This review contains spoilers.
Wow! That was something, wasn’t it? It’s as if Christmas came early and the folks at Lucasfilm decided to give us all of our presents at once. This episode of Star Wars Rebels was stuffed to the gills with the kind of reveals and big character moments that feel specifically designed to send us dorks at home running to the internet to write some exuberant tweet in all caps with an irresponsible amount of exclamation points. Because of that, it’d be really easy for me to just spend a thousand or so words geeking out like this was some kind of message board, but I’m here to review the episode, so I’ll try to keep the geeking out within sensible limits. That being said, holy cow!
This week, as the rebels continue their search for a base of operations, they find that they’re cut off at every turn by the Inquisitors. As Kanan acknowledges, it doesn’t do much good trying to establish a secret base if Ms. Murder and Tall-Dark-and-Ugly keep showing up to crash the party. Ezra, Kanan, and Ahsoka resolve that the only way to solve this problem is by taking the fight to the Inquisitors. To do that, they’re going to need guidance from Master Yoda, so it’s off to Lothal to visit the Jedi temple where Kanan and Ezra spoke with the Jedi Master back in Season One.
Before they leave, Ezra takes a moment to speak with Ahsoka who is in the middle of reviewing a training holocron featuring her former Master. She tells Ezra how Anakin was not only the great warrior history remembers him as, but also a kind, caring, compassionate person. It’s an echo of Ben Kenobi’s wistful remembrance of the elder Skywalker as ‘a good friend,’ yet at the same time it carries even more emotional weight to it. It’s no secret that I think Anakin is a giant wiener – the kind of whiny, self-centered brat who would almost certainly have an anime avatar and be yelling at women about ethics in games journalism if there was Twitter in a galaxy far, far away – but if there was ever part of Anakin’s story that felt honest and true, it was his relationship with Ahsoka. Ahsoka may well be George Lucas’ last great addition to the Star Wars universe. Not only did she develop into a great character on her own merit over five seasons of television, but more so than anything else in the prequels or The Clone Wars, Ahsoka humanizes Anakin Skywalker. Through her friendship and apprenticeship to the Jedi, we are able to see a side of Anakin that we don’t get in his interactions with anyone else. Obi-Wan talks about how the two of them were good friends, but when we actually go back to see this relationship, it’s undercut by a feeling of resentment that Anakin constantly harbors for his Master. There’s none of that between Anakin and Ahsoka (at least there’s not once you get past the unwatchable garbage that is The Clone Wars feature film), and it’s why Ahsoka’s decision to walk away from Anakin at the close of The Clone Wars Season Five is the only truly emotional moment in the whole series.
What’s interesting, though, is we learn here that that wasn’t the last these two ever saw of each other. Ahsoka mentions that the last time she saw Anakin, he was rushing off to rescue the Chancellor, which would mean the two stayed in contact until moments before the opening of Revenge of the Sith. That might not sound like much, but that’s a huge reveal. It means that during the events of Episode III, Anakin knew exactly where Ahsoka was, but chose not to go after her. He murdered children and attempted to kill his own Master, but the one shred of humanity he held onto was his compassion for his former apprentice. Yes, this is retroactive continuity, but it’s a smart retcon. It adds a whole extra layer of messy emotional baggage to the confrontation between these two characters we’re going to see in a few weeks. Whatever I think of Anakin as a character, Dave Filoni and the Star Wars Rebels team are doing a hell of a job spackling over the flaws of the prequels and giving Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side a real emotional poignancy after the fact.
That’ll have to wait a few weeks, though, because for right now our trio of Jedi are still primarily concerned with contacting Yoda. They arrive at the Lothal temple, and begin to meditate, and as they meditate, each of the three are made to face a different vision. The first is Kanan who finds himself in a training dojo back at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and face-to-face with one of the Temple guards. He asks the guard for guidance, but instead of advice on how to defeat the Inquisitors, the Temple guard instructs Kanan that he must stop Ezra before he can turn to the Dark Side. Kanan will have none of that, and draws his saber to do battle with the guard and protect his apprentice. Again, on the surface this might not seem like much, but when you reflect on Kanan’s arc in the series, this is a pretty big deal for him. The last time Kanan was at this temple he was struggling with self-doubt – unsure of his own abilities, unsure if he was strong enough to help Ezra resist the lure of the Dark Side. If this same confrontation had happened then, it’s possible that Kanan might have allowed the Temple guard to take Ezra away. Here, however, there is not even a moment of hesitation. Kanan immediately stands firm and tells the Temple guards that the only way they’ll get to Ezra is over his dead body. And so, they do battle.
