Star Wars: Rebels – Twilight of the Apprentice

Ahsoka lives? Ezra is seduced to the Dark Side? These were the major questions for fans prior to the airing of “Twilight of the Apprentice,” the Rebels’ Season Two finale. There was an attempt to make a bit of a big deal over the return of Darth Maul, but the slayer of Qui-Gon Jin genuinely was second fiddle to the fates of the Ezra and Ahsoka.  One’s ultimate enjoyment of “Twilight of the Apprentice” rests on whether the answers to the questions above personally satisfying. Regardless, Rebels’ final episode was undoubtedly its biggest finish yet and has to be considered some good ol’ fashion Star Wars.

“Twilight of the Apprentice” begins with Kanan, Ahsoka, and Ezra on their way to Malachor in the Phantom.  Conversation is little as we learn the total amount of knowledge they possess about the forbidden planet is summed up in legend and myth.   They arrive on Malachor’s desolate surface, something like an obsidian smooth ground which runs uninterrupted to the horizon but for a number if giant obelisks that stand out from the surface like nails in a coffin.  Upon approaching one, our heroes discover they are covered in ancient writing, and to everyone’s dismay, when Ezra absently touches one, it glows red and the ground beneath their feet gives way.

They land inside a giant cavern where punctures if the cave ceiling above creates the illusion of a dark sky full of stars and among them, shafts of light that convey a sense of the heavens falling.  Beneath the false stars is a pyramid, a Sith temple, and the path to it littered with ruins and impressions of bodies in positions of agony.  Scattered lightsabers, including a Jedi lightsaber that mirrors Kylo Ren’s weapon, reveal that a battle between the Jedi and Sith had been fought before the temple thousands of years in the past.  It’s deathly silent, that is, until an Inquisitor attacks.

The Eighth Brother, the name we learn later, attacks the trio with an explosive which results in Ezra falling into yet another cavern below and separating him from Kanan and Tano.  The latter pursue the Inquisitor while Ezra sets off to find his way back to his friends, but first unexpectedly finds someone else.  Enter Darth Maul, or as we learn later, just Maul.  Maul’s introduction is a clever play on the introduction of Yoda in The Empire Strike’s Back, right down to a hunched figure with a wooden cane and some of the first words spoken.   In Empire, Yoda tells Luke, “Away put your weapon. I mean you no harm.”  In “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Maul tells Ezra, “Please put your weapon away, I mean you no harm.” Similarly, both Yoda and Maul withhold their true identity for the initial part of the introduction.

While Ezra uneasily begins to trust Maul to lead him back to his friends, learning that Maul is an enemy of the Sith, Maul exists as a weird combination between Emperor Palpatine and Yoda.  Both Maul and Palpatine exert young Jedi to take their strength from their anger, and continuing the part of anti-Yoda, Maul exalts Ezra to reach to the Dark Side (his anger) for strength to levitate a giant stone door that Ezra cannot immediately lift on his own.  This contrasts against Yoda’s own “Size matters not,” lecture to Luke, when he levitates a submerged X-wing out of a Dagobah swamp.

By the way, if you are not familiar with the Sith refrain, “Always two there are, a Master and an Apprentice,” which was given legitimacy in the Prequel Trilogy, this lesson is pounded into our minds over and over as the Sith Temple seems designed to enforce this aspect of Sith adherence, requiring two Force users to rely upon each other to overcome various obstacles.  Through every obstacle, Maul continually urges Ezra to tap into his aggression and anger to summon the power he needs to surpass them. Unable to fathom another solution, Ezra accepts much of this seductive advice. Ultimately, this leads Ezra and Maul to the chamber containing a Sith Holocron.  They manage to procure it and in the process, essentially turn on the Sith Temple’s power.

Elsewhere, and with the surprising help of Chopper, Kanan and Ahsoka capture the Inquisitor, but are momentarily distracted when the large temple before them begins to hum to life.  The Inquisitor, who had admitted to hunting someone other than them, uses the opportunity to signal his fellow Inquisitors, Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister, who show up in short time to temporarily outnumber our two Jedi.  The three against two abruptly shifts to four against three as Ezra and Maul emerge from the temple with the holocron.  After a brief discussion over how to integrate Maul into Team Jedi, the quartet take on the Inquisitors and successfully drive them off. This moment really begins the unfortunate decision to turn double sided lightsabers into personal helicopters for each Inquisitor, who soar off like Mary Poppins with an umbrella.  The physics of lift and everything else is better not considered, though one must wonder what other ideas were presented to overcome the challenge of allowing the Inquisitors in and out of action swiftly through the rest of the episode (that they settled on lightsabercopters indicates there were really no good ones).  Beyond perhaps the weakest element of the episode, and not truly that big of a deal, the heroes plus one are forced to divide again.

