront his pain. Finally admitting that he's not afraid of the numerous creatures as they slink closer to him and Kanan, Ezra says, “I'm not afraid of them. I'm afraid of knowing. I'm afraid of the truth. I'm sorry. I forgive you, Tseebo.” By releasing his fear and resentment of Tseebo, Ezra's walls come crashing down, and his power is stunning. We're clued into how special Ezra really is by observing Kanan's reaction to the captivated fyrnocks: he's astounded. This is obviously not normal. He probably thought he would have to help out eventually, but Ezra's got it under control, and we can see how proud Kanan is of the young Padawan.
We also get a glimpse of what Ezra's power could become if corrupted by the dark side: when the Grand Inquisitor eludes the fyrnocks and attempts to kill Kanan and mocks Ezra, he unknowingly pushes Ezra to access the dark side. Putting out an immense amount of manipulative power, Ezra is able to raise the fyrnock queen, a massive, terrifying monster. She attacks the Grand Inquisitor on Ezra's order. We have to wonder, what kind of connection occurs when using the dark side versus the light? The smaller fyrnocks were mesmerized by Ezra but were calm and curious of him. The queen was filled with rage, feeding off Ezra's energy. This connection proves to be unstable; the effort making Ezra faint. He didn't have this problem when directing the other fyrnocks. The dark side proves that it’s strong but it's also taxing. The effort leaves Ezra cold and weak. The queen also retreats from the Grand Inquisitor when the connection is severed, whereas the smaller fyrnocks continue to attack the Imperial soldiers who accompanied the Inquisitor, seemingly after Ezra's direct connection with them is gone. He inspired their loyalty instead of forcing them to help.
The other important moments from Season One come in the next episode, “Path of the Jedi.” Emphasizing the series themes that teamwork is necessary and connecting with and protecting your family is paramount, Ezra works with Kanan to access the Jedi temple on Lothal. They're there to further Ezra's teaching, to have him confront his darkness. Ezra must prove to Yoda (and the Force) that he is worthy of training. It's the temple's job to dig deeply into Ezra's mind, to search his fears, which are many and heartbreaking: Ezra fears failure, of letting Kanan down, that the crew only keep him around because of pity and to use him, and ultimately that he will end up abandoned and alone. In the next task, when Master Yoda asks Ezra why he wants to be a Jedi, Ezra says to gain power, to make the Empire pay for what they've done, and so that he won't be helpless anymore. But, Yoda sees deeper and keeps asking what the Padawan really wants. Shedding the darker pretenses, we discover Ezra's true motives: “I'll protect everyone, not just me. They (the Spectres) give everything away, and I see how it makes people feel. They feel alive, like I do now.” The temple believes him, because Ezra earns his first Kyber crystal and builds his first lightsaber. So, now we're prepped to watch Ezra's rise, to see if he can protect everyone, not just his Ghost family.
We also get to see how Ezra's deepening empathetic power could end up causing harm. By opening himself up to others, Ezra starts to develop trust issues, but the exact opposite of how he lived while alone on Lothal. He starts to trust too freely. When searching for information on a captured Kanan, Ezra tells Vizago, a dubious smuggler, that both he and Kanan are Jedi to gain his Master's location. Sabine, Zeb, and Hera aren't happy that Ezra divulged the secret, but Ezra has faith that Vizago's information while come through. While Vizago's intel is accurate, we'll see in Season Two that Ezra shouldn't put his trust in people so quickly.
Before getting to Ezra's next stage, we should observe that early in Season Two Ezra feels Darth Vader's presence before either Kanan or Ahsoka Tano, noting the oppressive cold when the Sith lord is nearby. Ezra is the epitome of the phrase “search your feelings,” because he is the most attuned to this side of the Force.
Ezra remains in the Loth-rat stage until his first sighting of the white Loth-cat and meeting Rydar Azadi. Only then does he transition to the next step. Before he reaches this stage, he uses his new-found gifts of connection and persuasion to enlist former clone trooper Rex to the Rebellion, meets and impresses former pirate lord Hondo Ohnaka – which is another huge overly-trusting moment – and helps save some Force-sensitive kids from dark side Inquisitors. As Kanan says when they're trying to keep those children safe, “You have the talent to connect, use it!” This episode finds Ezra really embracing his unique Force talent, and he's ready to move onto the next step.
