This may well be the best episode of the series. It’s a perfect encapsulation of good pacing, animation, voice acting, and storytelling. Upon analysis, instead of getting worse, it gets better. From Kanan’s growth as a teacher, to Sabine’s growth as a person and leader. From the beginning to end, this episode ties everything together and even sets up other episodes. It utterly succeeds in every aspect. Much of this excellence is owed to Dave Filoni, the showrunner and writer of this episode, Stewart Lee, who directed it, and Tiya Sircar, the voice-actor for Sabine.
Kanan invites Fenn Rau over for some tea and gossip. This week’s topic is the interesting lightsaber that Sabine found on Dathomir and gave to Kanan for safe keeping. Rau tells Kanan that it is the Darksaber, and that it was the Excalibur of Mandalore. With this new information, Kanan, and later Hera, ask Sabine to wield the Darksaber in an attempt to bring a united Mandalore onto the side of the Rebellion. After some trepidation Sabine accepts, and begins training with Kanan. Kanan, though, is somewhat hesitant and unsure of his new student, and Sabine becomes frustrated with him. Not even Stezra can alleviate the unease between Master and Student. Then Kanan decides to train her using the actual lightsabers, and not even in training mode. This, combined with an accusation that Sabine is afraid and ran away, makes Sabine go medieval on Kanan. She reveals that she fled Mandalore when her family refused to stand up to the Empire with her. Having just unlocked Level 9 Friendship with the Tragic Backstory, the others assembled graduate to Level 10 Friendship by bending the knee and swearing loyalty to her.
The Dark Saber
Rebels has redesign of the darksaber. In many ways, the design is a far cry from the original TCW iteration. Compare the two. The hilt is simplified and streamlined in Rebels, and the blade is no longer as detailed. All that having been said, every other aspect of the Darksaber is improved.
Like Vader’s Cape, we can tell what the Rebel’s crew has saved their money for. The Dark Saber’s animation is some of the best in the show. It moves like a wave of energy, while still staying solid (Light is both a particle and wave. So the name for the weapon makes even more sense). The flowing movements of the blade as it moves in the show are a pleasure to watch. In addition, Rebels adds crackles of energy like lightning as Kanan’s lightsaber and the Darksaber make contact, adding a new sense of drama to the fight, and even making it twinkle like stars in the sky.
Most spectacular of all, though, is the inclusion of brand new lore. Fenn Rau’s tale of Tarre Vizsla is beautifully told through a traditionally animated sequence, and it lends great gravity to an object that was a mere curiosity before now. The Darksaber represents more than just the strength of House Vizsla, it represents the past glory of Mandalore. The blade represents a united Mandalore, something that seems to have been hard to to in the past. Mandalore itself is an irradiated wasteland, a result of a massive war that sterilized the surface. Concorde Dawn was blown clean in half, by Sabine’s own admission. The idea that all these factions can unite behind a single leader is a powerful one. Incidentally, this mirrors the larger rebellion, which is composed of many smaller cells and lacking a leader.
This episode also provides an interesting look into the mechanics of lightsabers. Kanan talks about how the Force flows from the wielder, through the crystal, and into the blade. This creates a new level of mystical bond with the lightsaber. The blade becomes an extension of the Jedi who wields it.
It also teases at an even greater history behind the blade. According to Rau, Tarre Vizsla lived over one thousand years ago. Pre Vizsla, head of Death Watch during the Clone Wars, says that it was liberated from the Jedi Temple during an event he calls “The Fall of the Old Republic.” Incidentally, Palpatine says in Episode II that the Galactic Republic has “… stood for a thousand years…” and Mace Windu says that the Sith have been gone for a thousand years as well in Episode I. So by putting all of these obtuse references together we can see that some real sh*t went down about 1000 years ago that set the stage for the conflicts that are relayed in the main Star Wars canon.
Tragedy of House Vizsla
It should also be pointed out that the story of the Darksaber is another reflection of the larger Star Wars Universe. Tarre Vizsla’s descendants united the people of Mandalore for the first time in their history, and that reign presumably ushered in an era of peace and prosperity. Then, one thousand years later, the House of Vizsla is responsible for the destruction of Mandalore. Pre Vizsla overthrew the Duchess and was in turn overthrown by the Sith. The Sith usurpation incited a civil war between the Sith and the other Mandalorians. The Sith were then overthrown by the Republic, who were actually Sith, which lead to the occupation of Mandalore by the Empire. It all boils down to the actions of one family. Sound familiar?
