Star Wars Rebels – Season 2 Episodes 20 & 21
“Twilight of the Apprentice”
Star Wars Rebels ends the second season in a double length episode that takes the resident Force Sensitive characters to a desolate world seeking knowledge.
Ever since Ahsoka was reintroduced at the end of the first season the prospect of her coming into conflict with her former master, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader has been a fascinating one. Ashoka hasn’t been especially well handled as a character throughout the season as she has hardly been in it but the potential has always been there despite the diminished momentum caused by her lack of her appearances.
Her fight with Vader feels like something of an afterthought in this episode which pretty much ties in with the approach to Ahsoka all season. When they do come to blows it’s excellent but it feels brief and unfinished when it does. Darth Vader’s appearance comes so late in the episode that it feels as if his presence wasn’t really needed considering all of the other conflicts that were going on around it. Seeing Ahsoka face to face with what her old master has become lacks the impact that it really should have because of the lack of development towards it in the episode itself.
Ahsoka’s main use in this particular story is to lend another two lightsabers to the many skirmishes that go on with the reason for her presence there remaining unclear until Vader arrives and the focus shifts to the complete breakdown of that master/apprentice dynamic that was so compelling on The Clone Wars. As someone who watched that show and knows the history between these characters I found this to be very effective. Ahsoka is clearly angry and disgusted with what her former master has become and appears to accept his claim that he destroyed Anakin Skywalker rather than being something that he became. Vader sees himself as something else entirely which allows Ahsoka to justify her attempt to bring him down as a gesture to avenge her master. Killing Vader will bring justice to Anakin’s memory. She even points out she considers herself to be something other than Jedi which adds extra complexity to the Force and how people connect to it. It’s not as simple as good or evil; Jedi or Sith nor should it be.
As becomes known in Return of the Jedi, Vader is not beyond redemption and sacrifices himself to put an end to the Emperor as well as save the life of his son. Anakin Skywalker is still in there somewhere and Ahsoka realises this when she damages his mask. In effect she partially releases him from his prison and allows a small part of the real him to escape. The way Matt Lanter’s voice combines with James Earl Jones’ is a clear and powerful way of showing that and it gives Ahsoka a second chance to save her master when she refuses to leave him. It doesn’t seem to end so well for her as she appears to be trapped in the Sith Temple assuming that she survived but the sentiment makes a lot of sense and I doubt that this particular story is resolved. If Ahsoka did die fighting Vader then it’s a really awful way for her whole narrative to end so I think she will be off the board for a while and return at some point.
Rolling back to the earlier parts of the episode as I’ve focused so much on the end before now. The main focus of this story is Ezra’s temptation by the Dark Side of the Force. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that the show is clearly hinting at Ezra being tempted by what the Dark Side can offer and this episode finally deals with that directly. He is quickly separated from Kanan and Ahsoka and comes across Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) -who no longer identifies as a Darth- who offers him guidance and slowly gains his trust. Maul is a character I have always been fascinated by because he looks so cool and managed to remain an enigmatic character after The Phantom Menace due to the notable advantage of having almost no dialogue. He was brought back for several episodes of The Clone Wars but that’s all too complicated to get into here. The episodes were great and if you do nothing else with that show then you should check those out.
Maul is a bit of a problem within the context of this episode as he just appears with no prior explanation. If the only exposure you had to this character was in The Phantom Menace then you might be confused about him being in this at all since he appeared to have died in that film. This episode makes assumptions that the viewer will be able to at least accept that he is somehow alive without any explanation. I’m fine as I’ve seen The Clone Wars so I was fully on board with his appearance here but I can see how it would be confusing.
I found it interesting that Maul spends most of the episode slowly grooming Ezra to be his Sith apprentice. He doesn’t lie to Ezra but is liberal enough with the truth that certain assumptions can be made and conclusions reached based on what he is saying. Maul must sense Ezra’s potential to turn to the Dark Side as he plays on that expertly. Firstly he capitalises on his curiosity to encourage him to tap into his anger to get into the Sith Temple and after that he manipulates him emotionally to use sympathy as a way to gain his trust. It’s really sinister and difficult to watch Ezra naively be led down this dark path. In many ways his mind is opened to other possibilities beyond what Kanan has taught him but Maul is very careful with the information to tempt Ezra to explore these for himself.