This time the goal is to reach the top of the temple and to activate the holocron (the only non-Sith means to do so).  Once again Ezra finds himself with Maul and the pair are set upon by the Seventh Sister. Maul quickly snatches the Inquisitor with the Force and implores Ezra to finish the now defenseless enemy. Bridger refuses and Maul cuts her down, chastising Ezra that any hesitation in the future could cost him his life.  For the first time, Ezra appears less than receptive to Maul’s advice.  Hardly a minute passes, however, and they spot Kanan and Tano under attack by the two remaining Inquisitors.  Maul urges Ezra onward to the top of the temple, while he returns to the other Jedi to assist them.

With Ezra otherwise occupied, Maul finishes off the Fifth Brother and the Eighth Brother takes an unfortunate plunge to his death after Kanan damages his lightsabercopter. While the danger of the Inquisitors has passed, the imminent threat of Darth Vader’s arrival hangs above everyone. Earlier, Maul had reasoned to Kanan and Ahsoka the necessity of their help to him on the grounds he could not defeat the Sith lord alone.  This opinion seems to have shifted as Maul turns on the Jedi, announcing that Ezra would now become his apprentice.  In the ensuing fight (because obviously, Kanan and Ahsoka aren’t going to just let that happen), Maul surprises Kanan, blinding him and then turns to finish off Tano.  Kanan stumbles without sight, finding a mask similar to those worn by the Jedi Temple guardians and slips it on before standing to confront Maul after telling Ahsoka to find Ezra.

The symbolism is subtle but interesting.  The subject of the fight is Ezra’s fate, as Kanan’s padawan or Maul’s apprentice, but even more so, the fate of the Jedi continuing on.  Kanan, in effect, is a guardian to the destiny of the Jedi and physically embodies this as he assumes the persona of a temple guardian via the mask. Further, one of the core Jedi tenets is essentially giving one’s self over to the Force, letting it guide the Jedi, and in this moment, blinded, Kanan does this to its fullest extent. Unsurprisingly, Kanan wins, tossing Maul off the side of the temple after only a few short parries of his lightsaber.  Ezra may have been saved from Maul, but his safety is far from secured atop the Sith temple.

Having reached the pinnacle of the pyramid, Ezra places the holocron into a special obelisk where it indeed activates as Maul had promised.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that the temple is actually a massive weapon and the holocron has turned it on and set upon a countdown to firing.  The young Jedi has little time to consider the horrific ramifications of this as Darth Vader arrives in perhaps his third most iconic appearance ever.  Number one on that list would likely be his silhouette on Cloud City prior to his duel with Luke Skywalker and number two, his emergence through the smoke filled portal at the beginning of A New Hope. The new number three, however, features the Emperor’s right hand descending from the false night sky standing atop his TIE Advanced, his cape billowing out behind him and his lightsaber ignited.

The last time Vader and Ezra met, Ezra was instantaneously knocked to the side and within inches of being killed by his own lightsaber blade.  This time the padawan manages to survive a handful of attacks before Vader knocks Ezra to the ground and in the process, destroys his lightsaber.  Death is only averted by the confrontation we have all been waiting for, Ahsoka Tano versus Darth Vader.  It begins with Vader attempting to convince Tano to serve the Emperor by revealing the location of the last of the Jedi.  Of course, Ahsoka refuses and then Vader does something which calls back to another major confrontation with the dark lord – his duel with Luke in Return of the Jedi.  After Luke refuses to join him, Vader then threatens to find Leia and turn her to the Dark Side.  Now in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” he threatens to get the information he needs from Ezra, if Ahsoka will not help.

Ahsoka’s response to the threat is to state that she has come to the realization that her master, Anakin Skywalker no longer exists.  It’s a fact that Vader confirms, calling his former persona weak and one he destroyed.  In yet another significant moment in this face off, Ahsoka sternly announces that she will then avenge her master to which Vader responds, “Revenge is not the Jedi way.”  Tano replies, “I am no Jedi.”  More than likely, a significant amount of belief concerning Ahsoka’s fate after The Clone Wars and in this episode rests upon the theory that the Force wielders we have come to love must die to make Yoda’s statement in The Empire Strikes Back, that Luke is the last of the Jedi, a true statement.  For the second time in three episodes, Ahsoka has explicitly stated she is not a Jedi.  One must wonder if Dave Filoni, the executive director for Rebels and Ahsoka’s creator, consulted a lawyer about loopholes to save his creation, because at least on this day, on the top of a Sith temple on the forbidden planet of Malachor, Ahsoka Tano does not appear to die.

