Coming soon after “Gathering Forces,” “Path of the Jedi” could be an unnecessary rehash, yet another Star Wars Rebels episode focusing on Kanan and Ezra training to be Jedi instead of the growth of an organized Rebellion. The art and impact of the episode more than justify it, though, in part because not only Ezra is learning. A maturing Ezra descends into the same kind of trial that Luke Skywalker faced on Dagobah, but Kanan, too, is undergoing a test.
After Kanan discovers an unused Jedi locus on Lothal, he tasks Ezra with leading him to it. The boy does so, and both of them encounter a Jedi guide.
The back-and-forth between Kanan and Ezra includes both Jedi platitudes and snarking: both of them know that neither is a fully-fledged Jedi yet. When Ezra asks whether Kanan will trust Ezra with his life, Kanan says “You put your training in my hands,” as if that makes them even – and it does, despite the differences of age and experience between them.
Ezra’s portion of the episode is largely composed of a frightening, disorienting sequence of visions provided to Ezra by the Force. The visions are almost as convincing to the viewer as to Ezra, since Kanan said that it’s likely the Empire could find the Jedi temple. Several times, the sounds of lightsabers off screen imply a slaughter. Ezra’s fears of loneliness are deep and universal – and the episode conveys the important lesson that fears can be lessened by knowing one has survived them before.
The episode is beautifully designed too: choral music adds to the magical, classic Star Wars feel, cute lothcats are a fan favorite callback to previous episodes, and Kanan’s beautiful star map starts the episode off with a vivid image.
This very focused episode also stretches beyond itself to tie in to the movies in the same way that “Droids in Distress” did: by bringing in familiar characters. Rebels has been a bit overstuffed with familiar faces so far, but C-3P0 and R2-D2 were entertaining where they needed to be, and quiet when they did not. So too with Yoda. The Jedi Master is voiced by Frank Oz instead of The Clone Wars’ Yoda, Tom Kane. Perhaps that’s part of why he fits the episode so perfectly, with his little hums and sniffles filling the space between dialogue that gently guides both Ezra and Kanan (and, in fact, floors Kanan).
Something still feels a bit flat about these characters, a bit like multicolored action figures moving around a floor. Perhaps it’s simply the animation style, still a bit plasticky, or the fact that Ezra and Kanan have been so much the focus of the show lately. Hera appears briefly in “Path of the Jedi,” but only to reassure Kanan in the same way she has been doing since the beginning. Maybe it’s the emptiness of the beautiful Lothal landscape, and the fact that at the beginning of the episode, we never learn whether Ezra had really been hanging out with Sabine. More time is spent with Ezra’s hallucination of the crew than with the real crew.
Kanan and Ezra are the heart of Rebels, and capture one of the central aspects of Star Wars: What would it be like to train as a Jedi, under a unique, flawed Master? Their episodes together have been rich and arresting, but the world around them still feels a little manufactured.