A Road Not Travelled: The Implicit Romance of Zeb and Kallus in Star Wars Rebels

NOTE: When referring to relationships that are explicit, I am referring to Webster’s definition of explicit, meaning clearly and precisely expressed.

**Spoilers for Star Wars Rebels**

Star Wars has always lacked in portraying healthy (and believable) romantic relationships. Princess Leia and Han Solo are still the best-portrayed romance in live-action. The Prequel Trilogy with Anakin and Padme was a bust, largely because of the writing and direction of the actors. But also because there was very little time for that relationship to develop, and it went from “hello again” to “I do” unbelievably quick.

The Sequel Trilogy had odd relationship dynamics, two of which had awkward kisses followed by unconsciousness/death. It was never clear whether Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship was romantic in the film and, even after a final kiss, The Rise of Skywalker novelization insisted it was not. 

The beginning of a long night of soul searching | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Even though most live-action romances involve the Skywalkers, Solo: A Star Wars Story had the best live-action romantic relationship since the Original Trilogy with Han and Qi’ra. Alden Ehrenreich’s chemistry with Emilia Clarke is right up there with the level of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. 

Star Wars animation has branched outside of the Skywalkers for romance to mixed results. Obi-Wan and Satine’s tragic romance was overall underserved, and Satine ended up being fridged, killed by Maul. Kanan and Hera’s courtship throughout Rebels was mostly hinted at in earlier seasons, but became more serious in the final season. Like Han and Leia, their romance resulted in a child, whose status remains a mystery (as well as whether the child is Force-sensitivity). 

All these explicit romantic relationships ended in some form of tragedy, although some lasted longer than others. But in Rebels, there was an opportunity to show another romantic relationship that had more nuance: Garazeb Orrelios and Alexsandr Kallus.

The former Lasat Captain of the Guard turned rebel, and the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) Agent go from enemies to close friends with a curious end for both men. At the end of Rebels, Executive Producer Dave Filoni walked in circles around the question of whether Zeb and Kallus were a couple:

“I don’t want to take anything away from people that want to believe, what they believe as far as how close two characters are. I mean I think that’s completely open and I appreciate all the interpretations of it. As a creator, you’re always interested in how the work interacts with the audience and what they feedback to you about it.”

Dave Filoni

The link to the article is here, and you can read the full quote. Filoni goes on to talk about masculinity and how they wanted to show two men that, instead of continuing to embrace a path of anger and hatred, chose forgiveness.

Ok, sure. As a platonic relationship, their friendship still works as a meaningful journey for both men. But there are indications that their relationship leans more towards romantic than platonic.

The Relationship is a Play-by-Play Hate to Love

In their first meeting, Kallus taunts Zeb about his fallen species | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Hate to love (or enemies to lovers) are not always the most believable narratives. Poor first impressions are usually long-lasting and difficult to overcome to get people to like each other never mind love in a way that viewers buy. However, the most successful stories with this trope follow a specific path that is similar to Zeb and Kallus in Rebels:

A reasonable cause for hate. From Zeb’s perspective, Kallus participated in the genocide of his people. Kallus fuels this hatred by bragging to Zeb when they first meet, setting this negative context. Sometimes the hate is just one-sided, but since Zeb and Kallus are on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War, their loathing is more pronounced.

The turn to friendship. Perceptions start to change in the season two episode, “The Honorable Ones.” If your main subjects hate each other, it usually takes the characters being forced to spend a significant time together to clear up misunderstandings and make the turn to friendship. For Zeb and Kallus, this event comes when the Ghost Crew are trapped while attempting to retrieve Imperial intelligence around the planet Geonosis. Kallus’s team corners them, and during the fight, Zeb tries to flee in an escape pod. Kallus follows, and the two accidentally damage the controls, sending the pod off course toward a Geonosis’ moon where they crash land. Having to rely on each other for survival, the two confront each other on their negative perceptions. Zeb challenges Kallus’s belief that the Empire is honorable and tells him that the Empire wiped out the Geonosians for a reason, which Kallus struggles to believe. Kallus tells Zeb that he has a Lasat rifle, not as a trophy, which he mentioned in their first meeting, but because the Lasat warrior gave it to him as an honorable act for defeating him in battle. Kallus also admits that he did not command the massacre and did not know that the Empire would make an example out of Lason. Kallus also admits to prejudice against the Lasat because a Lasat member of Saw Gerrera’s faction massacred his Imperial team and left him for dead. Both discuss their traumas, and it is hinted that both suffer from survivors’ guilt.

Waking up to a not-so-pleasant face | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

At the end of a perilous night where the two have to cuddle up to keep warm (another common romantic trope), the rest of the Ghost Crew arrives first to rescue Zeb. Zeb offers Kallus a place in the Rebellion, which the latter refuses, choosing to wait for the Empire. But the experience has changed Kallus and, met with the cold welcome from Admiral Konstantine, sits in his quarters with the warm meteorite that Zeb gave him. 