Of all the Lothal fauna from the poem, the Loth-cat is most like Ezra: inquisitive, assertive, friendly, but also protective and quick to strike at enemies. Then there's the white Loth-cat. This cat is brave, intuitive, and constant. He's a bit like Ezra's familiar, the creature he connects with most and that symbolizes his personality and journey. From here through the series finale, whenever the white Loth-cat shows up it signifies that something big is about to happen for Ezra. Another creature that can lead a solitary existence but does well within a social group, cats are seen as playful hunters, often mischievous. This stage in Ezra's empathetic development shows him exerting his individuality, giving more input on missions, and getting into bigger trouble. It's the stage where he encounters many of his greatest challenges, where he tries to leave Kanan's shadow and lead. But this is also the time of his greatest growing pains, as he dabbles in the dark side under Maul's influence and strains under Kanan's guidance.
The mystery of Ezra's parents ends in the Season Two episode “Legacy.” Ezra receives a Force vision of his parents and is drawn back to Lothal, hoping for answers. Searching his old family home, Ezra encounters a unique white Loth-cat. Ezra decides to follow the cat and meets fugitive former Lothal governor Rydar Azadi. Rydar tells Ezra that his parents instigated a mass break-out from the prison where they were held, ensuring many escapes but sacrificing themselves. Ezra's anguish is palpable; he was so close to seeing his parents again, and while the Force vision and white Loth-cat were leading him to Rydar, Ezra can't accept this yet. After meeting Princess Leia in the next episode – who is his age and feels the weight of responsibility like him – Ezra gets new inspiration despite losing his parents. She tells him, “I feel like because I can fight, I have to. For those who cannot, and I think you might be the same way.” Ezra can let his parents go and move on to the next stage in his life, from Loth-rat to Loth-cat.
Focused on moving forward and helping others, Ezra gets his chance when the Ghost crew encounters two surviving Lasat, members of Zeb's species thought almost extinct. Forever problematic Hondo leads Ezra to these refugees, but he's also the reason Agent Kallus and the Empire start chasing them as they attempt to flee. Ezra's willingness to trust and forgive Hondo will continue through the series, and we have to agree that he was instrumental in uniting Zeb with the refugee Lasat, but we're also not surprised when Hondo plays both sides, unwilling to completely help the Spectres but also stepping in when it appears Ezra will be caught. Once back to the Ghost and trying to outrun Kallus, Ezra enmeshes himself immediately with the two Lasat, eager to learn about them and their culture. He leaps into their chanting circle, encouraging Zeb to engage. Ezra is always ready to assist his friends, even if they don't want his help.
Ezra's insistence on connecting with more people and creatures reaches a surprising apex in the Season Two episode “The Call.” This early episode has staggering end-game implications that most fans didn't expect. Like how he felt Darth Vader's icy presence before anyone else, Ezra hears a hauntingly sad song out on a mission. Kanan can't hear the song at first, but Ezra insists that it's there. The Ghost is soon surrounded by massive whale-like creatures, and Ezra is enchanted. He suggests flying with the creatures, the Purrgil, instead of against them. This tactic works, though Hera still views them as a menace to spacecraft. Later that episode, the Purrgil save Ezra from dying and he bonds deeply with them, saying that he wants to help them. The Purrgil destroy the mining guild villains so the Ghost can escape with much needed fuel. Ezra says, “It wasn't like anything I've ever experienced. I could see what they were thinking.” Kanan remarks on the probable strong connection, showing us his continued awe of Ezra's gift as well as priming viewers for the series finale. It's Ezra understanding of and empathy for these creatures that inspire them to help him. We see in a future episode that Ezra thanks animals for helping him, making the point that asking creatures for help and showing gratitude works better than forcing them.
The largest part of Ezra's Loth-cat stage comes in a challenge from Yoda that stretches across the remaining seasons. Ezra, Kanan, and Ahsoka journey to the Lothal Jedi temple to gain knowledge of how to defeat the Sith. While meditating, when Ezra asks why it would be wrong to want to protect his friends, Yoda cryptically says, “A lifelong challenge, not to bend fear into anger.” He also tells Ezra that how Jedi choose to win is what's important. Ezra says they've chosen to fight, so Yoda instructs Ezra to find Malachor. Did Yoda have any idea what sending them to Malachor would do? It’s unlikely that he knew exact details, but he must have had an inkling. At least he thought Kanan, Ahsoka, and Ezra would be sorely tested. Did he know what waited for them there and how it would continue to affect them for years?
