– Spoiler Review –
Kanan. Ezra. Ahsoka Tano. Darth Vader. Darth Maul. 3 Inquisitors. Malachor. What could go wrong? As Star Wars Rebels‘ season two finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” showed, everything, but not in a way many could’ve easily predicted. The episode left myself (and many others) with utter shock, tears, confusion, and a small hint of happiness, while finding surprising answers and opening up even more surprising questions in what was not only the series’ best, but some of the top Star Wars material ever produced. It’s a grand statement to make and my review will do its best to prove it, all the while diving into some of the big cliffhangers facing the characters while we wait (rather impatiently now) for season 3. Spoilers-phobes…beware!
Please note: Throughout the review, if a * or multiple *’s follow something I’ve written, it’s referring to an article or video which I’ve linked to (and included some extra details about) in the ‘Here are a few other things’ section.
Before I dive under the crusts of Malachor, I’ve got to hand it to the animators, Kevin Kiner on his music, and the sound crew (all the crew, actually!) as this contained some of their strongest work to date on the series. All of it added to a very tense, dreadful feeling that pervaded the entire episode. On the visual’s side: From the opening shot/approach to the obelisks sticking out of Malachor’s stone-like crust, the hellish landscape of the ‘Great Scourge of Malachor’ battle between Sith and Jedi thousands of years before, Vader’s descent to the Temple (*fans self* phew!), and to the expert use of lighting on the Temple, lightsabers, and how characters were seen in the dark abyss, it made “Twilight” both scary, ominous, and somehow beautiful. On the music’s side: Kiner has been truly hitting his stride this season, but how he calls back to Ahsoka’s theme or implements Vader’s theme in the episode are both part of some his top work to date. The score brought up the tears quicker, raised the hair on the back of the neck faster, and contributed greatly to the tense and ominous feeling that never let go from the opening moment. And let’s not forget the crew working on the sound, as they did some interesting things with the Holocron’s voice (made me scream Kreia, as channeled by Nika Futterman*) and damn those doors Ezra and Maul open just sounded pure evil. Who knew doors could sound like anything, let alone evil? Kudos to the crew on this one, and all of the season, for bringing their A game and trying to one up it every time.
In my wrap up paragraph at the end of this review, I jokingly mock Yoda and his decision to send Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka to Malachor. It’s unknown if he is in contact with any other Force-users/Jedi (besides Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon), and even if he was, he might not have trusted them enough to send them or the Force might not have been telling him to send the others there. Instead, Yoda seemingly knew something was happening there and if some type of Jedi didn’t intervene somehow, the repercussions could be dangerous for the future of the Force. Things didn’t go well for anyone, but if you take Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka out of the picture, things could’ve been a lot worse. Maul could’ve likely held his own against the Inquisitors, probably killing one or two, but they would’ve whittled away at him so that when Vader arrived, Maul would be at the Dark Lord’s feet begging for mercy like he did to Palpatine in his final appearance in The Clone Wars. Vader would’ve used Maul, much like Maul used Ezra, to gain access to the Sith Holocron and the ancient temple’s superweapon capabilities, likely making such weapons as the Death Star moot. When you add our three heroes, the results change as Maul scurries away to live again, Vader walks away wounded and without any prizes, the 3 Inquisitors are dead, Kanan is blinded, and Ezra taps into the dark side to access the knowledge within the holocron. The Force works in mysterious and never pretty ways, but when has it ever? The Chosen One Prophecy left out the possibility that things could get worse before they got better and Luke had to face his father, get his hand chopped off, and kiss his sister (and later his Jedi Order would fall), so this seems to be par for the course when dealing with a nebulous power like the Force. So while things didn’t end so well for our heroes, it’s a ‘happy’ ending compared to what could’ve been for the galaxy at large.
