This article contains major spoilers for the final season of Star Wars Rebels.

As the animated series Star Wars Rebels reached its finale, the death of Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus took its toll on me. With the paternal and youthful voice of Freddie Prinze Jr., Kanan was the anchor point to much of Rebels’ compelling dynamics, from his mentorship to young Ezra Bridger to his romance with the pilot Hera Syndulla. No wonder he was my favorite non-movie Jedi, and I knew him by an affectionate fandom nickname: Space Dad.

Like how showrunner Dave Filoni lost his father while crafting the pivotal “Jedi Night” episode, I also experienced the loss of my father. Reflecting on the high and lows of Star Wars Rebels, none of the drama hit as much as the loss of Kanan Jarrus, who chooses to stay in the fire to save his found-family, his apprentice, and the love of his life, Hera. As it goes when you’re mourning a fictional character, I told myself “No, there are more possibilities for Kanan Jarrus.” Why kill him off?

Star Wars Rebels concluded on March 5, 2018 after four seasons, but not a day has gone by when I don’t think of the episode “World Between Worlds,” which dealt with the blowback of Kanan Jarrus’s death. In that episode, Ezra ventures to the occupied Lothal temple to uncover a space-time continuum with portals to worlds, including a portal to Kanan’s death scene. After rescuing long-lost Force-warrior Ahsoka into the space-time continuum, Ezra is convinced he can save Kanan, but alas, has to let Kanan go or create a time paradox (it’s also ambiguous whether the portal was real in the first place). Despite all teases of Kanan returning in another form, “World Between Worlds” finalized the annihilation of Kanan.

Before “World Between Worlds,” the aftermath of Kanan’s death insinuated a truth or twist beyond what we saw. In a Force vision, Ezra is greeted by a titan lothwolf with the name “Dume.” While Ezra is wary as that’s Kanan’s old name, the lothwolf’s callous behavior suggest that it isn’t all Kanan. (The voice also suspiciously bears the unconfirmed modulated voice of Kanan’s voice actor). For a time, I almost assumed the writers were taking a captain-obvious route of having Kanan live on in another form. But while it appeared the permanency of Kanan’s death was being challenged, it’s then played straight: Kanan goes completely to rest.

In the mythical Star Wars universe, a Jedi master like Obi-Wan Kenobi can ascend as a Force-ghost to speak to the living. But while the late Kanan does commune from the other side, his afterlife voice radiates in visual murmurs that aren’t as satisfying or redemptive of his loss. He cannot reconstruct himself into a visually tangible form like a Force-ghost. Kanan’s spirit was more or less a fading wisp depositing riddles and a vague mission to his loved ones. The mite level of communication from the afterlife is to be expected after all, as Kanan would not have achieved Qui-Gon Jinn or Kenobi’s advanced level of Force ascension that allows communion with the Living Force. But in an animated show like Rebels, a viewer could hope for new revelations about the Force, like the time-travel, and possibly new solutions to seemingly irreversible tragedies, but even these big world-building reveals did not pander to (my) wishful thinking.

“World Between Worlds” concludes with a lasting shot of fogged temple plane after the temple’s collapse and the destruction of the time portals. Hera and Ezra react to the plane with awed perplexity. Where there should be expected rubble and chaos, there is nothing but a smooth terrain fogged emptiness. That’s it. Nothing, nobody, coming from the other side. Yet through its emptiness and mist, it radiates a peaceful atmosphere.

Hera bemoans, “Kanan’s gone, isn’t he? I mean, really gone.” She knows the answer, but has to reinforce the truth to herself.  She’ll never embrace him again. But her hand remains on her shoulder, a callback to her imagining his spirit touching her. She can only retain a touch that she’ll never feel again. She’ll carry a part of Kanan in memory. (Literally too, as the finale reveals she was carrying Kanan’s unborn son, a product of off-screen intimacy.)  

Fans chatter a lot about the seismic waves of twists in this episode – fan favorite Ahsoka Tano’s return and the introduction of time travel in the Star Wars universe. But whereas the grander twists made reverberations across the fan base, Hera’s “really gone” words unveil a more intimately emotional twist: Just when she thought she was done with the grieving process, she was still waiting for Kanan. Like Ezra, she wished Kanan to come back from the other side too, hoping that the mysterious entity of the Force will somehow produce Kanan.

Contrast “Really gone” to Luke Skywalker’s more soothing, “No one is really gone for good” in The Last Jedi to comfort a bereaved Leia over her husband Han and her metaphorically dead son – and her brother’s impending death. But Hera outright laments that Kanan is gone for good. Hera’s notion is just as bittersweet as Skywalker’s words, but less fulfilling. In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker vanishes before the sunset, a visual cue that Luke has ascended and retained his individual consciousness. There is hope he could return as a Force-ghost in Episode IX with the visage of Mark Hamill. But Kanan does not have the privilege of becoming a lasting ghost.

As stated in general canon, all ascend to the Cosmic Force upon death. Ezra knows that Kanan went there. But even if you believe in afterlives, you’ll still miss your loved one in the earthly world. When Ezra and Hera walk away from the temple site where Kanan Jarrus once stood, it is a vista of both hollowness and deep peace – even if there’s no second coming for Kanan.

Grief is a vicious cycle of relief and despair. “Your loved ones will always be a part of you” is nothing new in children and adult media alike, but the echoes resonate. Ezra and Hera make peace with the yawning dissatisfaction. Saying goodbye is a never-ending process, a battle with the dark side, its own circle of Hell. It’s about accepting the abyss. As for Hera and Ezra, there is such thing as moving on, saying goodbye, but still not getting over the emptiness.

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