The subtle to clear change. From there, the change in Kallus is more subtle at first. He helps Sabine Wren escape an Imperial Academy with two cadets (Wedge and Hobbie) who want to defect to the Rebellion. When Sabine questions whether they can trust him, Kallus responds “Tell Garazeb Orrelios we’re even.”  

Then he starts feeding intelligence to the rebels under the code name Fulcrum. Kallus risks his life for the Rebellion from a single night spent with Zeb. Kallus eventually officially defects to the Rebellion, fighting with the Ghost Crew to liberate Lothal from Imperial rule. 

After the war (after the events of Return of the Jedi and possibly after the Aftermath novels), Zeb takes Kallus to the new secret location of the Lasat to show him that he did not wipe out the Lasat species. Kallus is invited to stay and live the rest of his life in their new homeworld…with Zeb. The whole thing implies that Zeb is taking Kallus home to meet the family, hence the question posed to Filoni about the possible relationship between the two.

Star Wars’ Poor LGBTQA+ Record Within Disney

The implication of their relationship was even mentioned by Zeb’s voice actor, Steve Blum, in an interview with Flickering Myth in 2018:

“From the very first time Zeb and Kallus appeared together, I joked that someday they’d become a couple and end up on Lira San together. I had NO idea that it would actually happen! It was the greatest gift anyone had ever given me in terms of a character’s evolution. I’ve been thanking Dave Filoni ever since. The shippers went out of their minds and I wholeheartedly encourage that. Could just be buddies/brothers, but I love the idea that they could be more.”

Steve Blum (Voice actor of Zeb)

The “open interpretation” answer from the creators was not surprising from a Disney Star Wars that has been particularly reluctant to represent the LGBTQA+ community in any form of on-screen content.

And, after “The Honorable Ones,” the Zeb/Kallus relationship is never really touched upon in a significant way until the last episode “Family Reunion…and Farewell” two seasons later, so there is a large gap of unknowns in between. So it was disappointing for Filoni/Lucasfilm to dodge their implicit creative choices as a deep friendship that was not developed past the narrative “turning point.” 

And it is not like Disney was afraid to include LGBTQA+ relationships around that time (no matter how subtle). Insider compiled a database for the article, “259 LGBTQ characters in cartoons that bust the myth that kids can’t handle inclusion.” The database, covering content geared towards children from 1983 – 2020, included many recent and older shows across Disney. Gravity Falls, which aired on the Disney Channel and Disney XD (2012 – 2016), had Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, two male cops who confessed their love in the final episode of the show. Another character, Wendy Corduroy, was confirmed by the creators to be bisexual in 2020. 

Flix and Orka are the most substantial gay couple in Star Wars on-screen | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

In 2016, Lucasfilm confirmed on social media that two female guest characters (Ione Marcy and Cassie Cryar) in The Clone Wars episode “Lightsaber Lost” were a couple (the relationship was never implied within the context of the show). Then in 2019, Star Wars Resistance had its first explicit gay couple in Flix and Orka, two reoccurring shop owners on the show. In the episode “From Beneath,” the team takes a trip to Flix’s homeworld to get fuel for the Colossus, and Orka gets to meet his partner’s family. The whole episode plays out like a family drama, but Flix’s family agrees that Orka is a good find for Flix. 

However, between the non-existence of Ione and Cassie and the more clear relationship of Flix and Orka, Zeb and Kallus were left hanging in the friend zone. 

How Lucasfilm Can Do Right By Zeb and Kallus 

“The day I betrayed your Empire, Governor, was the day I finally stopped betraying myself.”

– Kallus, “Family Reunion…and Farewell” (Rebels, Season Four)
Governor Pryce wants to understand Kallus’s shift as do many of us | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

When the Imperial Governor of Lothal, Arihnda Pryce, confronts Kallus, asking why he would give up a promising career for a group that will fail, Kallus never gets to respond because they are interrupted by Ezra. The scene highlights how much of a leader Ezra has become within the Rebellion. Unfortunately, it also undercuts much-needed character progression for Kallus. What does Kallus mean by betraying himself? It is not clear why Kallus ultimately decided to change allegiance, which is another reason there is plenty left for interpretation, including his relationship with Zeb. 

Rebels needed an episode that addressed Kallus’s decision to defect. As it stands, the two main reasons are Zeb and the indifference with which Imperials treat each other versus the kinship of the Rebellion. 

But it is not too late to make the implicit romance of Zeb and Kallus real in canon. The once rumored Rebels sequel is now going to play out in the upcoming Ahsoka series, with Sabine and Thrawn already confirmed, and Ezra is not far behind. And it is only a matter of time before Hera and Chopper show up. Lucasfilm should not forget about Zeb (who was already the least developed member of the Ghost Crew) and ignore Kallus. They are both together on Lira San, located somewhere in Wild Space. 

Star Wars and Romance have a dysfunctional relationship that always seems to end in tragedy. This is an opportunity to have some meaningful representation in Star Wars sooner than later with existing (and popular) characters in canon that rode off into the proverbial sunset.