I was definitely excited when I first learned Maul would be returning in TCW, but I was skeptical if they could make his return worth it. The show not only blew my skeptic thoughts out of the Coruscant Underworld, but it proved he could be a far more interesting villain beyond his unforgettable design. Once the Son of Dathomir comic ended with him still alive, I was both surprised but hungry for more of his story, even if it didn’t seem like he had much of one left. Upon the news he’d be in Rebels, I had a lot of faith the show would do his next return justice and to put it simply: they certainly have! Sam Witwer brought Maul to life in TCW by clearly having fun with portraying such a ruthless, calculating, but slightly mental fallen Sith Lord, and he ratchets it up to 11 here. When Ezra first meets the self-proclaimed ‘Old Master,’ Maul’s lines directly call back moments from both Yoda and Palpatine: he mimics Yoda’s, “Away put your weapon, I mean you no harm,” line from Empire Strikes Back and he stutters to convey weakness/powerlessness much like Palpatine did in front of Anakin while Mace Windu held back his Force lightening. In the first moment we meet him, I was absolutely sold on Maul still being a viable player in galactic events, as he showed a true wit for manipulation from the get-go. He doesn’t let up on it with Ezra throughout “Twilight,” which is especially apparent when he smiles after he finds out he has a in with Ezra once the young Padawan reveals having similar feelings to Maul’s about the Empire doing him harm, destroying his family, and wanting justice for the pain they caused him. What’s so beautiful about it all, no matter how much I knew Maul was always in it for himself somehow, I sort of believed his ‘reformed’ act as he battles with the Jedi against the Inquisitors and Ezra continues to plead with Kanan to trust him about his new ally. But once Maul gets Ezra alone in the second half, his teaching lessons (like murdering the Seventh Sister!!! NO!), the trust I had almost started putting in Maul faded. It disappeared for good when he claims Ezra is his apprentice and finally turns on Kanan and Ahsoka (after helping them kill the Fifth and Eight Brothers), where he blinds Kanan…and pays the price (though not with his life) for not killing him. Yeah, Maul losses to a blind man, but to a blind man who has found his faith and trusts in himself. I look forward to see where Maul goes from here, as he was a lot better than I ever expected him to be here.
What has made Kanan a quick, but strong fan favorite Jedi is his ability to stumble and fail, but that even if he works himself up over it, he’ll learn from the experience and can be the first to call himself out about it. What’s helped him, as he’s restarted his Jedi path, is his supportive space family and partner Hera, something the Jedi of old sorely missed out on having. However, he still doesn’t quite trust himself, something Ahsoka points out by reminding him that not trusting Ezra, who he trained, is essentially not trusting in himself. To get up after being blinded by Maul’s blade and facing the fallen Sith despite his new handicap is a giant moment, as to do so means he finally truly believes in himself, all his training, and the Force. Kanan goes full-on Daredevil (I couldn’t help the reference after binging season 2 of the Marvel show), centering himself and giving Maul a quick ass-whopping off the edge of the Sith Temple. But Kanan doesn’t stop there, as he goes to the rescue of his manipulated apprentice and helps him steal back the holocron, therefore preventing the Temple’s weapon from being used. As great as this focused Jedi Knight Kanan will be going forward, his new found mysticism from being able to connect deeper to the Force, in a way many others can’t, could come with a high price: Kanera. He won’t be the Kanan we’re used to, who often only concerned himself with the here and now, not usually worrying about the consequences of his actions as he’d face them when they came. He could become more distant and withdrawn, both because he’ll be looking at the much larger picture now, seeing the consequences for actions on a wider, galactic scale and that he’ll be focusing on drawing his apprentice back from the dark. Hera, and whatever their relationship was/is, might take a big back seat for him initially, as he’ll think his new found focus and Ezra problem will be his alone to deal with and conquer (as much as I hate to say it!). He might even believe he’s doing it for her safety, but he’s forgetting what makes him and the whole team work so well together: that they care so deeply for one another, as this season was want to show us several times throughout. Whether those predictions come to pass, he (much like the entire crew, more on that in a bit) will never quite be the same following the events of “Twilight.”