Yoda's suggestion comes to a head in the two-part Season Two finale episodes “Twilight of the Apprentice Parts One and Two.” Kanan, Ahsoka, and Ezra fly to Malachor, a planet that houses an ancient Sith temple. When Ezra shows interest in the relics, he asks why Yoda would send them to a Sith planet. Ahsoka proposes, “To defeat your enemy, you need to understand them.” And who's good at understanding people?! Perhaps Yoda detected this particular talent in Ezra and knew he wouldn't be prepared to face the challenges in his path without further knowledge of the enemy.
And thus, we get to the first of Ezra's three biggest challenges through the series: meeting and (unfortunately) connecting deeply with Maul. Fans had no idea that Maul would be entering the Rebels arena, so it was a fun surprise to find him hiding on Malachor and pretending to be a weakened old man. Ezra, separated from Kanan and Ahsoka, meets Maul in an underground chamber. The ex-Sith is curious and doesn't appear dangerous, but Ezra uses caution. Because why would this guy be hanging out alone on a Sith planet? But Maul is a master manipulator and senses Ezra's open nature. He tells Ezra that the Sith took everything from him, and Ezra immediately drops his guard. He also wants knowledge of how to defeat the Sith, so he agrees to help Maul access the temple by using the dark side.
They work surprisingly well together, and Maul gives Ezra some advice: “Unless you take risks, do what must be done, there will always be limits to your abilities. Seize the knowledge. Seize the power. Don't become like me.” The audience knows Maul well enough to see the merit in some of this statement, but we're also wary of Maul's obsession with power. Ezra's idea of power would be very different from Maul's, so the red flags aren't flying for him. Instead, Ezra doubles down on their new bond. The Sith temple is an interesting puzzle, because it forces two Sith to work together to gain access, much like the Jedi temple on Lothal. But teamwork, support, and trust are alien things to Sith, so we're waiting for Maul to turn on Ezra. When it doesn't happen, we have to wonder what else Maul is up to.
We find out quickly: Maul has taken a liking to Ezra and plans to recruit him as his apprentice. Maul, so much like Ezra in his desperation to connect, has found the perfect Force-enhanced empath, someone who could understand him, and he's not about to let Ezra go without a fight. When three Inquisitors attack Kanan and Ahsoka, Ezra believes Maul will help them. He's not wrong, but he also hasn't gotten the right read on his new friend. Knowing he won't stand a chance when Darth Vader inevitably arrives, Maul proposes an alliance. Ahsoka and Kanan know better than to trust him, but Ezra is adamant that they give Maul a chance. When they're alone for a moment, Kanan reminds Ezra to be mindful of Maul, but Ezra says, “Maul sees what I could be, you don't.” This isn't entirely wrong, but it isn't fair either. Both Maul and Kanan see Ezra's potential, but Ezra can't distinguish the difference yet. He doesn't know what seeking advice from Maul will do to him and to others. So Ezra begs Kanan to trust his judgment.
Ezra is eager to learn from someone new, though he also doesn't want to leave Kanan. Does he think he can have it both ways? Here's a moment where we wonder if Kanan taught Ezra enough about the dark side and the pull it has. If he had, maybe there would have been a different outcome. But Ezra's tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt backfires horribly. Once Maul sends Ezra to activate the Sith temple with the holocron they found together, he immediately turns on Ahsoka and Kanan when the Inquisitors are vanquished. Kanan is blinded by Maul's lightsaber, which will haunt Ezra into the next season. Ahsoka is seemingly killed, sacrificing herself in a duel with Darth Vader, for which Ezra also blames himself. While he was able to resist the Sith temple, which was a devastating weapon, Ezra still has a lot to overcome to reach the next stage in his development. Horrified by Maul's treachery and believing the events on Malachor are his fault, Ezra decides to engage with the Sith holocron to fix the wrongs he caused. His empathy betrayed him, so Ezra chooses a different, darker path.
Six months pass from the end of Season Two to the beginning of Season Three, and Ezra is bolder and more reckless. Interestingly, Ezra's lightsaber blade has also changed from blue to green, reflecting his deep emotional change. Jedi whose saber crystals are blue are Jedi Guardians, representing physicality, bravery, and righteousness. Those with green saber crystals are Jedi Consulars, those who value harmony, cooperation, and a deep spiritual connection to the Force. It's easy to deduce that Ezra's saber color changed due to the trauma he faced on Malachor, but is he choosing to cooperate with the wrong forces? His dalliance with the Sith holocron only lasts two episodes, but he's been using it for months and is still drawn to it, and it affects his mood and Force use. Troublingly, he uses Force mind control from a considerable distance on Imperial soldiers piloting an AT-ST walker, causing them to kill their fellow storm troopers and walk off a platform to their own deaths. This is the negative side of Ezra's empathetic power: he can weaponize it. Ezra assures himself that he's using the holocron for good, that he can bend it to his will. He's desperate to keep his friends safe, saying he will never let them get hurt again. This attitude reeks of Anakin Skywalker wanting to control Padme's fate in the prequels. While it's natural to feel concern for your loved ones, attempting to use the Force to control their fates never turns out well.
