Up until my watch of the season two premiere of Star Wars Rebels, I could never declare with complete certainty who my favorite character was. I think Hera was my favorite first, then the Inquisitor, then Sabine for awhile, and finally, none of them. It’s not that I didn’t like any of them, but I couldn’t connect with any of them to the point where I could say with conviction, “He/she is definitely my favorite.”
After seeing “Siege of Lothal,” however, I have decided: Kanan Jarrus, the last Padawan and the first cowboy Jedi, is definitely my favorite character from Star Wars Rebels.
When we first saw Kanan, he was introduced as a gunslinging rebel (the “cowboy Jedi”) who kept his lightsaber hidden as well as his past. But by the end of the first episode of season one, it was clear that he was not afraid to reveal his connection to the fallen Jedi Order to his enemies. He even stepped into the role of Jedi Master to Ezra Bridger, hoping to extend the longevity of the razor-thin line of Jedi that he and Ezra may very well be the last of. All the while, he fosters a trademark wit and brazen creativity by thinking up plans to make trouble for the Empire and trading banter with the Ghost‘s pilot (and his first partner in rebellion), Hera Syndulla.
But what makes Kanan an even more compelling and multidimensional persona than wit and creativity can hold up on their own, is how he struggles in all of his roles: in his role as a lone Padawan trying to find his new identity, as a lost soul choosing between hiding or uprising, as a rebel working openly against the Empire, and finally as an unofficial Jedi Knight and teacher. He has doubts and fears, and yet he overcomes them to do what’s right.
One of Kanan’s first major appearances in Star Wars canon was in A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. The story shows Kanan in his early adult years, and tells how he meets the Twi’lek, Hera Syndulla, and becomes aware of the need to stand up against the tyranny of the Empire. Season one of Star Wars Rebels sees Kanan and Hera some years later working side by side with Sabine, Zeb Orrelios, Chopper the droid, and later, Ezra Bridger, in a crew of legitimate, Stormtrooper-busting rebels.
Earlier this year, a comic series from Marvel called Kanan: The Last Padawan was begun, and it gave us a glimpse into Kanan’s childhood, including the cruel betrayal of the Clone Army and the fall of his master, Depa Billaba. It shows how he dealt with the incredible situation he was thrown into: that of a wanted man, a criminal against the newly founded Empire, all because he was a Jedi Padawan.
Image by Marvel
In issue #6 of that same series, the second story arc will begin and will see a return to the era of Star Wars Rebels. It will take grown-up Kanan to Kaller, the world where he and his master were betrayed by the clones under Master Billaba’s command. He will, in all likelihood, have to face the demons of his past once again, this time as a wise, but also more jaded, insurgent.
It’s these layers of soul that, as they are progressively added the more we get to know him, make Kanan a fully fleshed-out character. Through various mediums of canon, we are shown how he has faced adversity time and again in his life, and been challenged not just physically, but spiritually. He is forced (no pun intended) to choose whether he will embrace his heritage or hide it, whether he will lay low and nurse his instinct of self-preservation or selflessly stand up and fight against injustice.
By the first season of Star Wars Rebels, he has matured beyond that self-preservation instinct and his path seems clearer: Preserve the way of the Jedi and pass it on to Ezra, a Force sensitive child who needs Kanan’s guidance despite the fact that Kanan’s own training is incomplete. Though the task proves one of Kanan’s most difficult trials, the “master” and “apprentice” stick to their goal and the need of greater good in the galaxy.
“I survived one war. I’m not ready for another.”
But in season two, Kanan is faced with yet another challenging choice: stay with the larger rebel cell that he and his crew joined at the end of season one, or go back to facing the Empire in quietly destructive ways as loners. In “Siege of Lothal,” Zeb, Hera, and Ezra vote to stay with Phoenix Squadron, commanded by Commander Jun Sato and one-time Jedi, Ahsoka Tano; Kanan, however, along with Sabine, has his doubts. What these stem from could be the fear of working with a military unit that could betray them, like the clones betrayed him and his master. He has come to trust and even love his small band of fellow rebels, but this full-fledged faction of insurgents has him perturbed, and perhaps even fearful for the outcome of their joining forces for a bigger cause. A bigger cause that could lead to all-out war within the galaxy.
Not only that, but he has been confronted with the existence of a (former) Jedi who is far more powerful and experienced than he is. He may be wondering if Ezra will even want to train with him anymore, or if the legendary Ahsoka Tano will prove him to be an inferior Knight with almost Padawan-level skills.
Kanan is an anomaly as the last of the Jedi. He has grown so used to hiding his heritage, that it is almost, I think, more difficult for him to be and think like a Jedi than it is to be “normal.” Though this might make him a less powerful Jedi, it does make him more human, more able to relate to. This is because you can see the love and loyalty (the attachment) he has to his friends expressed openly on his face and in his verbal exchanges with them. He is a human being first and foremost, and a Jedi after.
In my opinion, this makes him more like Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi (mainly in his later years), and even Anakin Skywalker, all Jedi who made sacrifices and took risks for love and friendship. It’s true that this kind of empathy could open doors for darkness for Kanan, if it weren’t tempered by his courage and his conviction in his beliefs, which are what prevented him from beheading the Inquisitor in the final episode of season one, “Fire Across the Galaxy.” Only time will tell, however, if those noble qualities will always be stronger than the darkness, whenever he is compelled to face it.
This complexity, this inner conflict, is what draws me to Kanan. It makes him interesting, makes him stand out. I can connect to him on an emotional level, and I can’t necessarily do that with any of the other rebels (with the exception of Ezra and Zeb, whose pasts have been somewhat alluded to, if not fully realized). Perhaps when all of the other rebels are given their own story arcs, in television form or in comic series or books, they will become as deep and dynamic as the last Padawan and the first cowboy Jedi. And I may revert back to waffling between them, unable to choose a single favorite out of a cast of favorites. But until then, Kanan Jarrus will be my favorite character from Star Wars Rebels, for his wit, his personality, and his complexity as a human being struggling to be a Jedi, not a Jedi struggling to be a human being.