This all pays off at the end of the episode when Ezra manages to open the Sith Holocron. Maul told him that to open it you either have to be a Sith or think like one so this is an obvious indication that Ezra is heading to a really dark place that he may not be able to come back from. Maul succeeds in one respect and is still at large to come back to further tempt Ezra next season.
Maul’s skills at manipulation even work on Ahsoka and Kanan who reluctantly believe him when he says that his quarrel isn’t with them and helps them take on the Inquisitors. He uses Ahsoka and Kanan to bring down these particular enemies of his as well as buy time for Ezra to carry out his plan for him. It’s all really nicely manipualtive and shows why Maul is such a good villain.
I also like how the episode did a few fakeouts to keep the viewer guessing about Maul’s inevitable betrayal. When he had Ezra hanging over a bottomless pit I was positive that would be when his true motivation would become known but events still ticked on after that leaving me wondering when this would happen.
When it did happen it felt perfect as he started by revealing that he considered Ezra his apprentice and had almost achieved his goal of activating the Sith Temple to use as a weapon against his numerous enemies. He deals a significant blow to Kanan that leaves him blinded which really shocked me as I didn’t expect the episode to end with those kind of consequences. It also ties into the master/student relationship between Kanan and Ezra. They haven’t really clicked as master and apprentice because of Kanan’s inability to teach combined with Ezra’s inability to learn. Ezra is impatient and really wants to skip to the end but he can’t do it that way and that causes friction between them that Kanan can’t deal with. As a result their bond isn’t terribly strong and Kanan has been blind to the temptations that Ezra has been facing. This figurative blindness becomes literal blindness when Maul robs him of his sight as punishment for his failings as a teacher. It’s a powerful and shocking moment that really sums up the master/student relationship between Kanan and Ezra.
This somewhat pays off when Kanan overcomes his disability to get the upper hand on Maul and later help Ezra retrieve the Sith Holocron. He may fail as a teacher but he has always managed to be a protector and it’s clear that he cares about Ezra even if he can’t always show him.
I found the use of the Inquisitors to be largely pointless. Firstly we are introduced to a new one that we have never heard of who is dispatched almost as quickly as he is introduced and it is mentioned that the Inquisitors have been chasing after Maul. Considering they were coming after Ezra, Kanan and Ahsoka when we last saw them there feels like a large chunk of story missing around the change in their mission.
This has been a problem for this season as a whole. The master/student relationship between Kanan and Ezra has largely been sidelined meaning that it has less impact when explored here, Ahsoka’s conflict with Vader has been missing for so much of the season that it has far less weight when it comes into play in this episode and the Inquisitors have been such limp villains that it’s impossible to take them seriously. They are all dead now anyway so they might as well have never been here at all.
I also find myself wondering what the purpose of Kanan, Ahsoka and Ezra going to Malachor was. Yoda sent them there so that they could find knowledge but beyond the defeat they all suffered in one way or another I’m not sure what lessons were to be learned here. I was waiting for the purpose to be revealed and some sort of revelation to come across but it never happened which left me confused. The ending was bleak so part of me thinks that the true purpose is yet to be revealed but at this point it is all unclear.
Visually this episode was stunning and the action sequences were all top notch. The design of the Sith Temple was really claustrophobic and foreboding and the Sith Holocron looked like it could be a cursed object. There was a strange presence to the setting that made it feel unsettling for the characters to be in so I can’t fault the episode for setting the mood properly through visuals.
This episode is hard to pin down as lots of it was excellent but the lack of proper development of some of the things that come into play here weakes the impact somewhat. Darth Maul was great to see back and proved himself to be a sinister threat as soon as he appeared. The development of Ezra’s fall to the Dark Side was handled really well and the conflict between Ahsoka and Darth Vader worked in the context of this episode but suffers from a lack of prior exploration. I liked the bleak ending and the consequences that will affect this show long into the next season. Let’s hope that season 3 will be a lot tighter in its storytelling.
- Maul’s effectiveness as a villain and his temptation of Ezra towards the Dark Side
- excellent action sequences the visuals effectively establishing mood
- the bleak ending and consequences for next season
- Ahsoka and Darth Vader’s conflict
- a reduced impact on some things due to a lack of prior development
- Darth Vader’s appearance feeling like something of an afterthought