Friday, April 1, 2016

Rebels Review: "Twilight of the Apprentice"

By: Dominic Jones

Season Two of Star Wars Rebels wrapped up this week with the two part finale "Twilight of the Apprentice".  While the episode wasn't quite the game changer I was anticipating, it certainly did shake things up significantly for the series going forward.  Kanan is blind, Ezra tapped into the Dark Side in a big way, Maul was unleashed on the galaxy again, three Inquisitors met their ends, and Ahsoka....well, who really knows what happened to Ahsoka?

We might as well start with the Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader confrontation.  While it has always seemed odd that the main storyline of the season involved two characters who appeared in fewer than half the season’s episodes, the history between the two was strong enough that the confrontation carried great emotional weight.  What we saw of the confrontation was amazing.  The lightsaber choreography was spectacular and the dialogue was on point.  Ahsoka damaging Vader's helmet and voice changer so that she could see Anakin's face and hear his voice as they fought was a chilling moment that stands out as one of the best in Star Wars.

The problem, however, is what we didn't see.  Choosing not to show the final moments of the confrontation was a colossal misstep on the part of the Rebels creative team.  Cutting away from the fight that fans have been anticipating since 2008, only to return to those characters for a brief glimpse during the final montage was a huge disappointment that soured me on the episode as a whole.  I have no doubt that Ahsoka survived the fight (executive producer Dave Filoni seems to be hinting at this as well), and I am more than thrilled at the prospect of more Ahsoka stories down the line.  However, seeing her death would almost have been preferable to being left in the dark about what went down in that final confrontation with Vader.

The impression I get from the episode, as well as from the interviews with the creative team, is that the show is done with those two characters for the time being.  Vader probably has some business of the Rogue One variety to take care, and Ahsoka--well she is probably in need of some more soul searching after whatever went down.  We may never learn the details of those final moments between the (former) master and apprentice.  Did Ahsoka somehow convince Anakin to let her live?  Or did Anakin come to this decision on his own?  Or did something else happen?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer that not everything in Star Wars needs to be explained.  I don't need every throwaway line to become the subject of a novel, comic book, video game, film, TV episode, etc.  And I foresee that what happened inside the Sith temple in those final moments will be the subject of great speculation in years to come.  But the relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka was the soul of Star Wars from 2008-2014 and more definitive closure was needed (even if that “closure” was no more than a set up for their next meeting).

Now back to the good stuff--and there was a lot of good stuff.  The inclusion of Maul in this episode was brilliant.  Maul very much plays the same role for Ezra on Malachor (only a Dark Side version) as Yoda plays for Luke on Dagobah, right down to some direct dialogue call-backs to The Empire Strikes Back.  Maul appealing to Ezra's darker leanings while trying to separate him from Kanan made for some great tension among the heroes.

The Rebels team also did an excellent job of making the audience believe that Maul might actually be willing to work with our heroes, at least until the immediate threat has passed and they can escape the planet.  Maul was so convincing in this regard that his sudden (but inevitable) betrayal of Kanan came as an actual shock to me (when really it shouldn't have).  It was also such a nice touch to hear "Duel of the Fates", however briefly, when Maul and Ahsoka locked sabers.  I am really looking forward to seeing what fresh hell Maul unleashes on the galaxy in Season Three.

Here, however, my frustration with the unsatisfying wrap up of the Ahsoka/Vader storyline comes back into play.  I could more easily have accepted the show (literally) throwing away Maul for the final moments of the episode, had we got the closure I was seeking from the final Ahsoka-Vader confrontation.  Instead, Maul's sudden disappearance after being pushed off the side of the temple, and then his subsequent reappearance having stolen Vader's TIE, makes the episode feel disjointed.  It almost feels like there were two stories here that got combined into one: Ahsoka facing off with Darth Vader, and Maul tempting Ezra to the Dark Side.  Quite frankly, I would have preferred the two stories  to have been split up rather than combined into one episode.

It was an intriguing decision to have Kanan blinded at the hand of Maul.  Even though it stopped short of actually killing the character, this development does have the potential to significantly change the dynamic of the show in Season Three.  Kanan has been the most active member of the Ghost crew and, even though we know he still has the ability to fight, this injury could sideline him for most of the action next season.  That's not to say there isn't a role for him, but more that his role must shift, perhaps to one of strategy or diplomacy.  Now that Kanan can't rely on his vision, he will have to rely on his other senses, and the Force, to give him the advantage.  Obi-Wan once said, "You're eyes can deceive you" and Star Wars Rebels seems poised to explore that concept in a big way next season.

The real cliffhanger for this season, though, was Ezra opening the Sith holocron.  We are reminded throughout the episode that only the dark side can open the holocron, and in the final shot, not only do we see Ezra open the holocron, we also see his eyes tinted with yellow.  This series has been hinting at Ezra’s Dark Side leanings since Season One and it looks like his potential fall will be a main story arc next season.  Ezra seemed very receptive to Maul’s persuasion, though he still wasn't ready to commit.  The (perceived) death of one his mentor figures (Ezra has no idea Ahsoka survived) combined with the injury inflicted on Kanan has filled Ezra with more anger than ever before.  That being said, I don't think he will ever become a complete "bad guy", so to speak, even if he does go down an evil path.  It seems more likely that Ezra might become an anti hero, using the dark side to fight the Empire and other threats to his friends.

Speaking of the Empire, it was not a good week to be an Inquisitor.  We began the episode with two Inquisitors, gained one early on, and then watched them all die, one by one.  Rebels never seemed really sure what to do with the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister this season and as a result their deaths amount to nothing more than a missed opportunity to create some really memorable villains.  Which is a shame, considering the impact the Grand Inquisitor left in Season One.  In all fairness though, it's hard for any villain to have much of an impact when both Darth Vader and Maul are on the scene.  Talk about tough acts to follow!

I also want to mention how much I loved Rex's conversation with Ahsoka at the start of the episode, specifically the call back to The Clone Wars Movie.  The animators also did a really good job at conveying Rex's concern for his friend.  But the final scene with Rex falls into the category of stuff clouded by how the final confrontation went down.  It was emotional, but for me it didn't carry the punch it could  have had if the ending had been more satisfying.

A couple of other quick observations about the episode.  I was impressed by the way the so much lore about Malachor was introduced without going overboard.  The little hints and teases are enough to make me want to speculate about the stories that took place there, whether we get to see them or not.  Same goes for the green crossguard saber: I loved the way it connected Rebels to both the ancient history of the galaxy and The Force Awakens.  The Sith temple itself was fascinating.  The concept of the temple itself being a weapon meshes nicely with the idea that super weapons have long been a tool of the Dark Side--as Yoda explained in the "Crystal Crisis" story reel episodes of The Clone Wars.  I'm curious about how this super weapon differs from the Death Stars or even Starkiller Base.  It definitely felt more mystical than the Starkiller, which was very technological, but it also seemed far less stable than the kyber crystal powered Death Stars.

It's hard to put a finger on how exactly I feel about "Twilight of the Apprentice" overall.  On one hand, the episode did many things very well--Maul's return, Ezra tapping into the Dark Side, what we saw of Ahsoka's confrontation with Darth Vader.  However, depriving us of getting to see what actually happened between two beloved characters was such a let down that it's hard not to see the rest of the episode the lens of that disappointment.  I still love Rebels and continue to support the show, but I can't help but feel let down with how Season Two ended.  Perhaps the summer break is just what the series needs right now: a chance to regroup so they can come back strong in the fall with Season Three.

Score: 6.5/10

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25

Check out my reviews of the rest Season Two here.

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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