Across tonight's episodes, the sense that this is the start of Star Wars Rebels' last act is evident, as these episodes begin laying the groundwork for how their story will end.
Warning - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 4, episode 5 and 6.
After finishing with Sabine's business on Mandalore and allowing for another adventure alongside Saw Gerrera, Star Wars Rebels season 4 moves on to its more serialized episodes, beginning what will be the final adventures of the Ghost crew. Across both of tonight's episodes, 'The Occupation' and 'Flight of the Defender', the sense that this is the start of Rebels' last act is evident, with these episodes laying the groundwork for how their story will end.
What is happening on Lothal has been nagging at Ezra for some time now, with him feeling like he abandoned his home when he joined up with the Rebellion. In 'The Occupation', he and the rest of the Ghost crew finally travel back to Lothal on an intelligence gathering mission and to offer what aid they can to Ryder; during which time Ezra gets to experience firsthand how firmly the Empire has the planet under its thrall. And while Stars Wars has never shied away from drawing comparison between the Empire and the Nazis of World War II, 'The Occupation' really sells those similarities, illustrating a Lothal under the Empire's tyranny in much the same way as Paris or even Berlin of the 1930s and 40s. It's an occupied planet, with its citizens there under constant surveillance and where dissidents are rounded up and executed.
Discovering how bad things have gotten on Lothal only worsens Ezra's guilt, to the point that it almost seems plausible he will ultimately choose to remain on Lothal, wishing to work towards freeing his home first and foremost. Then again, witnessing the relentless oppression of the Empire might also be what turns Ezra to the dark side - something Rebels as gone so far as to tease in the past. His mentor in all things bad, Maul, may no longer be around, but Ezra still maintains a healthy skepticism of the Jedi way being the only true path towards understanding The Force.
Which brings us to what happens in tonight's second episode, 'Flight of the Defender', where after stealing the Empire's latest vehicle - an upgraded version of the TIE Defender (now with three fins!) - Ezra and Sabine are rescued by a mysterious and long-considered extinct, Loth-Wolf. First spying the wolf while at the base where the new TIE is stationed, it later appears when Ezra and Sabine are forced to crash land the Defender and travel on foot. Immediately, Ezra feels connected to this wolf, though that isn't too surprising given that Ezra has already displayed a strong link with animals, and especially those on Lothal (cue more cute Loth-Cats!).
But then the wolf speaks, growling at Sabine to "Sleep," and she instantly passes out. Obviously, this is no ordinary wolf, and that behavior combined with Ezra's sense of connection to the wolf seemingly implies that these wolves are Force-sensitive creatures, probably not so unlike last season's Bendu. Star Wars Rebels, and The Clone Wars before it, have spent a good chunk of time exploring other facets of The Force, and the Loth-Wolves are surely another avenue in which the series will do so.
With Sabine asleep, the Loth-Wolf takes her and Ezra back to Ryder's rebel base, deftly avoiding detection from the Empire as only a magical Force wolf can. When they arrive, Ezra understandably has questions, asking the wolf why it helped them - and this is where it gets eerie, because the Loth-Wolf's response is just to ominously growl, "Doom," before disappearing. Well, that's unsettling. As if the Ghost crew didn't have enough to worry about with Thrawn and the Empire.
The Loth-Wolf's warning is purposefully obtuse, so much so it might even be a stretch to call it a warning, but it certainly seems to tease that the ending Star Wars Rebels is building toward will be bittersweet at best. Creator Dave Filoni just recently confirmed that this season will answer three very important questions - What happens with Thrawn? What becomes of Ahsoka? And what is the fate of Ezra and Kanan? - and it's impossible for each of these characters to meet happy ends.
Thrawn is sure to be defeated, either by the Rebels or through politics within the Empire; either way, it seems likely his story ends with Star Wars Rebels. As for Ahsoka, Ezra, and Kanan, well, being that, as Filoni puts it, we "don’t see many Force wielders in A New Hope," it seems quite possible that the "Doom" the Loth-Wolf speaks of is theirs. Kanan, sadly, seems marked for death since we know Hera continues to devote herself to the Rebellion, almost as if she throws herself even more fully behind the cause after losing him. His death would also serve as further symbolism for the end of the Jedi order, with him being yet another true Jedi to bite the dust. [EDIT: As some have pointed out, according to closed captioning, the wolf is actually saying "Dume", which is a reference to Kanan's real name, Caleb Dume. So while maybe not a warning, it still feels ominous for the wolf to single him out.]
But Ahsoka and Ezra are something different, existing somewhere beyond the strict delineation of Jedi/Sith. Sure, Ezra considers himself a Jedi, but his training has been pretty informal. And Ahsoka is definitely no longer aligned with the Jedi, having left the order well before its destruction at the hands of Vader. Still, whatever happens to them over this season of Star Wars Rebels needs to end with them being scarce once the Galactic Civil War really kicks into high gear. Whether that be through death or being forced even deeper into hiding, the "Doom" the the Loth-Wolf predicts is almost certainly coming for those connected to The Force.
Star Wars Rebels season 4 continues next Monday with 'Kindred' and 'Crawler Commanders' at 9pm/10c on Disney XD.