She does distract Vader long enough to allow Ezra with the help of Kanan to snatch the Holocron out of the temple, stopping down its ‘infernal engine’ and also, apparently, causing it to start collapsing.  The two believing Tano killed make a run for it only to have Vader attempt to pull the Sith holocron from Ezra’s hands and so in effect, drag Bridger back towards him.  Only Ahsoka’s surprise return, nearly cleaving Vader’s face off, saves Ezra. Half of Darth Vader’s mask is destroyed and for the first time since Return of the Jedi, we gaze into the eye of Vader.  He calls out Ahsoka’s name with his voice, mostly unrestrained by the breathing apparatus and for an instant, the question arises, is Anakin really inside?  Just as quickly, we receive a resounding no as the answer as Vader announces his intention to kill his former padawan.  She has time for one decision, to try and escape with Ezra and Kanan or stay and continue her confrontation with Vader.  She tells Vader she will stay, redeeming a decision to leave Anakin and the Order, regardless of what happens.  It’s emotional and the result is something we are left to imagine as the temple walls fall, blocking our view of the impending duel. An explosion rocks the pyramid as Kanan and Ezra fly away injured in more ways than simply Kanan’s blindness.

There’s little to no dialogue as the episode concludes with the Jedi returning to Chopper base, where a relieved Hera embraces Kanan and Ezra shakes his head remorsefully to a hopeful Rex looking for Ahsoka.  Set against an amazing piece by Rebels’ composer Kevin Kiner, the camera follows an owl-like creature to the still smoking remains of the Sith Temple where we see Vader limping away, raggedly breathing, and then a cut to the briefest shot of Ahsoka’s headpiece as she descends into and disappears within a black portal in the temple.  We also see Maul escaping in the ship of an Inquisitor.  It cuts away to the bridge of the Ghost with Hera at the controls and Zeb standing behind her, before zooming into the ship’s hallway where we glance Sabine stepping into her quarters and Kanan, still blinded, standing alone.  The camera shifts one last time, now away from the Jedi to Ezra, seated on his bunk with the Sith holocron in his hands.  His eyes narrow and the holocron activates, illuminating the space around it in red, and casting a reddish tinge to Ezra Bridger’s eyes.  Cut to black.

There’s a fair bit to unpack in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” and this review will hardly do it justice. The two most important elements to take away from it are the fates of Ahsoka Tano and Ezra Bridger.  Unless we assume that Tano’s vanishing into darkness was symbolic of death, we must then likewise believe she somehow survived her confrontation with Vader.  At the same time, we last see her descending into a black tunnel on the forbidden planet of Malachor, a fate that can hardly be considered good to have.  Her story is now back to where it was prior to her appearance on Rebels, that being, what is her fate?  As for Ezra, he did not fall to the Dark Side of the Force as many thought possible in a pursuit of power.  He did tap into it, though, and it seems rather than be seduced in one episode, our young Jedi might be at risk of a season long seduction in Season Three of Rebels.

For our other heroes, their stories essentially concluded in “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” and there is little to address here in the season finale.  Darth Vader, who was far more a bogeyman in Season Two than a reoccurring character, actually benefited from his brief appearance in the finale (he shows up in the third act of an approximately 45 minute episode). His willingness to kill Ahsoka Tano, his former padawan and the third closest individual to him reveals how much of a risk his son Luke was taking by confronting Vader without the intention of trying to destroy him.  Premised on this episode, one would not be amiss to believe Luke’s theory that good still remains within his father would be quite incorrect.

In terms of framing, directing, music and animation, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” is a fantastic example of animation for the small screen.  Rebels has shown an increasing level of daring to push the production boundaries of its format, a role that was left empty after the conclusion of The Legend of Korra more than a year ago.  The powerful imagery invoked reveals how strong a medium animation is for telling stories in the Star Wars universe, a trend we can only hope will continue well into the future.  Concerning the finale, it showed a deft understanding of that galaxy far, far, away, with its echoing of themes from the Original Trilogy and playing on things we find intimately familiar while being respectful and entertaining at the same time.  The Clone Wars seemed to almost always improve from season to season and it feels as if Rebels is doing the same on its current run.  If so, then we cannot wait for the return of the show in Season Three and perhaps, we will get the answers we asked at the beginning of this review.  If we don’t, undoubtedly, we will be too distracted from having a good time to care.

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