Ezra also has trouble connecting to a creature for the first time since his failed attempt in Season One with the Loth-cat. The Krykna spiders on the planet Atollon are the only creatures Ezra can't connect with. When he attempts to reach out to one through the Force as it stalks outside the new Rebel base, the spider attacks him. Ezra, chagrined, says, “Fine. I guess we won't be friends.” This further shows that when Ezra reaches out with the Force to animals, he's doing it to befriend them, to gain that connection through mutual understanding.
Both he and Kanan learn from the Bendu – a massive moose-like Force user who stands in the middle between light and dark – that inner conflict keeps them from letting go and makes the spiders attack. Bendu stresses the need for teamwork and cooperation, because their relationship is unbalanced. In a cave filled with the giant spiders, Kanan is able to calm the creatures, and Ezra is shocked. He says, “How did you do that? I can't even do that,” emphasizing that he knows his own capabilities are out of the ordinary.
When Ezra finally breaks down and tells Kanan how sorry he is for what happened on Malachor, we see what's really been eating at Ezra. The guilt he feels for bringing Maul and Kanan together has overwhelmed him. Kanan, showing a depth of emotional maturity not often seen in Jedi, says, “It wasn't your fault. I never blamed you, Ezra. It's time for you to forgive yourself.” Ezra has little trouble connecting to people, but the chasm between him and Kanan had become too immense for him to traverse alone. However, since he was the first to reach out, it shows how much he's grown, and this reestablished connection with his teacher and father figure will prove to be the most important in his life.
Unfortunately, when Ezra's connection to Kanan is strengthened, so are his mental and soul-bound ties to Maul. Most of Ezra's Loth-cat stage is tied directly to Maul; he won't graduate to the Loth-wolf stage until after the former Sith is dead. Maul's presence throughout the third season, a menacing shadow in Ezra's life and mind, is actually what leads Ezra to his next step. Without stepping into the darker aspects of his personality, Ezra wouldn't grow in the same way. He learns that his penchant for trusting strangers must be modified, and he never puts faith in Maul again. However, that doesn't mean that Maul quits trying to court Ezra as his apprentice.
Maul continues to use Ezra to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, taking advantage of Ezra's need to help others. Obi-Wan proves that he's a quick study when he finds a distraught Ezra on Tatooine and says, “You're in the wrong place Ezra Bridger...What you need, you already have. Unfortunately, you seem to be letting it all go.” He also reminds Ezra that Maul used Ezra's desire to do good against him and to be mindful of who really needs him. Ezra realizes that he needs to be back on Lothal, and with that realization, he's able to transition to the next stage. He's able to let the toxic relationship with Maul go.
Ezra also shows an innate ability to understand past conflicts and resolve them. In the Season Three episode “The Last Battle” he is able to broker a peace between Rex and Kalani, a former Separatist droid commander. He listens to both the former clone trooper and droid explain their opinions on the Clone Wars and figures out that neither of them was supposed to win; both were meant to be defeated and decommissioned. Ezra could have a career in de-escalation! He does the same thing with Saw Gerrara later in the season. Using his empathetic power to connect with and interpret for a Geonosian named Click Clack whom Saw despises, Ezra is able to save the alien's life by appealing to Saw's sympathies. Ezra is slowly learning what Yoda meant by the importance of choosing how to win: they can't fall into the Empire's practices, even if it might make things easier for the Rebellion. This side of Ezra points to why his Kyber crystal changed from blue to green: he's more open to reconciliation and peace.
As Ezra returns to Chopper Base on Atollon at the end of Season Three, he leaves behind his insecurities and need for independence. He's embraced his inner strength and has solidified his purpose. He tells the Spectres, “This is where I'm supposed to be. You're my family, and we should go home.” That emphasis on family links directly to the next step: Loth-wolves and pack mentality.
