Sunday, April 14, 2024

A Familiar Force Awakens as Rebels Reaches Through Time

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The penultimate double episode of Star Wars Rebels (Rebels) was an odd experience. That is not to say that I didn’t really enjoy what we got, or that I don’t admire creator Dave Filoni’s confidence that a Force themed diversion from the main plot was the best use of the second last run of episodes. That decision takes some guts and when a creator takes a leap, I always find myself being far more forgiving if they botch the landing than if they’ve just played it safe.

That doesn’t sound like the most enthusiastic opening paragraph ever written, but I really want to stress that there was a lot that I loved about these two episodes. Good dialogue, excellent guest stars and beautiful art direction are all present to make these two episodes some of the most memorable of the series. As usual, I’ll dive in with a brief recap of the two, before exploring some of the specific plot, character and thematic beats.

There are freaking massive Rebels spoilers below.

“Wolves and a Door”

The first episode picks up almost immediately where “DUME” left off, with the Rebels discussing the plan to investigate Lothal’s Jedi temple and what exactly the Empire is up to there. The Loth Wolves provide handy transport for our gang in lieu of any kind of ship, especially because the laws of physics don’t seem to apply to them. Even less than is usual in Star Wars.

The Empire is investigating the temple and seem to have unearthed some art that matches the tablet given to Ezra (Taylor Gray) by the Loth Wolves last episode. Ezra and art expert Sabine (Tiya Sircar) go in for a closer look, while Zeb (Steven Blum), Hera (Vanessa Taylor) and Chopper keep watch on the perimeter.

Actual wolves and an actual door

The art is a mural of the Son, the Father, and the Daughter from the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars and apparently denotes some kind of gateway. We learn this from some handy expository dialogue between the supervising Minister Hydan (Malcolm McDowell) and Emperor Palpatine himself (none other than Ian McDiarmid himself). No prizes for guessing that Ezra manages to get the gateway open but Sabine is captured.

“The World Between Worlds”

With Sabine captured, Hera and Zeb decide to mount a rescue. In all honesty, she doesn’t seem to threatened by Minister Hydan, because he’s kind of just an evil professor (come to think of it this whole two parter just reeks of Raiders of the Lost Ark.) They have conversations about art together and occasionally the death troopers hit her.

Ezra meanwhile, explores the black and white starscape paths with no railings that the gateway has lead him to. If this isn’t weird enough, each path has a gateway that leads somewhere different. Drawn to one, he sees Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) fighting Vader in the Season Two Finale. It’s a gateway to the past. As Vader is about to kill her, Ezra yanks her through the doorway and saves her life. Ahsoka Tano lives, believe it.

Together they journey through the titular world between worlds seeing doorway upon doorway through space and time. Naturally, Ezra runs straight to a door where he thinks he might be able to save Kanan and Ahsoka has to gently remind him why he can’t.

Things go horrendously south when Palpatine turns up through a gateway and tries to use his Sith magic to access it somehow. Ezra and Ahsoka escape back to Lothal and Malachor respectively, and Ezra seals the portal by destroying the Lothal Jedi temple. When Ezra and the Rebels look out over the former excavation site, the Imperial forces are all gone. There is only soft grass, a beautiful sunrise and Dume saying his final farewell.

So, yeah…a lot to unpack.

Ezra and Ahsoka

The big reveal, of course, is that Ahsoka Tano is alive! You can bet the house that she is going to turn up at some point in the finale, given her promise to come and find Ezra. It was really nice hearing Ashley Eckstein as Ahsoka again, more than any other voice actor she “is” the Star Wars animated universe, being its first original character.

You’ve been missed.

Let me qualify what I’m about to say. I love Ahsoka. She’s my favourite female character in the Star Wars canon. I am actually frothing out that we may get many and more Ahsoka related stories. But, and the but is large: I question whether bringing her back was the best call that could have been made.

Ahsoka had a beautiful and tragic end to her arc in season two, sacrificing herself to stop Vader from accomplishing his goals on Malachor, recognising that she couldn’t save her Master but saving Ezra and Kanan instead. It had all the pomp and grandeur that should be attached to the end of a character as important as she is. I am glad to have her back, but it makes that feel a little wasted, perhaps?

