This will be a spoilerish review of the fantastic season 2 finale Twilight of the Apprentice. It has seen the end of beloved characters, brought severe consequences for other beloved characters and implications that will stretch far into Season 3 and beyond. The prequels have exploded onto the Rebels scene!
I will follow the format that I have also used in the directly related Shroud of Darkness review to look at the events and the implications of this gorgeous episode. Visually stunning, emotionally heart breaking and ground breaking in terms of its impact on the narrative of Rebels. The Prequel era has slammed and detonated into the Rebels era.
This is what it is like to be Ezra at the moment: “Your visions in the Lothal Temple have given you even more faith in your potential but they have also thrown up even more riddles as to why neither Yoda nor Kanan seem happy about the progress you are making. You are sent to a planet but you neither know why nor what to find there. You have the strong impression there are things about The Force that they are not telling you. Yet all you want is fight the empire to bring Peace and Justice to the Galaxy, for your friends, your loved ones and for everyone. You know that sometimes you are rash and over-confident in your abilities. But your intention is right, isn’t that what matters? That is what goes on in your mind as you walk towards the entrance of the Sith Temple on Malachor.”
Soon after entering the Sith Temple on Malachor Ezra is isolated from Ahsoka and Kanan, but he is not alone for long. Almost immediately he comes across a figure he didn’t know he was looking for. “Put down your weapon, I mean you know harm” says the frail and weak shadow that we soon recognise as Maul appropriating Yoda’s lines from The Empire Strikes Back. The fact that Maul uses Yoda’s dialogue at various points throughout his wandering with Ezra through the Temple is a good example of the rhyming within Star Wars. Not only is this a nod to a fan-favorite sequence from one of the most beloved movies in the franchise, but it adds direct narrative meaning to what we are seeing unfolding in front of us. Maul is old and weak, though maybe not as old and weak as he wants to appear to be. Maul is deceiving Ezra, but in a way that could just as well be a test rather than with malicious intent. Maul is seeking to train Ezra even though Ezra does not yet realise he has met a potential Master. But most of all, Ezra will be put to the test and will have nothing to fear … except that which he brings with him.
The way in which Ezra’s dark side training begins is natural, not a moment does it feel forced. The internal resistance you might feel as a viewer is because you don’t want Ezra to turn dark but you fear that maybe it is already to late. Maul and Ezra work together to find the holocron hidden in the Temple and at times it seems this is as much a learning experience for Maul as it is to Ezra. When they come together again with Ahsoka and Kanan, Maul is ready to cast off his disguise and show his true nature. By that time Ezra is convinced that the enemy of your enemy can indeed be your friend, for the time being, and that Maul sees his potential in a way that Kanan does not, cannot or wants not see.
This is what it is like to be Kanan at the moment: “You have left the Temple on Lothal with in your heart the admission that you cannot protect Ezra. Train him best as you can is all you can do. You know your abilities are limited but you also know that as a true knight of the Order you are taking your legitimate place by standing up for it, guarding it and defending it. There are many futures you cannot see, but to do what is right in the now and here you do not need that sight. So though Master Yoda has ordered you to a place where you were trained never to go, you trust in that direction and stay on your guard. That is what goes on in your mind as you walk towards the entrance of the Sith Temple on Malachor.”
Kanan quickly loses his apprentice and in hot pursuit of an inquisitor he agrees to letting Ezra fend for himself for a while. He has learned to let go although he is assuming that Ezra is safe. That becomes clear to him when he realizes that the inquisitor wasn’t here to seek out them, but for someone else. They find the inquisitor and with Chopper’s help capture him. But before they can get any information out of the inquisitor his two buddies show up and quickly the situation escalates. Surrounded by inquisitors the situation looks dire for Kanan and Ahsoka. When Ezra rejoins them he brings along an unexpected guest about whose intentions Kanan feels rather worried. Yet the reinforcements are not unwelcome.
This is what it is like to be Ahsoka at the moment: “No one needs to foretell you that this mission will in all likelihood bring out Vader to cross your path.
