Star Wars: Rebels – Shroud of Darkness

Regret is not a theme commonly associated with the Star Wars universe, though it was present in the earliest exploration of the franchise.  One can hear it in Alec Guiness’ expertly delivered lines as he tells Luke Skywalker of his mistaken belief that he believed himself capable of training Anakin’s father on his own.  Almost unnoticed and most certainly not dwelled upon would be the regret Han Solo felt as he left Yavin with his credits, and which drove him to change his mind to appear above the Death Star trench just in time to provide Luke the cover he needed to fire his torpedo.  For as much as it was present or hidden in Star Wars, it became a subtle theme in “Shroud of Darkness.”

We are in approximately half way done in the final half of Rebel’s second season and the quality of the episodes continue to rise to an excellent level with “Shroud of Darkness” being no exception.  It begins in medias res or in the middle of things, in a lightsaber duel between Kanan and Ezra against this season’s Inquisitors.  The setting is another failed candidate as a home base for the operations of the Rebel Alliance, given the Empire clearly is aware of it by the Inquisitors’ presence.  The fight, itself, mainly illustrates the growing team work between Kanan and Ezra, as well Ezra’s well covered growing ability with a lightsaber and the Force. Despite the promise of both these things, retreat is the only viable option and Ezra summons what essentially are giant flying manta ray to serve in a manner that Tolkien’s giant eagles would deem appropriate, and the pair fly away to safety and Chopper at the controls of the Phantom.

Aboard the Phantom, Kanan is visibly concerned about their inability to elude the Empire, and decides to consult with Ahsoka.  They rendezvous aboard the Ghost, away from the fleet, with Kanan voicing fears that they might somehow expose the rebel fleet’s position.  The Inquisitors’ ability to find our Jedi is troubling and as the episode continues, more questions do arise to the nature of their success.  Ezra meets with Ahsoka first, where he discovers her watching a holocron video of Anakin providing a lecture on lightsaber technique.  The former padawan watches her former master quietly and we learn that Ezra has been busy studying Anakin’s technique and advice to improve his own abilities.  This leads into a conversation about the man who would be Vader when Ezra tells Ahsoka that Kanan believed Skywalker to be the greatest fighter the Jedi had.

The importance of this question and Ahsoka’s response are important given what we learn later in “Shroud of Darkness.”  Tano agrees that Anakin was very skilled and won many battles, but she deemphasizes the warrior aspect of Skywalker by insisting that it was his kindness which was his greatest attribute.  Likewise, she admits to not truly knowing his fate, but speculates that he may have been killed either by the Inquisitors, or, and she leaves this person’s name unspoken, Darth Vader, both who hunted down and killed the remaining Jedi.  The delivery of these lines leave something to be said about the resoluteness of her answer, and it’s answers they seek when the trio agree to travel to the one place anyone has managed to communicate with one of the wisest Jedi Masters we know, Yoda.

The advice they seek from Yoda involves their inability to find a safe planet for the rebels, but also what to do about the Inquisitors.  This leads them back to the Jedi temple on Lothal.  The Force is required to move what appears to be a giant stone boulder, or more like a small hill, to reveal the temple’s entrance. Ezra offers to let Ahsoka perform the honors, but Anakin Skywalker’s former student declines, citing that she’s no longer a Jedi and it would be inappropriate.  This is the first time on Rebels that Ahsoka has really reflected upon her exit on The Clone Wars, leaving the Jedi Order.  It holds interesting possibilities for Ahsoka’s future, which we can explore later in the review.  Kanan and Ezra raise the temple and a new opening, different from the last, reveals itself.

Once inside, the decision is to meditate and to simply see what happens.  Kanan discovers a brilliant white doorway, invisible to either Ezra or Ahsoka and chooses to walk through it.  This leads him into a dojo-like room with walls decorated with racks of lightsabers in any number of incarnations.  Also inside is a Jedi temple guard, a masked figure wearing the symbol of the Jedi Order.  While each of the trio have their own unique experience, the scenes are woven together, and for simplicity’s sake, we will cover each character’s experience one at a time.  For Kanan, this means immediately being attacked by the Jedi temple guard, who announces that because they fight the Empire, Ezra poses a grave threat and must be killed.  Kanan steps in front of him and the pair engage in a duel.