Season Four deals with Ezra's main familial relationships, which fits nicely with the final stage of his emotional journey. Filled with new motivation, Ezra is able to focus on his family and how to keep them together as they attempt to save Lothal. The Loth-wolf closely resembles an Earth wolf, except they're massive and have a few body dissimilarities. And they happen to have a deep connection to the Force. They behave much like Earth wolves: traveling in social packs, working together as a team, being an integral part of the ecosystem. But while Ezra is in his final stage, he doesn't see an actual Loth-wolf until later in the season. First, he must bring Sabine back to the pack.
Through the series, Ezra's had a crush on Sabine, his fellow Spectre, but in Season Four he seems to have moved past that and into a deeper connection with her. Willing to put Lothal's fate on the back burner, Ezra journeys with Sabine to help rescue her father. He follows her lead, knowing that Sabine is just as competent, if not more so, than he is, especially on her home Mandalorian turf. His willingness to let go of being in control shows how much Ezra has changed. He trusts that Sabine will make the right decisions and is proud to serve with her. Their bond is further tested when they encounter Saw Gerrara again. The rebel malcontent is obsessed with finding out what the Empire is up to – building the Death Star – but he can't put all the pieces together. Frustrated that the Rebellion has put the attack on Lothal on hold yet again, Ezra believes that Saw might have a point; maybe the Rebels should be more aggressive and not worry about political ramifications. Kanan reminds Ezra that it's how they choose to fight that really matters. When Sabine and Ezra are thrown into a mission with Saw, they quickly realize that Saw's methods are less than noble. They want to rescue scientists who were imprisoned by the Empire while Saw is adamant that they only pursue the mission: to find a giant Kyber crystal. Saw says he will do whatever it takes to defeat the Empire. Ezra, pulling from Kanan's wisdom, says, “What about doing what's right? Isn't that what the war is about?” We can almost see Yoda's ears perking up. Sabine and Ezra work together to get the scientists to safety, and their actions convince the scientists to enlist in the Rebellion.
The rest of the final season takes place on Lothal as the Rebels try to liberate the planet. Ezra's friendships with Hondo and Vizago come into play again, helping the Rebels land on Lothal and escape Imperial notice. Another face from Ezra's past, Jai Kell, an Imperial cadet Ezra helped save, returns the favor, getting Ezra and Sabine out of a tough situation. If it looks like all of Ezra's friends are coming forward, that's exactly what's happening. Ezra's innate ability to make people like and trust him makes most of the final season possible. And it's not just people! In the next episode, we see Loth-cats crawling all over Ezra, as they're drawn to him. They even assist him without being asked! Ezra is a far cry from the Loth-rat boy we met in Season One.
However, Ezra still harbors doubt and despair. He fears for Lothal's future and their chance of successfully liberating the people. Sabine reminds Ezra of his own words: “So long as we're together, we've got a chance.” Ezra, taking inspiration from Sabine, tells everyone that rebellions start small and that a few people standing together can make a huge impact.
As though drawn in by Ezra's call for comradery and fighting to take back Lothal, the white Loth-wolf makes its first appearance. Though it distracts Ezra in a tense moment, the white wolf signals that Ezra's final transformation is beginning. Ezra's connection to the planet has called the wolf forth, and he sees the white Loth-cat too. Both animals growl at the Imperial ships in the sky, showing the planet's discontent and growing imbalance. Both a call for conservation and a clue to the series’ final moments, the Loth-wolves remind Ezra what he's fighting for. The wolf and cat readily help Ezra and Sabine escape the Imperials on their tails, but the wolf doesn't tell Ezra why he's helping. But we get the feeling that the wolf has marked Ezra as Lothal's Chosen One.
The Loth-wolves next lead Ezra and the Spectres out of another scrape, and the white wolf stands out amongst his brown pack members. He leads the group into a large cave system and shows an ability unique to Star Wars: the wolves can Force-walk through time and space. It seems like they're accessing the World Between Worlds to traverse long distances, bringing the crew to the opposite hemisphere of Lothal, thousands of miles from where they started. Kanan suspects that the wolves have a deep, focused connection to the Force, that they're using the planet's energy. He believes that the wolves have chosen them, not just because they're Jedi, but because they're the only ones who can save Lothal. Kanan says to Ezra, “I have a feeling the TIE Defender isn't the worst thing the Empire is doing here.”
