Bendu or "the Bendu" as he likes to call himself, was a major recurring figure in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels. Voiced by the great Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor on Doctor Who), he is a creature of immense size and equally enormous power.
Outside of Star Wars continuity, Bendu's origins can be traced a long way back, to a very early draft of Star Wars: A New Hope. It was there that Lucas first identified his lightsaber-wielding galactic peacekeepers by the name "Jedi-Bendu." As we all know, this was later shortened to simply "Jedi." But the term Bendu has popped up several times over the years, particularly in the Legends materials that are no longer canonical. One such tale suggests that the Jedi are successors to an ancient order called the Bendu monks. Of course, all of that has been wiped out by the new continuity.
Lucasfilm's head of animation (and Rebels co-creator) Dave Filoni has shown an affinity for incorporating old ideas from Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie early concept art into his shows — particularly Rebels. Zeb's design, for example, is based on an early concept for Chewbacca.
So just who or what is Bendu? Where did he come from? What's his deal?
What We Know
Bendu is a creature of tremendous size whose physiology allows him to blend in perfectly with the odd geographic features of Atollon, the hidden planet where Rebels' Phoenix Squadron was based. He befriended Kanan Jarrus months after Kanan lost his sight in a battle against Darth Maul. The Jedi had taken to meditating alone rather than rejoining his friends in their Rebel missions. His inner imbalance is what Bendu claimed had awoken him.
For an unknown period of time, Bendu was asleep in hibernation on Atollon, before speaking to Kanan. He is an ancient being with great command of the Force, but his reasons for hibernating were never revealed. He introduced himself to Kanan as "the one in between" the light side and the dark side of the Force. What this translated to in practical terms was a refusal to take sides in the galactic war between the Rebellion and the Empire — aka, the struggle of good versus evil.
That said, he didn't mind taking an interest in individuals on a personal level. He provided Kanan with much-needed training in how to see without the use of his eyes. He also helped the Jedi and the Rebels to peacefully coexist with Atollon's other natives, the fearsome Krykna Spider creatures.
Bendu's unique connection to the Force gives him an array of impressive powers — some of which neither Jedi nor Sith have ever displayed. He was able to communicate with Kanan telepathically; whether this was because Kanan is a Force-user or because Bendu can do this with anyone is unknown. Bendu was able to vanish at will, despite his incredible size, and presumably reappear elsewhere. He could also change his form; in the season finale, he transformed into a huge lightning storm to attack the Imperials converging on the Atollon base.
Yet he was also indiscriminate in his attack. Watch the season finale episode carefully and you'll see that both Imperials and Rebels suffer losses from his lightning, and his attempt to attack Kanan and the Ghost was as blatant as it gets. From this we know that akin to many other god-like beings throughout mythology, Bendu has a terrible, wrathful temper.
He also displayed an ability to see into the future through the Force, similar to how Jedi have done in the past. Yoda in particular showed a strong affinity for seeing into the future, though he also subscribed to the belief that visions of the future couldn't always be trusted.
When Grand Admiral Thrawn threatened Bendu, the massive creature claimed to be "beyond [Thrawn's] power to destroy." There's no reason to doubt this claim, since he vanished into thin air before Thrawn could shoot him in the head, and was heard laughing after.
What We Can Infer
The fact that Bendu refers to himself with "the" in his title suggests that he is likely the only creature of his kind. Similar to the Father/Sister/Son Force entities that existed on the mystical planet Mortis (from The Clone Wars), Bendu could be an expression or manifestation of some part of the Force itself. His actions back this up, as he often behaves more like a force of nature than a person.
It's probably safe to assume he originates on Atollon, since his physiology is uniquely tailored to allow him to blend in to his surroundings. Yet that's conjecture. He could have just as easily adapted a camouflaged form after arriving on Atollon from someplace else, since we know he can change his appearance. In fact, it's possible that he may have no single, "original" form, choosing only what construct to take as it suits him.
Bendu is unapologetically enigmatic, aloof to those who question what he is and where he came from. He also subscribes to his own view of the Force, comfortably resting between the dark and the light and having no desire to shift his position. Bendu's god-like perspective makes his understanding of the Force the only one that matters to him; he sees the ways all others (like the Jedi and Sith) view the Force as erroneous. He laughed in the face of Kanan's concerns about the Sith Holocron corrupting Ezra, stating that no object can turn a person evil. Only the person himself or herself can do that, Bendu pointed out.
One thing we know for certain is that he really has a thing for order. He loves balance. He abhors chaos, pointing out that it was Kanan's emotional imbalance that first awoke him from his slumber. So if he is some kind of Force manifestation, he could very well be the embodiment of the "balance of the Force" that has caused so much consternation since the prophecy of the Chosen One that put Anakin Skywalker on the path to his dark destiny. (Have you ever wondered if Anakin still would've succumbed to the dark side without all the pressure placed on him from that prophecy? Hmm.)
Bendu's prediction of Thrawn's downfall was a juicy moment, showing that Thrawn's tremendous self-confidence is not as indestructible as it seems. Bendu clearly enjoyed that moment, relishing the thought of Thrawn's defeat. Since we know that Bendu is still alive, might he play some part in Thrawn's downfall, since he prophesied it? There's bad blood between them now, so it seems like the kind of pastime Bendu would dig.
Hopefully Star Wars Rebels hasn't seen the last of Bendu, even though Atollon is definitely out of the picture.
Star Wars Rebels will return in Fall 2017.