Throughout the duel, Kanan is questioned on his own abilities regarding the protection and teaching of Ezra.  More temple guards appear and ultimately, Kanan is beaten onto his knees where he turns off his lightsaber.  He’s beaten and he knows it, and admits that while he may not know everything, he has done his best to train Ezra and prepare him, and that must be enough.  It’s a minor level of regret, regret that he is not the fully trained Jedi that Ezra deserves, and it’s also the answer the Jedi temple guard has sought.  In a brief ceremony, unlikely to be duplicated in a very long time, the guard knights Kanan, making him an official Jedi Knight of the Order.   As surprising as this development, the guard tells Kanan that he, too, was once a knight, and removes his helmet to reveal the face of the presumably deceased Grand Inquisitor.

The ramifications of this revelation, that the Grand Inquisitor was once a Jedi Knight, are not clear.  It’s not clear whether the Jedi temple guards were something like clones or whether the man who stands before Kanan embodies the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor, himself. What is clear, however, is that the Inquisitors, in one form or the other, are corrupted versions of the Jedi temple guards.  Jedi sworn to protect their Order, turned into creatures who hunted down their wards to kill them.  It’s one more note in the song of corruption that accompanies the Dark Side. Elsewhere, Ezra learns more about how the Dark Side affected the Jedi Order itself in the time of the Clone Wars.

Shortly after Kanan disappears, Ezra asks Ahsoka about Yoda, and learns her own opinion that he grew sad in the waning days of the war, as he seemed to realize that ‘one age was ending and another beginning.’  Not long thereafter, Ezra finds himself in the same floating plane in space where he last encountered the green Jedi Master.  Yoda appears, seated upon a log, a call back to The Empire Strike’s Back, when he watched Luke train before him.  Like his conversation with Ahsoka, Ezra focuses on Yoda’s power as something of an introduction, a question which Yoda deflects to the side without really commentating on it.  It’s another instance of power being presented as unimportant to the Jedi, and at the same time, a hint toward Ezra’s own preoccupation toward it.  In the conversation that follows, we grasp the regret of Jedi Master Yoda.

Yoda proceeds to tell Ezra that the Jedi had made a grave mistake in joining the war against the Separatists, but had done so out of fear and for power.  It was the fear, Yoda warns Ezra, that shrouded the Jedi with the Dark Side, which blinded them to what was to happen, and what doomed the Order’s fate.  When Ezra tries to argue the justness of what the Jedi did and comparing it to what he and Kanan are doing, Yoda refuses to confer his approval.  In essence, we are finally seeing a return to the Yoda of The Empire Strike’s Back, the Yoda who told Luke Skywalker, “Wars do not make one great.”  Yoda and Ahsoka’s positions on power and fighting return to Yoda’s admonishment to Luke, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” It was the blurring of the idea of defense which helped end the Jedi Order, something Yoda realized only too late.

Given that most merchandising surrounding Yoda today is based on the Yoda of the Prequels, wielding a lightsaber and spinning like a wild gyro in attack, one must wonder if “Shroud of Darkness” isn’t a subtle attack on this representation of the Jedi master.  At the very least, one can definitely view it as stepping back Yoda’s character to the teacher on Dagobah, before he became an actual action figure.  Adopting Yoda’s perspective on power and drawing upon the Temple Guard’s warning to Kanan, and we are immediately put on alert for Ezra’s future and the allure of power to the young Jedi.  More on this later, and the conversation between Ezra and Yoda ultimately ends with a reluctant Yoda telling Ezra he must head to the the planet Malachor.  Malachor is an ancient Sith home planet, and also, referenced in the Visual Dictionary of The Force Awakens, as the origin of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber design, one that was ancient, and from the time of the Great Scourge.  Speaking of red lightsabers, a man who wields one is the focus of Ahsoka’s experience.