Ever since your force vision in the Lothal Temple have you been mentally preparing for this. You have hope that if this Vader is your Master Anakin, that you could liberate him from this dark side shroud, yet somewhere you also hope that your vision turns out to be wrong and that this abomination Darth Vader is simply the murderer of your beloved former Master. The concept that he actually is both has not yet completely entered your thoughts. But in your heart you know that, if this is the case, only the ultimate sacrifice might open the way to a better future for him and for the Galaxy. That is what goes on in your mind as you walk to the entrance of the Sith Temple on Malachor.”
Ahsoka is the Master of this episode. At all times, well almost all times, she is calm, considered and in control of the situation. She radiates confidence in Kanan’s training of Ezra, especially when she needs it. She puts her faith in him even when he needs to face off against Maul while being badly impaired. There is no fear in any of her actions or expressions, there is emotion for sure, but there is also serenity. In many scenes and shots Ahsoka seems to represent a balance that Anakin is destined to bring but has not yet achieved.
As the stakes rise by the minute everything that has happened in Ahsoka’s life starts to weigh in on the story that is unfolding. Whether it is Ahsoka’s healthy mockery of Anakin during their early days, her growth and growing appreciation of Anakin’s training during her time as a hunted trandoshian trophy, her survival and resurrection by being imbued through Anakin with the life-force of the Daughter of Mortis, her departure and rejection of the Order and her emotional attachment to Anakin Skywalker … it all comes into play here. The Sith holocron might be the ultimate key to knowledge of the Sith, but Ahsoka Tano is a living lens through which all the mythology of Star Wars from the Prequel Era is now going to be focussed to burn its way through the shells of darkness that surround Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka’s feet are set on a path where she will do … what Obi Wan Kenobi could not.
Everything in this episode was working towards that final confrontation. The brutal eradication of the Inquisitors through Maul’s relentless will to overcome his enemies (5th brother and 7th sister are shown no mercy) and through the ultimate pettiness of their ‘technological aides’ to compensate for what the Force will not grant them (8th brother’s demise by tech-failure) are a rout for the imperial forces. It is clear that if the Empire is to carry any victory from this it can only come through the hands of Darth Vader.
Maul confronts Kanan in an attempt to take over Ezra as his apprentice. In a shockingly sudden attack he takes Kanan’s eyesight but as he moves in for a killing blow Ahsoka blocks him. Maul’s blinding of Kanan is more than just afflicting a severe disability on Kanan, it is a metaphor for the fact that there are many things about Ezra that Kanan has not been, and will not be, able to see. It is in the blinded and afflicted state after Maul’s viscious attack that Kanan finds to his role as the blind guardian of the Jedi. Dressed in a Temple Guard’s helmet he finds on the ground, he manages to ward off Maul’s next attack and to send Maul tumbling down the levels of the Sith Temple. Off screen Maul realizes that he has played his part in this day’s narrative and would serve his own interests best by getting away from this forsaken planet.
Darth Vader stands in the way Ezra and Kanan being able to retrieve the Holocron. Yet Ahsoka Tano puts herself in the way of Darth Vader saving the day for the Empire. It is a battle that brings out visually how much grace and style Anakin Skywalker has lost and how much Vader is reduced to pure strength and aggression. Ahsoka is swift, her blades are every where to parry and threaten Vader’s black encasing. It is merely Vader’s overpowering strength and aggression that wears her out. As Vader Force pushes her off an edge he returns to the Temple interior to make a final attempt at retrieving the Holocron from Ezra’s hands. Ahsoka storms in for what must be one of the most striking blows ever dealt to Vader. With one sabre she blocks Vader’s, with the other she cracks open his helmet and Vader screams, the same scream we will also hear in Empire Strikes Back when Luke places a hit.
Ezra and Kanan make their escape with the Holocron as Temple crumbles around them, Ahsoka and Vader. Ahsoka’s final blow has revealed part of Anakin Skywalker’s face and one eye and Anakin speaks her name. Ahsoka force pushes away Ezra’s last chance of bringing her home as well, after she has also spoken Anakin’s name. Ï will not leave you! Not this time!” are Ahsoka Tano’s final words. Anakin does not reply something like ‘I will destroy you’ but merely a no less menacing “then you will die”. Asoka’s final act is to literally cast Ezra and Kanan out of the final section of this battle as Vader approaches her and she confronts him. The stone walls of the crumbling Sith Temple take her from our field of view and we follow Ezra and Kanan’s escape while below them the Temple explodes.