Kanan’s Teaching Journey
While the episode focused on Sabine and her future, it also gave other characters, such as Kanan, significant growth. In this episode, Kanan was forced to let Sabine grow up and possibly get into danger. He had to challenge her in a way that worked for her, not him.
Kanan was forced to accept Sabine’s emotional issues, while training her with the blade. In addition, he had to help her move through her emotional blocks and realize her issue was that she was being assaulted by her emotions and her complex relationship to her family.
Thus, Kanan’s role in the episode was not only teaching her in a way she needed, but also about helping her through her emotional issues and stopping Sabine from holding herself back. He could finally realize teaching her after he accepted that she couldn’t be taught the exact same way as Ezra. She has her own unique issues, and forces Kanan to grow as teacher.
Sabin’s Cry for the Help
The best part of the episode, the part that feeds from every other aspect of the episode. Sabine’s fight with Kanan is more than a fight. It’s a revelation about her entire guilt complexes, her issues with honor, her deep seeded empire guilt, and how she holds it all back cause she’s a Martell who’d rather shrivel up and die than let out her feelings. In essence, the battle is one of the best thing thing the show.
The light saber battle is an excellent case for visual storytelling. Sabine skills with the dark saber paralleled her emotional journey and the strength of her emotions. As she become more open about her hurt, her empire guilt, her family guilt, her entire guilt complexes in general, her fighting became more deadly, more erratic, and ironically more skillful.
Also brilliant is Sabine’s scripting in the fight. She unravels everything bare to herself and the world as she fights.
The truth is that… I left to save everyone. My mother, my father, my brother, everything I did I did was for family, for Mandalore. I built weapons, terrible weapons. The Empire used them on Mandalore, on friends, on family. People that I knew, they controlled us through fear.Ha. Mandalore, fear the weapons I helped create. I helped enslave my people.
Sabine has intense Empire and Mandalorian guilt over her role in her people’s enslavement. She is the Rebel’s weapons expert, and now we know why. Due in part to her actions, Mandalore was enslaved, and she carries so much guilt over her contributions to her people’s demise.
I wanted to stop it. I had to stop it. I spoke out against it. I spoke out to save them. To save everyone. But when I did…my family didn’t stand with me.
Even worse for Sabine is that despite trying to fulfilling her family and cultural obligations, she is shunned. This only furthers her guilt complex and makes her run away and become a rebel. She’s been turned into a rebel, despite being one of the most honorable people in the Star Wars Universe.
They choose the empire, they left me, gave me no choice. The Empire wanted to destroy worlds, and they did. They destroyed mine.
This is why Sabine is part of the rebellion. She hates what the Empire does to people like her. She hates how it destroys families, she hates how it eliminates entire worlds. This is her guiding motivation, and will be her motivation moving forward.
Tidbits We Love
Hera’s Bemused Reaction
Chopper purrs like a cat. When Sabine puts a hand on the top of its body, Chopper purrs like a giant trash-can-cat. The rambunctious droid is beginning to graduate from unredeemable jerk to endearing jerk, and that is nice.
We do not get to see a lot of Sabine’s art after Season 1. In Season 3 the limit of her art was repainting the new neimoidian shuttle. Now we get to see that Sabine has painted a portrait of herself and the crew of the Ghost as a family portrait. It was beautiful.
WHY IS THERE A HIATUS!?
10 Electrifying. YES,YEESSSS! Too good for the galaxy, too pure. Leaves the viewer with a feeling of deep emotional catharsis and stimulation. Worth infinite rewatches with the volume turned all the way up. This rating truly represents the Light Side of the Force.
Favorite Episode Quote (Other Than Sabine’s Beautiful Monologue)
Kanan: “You have come a long way in a short time. Where you go from here is up to you, but know that that this family will stand by you, no matter what you choose.”
Next … whenever they decide to air it
Lightsaber fights in the Snow Capped Mountains.
Images courtesy of Disney