An Exploration of Kanan: Where He’s Been, Where He’s Going, and What It All Means

Over the past three seasons, Star Wars Rebels has provided a look into an era not oft touched in the history of Star Wars lore, that of the two decades between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of A New Hope. What it has offered has been invaluable in understanding the transition of the galaxy, but even more interesting is the transition it has shown us of one character in particular: Kanan Jarrus.

Kanan Jarrus. Caleb Dume. Rebel. Rogue. Smuggler. Friend. Lover. Fighter. Confidant. Master. Knight. Whatever label you put on Kanan, the truth still holds that he is a deep and fascinating character.

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With season 4 of Rebels quickly approaching, and considering how vital Kanan is to the Rebellion and the Ghost crew, it seems apt to take a look at where he has been, where he could go, and the hidden side of Kanan we have never even considered.

The Duality of Names

After Order 66 killed his master, Depa Billaba,Caleb Dume had to go into hiding. Moreover, he had to find a way to separate himself from his past. He had to become something other than a Jedi. He had to become Kanan Jarrus.

This transition is one of the biggest turning points in Kanan’s history. As Caleb, he was inquisitive, excitable, and wanted to prove himself. As Kanan, he became a drunk who just wanted to slide through life with no one bothering him.

Eventually, these two sides had to come together. It starts in A New Dawn when he meets Hera, and the evolution continues until it comes to a head at Kessel, where the man who spent so many years hiding his true self “let[‘s] everyone in on the secret.” The Caleb he held down, the young Jedi trying to prove himself, emerges in this new form of the same man, the one known as Kanan.

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There are two aspects of Caleb that are prominently having to be negotiated by Kanan. First and foremost is his need to prove himself. Due to the death toll of the Clone War, Jedi younglings were being pushed through the trails at a more rapid rate. Caleb Dume was one such youngling, and his peers let him know about it. Then, when he got into the field, his clone companions let him know about it. Caleb felt a deep, burning desire to prove them wrong, and prove Master Billaba right for choosing him, that lead to a brash headstrongness that might not have been for the best.

When he outed himself as a Jedi, Kanan had to come to terms with this side of himself that had been so long suppressed. This struggle manifests as he tries to push Ezra off onto Master Luminara Unduli in the episode “Rise of the Old Masters.” Ezra, similarly to his master, has trouble dealing with his head-strong brashness, and the two butting heads eventually leads to them realizing that they need a new approach to their training. There has to be a new state of being in order for Kanan to survive. Caleb and Kanan come closer to being one.

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The second side of Caleb that Kanan must learn to master is with regards to his relationships. Every relationship that Caleb Dume ever had did one of two things: betrayed or died. Being that the Jedi did not seem to teach their students how to really deal with the emotion of loss (sorry Yoda but “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose” is not really good advice on how to handle losing someone close to you… swing and a miss). So when Order 66 happens and Caleb is betrayed and his master is slain, there are scars that remain.

These scars make it hard for him to trust.In A New Dawn, he is constantly questioning Hera. Later, he has to be pushed by Hera to even consider investing in a relationship with Ezra, and we see him being invested in it only at surface level to begin.  Then, of course, there is the situation with Rex. The last time Kanan/Caleb saw a clone, the clone was trying to kill him. It takes time for him to come to terms with the fact that Rex actually is well-intentioned and not just relying on programming.

But this duality of Caleb and Kanan also helps shape the man he is becoming. He has learned that being a warrior is not the totality of being a Jedi. And moreover, he is slowly learning to trust. For instance, he initially was very apprehensive about becoming part of a larger rebellion. Slowly he begins to learn to trust them through the fires of battle, and gets an ability to see beyond what is right in front of him (ironically enough this only happens when he can no longer physically see what is right in front of him).

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This comes to a head when he meets the Bendu. His scars have started to bleed again thanks to Maul. Maul, who he had warned everyone not to trust. Maul who had betrayed them. Maul who proved once again that people were to be questioned at the least, distrusted at the most. Enter the Bendu, who shows Kanan to see beyond the surface level and come to terms with the balance that has always existed, that Caleb in his youthfulness had been unable to understand.

Caleb and Kanan have finally united.

The meaning of Kanan’s name has a duality all its own, and it could provide insight into where he is going during the final season of Rebels. There are three distinct meanings of the name Kanan that should be considered.

