This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 4 Episode 13
“A World Between Worlds” is mind-boggling, adding so many fantastical elements without ever directly bringing back the Mortis trio. It’s a visually distinct episode and the team clearly pulled out all the stops to make it look good, and feel good — voice lines piped in from around the Star Wars saga make it a celebration of the connectedness of everything from The Force Awakens to the Prequel Trilogy. As with The Last Jedi, I emerged from the episode unsure of how I felt about what I had just seen.
A big mystery was solved in this episode, and I’m not sure anyone expected it to happen this way. Ezra finds himself in a black-and-white world full of portals and whispers, the entire history of the galaxy moving around him. The voice of Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi immediately gave the scene the warm, film-grain solidity of the Original Trilogy, and as more voices appeared the possibilities grew. The pathways themselves were compelling to watch, slopes plunging vertiginously downward while still looking slightly unreal as if Ezra has really stepped inside a painting.
Meanwhile, Minister Hydan interrogates Sabine — or rather halfheartedly attempts to convince her to help him with his research. Hydan still doesn’t have much characterization, and I would have liked at least one line to explain a bit of his history before his current role. Sabine isn’t charmed either, keeping her cool and cutting off a war of aesthetic sensibilities before it begins: “I’m smarter than you,” Sabine says firmly. She does eventually learn that the door can be unlocked using the figure of the Son.
Ezra is unlocking doors too. The world between worlds crosses time as well as space, and the Force draws Ezra to Ahsoka’s confrontation with Darth Vader in the Sith Temple. Suddenly, time travel opens up a whole host of possibilities. The Star Wars franchise has done this before: flow-walking was used to connect characters from the Expanded Universe to the Prequel Era films at the tail end of the EU book series. The possibilities are endless, potentially bringing characters from different eras together. The episode doesn’t push this that hard, though, and doesn’t give us any glimpses into the future — I’d love to see even the smallest look at Rey in the animation style used for Rebels. However, I can understand that the budget might not allow for it, and Ezra has a date with the most important event in his life recently — Kanan’s death.
From the moment he thinks of the idea, Ezra’s drive to save Kanan is portrayed as a bad thing. His voice becomes more aggressive, more obsessed. Ahsoka explains that this moment is something of a shatterpoint for Kanan — he has to die in order for the Rebels to live. It’s not clear whether this would create a time paradox or a catastrophic moral crisis, and maybe, in Star Wars, the two are the same. Bringing people back from the dead is clearly a bad idea.
The fact that Emperor Palpatine’s appearance isn’t the biggest revelation in this episode says something. Palpatine’s powers are wonderfully weird, Force lightning reminiscent of the magic of Dathomirian witches sweeping across the screen as Ezra runs along the narrow path. They’re also oddly inconsequential; Palpatine isn’t physically present and Ezra is no longer in moral crisis, so the Force lightning is just a physical attack, like the rock rolling toward Indiana Jones. This episode is beautiful, but it spun its wheels, dealing with Ezra’s grief in the biggest way possible while also keeping his personal stakes relatively detached.
So, did this episode handle Force mysticism better than the Mortis trilogy? Overall I think the idea of the bond between all things works better as a physical place than as a trio of people. The episode does a good job emphasizing the theme of Ezra’s connection to his homeworld. In a way, his story is important not because he is a Jedi but because he is a Jedi from Lothal, someone who was in the right place at the right time to protect this temple. He started out as a street kid who made a communication tower his home, and now he finds out that his home planet is an important nexus through which the Force communicates through all time and space.
The strengths of these two episodes are all bound up together, and Dave Filoni’s most ambitious ideas are also his most precious. The time travel, the Miyazaki influence (from Ezra’s steps on the black surface to the pot Hydan uses to pour tea), the long-awaited but ultimately self-contained return of Ahsoka — these are Filoni’s brainchildren through and through. Some of this is purely a matter of taste.
But other questions once unanswered are still unanswered. Ahsoka walks right back into that temple, her fate, once seemingly explained, now almost comedic in how much it has been teased. I’m glad she’s still alive — there was no room for Ahsoka to die in this episode, no place for her to be yet another mentor Ezra has to watch perish — but instead, she’s a shortcut for weight the episode doesn’t really carry. I would rather her be alive than for her, like Asajj Ventress, to be cut from the story to create emotional tension for a less consequential character pushed into the spotlight. But I would also have liked her dialogue with Ezra to push the themes of the show a bit more, to make his decision more personal. But as the temple disappears into the ground, I wonder whether Ezra is really the character who changed the most in this episode. Maybe Lothal did.
“A World Between Worlds” will definitely keep me thinking for a while — about both the potential of the time travel element and about what it meant for Ezra to choose to let go. His last lesson, he says is to let go — of his grief, of his attachment, but not of his hope. He sees one last glimpse of the wolf called Dume at the end, the Force showing a moment of mercy. A Jedi has to let go of his personal bonds, but that doesn’t mean that the world won’t sometimes be kind enough to remind him of his family. In moments like this, Rebels shines.