All images courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Throughout the Star Wars saga, characters struggle with the ability to perceive and accept truth. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s perception of one of his mentors experiences a drastic change when he has to reconcile the knowledge that Chancellor Palpatine is the secret Sith lord. In the Empire Strikes Back, Han and Leia’s bickering and jabs with each other merely show their struggle to accept their feelings for each other. In that film’s climax, Luke must struggle with a soul-searing revelation and whether or not it is true. In Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts Darth Vader with the possibility of inner conflict, and Vader’s resolution of that conflict redeems him. While I have felt like much of this season of Star Wars: Rebels has been disjointed, one consistent thread has been the crew’s struggle to see past their emotions and experience truth. We see this in Zeb’s struggle to accept that he is the warrior, the fool, and the child in “Legend of the Lasat.” Kanan has to dive deep into his past and learn to look beyond the familiar faces of the clones and see the men within. Hera and her father both have to see past their familial conflict and find common ground. Even Chopper got in on the action when he met an Imperial droid and chose to look past the battle lines and make a friend. This common thread of the struggle to perceive truth culminated in the season finale of Star Wars Rebels: “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Within an ancient Sith temple, Ezra, Kanan, and Ahsoka were forced to face shadows from the past that returned and changed their lives forever.
Ezra enters the Sith temple looking for knowledge that will allow him to protect his friends and defeat the Empire. He finds a sinister shadow of a Sith who tempts Ezra with the promise of power while secretly advancing his own agenda. In “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Maul initially appears to Ezra as an old man. He’s not a threat. Maul is a dark version of Yoda: a forgotten, old master who has to “scrounge and scrape to survive.” Many of the lines Maul first says to Ezra are lines Yoda says to Luke at their initial meeting. Both old masters implore their outsider to put their weapons away because neither master wishes to harm them. They both also ask their visitor why they are there, and both answers, Luke’s and Ezra’s, are similar. One seeks knowledge. One seeks a Jedi master. In reality, a Jedi master is just a fount of knowledge given physical form. Whether the syntax runs backwards or forwards, the crew of Star Wars: Rebels clearly sought to make a connection between Yoda and Maul. Both seems helpless and harmless, and both have been left behind by the galaxy and are now just the the subject of rumors and the type of questions that leads to “Whatever Happened To…” documentaries.
When Ezra accuses Maul of being a Sith, Maul responds by listing all the the Sith have taken from him: “The Sith? The Sith took everything from me. Ripped me from my mother’s arms, murdered my brother, used me as a weapon, and then cast me aside, abandoned me. Once I had power. Now, I have nothing. Nothing.” Maul’s word choice in this speech is perfect. He uses words full of violence, such as “ripped” and “murdered” to describe the Sith, and sympathetic phrases like “cast me aside” and “abandoned me” to describe himself. They are the monsters, and he is just the victim. While we the viewer have seen Maul’s dark deeds and are reluctant to believe his change, Ezra does not know Maul’s history. Through Ezra’s eyes, eyes that have been blinded by the loss of one family and a desperate desire to protect his new one, Maul appears to be just an elderly Force-user who was victimized by the Sith and may hold the key to the treasure Ezra seeks.
The dark side is often described as a whispering voice tempting a student of the light side with power and abilities that will help them accomplish their goals while hiding the cost of that knowledge. In this way, Maul personifies the dark side of the Force during this episode. His initial frailty mirrors the way that the dark side would appear at first: a small step, a victimless crime, a justifiable evil to accomplish a greater good. As the episode goes on, Maul constantly uses Ezra’s desire to protect his friends to get him to use the darkness to commit bigger and more deplorable actions. It starts with opening a locked door then it's using your anger to attack an opponent. In the end, this temptation climaxes when Maul holds the Seventh Sister defenseless before Ezra and instructs the young Jedi to “strike her down” in a callback to the Emperor’s line from Return of the Jedi. When he says that line to Luke, Palpatine states that striking down Vader will make Luke’s journey to the dark side complete. Ezra refuses to kill his defenseless opponent which infuriates Maul, but he doesn’t hold onto this rage; instead, he quietly falls back into the persona of the patient teacher, whispering to Ezra about how future examples of holding back could cost him his friends. Maul tempts Ezra with one of the things Ezra wants most: to be able to protect his friends.
In the first season episode “Path of the Jedi,” Ezra tells Yoda that he wants to become a Jedi to protect his friends and help others. Since that moment, he has experienced even more loss due to the Empire. He has seen the loss of soldiers in a war, and he has struggled with that loss personally when he discovered that his parents were dead, another casualty of the Empire. That loss nearly broke Ezra, and he doesn’t want to lose his new family. When Maul and the Sith temple offer knowledge, Ezra bites. He wants to know how to protect those he loves. He has started on a path that mirrors Anakin’s, who was so desperate to save his wife that he accepted Palpatine’s offer of knowledge forbidden to the Jedi. It was a small step to not arrest Palpatine then, just as Ezra opening the Sith holocron is now. The question is whether Ezra will be able to see the dark path he started down and pull off or if he will fall just like Anakin before him.
While Ezra’s story for the season came to a climax in his temptation by Darth Maul and the opening of the Sith holocron, Kanan’s season closed with the loss of his eyes. In a single, traitorous moment, Darth Maul blinded Kanan, bringing new meaning to Kanan’s reassurance that he and Hera would “see each other again.” It was a fitting ending to a season in which Kanan has struggled to perceive what was happening to those around him. In “The Siege of Lothal,” the lingering pain and fear blinded Kanan to the need of the crew of the Ghost to fight for something bigger than themselves. He wanted things to remain the way they were. The crew of the Ghost would continue to pull small jobs against the Empire as it grew more and more powerful. He would have gladly worked alongside his fellow specters to pull odd jobs to help the citizens of Lothal, building a dam to stop the oncoming wave of the Imperial war machine only to be washed away by a tsunami of TIE fighters and stormtroopers. The Empire is just too big for the crew of the Ghost to handle alone. They needed allies. Kanan found Rex.
