– Spoiler Review –
Sabine battles her inner demons when the responsibility of wielding an ancient Mandalorian weapon is thrust on her shoulders, resulting in one of Star Wars Rebels‘ best episodes to date, “Trials of the Darksaber.”
Sabine Wren has risen to the forefront of the show slowly but surely and S3 has been home to some of her biggest moments yet. But nothing quite prepared me for how deep “Trials of the Darksaber” would delve, as Sabine reveals everything about her past in one of the season’s (and series’) most emotional moments…and best episode. Sabine stayed rather enigmatic in S1 and it wasn’t until her “Blood Sisters” episode in S2 that we finally pulled a few curtains back, resulting in one of that season’s best episodes too. It seems to be a trend, one I can get behind, that when the show focuses on Sabine, it seems to put its best foot forward. While all the hijinks with holocrons and Force mysticism can be thoroughly engaging, Sabine has none of that around her to distract us from how human/Mandalorian she is, so when the show chooses to spend time with her it’s very grounded and brings the character to the forefront first and foremost, not the plot related circumstances around them. This is when Star Wars Rebels is at its best and “Trials of the Darksaber” is just that.
My praise for this episode’s handling of Sabine, and those around her, stems from the voice acting work just as much as the script and the overall trajectory of the story. While Freddie Prinze Jr (Kanan), Taylor Gray (Ezra), Vanessa Marshall (Hera), and even Kevin McKidd (Fenn Rau) put in some of their better work, it was Tiya Sircar’s performance for Sabine that truly elevated “Darksaber” into something so much more. When Sabine finally brings the struggle within to the surface, letting it all out as the weight of the outcomes from her eventual decision becomes unavoidable, the moment might not have had as much heft to it had Sircar delivered like she did. I’ll admit I had some tears at the end, so saddening was it to hear what Sabine had taken apart of, had happened to her, but what pushed me over the edge was the performance. Sabine reveals the reason she ran from the Empire, from Mandalore, was due to them using the very weapons she created in the academy to subjugate her own people. And when she first spoke out about what was happening, her family turned their backs on her and took the Empire’s side, forcing her to flee and putting her on the path to the bounty hunting/Black Sun life she led with Ketsu Onyo. While all the above is tragic for anyone, remember, Sabine’s not that old as it is so she was fairly young when this all happened. That would traumatize even the most seasoned of adults, but what it can do to a younger person, Mandalorian or not, can run even deeper. This is why she’s been so reserved about her past since S1, as she’s buried it deeper inside than the pits of Carkoon ever could go, and being asked to return to her family and unite its people brings that all painfully bubbling up to the surface. Thanks to Tiya Sircar, such pain is felt by the audience because she makes it so palatable, so real, and it’s hard not to feel for a character we’ve grown to know over the past few years when they reveal such a personal, sad secret. I’ve felt Sabine would’ve been a better character for the show to keep at the center than Ezra and this episode only strengthens that feeling.
The space family aesthetic of the show is a little more prominent than of late in “Darksaber,” especially with Hera as she’s been a bit distant due to her promotion this year. Space Brother Ezra tries to lighten the situation with his attempts at humor, but he ends up helping make things worse…until Sabine’s worries about having to confront family sound more like an excuse for her not to face her past when he makes note that she at least has the chance to see family when he obviously will never get to. He means well with his teasing, hoping a competition-like attitude might coax her into the fighting spirit (as it usually seems to), but his ability to listen (as he’s shown an aptitude for, like getting Klik-Klak to talk to them in “Ghosts of Geonosis”) is more of what she needs at that moment. However, it’s Space Dad Kanan’s protectiveness that’s causing her the most harm, preventing her from committing to the challenge of facing her past head on because his need to keep her safe marginalizes her feelings compared to his. He played it a little more fast and loose with Ezra and he nearly lost his apprentice, not just because Ezra was reckless and so eager to learn, but because he didn’t want to push the kid by being too strong handed in his training. Sabine is even more of a capable warrior than Ezra, but has a more violent storm whirling inside of her, which causes Kanan to think the best course of action is to over protect her, hoping not to fail her like he initially failed Ezra. Thankfully there’s Space Mom Hera to the rescue, putting Kanan to task for his treatment of Sabine and putting their Space Daughter’s feelings into a perspective he can understand. Rebels has always been about the family this team has created and said family is immensely responsible for how the team overcomes their various issues here and rises to their specific challenges: Ezra, to give Sabine the space she needs; Kanan, to accept Sabine doesn’t need his protection and she won’t always be able to rely on it; Sabine, to confront her inner demons and commit to bringing Mandalorian warriors to the aid of the Rebellion.
Even if you hadn’t known Dave Filoni wrote the episode prior to seeing it, the news shouldn’t come as that much of a shock once you’ve watched “Darksaber.” There’s some intriguing talk about the weight of a lightsaber and how, even if you’re not a Force user, the fact all living things have the Force means the blade’s weight and comfortability changes with the user’s thoughts and actions; It’s these type of revelations that could only come from someone who spent so much time under George Lucas. But beyond that, he just has such an innate understanding of all the characters, and knows more about their past, present, and futures than any other writer on the show (who seem to normally only get the info they need to tell their episode’s story) so he can pack a lot of history into even the most minute of conversations and interactions. On all those fronts, he doesn’t disappoint.