Kanan is right, of course, but the wolves' appearance also marks the end of his arc. Whispering his true name, “Dume,” the white wolf showed Kanan that his life might be nearing its end and that it was time to let Ezra step up and lead. In the Season Four episode “Jedi Night,” Kanan needs Ezra to be comfortable making mission decisions. While Ezra doesn't sense what Kanan does, he heeds his teacher and formulates the plan to rescue Hera, who was captured the episode prior. Ezra, ever the one for an ingenious yet crazy plan, decides that they will fashion gliders to look like another Lothal creature, a Loth-bat, to infiltrate the Imperial base. Proud of Ezra's ingenuity, Kanan praises his ability to listen, showing that Ezra has come so far since their first meeting and training, when Kanan despaired that Ezra could never focus. The last thing Kanan says to Ezra is “May the Force be with you,” giving Ezra the things he really needs: love and respect. Kanan dies protecting Ezra, Hera, and Sabine, giving his life while holding back an immense explosion with the Force. And this sacrifice sets up Ezra to face his second greatest challenge.
Upon returning to their base, Ezra despairs, “You didn't prepare me for this, Kanan. What do I do now?” Sensing his anguish and fear, the white wolf appears and growls at Ezra. Confused, Ezra runs, not realizing that the wolves are trying to jar him from his unfocused mindset. There isn’t time to collapse into grief. Lothal and everyone there need him. Ezra shouts at the wolves, fighting their connection, and admits that he has no idea where to go. Without Kanan to guide him, Ezra loses himself for a moment, but a moment for a Jedi can last an eon. So, he stares off into the distance, unsure how to return to the base, and recites the poem: “Loth-rat, Loth-cat, Loth-wolf run. Pick a path and all is done.” It's time for him to choose his path. Will he listen to his inner demons and fall into darkness? Or will he hear the distant call of the light? A massive Loth-wolf appears in front of him and radiates Force energy. It claims to be Dume, possibly Kanan's will manifesting through the Force.
Dume tries to re-focus the Padawan, telling Ezra that he's running from his duty. Ezra says that he didn't mean to run, but without Kanan he feels lost. Kanan cared about him and was there when no one else was. He's hasn't learned enough to stand on his own. Dume says, “FEAR.” Ezra admits that he's afraid. He says, “Everything seems so hopeless now.” But Dume isn't there to coddle Ezra. He says they must fight, and they must fight together. Ezra finally reawakens a bit, because he knows how to fight together with his family. He's willing to protect the Jedi temple, as Dume wants him to do. Ezra asks why the temple is so important, what's inside. Dume says, “Knowledge. Destruction.” Much like his experiences at the Sith temple with Maul, the temple reflects what the person brings with them. Dume says that Ezra must restore the past and redeem the future. With this new mission, Ezra is ready to fight for Lothal's spiritual future, and Dume leaves Ezra a tablet depicting some familiar Clone Wars images.
Once Ezra is ready to journey north back to the temple, he calls for the white wolf and asks for help. Asking is key here. He's back in tune with his empathetic strategy, and this is shown when the wolves take him and the other Spectres through the Force-walk. Ezra experiences memories, mainly of Kanan, showing that his pain is still near the surface; he's in close contact with his emotions, searching his feelings. Infiltrating the Imperial archaeological site at the temple is fairly easy, as Ezra and Sabine don disguises for the last time. But they encounter a curious painting on the temple, which has closed itself off to Imperial intruders. Clone Wars fans will recall the Mortis arc and the Ones, three ancient Force wielders, and these three are prominent on the temple mural painting. Standing tall above Ezra and Sabine, these figures are the key to opening the temple. Sabine figures out how the painting could open the temple, and Ezra follows her intuition, not questioning her reasoning.
Kanan's words come back to Ezra, advising him to listen to the stone and its story. Kanan knew that his student's greatest skill was the heightened ability to understand and share the feelings of others. The temple is no different. Ezra closes his eyes and reaches out with the light side of the Force, connecting, touching the Daughter's hand. Once he activates the Daughter's portrait, the Father's portrait comes to life and points toward the Son's image. Loth-wolves in the painting start moving, look at Ezra, and run off across the stone wall. Ezra follows and narrowly escapes capture by diving through a portal created by the wolf images racing in a circle on the wall.