Ezra also gets some good character development here that seems to be the final piece of the puzzle of making him who he needs to be for the finale. As well as taking his first steps into a Force sensitive world without Kanan, he’s almost immediately offered the chance to save Kanan’s life. It feels a lot like a test, like Luke in the cave or Rey in the blowhole. It’s the final step toward letting go of Kanan. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love Kanan or that he wants him dead, it’s that Ezra recognises that Kanan made his own choices and found his own destiny. He needs help to get there but I still think he would have reached this conclusion on his own. The young Jedi has come a long way.

Ahsoka: “Kanan found the moment where he was needed most and he did what he had to do. For everyone.”

Ezra: “That’s the lesson. I didn’t see it but now…”

Art and the World between Worlds

The whole portal, the artwork and the design of the world between worlds was beautiful. The callbacks to “Mortis” from The Clone Wars were great and it made sense that those characters were somewhat deified by the Jedi. The moving 2D images on the rock face blended seamlessly with the 3D character models. The running 2D Loth Wolves that formed the portal even reminded me of the art style of Tartakovsky’s micoseries Star Wars: Clone Wars. So an in-verse and out of verse callback, in a way.

Small part of the Mortis mural. Once the mural comes alive, the Loth Wolves dance and everything lights up. The animators really earned it this episode.

In addition to the beautiful art were the voices echoing throughout the starscape of the world between worlds. Not just Kanan but Obi-wan, Yoda, Vader, Anakin, Qui-Gonn, Jyn Erso, Rey, Maz Kanata, Poe and Leia. Their voices seemed to dance closer and further away as Ezra walked along paths that represented space and time. This sequence, hearing these voices, it gives the sense of Star Wars as a tapestry that’s constantly being added to in terms of expansion and detail. All of the stories are connected and they all have an impact on each other. This is what I love about having a single, unified vision of the Star Wars universe that was made possible by the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm.

Conceptually, I’m a little uncertain about adding time travel to the Star Wars Canon. This feels like a can of worms just waiting to be opened. I can definitely understand why Palpatine was so interested in some backwater planet like Lothal now. He says it outright when he speaks to Hydan:

“We must seize the power within, the conduit between the living and dead.”

Not a small deal. Speaking of Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid was terrifying this episode. His evil cackle is without peer and he always just seems like he’s having a great time whenever I see (or hear in this case) him just devouring the scenery.

Faces to run away from really fast. Especially when he can shoot blue lightning Sith fire at you.

I do have to question whether or not this diversion from the main plot (the fate of Lothal, Thrawn’s machinations, the Rebel-Imperial conflict) was necessary this late in the game. It feels like the last three episodes have a lot to cram in and while I am all for worldbuilding, this story perhaps would have been better served earlier in the season.

Sabine and Minister Hydan

Definitely one of the less consequential parts of the episode but it was still fun hearing Malcolm McDowell and Tiya Sircar argue about art and roast each other. It made a lot of sense that Sabine would be the one to accompany Ezra on this mission and I liked that she, as the artist, figured out the meaning before Ezra did. Ezra may be a Jedi, but this is Sabine’s area of expertise.

Just two history nerds chatting about art. Note that Sabine is the prisoner in this situation.

Minister Hydan is odd character, he reminds me a little of Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He doesn’t seem overtly evil, more like just a history professor who signed up with the Empire because he thought that was the best way to access the secrets of the Galaxy. He was interesting though and I was kind of hoping for an insight into the administration of the Empire, but such was not to be when he died horribly at the end of the episode.

Stray Thoughts

  • Hera and Zeb didn’t have a lot to do this episode, continuing the sad trend of sidelining Zeb’s character. I did, however, really appreciate the elevated concern levels Hera has for Sabine and Ezra while they were on the mission. Also fun was how generally nonplussed both of them are at the weird shit constantly swirling around them.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the callout to BB-8 as Chopper drove that Imperial vehicle himself.
  • Did Ezra save Ahsoka or was she alive all along? We did see her walk down the steps in season two, so did we learn anything new or did we just have a gap filled in for us? Time makes my head hurt.
  • Thrawn and the main plot take a backseat this week, with no appearance. I am looking forward to getting back to the meat of the Empire’s occupation of Lothal.

Next week sees the final run of episodes for Rebels. Three of them aired back to back as some kind of finale extravaganza. I have a great feeling about this.

All images courtesy of Disney XD and Lucasfilm

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