Both Ahsoka and Maul claim to defeat one’s enemy, one must come to understand said enemy, but they differ on how to go about doing so. Ezra is pulled between those two in a way, as he sees the potential and ease of which Maul’s path will bring him the power/abilities he’s wanted since the beginning of the show to help save his friends and prevent others from losing their families like he did to the Empire, but he’s also had great Masters like Kanan, Ahsoka, and even Yoda briefly who’ve given him a path which is harder to follow, though has an outcome with the same results and a clean conscious on the other end. However, his training, much like Anakin’s, never truly prepared him for a manipulative influence like Maul, who’s at the top of his game at the moment (as he’s learned outright shows of power aren’t the only ways to get what he wants) and the kid slowly gets roped in by the Old Master’s quick and easy solutions to problems and a lot of surprising shows of camaraderie and reasons to trust him (like saving Ezra when he jumps the chasm from the holocron platform/not taking the holocron and letting Ezra die/continuously letting Ezra keep the holocron/battling the Inquisitors). Ezra wakes up from the Maul-splendor when the Holocron so nicely explains its usage as a weapon and he shows us how all his training and powerful moments seen throughout the season result in him standing up to Vader (who had a mic drop entrance)…until he utterly loses as he should. Ahsoka intervenes, sparing him from Vader’s wrath, and he goes on to escape Malachor with Kanan and the holocron. Watching Ahsoka ‘die,’ and seeing how much it effects not just him but the entire crew (especially Rex), Ezra’s looking at the holocron a lot closer now. He doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt and now he has the knowledge he needs to understand his enemy so he can defeat them, but it’s out of reach: only a Sith or dark side user can open a Sith holocron. So what’s a young Jedi apprentice to do? Remember Maul’s teachings about accessing the passion and anger within and use them to open the holocron, of course! Kanan has been too open and accepting as a teacher for me to believe Ezra’s gone full dark side or Sith (as Pablo Hildalgo answers on this week’s Rebels Recon, it takes years of training to become a Sith and simply tapping into the dark side does not make you one**) though there have been setbacks between them regarding Kanan’s ability to give Ezra the power he wants to save people. But Ezra’s certainly gone over a dangerous edge and Kanan’s knowledge that fighting is not always the answer seems to be the one thing he’ll need to focus on most to help keep Ezra from tipping over the edge in the wrong direction.
I’ve always known, in the back of my head, that Ahsoka wouldn’t be able to reach Vader because the only one who can/does is Luke, but I had been hoping that maybe she’d get through a little, somehow, considering their past and connection as Master and Apprentice during the Clone Wars. The terseness and simplicity in their first interaction was more than I could’ve hoped for, as it nearly perfectly captured how these two characters should interact in this moment, at this time. And once Ashoka declares she wasn’t a Jedi***, getting ready to attack, is the moment when I finally started crying. There was sadness in many other moments, but watching Ahsoka come to terms with the reality that she can’t reach Anakin within Vader and her disappointment but determination to avenge her Master’s ‘death,’ was truly tough to watch. Instead of being excited to see these two duke it out, lightsaber a lightsaber, I was sad to watch these two friends basically locked in a duel to the death. After everything they’d been through, after everything they’d experienced together, and knowing there’s no way back to that place for either of them really broke my heart. It’s strange to think I cared more about the relationship between Ashoka and Anakin/Vader more than Obi-Wan and Anakin, but whereas we really only got 3 movies with the latter, the former had 5 seasons of a show together, plus more character development for Ahsoka all around, and that means more investment in a character. And while we’ve been playing will she or won’t she die again, once again her fate within the episode is an option many, including myself, didn’t consider.
Ahsoka lives, but the circumstances around it are extremely ambiguous. Helping Kanan and Ezra break free of Vader’s powerful grasp, Ahsoka wounds Vader to the point where we can see one of his true eyes. As the Sith Temple crumbles around them, Ahsoka doubles down on trying to reach Anakin, committing to staying with him unlike her previous decision all those years ago outside the Jedi Temple. Vader swears to kill her, but it’s done in Matt Lanter’s Anakin voice and the tears certainly came flowing again. The Temple closes around them as Kanan, Ezra, and Chopper make their escape, moments before the Temple fires a deadly blast! It’s not until the final moments of the episode when we get a hint at what happened: the wounded Vader limps across Malachor’s surface, while Ahsoka (which initially looked like her falling) solemnly disappears into a temple below. Join me in another of the finale’s many, “WHAT?!” moments. We have no idea what transpired within the Temple between the two, but whatever happened, Ahsoka certainly seems to feel like she failed and doesn’t look to have any intentions of returning to the galaxy at large for the moment, while no one will likely be looking for her considering they all think she’s dead (until they learn Vader is alive, maybe then they’ll start to consider her chance of survival). What is it with Jedi (well, I know she’s technically not a Jedi at the moment) and disappearing from the galaxy when they fail (Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, now Ahsoka)? Can she ever recover from her confrontation with Vader and return to the fold? It’s possible Rebels won’t even be the place we learn the answers to many of these Ahsoka questions*!