Once inside, Ezra has gained full entry into the World Between Worlds. While he has touched this world a few times throughout the series, he gains full power over it here. He has true unlimited power. Hearing numerous voices, including Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Kanan, Ezra is surrounded by luminous white paths and doorways stretching into eternity in a black space. He walks the paths, unsure exactly what he's supposed to do. Morai, the Daughter's owl-like spirit, guides Ezra to a portal and Ezra sees Ahsoka fighting with Vader, a doorway to the past. Panicking, Ezra pulls Ahsoka through the veil when it seems like Vader will kill her, altering her fate. Ahsoka theorizes what the World Between Worlds is and that Kanan's will has been working through the Force. Ezra, thinking that Kanan sent him on this journey, hurries to find another portal. Kanan's words echo through the world as Ezra frantically searches for that place in time that's closest to his mental surface, the moment he lost his teacher. But it's really another test, another temptation. With shades of Anakin Skywalker reverberating through viewers’ minds, we watch Ezra say, “I can change things. I can stop Kanan from dying.” Ahsoka begs him not to intervene, admonishing, “Kanan gave his life so that you could live. If he's taken out of this moment, you all die.” Horrified by Ahsoka's words, Ezra reaches for Kanan through the portal but doesn't step through. He watches his father figure die a second time. But he's learned what the Force needed him to know: Kanan found the moment where he was most needed and did what he had to do. This will become important for Ezra's third and final difficult choice.
Ezra asks Ahsoka why things can't be different, why they can't go back to the way they were before. He mentions his parents and how he longs to see them. This will be important for Palpatine's end-game, and we see him as Sidious in this moment, attempting to break into the World Between Worlds through Ezra. Ahsoka tells Ezra that he must close the portal as they run from Palpatine, and she shields his escape. Sabine is waiting for Ezra outside the portal, having deduced that he will need to activate the Son's portrait in order to close the portal, which the Father had been pointing out. For the first time, Ezra might be glad Maul taught him how to draw energy from the dark side, because the Son can only be accessed by using this power. Ezra makes a fist and opens himself to the dark, and the Son speaks to him, “The future by its nature can be changed.” The temple collapses in on itself, burying the Imperial site. By ignoring his selfish impulses to save Kanan, Ezra has ensured that the Rebellion has a chance to retake Lothal. As the white wolf lopes away from the destroyed but safe temple, Ezra says farewell to Kanan.
But Palpatine won't be stopped by one plucky Padawan and a Jedi “part-timer,” as we will see leading up to Ezra's final choice.
In the series' penultimate episode “A Fool's Hope,” Ezra's friends and associates gather to help liberate Lothal: Rex, Kallus, Vizago, Rydar Azadi, Jai Kell, Mart Mattin, Gregor, Wolffe, Ketsu Onyo, Hondo, and Melch. Hondo says, “That boy has spirit. He reminds me of a time when there was something you could believe in. For that boy, there is nothing I would not do.” These words coming from a disreputable pirate are loaded with meaning. It shows just how much Ezra has influenced people's lives, just by being their friend or ally.
Ezra receives a vision while meditating that the intimidating Grand Admiral Thrawn has been dispatched back to Lothal by the Emperor. What he doesn't know is that Palpatine has sent Thrawn to capture Ezra. He talks with Sabine about his vision and hears the Loth-wolves howling in the distance. While Sabine knows that Ezra has an affinity for animals, she asks him exactly what his connection with the wolves means. Ezra isn't sure, but he trusts that the connection will be there when they need it. He's learned to trust in his ability and the bonds he forms with others, not just animals. He's counting on everyone to stay on target and accomplish the goals necessary to take back Lothal. In one of the series' most spectacular sequences, Imperial forces attack the Rebel base, forcing them back into caves. When asked where his army is, Ezra merely smiles, ignites his lightsaber, and then shining eyes emerge from the darkness behind him: the wolves, ready to fight for Lothal.
As the Rebels move into the capital city to infiltrate the domed Imperial headquarters, Ezra speaks to his parents, saying that he knows what he has to do. He says, “I want you to know that everything I've done and will do began with you.” His connection to his parents comes to the forefront in these final episodes, as Palpatine uses them to seduce Ezra into opening the World Between Worlds.
When Thrawn threatens to bombard the city with his star destroyer the Chimaera to get the Rebels to surrender, Ezra knows what he must do. He leaves his lightsaber with Chopper and trusts that Sabine will take the lead. He surrenders willingly to Thrawn, wanting to discover what the Grand Admiral wants. Thrawn tells Ezra that his actions were predictable as a Jedi: choosing morality over strategy. This will prove to be Thrawn's downfall, not realizing that Ezra isn't choosing morality, he's choosing his emotional ties. He tells Thrawn that “the Force isn't a weapon, but you'll never understand that.” Ezra has finally understood what Yoda wanted him to back in Season One. His trials with Maul, the Sith holocron, and his guilt over Kanan's blinding have led to this moment when he tells Thrawn that the Force isn't about power.
