This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Episode 16
Rebels twines a lot of threads together in “Shroud of Darkness.” Ezra and Kanan both learn well-trodden but powerful Jedi lessons, Ahsoka takes her place as the mentor figure (sort of), and several cameos spice up the spiritualism-heavy episode. Unexpected turns, a fantastic cold open, and connections to the Prequel Trilogy make for an episode that ramps up toward the end-of-season arc nicely.
The fierce cold open shows that the Inquisitors have been making it hard for the Rebels to set up a secret base, tracking them to any planet that seems likely. Kanan and Ezra have grown in strength, but the Inquisitors keep harrying them. In order to gain more insight, the three Jedi in the crew travel back to the temple on Lothal to consult Yoda. Naturally, the Inquisitors are quick to follow.
Ahsoka gets her fair share of emotional beats along the way. Although I still think that it would work better for someone already attached to her from The Clone Wars, this episode shows her background well enough to catch viewers up. For people who know her well, a few of her lines give some revelatory looks into her past actions with the Jedi. She, more than Kanan, is a Jedi of the old age, and Jedi of the old age are wise and haunted.
However, Ahsoka’s role is a bit muddled. When she suggested that the Jedi speak to Yoda or Obi-Wan, I expected Kanan to suggest that Ahsoka was the closest thing they had to a mentor now. However, she’s still firmly in the Fulcrum role, insisting that she not even use the Force to open the Jedi temple. Is this a matter of principle, since presumably she still has the ability to use the Force? We’ve seen her fight brilliantly against the Inquisitors, so it seemed like an odd choice not to have her power manifest at the temple as well. Voice actor Ashley Eckstein has done a convincing job aging up the character, but her calm tone borders on bland, especially when she’s admitting less-than-Zen statements about how she doesn’t know what to do next.
The Seventh Sister suffers from a lack of range too. With no setting between ‘flirty’ and ‘generic villain’, she is essentially a tool to drive the plot forward. The Fifth Brother has even less dialogue, so suffers the same.
Maybe the show will gradually reveal Ahsoka’s reasons for her own stoicism, as it did with Hera’s secrecy. For now, though, she is enigmatic and burdened at times, but a non-entity at others. Even her story about Yoda tells very little about Ahsoka herself. However, she also gets one of the strongest moments of the episode, as the camera focuses in on her face to show her almost panicked reaction to her own Force vision. She continues to remind me of Qui-Gon – although less likely to pick up strays – and I don’t doubt that her story will only gain emotional impact from here.
So, what what did the Rebels really learn at the Lothal temple? I think we’ll have to wait until the next episode, or even the rest of the season to find out, but this was The Empire Strikes Back of Rebels. Both Yoda and the temple guardians in Kanan’s vision told the Jedi not to fight, and not to be afraid. Yoda also gave them direct instructions to Malachor – a planet that was a nexus of the Force and a site of a terrible battle in the Expanded Universe. Yoda’s presence is part waypoint, part aphorism generator, and it would be nice if the two roles had a bit more to do with one another. Will the plot end up with Ezra and Kanan defying Yoda, the way Luke did?
Whatever they do, this episode shows just how well they work together. Ezra has fully come into his own in terms of making beast control his best-utilized power, and this season has done a good job of showing how that came about naturally with encounters with creatures like the purgill. This episode also confirms the suggestions that were seeded throughout the season: that Ezra’s unconventional training or something in his own nature could cause him to drift toward the dark side.
The imagery in the episode is beautiful, from the Clone Wars-era temple guards to the new parts of the Lothal temple. The backgrounds are creative and painterly, to the point that the characters sometimes look jarringly plastic in front of them. (This was especially the case in the opening scene, against the black rock. The various visions were all very convincing.) The new character models look a bit out of place simply because they don’t look like their Clone Wars equivalents – I’m still getting used to Yoda’s button nose and snaggle teeth. They’re used well, though, with just the right amount of build-up and fanfare (or lack thereof).
But my favorite part in this episode was the culmination of Kanan’s vision. In classic Jedi fashion, he learns a meaningful lesson and is rewarded when he least expects it, receiving a blessing as if from the Force itself. An absolutely pivotal moment is revealed to him and just keeps gaining more layers, as the temple guards reveal themselves to be something a bit different than they first appeared.
Yoda spoke of fear being a constant battle no matter how old one is, and Kanan’s banter with the Seventh Sister called back to his less-than-savory past. Combine these things and you get an episode in which Kanan grows more than the ostensible audience surrogate Ezra does.
Although Kanan was a standout, “Shroud of Darkness” fit so many pieces of the story together wonderfully. The pieces were balanced so well that each story could open up even more: what was the Grand Inquisitor like before he was an Inquisitor? What happened to Ahsoka during Revenge of the Sith? Some characters were not built as fully as they could have been, but the episode built on everything that came before to make an emotional story that had a lot going on.