But as far as arcs go, wow, Ahsoka’s has to have been one of the strongest in Star Wars even without all the stories in between and still to come not being told yet. As I mentioned before, it helps she’s been a part of Star Wars for so long thanks to TCW and now Rebels, but they truly treated her like she was as big of a character as if she was the star of one of the movies (like say Luke, Anakin, or now Rey). We’ve watched her grow from a snippy little Padawan, a stubborn but always learning student, independent woman, to calm and confident leader of the Rebellion, and each moment and revelation has been satisfying on both the storytelling level and character level. It’s a testament to the creation and handling of Ahsoka over the years that makes even her brief moments here resonant so loudly for the character despite being a secondary character within the season. I look forward to many years ahead exploring her journey in the universe, no matter when, where, or how it goes (like the novel coming this October detailing her adventures between TCW and Rebels)!
What really struck me in the final moments of the episode was the interior shot of the space family together on the Ghost and how it made me realize that despite them all being together again, they are further apart than they’ve ever been. Everyone looks sad or disappointed in one way or another, but whether it’s just over Ahsoka’s ‘death’ or something else, we won’t know, but I imagine it has more to do with how different Kanan and Ezra are now. Zeb, who shared a tender and friendly moment with Ezra (and has always been like an older brother to him) last episode, looks a little lost, probably wondering if he’ll get to hang out with Ezra again because Zeb can see he’s obviously more concerned about tapping into the dark side to open the holocron in effort to save them all; Hera has a distant stare on her face, as her Kanan has come back alive as he promised, but just not the way either of them predicted; Sabine looks forlornly down the hallway at Kanan and then Ezra’s door, retreating into her room with head hung low. We spent all season with the space family supporting each other and being there for one another in their most personal situations yet, but it looks like in S3 they’ll be apart in a way only they can fix if they try. As sad as it was to see Ahsoka wallow away into the darkness, it’s even worse to think we’ll have to watch this family be apart for (probably) the better part of next season because such chasms can’t be mended quickly. If the break in the family dynamic had been due to external forces (they helped, but aren’t the reason), this would’ve been an easier nerf steak to swallow, but the conflict looks to be internal for the group, and when it’s by characters who’s reasons you can understand and maybe even relate to, there’s really no one for viewers to lash out towards in this sad splintering of such a wonderful family. Instead one must hope, as the characters did all this season, that they’ll come to rely on one another again before things get even worse for them.
Here are a few other things:
- *IGN’s Eric Goldman has an absolutely thorough and fantastic chat with Dave Filoni regarding well…everything from the finale. It includes such things as: Filoni heavily hints Ahsoka might be done on the show, and we might have to wait longer than most people would hope to find out what happened between Vader and Ahsoka in the Temple once it closed, but he certainly has many stories left he wants to tell with her; the untold TCW story of how Ahsoka met Maul in the final season of the show (and how it tied into the beginning of the Ep. III and Ahsoka’s last time seeing Anakin alive); while I was hoping Nika Futterman’s voice (who was Asajj Ventress in TCW) I heard from the holocron was Kreia/Darth Traya from KotOR II, Filoni doesn’t say it wasn’t her, but he does say it was an ancient Sith master who constructed the Temple in the first place; the ‘owls’ seen at the end of both this episode and the previous one are more than they appear, though Filoni doesn’t give anything completely concrete, but I’m taking his hints to mean they could have a Mortis connection (like say the Father watching over these major events in the Force); and there probably won’t be that many more Inquisitors left. Definitely check it out!
- **The official site’s episode guide has some fun little trivia moments (what species the Eighth Brother is and why Anakin had eyebrows) and the stunning music track that closes out the episode (I’m having many feelings just hearing it again), which sounds more hopeful than the episode’s events suggest. Rebels Recon is extensive as ever and gets more than just Filoni’s thoughts on the finale and where season 3 will go, as they touch base with Henry Gilroy, Pablo Hildalgo, Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Tiya Sircar, Sam Witwer, Steve Blum, Ashley Eckstein, and Kilian Plunkett. Kilian teases new looks for everyone (minus Chopper, of course) for next season, Filoni says what some fans call ‘filler’ episodes (not a word I’ve really used yet) will be surprised how important those are going forward, Gilroy looks forward to Ezra’s journey with the holocron, Sircar teases surprising adventures with surprising characters for Sabine, and Pablo says everything will grow in scale. Oh and Filoni drops what seems to be the biggest hint we’ll be seeing Thrawn in S3 and we’ll know for sure what’s coming at Celebration Europe in July!