But Thrawn isn't Ezra's main concern. Thrawn brings him to a holo of Palpatine, showing his former unblemished visage. Palpatine plays the kind grandfatherly role, tempting Ezra with a possible future with his parents, if only he'd access the World Between Worlds and leave the door open. “This is what you want isn't it?” Palpatine asks. “The life you deserved?” Palpatine keeps telling Ezra to seize the life he “deserves,” to abandon his friends and think of himself, Maul's words echoing through his invitation. If only Ezra would take what he wants, take the power for himself. But Ezra has learned too much from his connections, from letting himself know love and trust and family. He's able to let the dream of his parents go and serve his new family. To serve the galaxy. He destroys the gateway and tells Palpatine that he doesn't need anything from him. He has passed the test that Anakin Skywalker failed.
And now Ezra's end-game comes to fruition. Knowing he would need a backup plan in case Thrawn captured him, Ezra instructed Mart Mattin to use a little-known frequency to call in some aid. As Ezra races through the Chimaera and reaches the bridge, he tells Thrawn that he's lost, and we hear that sweet space whale song. Reenter the Purrgil! Ezra's deep connection with these glorious creatures in Season Two comes back with a vengeance. The Purrgil plow through Thrawn's support, taking out ship after ship until finally surrounding the Chimaera, drawn by Ezra's energy. Thrawn threatens Ezra that “whatever happens next, happens to both of us.” Which Ezra is counting on. His final challenge wasn't only confronting Palpatine, it was sacrificing himself for the Rebellion and for Lothal. As the alpha Purrgil wraps its tentacles around Thrawn and the Chimaera, Ezra still has to hold the Grand Admiral in place with the Force. He has to take Thrawn off the board or the Empire would have a better chance of winning. Ezra tells a distraught Hera, “I have to see this through to the end.” As the Force Theme music plays, Ezra tells his friends and family, “It's up to all of you now. And remember, the Force will be with you. Always.” The Purrgil jump to hyperspace, dragging the Chimaera, Thrawn, and Ezra with them.
We find out that Ezra was ready to give himself up if it meant the Rebellion had a chance to retake Lothal. He left a holo-recording for his family: “There were several paths in front of me. While this isn't the one I wanted to take, it's what I had to do. It's something Kanan taught me. I'm going to miss you all.” Shockingly different from the lonely, isolated boy we met in Season One, Ezra has grown into his role as protector, willing to give up his safety for everyone else. This is what the Loth-wolves saw in him. The leader must be able to make tough choices to keep everyone else safe. We're left with Ezra's last words as the Spectres and other Rebels continue the fight against the Empire: “I couldn't have wished for a better family. I can't wait to come home.”
One of my chief fascinations when analyzing literature, movies, or TV shows is to pay attention to the character names. The etymology of names – interpreting the name meanings – doesn't apply to every work, but it's very present in Rebels, particularly with Ezra. His last name is obvious: “Bridger,” to build bridges, to bridge gaps, to unite opposite sides. But his first name is also rife with meaning. Ezra means “help” in Hebrew. Indeed, the Book of Ezra in the Bible is about the power of forgiveness and perseverance. The show creators weren't messing around when they chose his name. While he came off as brash and selfish at first, Ezra's true calling was to connect, to empathize, and to unify. His ability to connect with his family, allies, and animals ensured his place among the most powerful Jedi. But not just powerful in the Force, though he was.
Ezra might not have the name recognition of Luke or Anakin Skywalker, but he claims his own place. Not only is Ezra accomplished at connecting with people and creatures, he was also able to balance the light and dark sides of the Force when he opened and closed the portal to the World Between Worlds. Without his innate ability to put himself in other beings' circumstances, Ezra might not have trusted Maul and learned to use the dark side. Without his yearning for connection, he might not have been able to win his final battle, as the Purrgil readily answered his plea for help. Ezra teaches us that there is always hope, so long as you're willing to connect to others but also willing to let those people go when the greater good demands it. Without Ezra's sacrifice, Thrawn would have stayed in the Emperor's service, and his TIE Defender program could have spelled the end of the Rebellion. Kanan taught him to seize the moment where he was most needed, and Ezra did.
Ezra walked through the three stages of the Lothal poem: Loth-rat, Loth-cat, and Loth-wolf. He chose his path. And all was done.