This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Episode 20
The season finale brought some of the most atmospheric storytelling we’ve ever seen on Star Wars Rebels. More than thirty years after the franchise began, Star Wars is in constant conversation with itself: so many mediums have been used to tell the same types of stories about teachers and students, and about good vs. evil. That the season two finale of Rebels feels like Star Wars and calls back – and forward – to other eras of Star Wars is no surprise. The way in which it’s done, though, makes a jam-packed hour-long episode into a touching, exciting story that ultimately invites speculation more than resolution – another tradition of the big, loud history of Star Wars.
Having left the other members of the Ghost crew behind in last week’s satisfying build-up, Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka journey to Malachor to find a Sith secret that the Inquisitors have also been chasing. When he gets separated from the group, Ezra immediately runs into a reclusive, aged Darth Maul, who takes Ezra under his extremely suspicious wing as the two separate groups head to the center of the Sith temple. The confrontation there pits Ahsoka against Darth Vader and, well, everyone else against everyone else.
This review will save major ending spoilers until after another warning, but I will be going over major plot details here. I have a feeling this episode is going to kick off a lot of conversation.
Both the music and animation in this episode are in fine form, with both new and old motifs shining through. “The Imperial March” and “Duel of the Fates” are used sparingly, and brilliantly, to punctuate some of the episode’s most thrilling moments. The Sith temple is surrounded by what appears to be a ruined city and the bodies of Jedi, which have been burned and petrified. Along with the runic languages and sharp horizontal and vertical designs on the Sith architecture, the whole place looks like a cage – and it’s set up for a grudge match. Another big inspiration appears to be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the obstacle course sequences serve to illuminate the characters’ precarious fates. Maul and Ezra’s journey literally has weight; the sequence where they lift one stone block after another to gain entrance into the temple is masterfully paced.
The stubbornness and arrogance that caused Ezra to butt heads with Kanan last episode are on full display here, and make the young Jedi very vulnerable to Maul’s machinations. Perhaps the most illuminating look into Ezra’s mental state at the beginning of the episode is the quickness with which he asserts he’s looking for justice, while at the same time conflating that idea with Maul’s desire for revenge. It makes sense that Ezra would accept a new master at this point in his journey, even though I can imagine his shift in loyalty might seem to come very suddenly to someone who didn’t see or didn’t ascribe weight to his little rebellions against Kanan in the past few episodes. The bond between Ezra and Kanan continues to be the key, with “Twilight of the Apprentice” exploring how blind faith in another person can lead either to success or ruin.
In Star Wars, that success or ruin depends on whether one serves the dark side or the light. The Darth Maul in Rebels builds on his character in The Clone Wars in a way that actually brings him closer to who he was in The Phantom Menace than The Clone Wars ever did. Bereft of his Mandalorian army, he’s an evil assassin again, with his hatred for Vader the only thing that ties him to the Rebels. In order to make Maul sound older, actor Sam Witwer uses a softer voice that more closely matches Maul’s tone in The Phantom Menace. The Sith Lord’s exposition isn’t subtle, but it does portray Maul as a character who has been chewed up and spit up by the galaxy. He’s just as much an apprentice as Ezra and Ahsoka, which means that along with being an assassin, he fills a more unique spot in the episode as a deeply untrustworthy galactic underdog.
Maul is also given the opportunity to command some scenes – even as he tells Ezra to trust him, there are several moments where Maul’s expressions and motivations make it very clear that his loyalty is based solely on his own gain. The constant uncertainty about whether he is a frightening variable or a dependable ally is well done.
The other apprentice is, of course, Ahsoka. There will be more about her under the spoiler warning, but she takes her place fully as a mentor figure here, without ever fully stepping into Fulcrum’s shoes. Maul calls her a “part-time” Jedi, but we still don’t know what Ahsoka was doing between now and her defection from the Jedi. Her poise, and the wisdom that often manifests as silence, is at the very least consistent. Discussions about Ahsoka’s fate have dominated the fan conversations around Rebels, and I don’t think they’ll stop after this episode.
The emotional cues of the episode are so strong that most of my criticisms are small. Ahsoka references an “ancient tongue,” which tells us less than nothing in a galaxy with probably millions of languages. The Inquisitors can apparently fly by using their lightsabers as helicopter blades now, which … is new. Introducing it before might have made it a little bit less silly. Kanan’s conversations with Chopper also feel extraneous and a bit awkward, especially because Kanan has to do more verbatim translation than usual since Chopper can’t always be seen.
The fight scenes are solid and tense, the characters’ relationships clearly established. The episode hinges on wordplay that sits right on the border between cutesy and clever, but the payoff is spectacularly Star Wars. Season two has dragged more than season one, it’s length used for filler monster-of-the-week episodes and noncommittal characterization as well as some beautiful moments and Ezra’s gradually increasing frustrations. However, “Twilight of the Apprentice” has some of the best music, best cinematic choices, and most exciting confrontations in the entire show. Like the battle at the Sith Temple, this conflict will be remembered long after it’s over.
Complete Ending Spoilers Follow
Ahsoka’s presense in Rebels has been both illuminating and distracting. Not quite a Jedi and not quite a Rebel agent, she strode confidently onto the show with the assumption that a lot of Star Wars fans would already be attached to her because of her starring role in The Clone Wars. Her fate in Rebels is ambiguous; although it appears at first that she dies in the destruction of the Sith artifact, there is a moment that suggests otherwise. Her confrontation with Vader is excellent, its highlight an unexpected reference to The Force Awakens: “Anakin Skywalker was weak, so I destroyed him.” “Then I will avenge his death.”
Maul is definitively alive, but Ahsoka is something else. She’s back in the realm of speculation she inhabited before she was revealed to be Fulcrum. Dave Filoni has stated in an interview with IGN that the ambiguity of her fate was intended to prevent her from overshadowing the entire show, but every indication so far seems to say the opposite will happen. The problem with Ahsoka’s survival – or ambiguous survival – is that she has been a pet project for Dave Filoni and for The Clone Wars for years. From that point of view, the ambiguity comes off more like a lack of commitment – an unwillingness to either kill or spare the franchise’s darling – than a decision made to serve the story of the Dark Times of the Jedi.