- ***io9 also has Filoni answering questions, where he reveals Sabine will have an expanded role in S3 (which she rightfully deserves as her “Blood Sisters” episode is among the series best) and how they don’t want to ruin anything in Rogue One in the upcoming season (though a crossover still hasn’t been explicitly ruled out). Most importantly, he touches on Ahsoka’s very important line, “I am no Jedi,” and how that’s one way to get around Yoda’s words in RotJ about Luke being the last of Jedi. I’ve always felt Yoda literally meant Jedi as in Force-wielders trained in the Jedi ways and that many other Force-wielders could be alive, just not trained or trained to be a Jedi, so his discussion here solidifies that.
- Over at /Film, Dave Filoni details the purpose of designing Malachor the way they did, as well as some of the more subtle Kiner work that I definitely missed on a first viewing, but caught on the second (pages 3 and 4). He also gives his nebulous answer on Ahsoka’s fate, adds to my feelings that Ezra isn’t completely lost yet, hints heavily that with Ahsoka gone Vader probably won’t be showing up anymore, and that his detailed history of Malachor and Kylo Ren’s seeming love of history led him to put a cross-guard saber in the episode.
- Cast and Crew answered questions from Amy Ratcliffe at the premiere screening of the finale, where Ashley Eckstein tries to get the definitive answer on Ahsoka’s fate from Filoni by asking him if she should continue printing her popular Ahsoka Lives t-shirt at Her Universe or not, amongst other hi-jinks and similar answers as seen in the various interviews above.
- Inquisitors flying thanks to their spinning lightsabers? I both thought it was funny and totally dug it. If it had happened in Season 1, or at any other point in S2, I would’ve considered it really ridiculous. Here though? Malachor is a strange, otherworldly, inexplicable place, seeped in the dark side, so them flying around kind of fit with it. Let’s just hope if any other Inquisitors appear in Season 3, it doesn’t get used often though (unless, they are ever on Malachor again).
- I have two speculation pieces about Ahsoka, both for during and after the episode’s events, that tie into each other: 1) While the Temple closed around them, I believe the only way Vader and Ahsoka parted ways without one of them dying was due to them striking a deal of sorts. Essentially, Ahsoka makes a deal with the devil to protect her friends, saying she’ll remove herself from the galaxy/Rebellion and Vader’s life if Vader leaves Kanan and Ezra alone (though he could still send Inquisitors/the Empire could still harass them), because if he came after them, they’d die for sure. While that doesn’t sound like a good deal for Vader, he doesn’t have to see her anymore, as she’s a reminder of the good that was once within him that currently has no hope of resurfacing. Why he wouldn’t just kill her instead of letting her go, I don’t know, but just go with it. 2) Fast forward to post-Return of the Jedi, where Force-ghost Anakin appears on Malachor to bring her back out into the galaxy, saying she no longer needs to hide and apologies. Even better yet, he could lead her to Luke, where she could both train and train with her old Master’s son, sharing stories of Anakin’s better days (as the Force-ghosts don’t seem to stick around long at any one time nor share long stories). How amazing would that be? 100% speculation but certainly a very, very happy continuation and wishful thinking about her story.
- Her Universe’s new Ahsoka shirt, the artwork by Filoni, is simply awesome. And speaking of Ashley Eckstein, she gives a pre-finale interview at the official site about the genesis of Ahsoka and why she’s become such a popular character (truly a great read).
- Kanan blinded totally made me think of Daredevil first and foremost, while his inspiration was truly due to Zatoichi. I didn’t even think of Rahm Kota, the blinded Legends Jedi who lived during the same timeframe during the events of The Force Unleashed, until I saw someone mention it online. I don’t think they have anything in common, besides being blinded, and Freddie Prinze Jr. definitely agrees they shouldn’t be compared. On the lighter side, one of Freddie’s first tweets after the finale was truly hilarious.
- Can’t forget Chopper’s awesome moment of taking over the Inquisitor’s ship and bring him down! Wonder how AP-5 would’ve reacted to his actions though…
All I can really say in the end is, while we wait the long haul till Season 3, “What the heck were you thinking about sending them there, Yoda?” Whatever his answer may be, as viewers of Star Wars Rebels, we should thank him. As the characters in the show…I don’t think there’d be any thank you’s. “Twilight of the Apprentice” was truly fantastic stuff, will be a hard finale for next season to beat, and it’ll stick with you long after it’s over.
+ Ambigous ending for everyone
+ Kanan’s deeper connection to the Force
+ Ezra’s dark side leanings
+ Ahsoka and Vader’s meeting going in unexpected directions
+ Maul’s return
+ No one will be the same
– Season 3 isn’t starting next week?!?!
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“
Season Three: Step Into Shadows