Star Wars Rebels is back for its fourth and final season, but Darth Vader isn't going to be part of the festivities yet. The Dark Lord of the Sith, perhaps the most famous figure in the galaxy far, far away, had a small supporting role in season two of the show, but did not appear last year. This was a conscious decision on the part of Dave Filoni, who wanted the focus to be on Grand Admiral Thrawn. With his mere presence, Vader can overshadow even the most compelling character and command the attention of viewers, so this ended up being a smart decision. Placing the spotlight on Thrawn allowed the Rebels team to flesh out the Chiss mastermind, setting the stage for an epic showdown in these final episodes.
Since this really is the end for Rebels, it represents the final opportunity for Filoni and crew to use him on the show. Thrawn will once again be the big bad, but the show has never shied away from using multiple villains over the course of a season. Darth Maul has been a factor in the past and this year sees the introduction of Rukh, Thrawn's assassin. As the show wraps things up, it seems to have the antagonist department taken care of, but could Vader have a role? Right now, it doesn't seem like it.
The most telling sign that Vader won't return to Rebels is that publicly, there has been no indication such a development is in the cards. There haven't even been rumors concerning the matter, which is a rarity in Star Wars media coverage. One would think if Filoni was intending to use Vader again, it would have been teased some way by now. However, it's worth keeping in mind a Vader comeback hasn't been nixed at this point in time. It's already been confirmed there will be no Emperor Palpatine as Rebels bows out, but Vader is more of a mystery. After all, the general public didn't know Obi-Wan would be seen in season three until Stephen Stanton was announced as the character's voice actor in the midseason trailer. It is possible Vader could have a part to play down the homestretch - especially if someone has to hunt down Kanan and Ezra.
In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if Vader showed up at some point. One of the lingering threads Rebels needs to resolve this year is what happened to Ahsoka Tano, who was last seen in the season two finale. Ahsoka and Vader are forever intertwined due to their shared history with each other, and Filoni has already provided some hints Anakin Skywalker's former apprentice will return. Of course, there's no need to confirm the two will cross paths at this point in time, as the core Ghost crew of Hera, Kanan, and the rest stand on their own merits and are the real stars of Rebels. Most of the attention should be paid to them, since this is their story that is ending. Vader and Ahsoka are merely cogs in a larger wheel.
So, as fans settle in for the first half of the new Rebels season, they shouldn't expect to see the iconic villain make life miserable for the Ghost crew. Our heroes are matching wits with Thrawn for now, but there is always a chance Vader could pop up again as things start to wind down following the holiday break. Until Filoni or someone else involved with the show says otherwise, we can't rule Vader's return out.
Star Wars Rebels season four premieres October 16, 2017 on Disney XD.