Left alone in the central chamber after both Kanan and Ezra vanish, Ahsoka has a much more uncomfortable experience.  She hears Anakin’s voice and he appears behind her in a vision and immediately chastises her for leaving him when he needed her most.  A lot of Ahsoka’s response to this moment is played through the animation of her eyes and face, grimacing in pain, particularly as Anakin morphs into Darth Vader.  It’s a confirmation of the feelings within her of not just who she believes Darth Vader is, but of the fate of the man she once considered extremely kind and caring for others.  Her master has been corrupted to the Dark Side through the pursuit of power, which as we know from Revenge of the Sith, was the power to stop death, to save Padme’s life.  Again, power is presented as a path to the Dark Side.

Near the conclusion of these experiences, Dark Side users appear in the form of the two Inquisitors.  It raises the question of how the pair managed to track the Jedi to the temple. The Fifth Brother refers to the Seventh Sister’s intuition as being the tool to find them, but there must be more to it, something which will likely be revealed the closer we become to this season’s finale.  The pair proceed to lift the temple entrance up to gain entry, and as they dart inward, our trio, returned from their experience, flee outward.  It’s very much an ode to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the temple which had housed the Holy Grail collapses after the Holy Grail is carried beyond the Great Seal in the floor.  There, as Indiana Jones flees the collapsing building, he turns and see’s the wise old Crusader knight waving farewell.  Here, it’s Ahsoka who turns to look back and spots Yoda who also waves farewell.  Both groups exit the building surrounded by dust blowing outward from the collapsing structure.

The main chamber of the temple does not get destroyed, as the Inquisitors make their way to it, only to be surrounded by what can only be considered visions of Jedi temple guards who approach them with lightsabers drawn.  It’s enough to distract the Inquisitors and allow our heroes to escape, and interestingly, they also recognize the Temple Guard from Kanan’s experience as sharing the same face as their Grand Inquisitor and are as equally perplexed.  Our rebels are given one scene, providing Ezra a chance to tell the others about Yoda’s instructions, which receives concerned expressions from both Kanan and Ahsoka.  Back on Lothal, we get an aerial view of a certain Sith Lord entering the temple.

In a beautiful shot, we follow a pair of storm troopers through a darkened tunnel into the main chamber, with Darth Vader entering the frame as they reach the Inquisitors.  Vader does not say much, but what he does say is worth paying attention to.  After announcing the Emperor will be pleased to discover the mysteries of the temple, the Inquisitors tell him that Ezra and the other Jedi’s powers are growing.  In reaction, Vader dismisses and states, their power will be their undoing. Darth Vader’s words, taken in context with everything else we have learned this episode, is chilling in regards to Ezra’s fate.  We know that Ezra will travel to the planet of the Sith and the question will arise, will he be tested and tempted?

The fate of another Jedi also is raised in “Shroud of Darkness,” that of Ahsoka Tano.  We were provided several interesting facts. First, she now knows that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, which seems to be the final step before a confrontation, most likely in the season finale.  Second, she does not consider herself a Jedi.  Third, Yoda knows she exists.  In Return of the Jedi, Yoda on his death bed tells Luke that he’s the last of the Jedi.  This does not bode well for Ezra or for Kanan, who are currently our only self-identified Jedi running around only years away from Luke’s return to Dagobah. However, unless Yoda considers Ahsoka a Jedi, this may leave wiggle room for her to survive her encounter with Vader and continue to live on.  It may be wishful thinking, as any Jedi identified against a canonical statement from Yoda in the Original Trilogy, may well be doomed to an end one way or the other.

By the conclusion of “Shroud of Darkness,” we have been offered regret in the form of Kanan’s acknowledgment of his own limited abilities and also Yoda’s own sadness that he failed to realize that he and the rest of the Jedi were gripped by fear during the rise of Palpatine and the Clone Wars.  Arguably, Ahsoka harbors her own regret, realized by the accusing words of Anakin in her vision, that she left him when he needed her most. Nonetheless, in this episode, regret is a major theme, that and the danger of power, specifically for Ezra Bridger. The animation in “Shroud of Darkness” continues to be the top notch level we have come to expect and the score, while not as powerful as that in “Legends of the Lasat,” managed to rise above the usual to make itself known and assisting the episode in its superlative storytelling.  Once again, Rebels has presented us with another great episode, built on character and an examination into the pasts of our heroes, and while warning us about their futures.

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