Star Wars: Rebels tells the story of the birth of the Rebel Alliance before the events of Episode IV. The show ran for four seasons and told one single story, as opposed to The Clone Wars’ more anthology style storytelling. Rebels has been criticized by a subset of Star Wars fans for being too childish and having a different animation style, however, the concepts that the show approaches and discusses make the show often more engaging. Among these themes present in the show, environmentalism is frequently discussed and used to further both the plot and the characters.
Nature is prevalent at the core of many episodes across the show’s four season run. Star Wars is known to throw in some interesting creatures here and there, but usually these creatures are obstacles for our heroes to overcome rather than victims of abuse for them to help. Where this show makes a critical difference, which alters its approach to animals, is that it gives our protagonist, Ezra Bridger, the ability to connect to animals through the Force. This allows him to empathize and connect with them in meaningful ways that both help progress the plot and also drive the themes of environmentalism forward.
Throughout the show, Lothal is used as the home base for the crew of Rebels that comprise our main cast. Ezra is an orphan from the planet, so his connection runs even deeper than everyone else's. Native to Lothal are a species of critter called Loth-cats. These are cat-like creatures with chicken-like legs and wide mouths. In the episode “Legacy” (Season 2, Episode 11) Ezra receives a Force vision of a Loth-cat. Believing this vision to be a clue to his parents’ whereabouts, Ezra heads to Lothal to find this Loth-cat. What Ezra finds is not his parents, but a man who knew his parents. The Loth-cat was used as a connection between Ezra and home, both his planet and the people he loved.
Ezra and his Jedi master Kanan both have connections with these wolves that further develop their characters. For Kanan, the wolves represent a connection to the Force, to nature, to life. Kanan was a Jedi learner when the Jedi were destroyed by the Empire, so he lived most of his life neglecting the Force, but over time he has come to reacquaint himself with it, and the wolves seem to recognize this. At first they seem scary and dangerous, but as Kanan gets to know them, they become more comfortable and Kanan actually learns and grows because of them. Ezra is also frightened of them, but he is able to recognize that they need his help as much as he needs their help, and together they are able to fight the Empire.
Kanan and Ezra learn a lot about themselves from another species as well. They encounter a dangerous species of giant spider on a planet that they build a secret base on. After Kanan receives some teaching from an ancient being called Bendu, who himself resembles a giant ape-like animal with coral or plant-like appendages growing from his head and back. Bendu is almost an anthropomorphized version of the Force as a connection to life. Bendu teaches Kanan and Ezra not to fear the spiders, but to realize that fear and lashing out at the spiders is what causes them to be hostile. Again, the show is promoting the idea that nature isn’t something that should be conquered, but can be lived in harmony with. The spiders aren’t vicious beasts looking for a meal, they are scared and want to protect themselves, just like the human characters.
At the end of the show, during the final battle against the Empire’s forces on Lothal, Ezra is able to connect with the purrgil and use them to win the day by dragging the Empire’s giant battleships into hyperspace and taking them who knows where in the galaxy. The show seems to be promoting the idea that if we help nature, nature will in turn help us. As we cut down the rainforests, we are cutting down the possibility of never-before-seen medicines. When we pollute the air, we damage our own ability to breathe. When we burn holes in the ozone layer, we increase our own likelihood of developing illnesses. Star Wars: Rebels uses various creatures to develop the main characters and to teach the audience that balance between humanity and nature is not only important, but vital to the continued existence of both.