When they first met, Kanan could not see past Rex’s clone exterior no matter how much Rex did to prove his loyalty. This lack of vision continued through numerous squabbles over whether Rex could be trusted or whether Ezra was more soldier or more Jedi. We see other instances of Kanan struggling to notice things throughout the season, too. He ignores Hera’s reservations and sees Cham Syndulla as a great hero. In the penultimate episode of the season, “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” it takes Sabine telling Kanan that Hera is worried for him to recognize that he needs to talk to and comfort her. Given all this lack of sight on Kanan’s part, it’s interesting that he is able to clearly see through the lies of Maul. He repeatedly warns Ezra not to trust the former Sith, but his perception is ignored by his student, and Kanan pays the price for it. The eyes that had failed him so many times this season may be blinded forever. I hope they are. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi-Wan told Luke, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Through the loss of his eyes, Kanan will be forced to rely more upon his allies: the crew of the Ghost, the growing rebellion, and the Force. With any luck, he will be better off having to do so. In addition to Kanan’s growth as a character, his blinding also offers the chance to open another door to the Star Wars clubhouse, inviting in the blind in the same way that Albin Johnson of the 501st felt invited in by the image of Luke Skywalker having a mechanical hand after having lost his leg in a car accident. Star Wars should be as inclusive as possible.
The motif of sight and perception came to a climax in the battle between Ahsoka Tano and her former master, Anakin Skywalker. Since “The Siege of Lothal”, fans have questioned whether or not Ahsoka knew that Darth Vader was Anakin Skywalker right after she connected with the Sith Lord during the battle above Lothal. While we are not given a simple answer, there are many clues that show that maybe she did recognize her old master despite his transformation into a shadow-clad Sith. Whenever Ezra would ask Ahsoka if she knew who the Sith lord was, she would not respond with the quick refusal people often give when they know nothing about a subject. There was always a pregnant pause to her answer. Her pauses in these instances implied that she at least had an inkling of who Vader was, but she was unsure how much information she wanted to reveal. Knowledge like that would be hard to come to grips with and would be hard to want to share. Your master and friend has become everything you were taught was bad in the world since early childhood. He has turned against the beliefs that you and he fought for through countless battles. That kind of revelation would be hard to accept, so while Ahsoka may have perceived the truth through the Force early on this season, she did not trust her perception. She just didn’t want to. The truth was too unbelievable and too painful.
In the episode, “Shroud of Darkness,” Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra all experience visions in the Jedi Temple on Lothal. It’s in this episode that Ahsoka is forced to come to grips with the truth. In her vision, a spectral version of Anakin speaks to her, blaming her for what he has become as it shifts and transforms in Vader. With tears in her eyes and a fearful heart, Ahsoka turns around with her saber ignited. She is prepared to fight and still struggles to accept the truth. It’s still too horrible. She doesn’t want to believe it.
All of this leads to the finale where Ahsoka and Vader meet and the truth is revealed. Vader claims “Anakin Skywalker was weak, so I destroyed him.” He has denied the truth and no longer perceives himself as Anakin. It’s too painful. Ahsoka responds that she will avenge Anakin’s death then. As the two clash, the outcome promises the answer to the mystery we have known since the beginning but Ahsoka is still seeking the answer to: is her master now the Sith lord, Darth Vader, or is Anakin Skywalker still alive underneath all that armor? As the fight nears its conclusion, we get what I think will become one of the most striking images in all of Star Wars: the face of Anakin Skywalker peering out from the crack in Vader’s helmet. It’s a heartbreaking visual for many fans because we see the Anakin Skywalker of The Clone Wars looking out of that horrifying mask at Ahsoka. For a brief second, Skyguy is looking at Snips with his own eyes before hardening back into a mask of rage. The truth has been revealed, and Ahsoka chooses to stand with her old master, her friend. She looks beneath that helmet, and she sees Anakin Skywalker, not Darth Vader.
The ending of “Twilight of the Apprentice” leaves everything up in the air. Maul is loose to wreak havoc upon the galaxy again. Kanan appears to have lost his sight. Ezra’s fate stands upon a razor’s edge as the secrets of the Sith holocron and its sly promise of safety for his friends threaten to plunge him into darkness. The biggest question left unanswered is without a doubt the fate of Ahsoka. Did her pledge to not abandon Anakin spark a moment of weakness in him or did he kill her? It seems as if she is alive and well as she walks back into the Sith temple, but could that be a symbolic image? Many people have speculated that the Sith temple is representative of the underworld. If that’s the case, Ahsoka’s descent into its depths could represent her march into the afterlife. As a viewer, I don’t know how I feel about that. I appreciate that the episode left me craving more. I yearn to know what will happen next. There’s also a part of me that expected closure. I expected knowledge, but like our crew, I received only more questions. In a season where so many characters struggled with their ability to perceive the truth about their friends and allies, their own desires, and the fears that lay deep within, Dave Filoni and the Rebels crew may have left the ending ambiguous to invite us into the conflict. For now, the ending is what we perceive it to be.
Do you think Ahsoka is still alive? Will Kanan stay blind? Will Ezra fall to the dark side? Share your opinion on one or all three questions with us on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 and @farfarawayradio!