Meanwhile, Ahsoka – her mind still dwelling on her former Master – is greeted by a vision of Anakin and it’s a vision that deliberately claws at her fears and insecurities. Back during ‘The Siege of Lothal,’ Ahsoka made a connection with Vader through the Force and she felt a familiar presence. She felt the presence of her Master, but she reacted like any of us might when told that a loved one you know to be dead is not only alive, but committing terrible atrocities: disbelief. Ahsoka doubted her senses, and instead reinforced the vision of who she knew her master to be, certain that her mentor and her friend could not have become this monster. Yet here, in the temple, that’s exactly what the vision tells her, and further, it plays on her fear that she might have been able to stop this. If only she hadn’t left the Jedi Order, if only she hadn’t been so selfish, if only she had seen the pain Anakin was going through, maybe she could have prevented it. None of this is true, but it feels true, and it terrifies her.
Ezra, on the other hand, is the only one who actually achieves what the trio set out to do by communing with Master Yoda. Ezra asks the Jedi Master what they can do to defeat the Inquisitors, but Yoda warns the young Jedi against rushing headlong into conflict. He reflects on the mistake of the Clone Wars, the way the Jedi were motivated by fear – fear of the Dark Side, fear of the galaxy falling into chaos – and how that fear drove them to become tools of the Dark Side who brought about the very thing they were trying to prevent. Like Yoda’s appearance last season, and his final story arc in The Clone Wars, this is more smart retroactive character work to help build a bridge between the two wildly different versions of the character we see in the original trilogy versus the prequels.
It turns out, though, that the Jedi need not seek out the Inquisitors after all, because once again the Inquisitors have come to them. As the Jedi killers attempt to gain entry to the temple, Kanan continues to face off against the Temple guards. The guards’ attacks are relentless, and Kanan comes to the realization that he cannot defeat them. He can’t protect Ezra by fighting his battles for him, but instead must trust in his own abilities as a teacher and have faith that his training will give Ezra the strength to face these trials on his own. With that realization, Kanan passes the test, wins the chocolate factory, and is granted the rank of Jedi Knight. Unfortunately for Kanan, this honor is almost certainly a death sentence. It all comes back to Yoda’s line in Return of the Jedi. “When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be.” Now that Kanan has completed his trials and become a full-fledged Jedi Knight, his fate has been sealed. Kanan will die, it’s only a matter of time.
For now, though, Kanan is witness to another huge reveal: the Grand Inquisitor was a Jedi Temple guard! In retrospect, I feel like a dummy for not figuring this out sooner – after all, the way the guards have been redesigned for Rebels deliberately echoes the character model of the Grand Inquisitor, but I was gobsmacked. The question remains whether all of the Inquisitors were previously Temple guards, or if they were recruited after the fact by the Grand Inquisitor. It’s hard to even guess at this point because we know so little about the Temple guards. The only appeared briefly as background characters in a single story arc in The Clone Wars, so we don’t really know what role they played in the rise of the Empire at the end of the Clone Wars.
What is certain is that, in spite of Yoda’s warnings, Ezra has made up his mind that fighting the Inquisitors to protect his friends is the only way forward. Yoda obviously disagrees, but since Ezra, unlike Luke, is not his apprentice, he can only offer advice for the young Jedi as he proceeds down his path. And boy, is Yoda’s advice a doozy.
I lost my goddamn mind over this one. If there’s interest, I might write a separate article going into more detail here, but the basic version is that Malachor (or more specifically Malachor V) was a world central to the story of the Knights of the Old Republic II video game. It was the final battleground of the Mandalorian Wars where the Jedi Revan and Malak defeated the Mandalorian armies and put an end to their invasion of the Republic, but it was also where Revan and Malak uncovered an ancient Sith temple and fell to the Dark Side, effectively starting the Jedi Civil War. Now all of this is technically considered non-canon (or ‘Legends’), but as I’ve discussed in the past, the canonicity of the prequel era Expanded Universe is kind of up in the air. Officially, everything released prior to 2014 outside of the six films and The Clone Wars TV series are no longer canon, but that issue gets complicated when you realize how much The Clone Wars references Expanded Universe material that was still considered at least semi-canon at the time. While everything post-Revenge of the Sith has been thrown out wholesale (sorry nerds, Admiral Thrawn definitely isn’t showing up next season), the prequel era EU exists in a state of uncertainty. It’s Schrödinger’s canon, if you will, and I’ve long suspected that Knights of the Old Republic or a revised version thereof would eventually be folded back into the official canon in some capacity. The fact that the heroes of Star Wars Rebels are about to visit an ancient Sith temple on Malachor lends a whole lotta credence to that idea.
This was a fascinating episode. I wouldn’t call it the series’ best as some people are (‘The Siege of Lothal’ is going to be a hard one to top), but it was certainly the most significant in terms of major, galaxy-shaking reveals in a 22-minute space of time. It’s the moment where all the pieces fall into place before the final confrontation, which makes it so weird that the next two episodes appear to be Chopper-centric affairs. Regardless, this was a tremendous half-hour of television, and I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to see how all of this plays into the upcoming season finale.