Film without words
The episode ends with a sequence of shots scored to brilliantly by Kevin Kiner. We see the joy of Hera at seeing Kanan again and also her worry about Kanan’s blindness. We see Rex’s face that echoes his fears for Ahsoka and Ezra’s face answering Rex’s unspoken question with an expression mirroring the realization that the fears have come true. It is film without dialogue at its best … and also best simply seen.
But why didn’t we see what happened to Ahsoka and Anakin in that final fight? I loved it that we didn’t see it. After Anakin had uttered her name and Ahsoka had renewed her vow ‘not to leave him this time’ the epic battle had become an intensely personal one. By keeping us outside of it, Filoni has given this final battle between Ahsoka and Anakin an intensely intimate nature. What happened behind those walls just before the Temple blew up is between Apprentice and Master, between Ahsoka and Anakin, in a way it is none of our business. If we take Ahsoka’s word for it, she has not left Anakin. not this time. But the only way she could have managed to stay with Anakin, in the deep darkness that is called Darth Vader, is by going down into that dark dominion of death inside of Vader.
I, for now, view this end as signifying Ahsoka’s sacrifice to break open that hermetically sealed darkness around Anakin. It may very well be that the events we didn’t see in those brief moments between Ahsoka and Anakin are the root for Anakin’s later redemption by Luke. Anakin was inescapably set on a course into darkness after his fall in Revenge of the Sith. The Vader that confronts Luke on Bespin is not the ice-cold Vader so many fans wanted to see in the Prequels. That last bit of Anakin that survives within Vader, that Luke can sense within Vader, that Obi Wan and Yoda have already given up on, that is the germ from which Anakin’s redemption can well up … that last bit of Anakin now is accompanied by a guardian angel, by Ahsoka. For me, seeing the distant figure of Ahsoka step down into the dark in those closing shots represents Ahsoka descending into Death to guard and retain that little bit which is left of Anakin. She dies for him and because of that she lives, and prepares the way for ultimately saving the lives of millions of others.
There is so much more to say about this episode. There has been so much that is now set up for season 3, but I don’t want to spend any words on that here and now. I want to spend the last few lines on asking how this changes our understanding of the Prequels and the Original trilogies. I think it profoundly affects it.
The Ahsoka vs Vader battle is right up there, in terms of emotions, with the Obi Wan vs Anakin battle of Revenge of the Sith. There Obi Wan leaves Anakin to die at the edge of a lava lake. Obi Wan is all caught up in his own emotions and cannot bear the sight of his former friend turned Sith in agony. He abandons Anakin, understandably. Obi Wan will become Luke’s mentor and has given up on Anakin. He will never come back on that point of view and he will even tell Luke as much in Episode IV: Anakin is dead and Luke must kill Vader. Obi Wan’s sacrifice in Episode IV is not for Anakin, but for Luke only.
Padme has not given up on Anakin, but her death not only prevents her from nudging him back in a better direction. Sidious can even twist it to his own designs and to further Anakin’s fall. We have all seen it. After Revenge of the Sith no one attempts to bring Anakin back, not Obi Wan, not Yoda, apparently the Chosen One is a lost cause.
But when Darth Vader emerges from the collapsed Temple, badly wounded and scarred, he has witnessed someone die for Anakin, a sacrifice that no Emperor can twist because it occurred in front of his own eyes, freed from Vader’s mask. The Vader in Episodes IV, V and VI has Ahsoka’s sacrifice for Anakin fresh in his memory. In Luke &Leia he will encounter people who carry not just the faith and willingness to sacrifice in them like Ahsoka before them, but who also represents all that is left of Padme in this Galaxy. That is a force for the liberation of Anakin that even Darth Vader cannot hold back. After this week’s episode of Rebels we know that the Darth Vader we see in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back knows this … because he has seen it in Ahsoka’s determination not to leave him, not this time.