1- Kanan: Indian for “a forest.” The Kanan we know is like a forest in that he has encouraged life around him to grow. Ezra, Sabine, Hera, the Rebellion, all have grown because of having Kanan around. He has provided life and protection in the same manner the trees of a forest do.

2- Canaan referring to a land in Judeo-Christian tradition, promised to the people as a land filled with milk and honey. Being that Kanan is a Jedi, and the Jedi are so often considered as a source of hope, we can see Kanan thus as a source for hope just as this promised land was for its people.

3- Canaan referring to the grandson of Noah, who was cursed by his grandfather (“a servant of servants he shall be unto his brethren [Genesis 9:22]”). This curse was used as a Hebrew rationalization of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan.

Add all of those up and throw in a dash of Star Wars and you get the idea that Kanan, though he was supposed to be a source of protection and prospering for the Rebellion, ultimately will be what caused the wrath of the Empire to come down on them in full strength (possibly in the form of more Inquisitors, Vader, Thrawn, and more all combining to end him).

The Temptation of the Dark Side

Star Wars has always dealt with big themes, and Rebels has been no different, primarily with regards to the temptation of the dark side. Something Kanan knows quite well.

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In issue 11 of the Kanan comic, which covers the 3rd Battle of Mygeeto, we see a lot of development for the then Caleb Dume. Two life changing things happen:

1- He  kills for the first time.

2- His friend and fellow soldier, a clone named Stance, is killed.

All of a sudden, war doesn’t seem so fun anymore. As Cassian would say, it is suddenly real to him. Once Stance is killed, Caleb engages in battle with the killer, one named Coburn Sear, a Seperatist with a vendetta against the Jedi. As the fight begins, Caleb thinks:

“a dark haze of anger and fear invades my mind…. I want to kill… there is power in this anger, in this darkness. And that power, that anger, that darkness, is seductive, immersive, all encompassing. Like a pool of black water rising over my head.”

In an instant, a young man who has trained his entire life to work through the light side of the Force nearly falls to the darkness. So when Ezra begins to get pulled to the dark side through the Sith holocron, we can begin to understand why Kanan puts his foot down, going to hide it with the Bendu. We can understand his apprehension about retrieving it and uniting it with the Jedi holocron. He has seen the temptation that he has struggled with, even with all of his training, and does not trust Ezra to handle the same.

Or maybe, in fact, he doesn’t trust himself.

Again we see another scar, one brought on by the dark side thanks to the destruction of the Jedi. Kanan’s training is incomplete, and because of this he constantly questions himself when training Ezra. He doesn’t know if he can really do it. Eventually, thanks to the many struggles they go through together and the wisdom of the Bendu, he sees that he can.

But questions still remain. Scars are funny that way.

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In “Zero Hour Part 1” Kanan says, directly to Ezra, “sometimes I wonder if I have anything left to teach you.” This is not said in the same way Qui-Gon says that Obi-Wan has nothing left to learn from him. Qui-Gon speaks with confidence and wisdom. With Kanan’s words comes a bit of… angst.

As season 4 comes, we shall see if Kanan has taught Ezra enough. One glaring instance that shows he may not have is when it comes to killing. At the 3rd Battle of Mygeeto, Caleb Dume kills for the first time, when striking down Corbun Sear. After doing so, he thinks, “There is no glory in this, no triumph. This is the first time I have ever taken a life and I’d be happy if it were the last.” One would think that a young man who had been through such a situation would tell his Padawan about how horrible killing is, yet at the beginning of season 2 we see Ezra mind control an AT-AT driver of a ledge. And Kanan never addresses it. It is not only possible, but plausible, that Kanan feels Caleb touched the dark side a bit too much, and cannot bring himself to discuss it, for the scars burns too deeply.  

Kanan has matured, without a doubt. He is more fully a Jedi than many were in the time of the Republic, and yet still questions remain about whether the Jedi, and particularly the Master that he is to Ezra, is good enough.

The season four preview trailer promises that many of these ideas are going to be touched upon. His relationship with Hera and Ezra seem to be a centerpiece to the season, but there is also the idea presented by Yoda about how Jedi choose to win. It is clearly apparent that Ezra is going to question whether the Ghost crew is fighting the right way. A lot of what Kanan, and Caleb for that matter, has faced in his life reflects what most young men and women face as they grow up, just turned up to 11. Will season four turn it up to 12, lower the volume and let Kanan walk off in the sunset, or blow the speaker until the music dies?

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