Fenn Rau got little moments here and there, like giving Sabine wrist bracelet weapons or being the first to commit to following her, but I was most intrigued by his tale of the Darksaber’s history, told through a really cool and simple device: a shadow play on the Ghost’s wall. Considering he says, “…legend tells…” does make one wonder how much truth is in that tale (Doctor Aphra #2 employed a similar aspect to a long ago tale, leaving the truth undefined), but it’s a tale I’d like for the canon to explore at one point in the future. How the Story Group has been presenting such tales, much like oral stories passed down by our ancestors both far in the past and to this day, allows them to tease possible events to one day be explored, but by giving a sense of legend to them, the finer details can wait to be nailed down once they actually want to tell the full version of events. Otherwise over committing to its details so early thus eventually limits their potential to broaden and expand the story when the times comes to tell it.
Here are a few other things:
- Kevin Kiner has been a fantastic composer for the Star Wars animated series and I’d say his work in “Darksaber” rivals and beats out the mesmerizing tune from Zeb’s S2 episode, “Legends of the Lasat.” While it’s all of “Darksaber” that benefits from Kiner’s work, his music adds an extra little punch in the emotional gut with Sabine’s theme, a song that conveys her strength and, at the same time, the struggle within.
- There were some little things I really enjoyed: the way the camera followed Sabine through the ship in the beginning to how real the combat training felt, or at least how close to our world’s version of sword fighting might be than the blade training of Force-wielders.
- So Sabine has a brother, hey? That little revelation made me think of Vader’s line to Luke about Leia during their battle in Return of the Jedi.
- They always say Chopper is like a cat, so it was both funny and fitting when he purrs while Sabine pets him early in the episode.
- Is it just me, or does the little camp they set out in Bendu Basin look quite a bit like the camp Luke sets up in The Empire Strikes Back? That’d make back to back ESB references in Rebels episodes. Speaking of Bendu, he makes a minor, but intriguing appearance in the episode. Wonder when we’ll see him next…and how the eventual attack from the Imperials on Atollon will affect him, if at all.
- Kanan and Hera’s first chat, where she checks in on them, has an air of intimacy to it they haven’t had in a while. Both of them are secluded from the others, to keep their conversation private, and they have a very laid back, relaxed tone with each other. It’s extremely cute and really highlights how much I want to get a definitive answer to their Space Married status, something we were originally teased the season would explore more at some point.
- This episode’s Rebels Recon shares some details on how the Darksaber’s history is being built, Filoni chats about not including any b-stories and how this episode is all about Sabine as a character (further making me respect and be excited he’s always going to be part of Star Wars going forward), and Tiya Sircar makes an appearance to chat about how much she enjoyed going to some deep places with Sabine.
Emotions run high, and Kleenex’s were definitely needed, as Sabine begins a personal journey down a past she fought so hard to put behind her in one of the series’ best, “Trials of the Darksaber.” Unfortunately, we have until February 18 until the series returns and we see the second half of her story.
+ Tiya Sircar’s voice acting (and the other’s too)
+ Sabine’s emotionally packed history revealed
+ It was training day for everyone
+ Space family being there for each other
+ Writing, acting, music, animation all worked so damn well together
STAR WARS REBELS REVIEWS:
Season One: Spark of Rebellion | Ep. 2: “Droids In Distress” | Ep.3: “Fighter Flight” | Ep.4: “Rise of the Old Masters” | Ep.5: “Breaking Ranks” | Ep.6: “Out of Darkness” | Ep.7: “Empire Day” | Ep.8: “Gathering Forces” | Ep.9: “Path of the Jedi” | Ep.10: “Idiot’s Array” | Ep.11: “Vision of Hope” | Ep.12: “Call to Action” | Ep.13: “Rebel Resolve” | Ep.14: “Fire Across the Galaxy“
Season Two: The Siege of Lothal | Ep. 2: “The Lost Commanders” | Ep. 3: “Relics of the Old Republic” | Ep. 4: “Always Two There Are” | Ep. 5: “Brothers of the Broken Horn” | Ep. 6: “Wings of the Master” | Ep. 7: “Blood Sisters” | Ep. 8: “Stealth Strike” | Ep. 9: “The Future of the Force” | Ep. 10: “Legacy” | Ep. 11: “A Princess on Lothal” | Ep. 12: “The Protector of Concord Dawn” | Ep. 13: “Legends of the Lasat” | Ep. 14: “The Call” | Ep. 15: “Homecoming” | Ep. 16: “The Honorable Ones” | Ep. 17: “Shroud of Darkness” | Ep. 18: “The Forgotten Droid” | Ep. 19: “The Mystery of Chopper Base” | Ep. 20: “Twilight of the Apprentice“
Season Three: Steps into Shadow | Ep. 2: “Holocrons of Fate” | Ep. 3: “The Antilles Extraction” | Ep. 4: “Hera’s Heroes” | Ep. 5: “The Last Battle” | Ep. 6: “Imperial Supercommandos” | Ep. 7: “Iron Squadron” | Ep. 8: “The Wynkahthu Job” | Ep. 9: “An Inside Man” | Ep. 10: “Visions and Voices” | Ep. 11: “Ghosts of Geonosis” | Ep. 12: “Warhead” | Ep. 14: “Legacy of Mandalore” | Ep. 15: “Through Imperial Eyes” | Ep. 16: “Secret Cargo” | Ep. 17: “Double Agent Droid” | Ep. 18: “Twin Suns” | Ep. 19: “Zero Hour“
Season Four: Heroes of Mandalore Part 1
A New Dawn (Novel)