*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Rise of the Old Masters.”
If you’re not watching Star Wars Rebels, you really are missing something special. The premiere movie “Spark of Rebellion” was quite good and the first two episodes, “Droids in Distress” and “Fighter Flight” were highly entertaining forays back into the classic Star Wars trilogy era. But with this week’s episode, “Rise of the Old Masters,” the stakes have never been higher, the action has never been more intense, and the obstacles facing our heroes have never been so dangerous or so formidable.
As viewers, we have expected the characters to continue to evolve–especially Ezra as he is the youngest–and “Rise” doesn’t disappoint in that regard. This time out, Kanan is the focus and the “Cowboy Jedi” has never been more impressive as a warrior. But in one of the most unexpected allusions to the Original Trilogy thus far, “Rise” presents Kanan as an analogue to Yoda who trains his young Padawan to do hand-stands and exhorts him to “Try not; do or do not. There is no try.” And as Ezra ultimately fails to perform his assigned tasks to Kanan’s satisfaction, the ill-prepared Master expresses self-doubt about his ability to teach the boy. And just as Yoda told Luke about his reservations to train the young Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, Kanan relates a similar assertion to Ezra.
The allusions to The Empire Strikes Back do not end there, for Kanan also has a bit of Luke Skywalker in him, and when the opportunity to rescue Jedi Master Luminara Unduli arises, he jumps (quite literally at one point) at the chance–regardless of the dangers inherent in rescuing a prisoner from Stygeon Prime, a prison that Sabine is clearly impressed with and a place so impregnable it once held Darth Maul. “There’s a lot more at stake than you realize,” he tells Ezra at one point, but even Kanan is unaware of how precarious things are. For just as Luke rushed to Bespin only to find a trap waiting for him, Kanan’s rescue attempt carries the same danger.
From the moment the siege on the Stygeon prison begins with a daring drop from the Phantom (the Ghost’s landing craft), Kanan unleashes nearly the full Jedi arsenal of skills. There is hand-to-hand combat, Force-pushing and pulling, and we even get to see an application of the classic Jedi mind trick–an ability that Ezra seems very eager to learn. Kanan is truly impressive here and the mission to rescue the missing Jedi Master seems to be going very well despite the outdated prison schematics the Ghost crew used to plan the operation. That is, until Kanan and Ezra make their way into her holding cell and discover the truth. Master Luminara has not been awaiting rescue after all; in fact, she has been dead since the Clone Wars. And to make matters worse, her preserved corpse is now being used as a beacon to draw in Jedi to face a character whose appearance we have been eagerly anticipating–the Inquisitor. Just as Kanan and Ezra discover the deception, the Inquisitor makes himself known and engages Kanan in a furious lightsaber duel.
Seemingly cut from the same cloth as the version of Darth Maul we saw in The Clone Wars, the Pau’an Inquisitor is a deadly combination of Machiavellian genius and brutal savagery. While not a Sith (a distinction I can’t wait to hear explained), the red lightaber-wielding, Dark Side user also evokes Darth Vader’s appearance in The Empire Strikes Back with his alternating taunts and offers to Ezra about leaving Kanan’s tutelage to follow “another path.” Throughout the battle, the Inquisitor evokes calm and voice actor Jason Isaacs imbues him with a civilized menace. The Inquisitor is supremely confident, and as he seemingly knows more about Kanan’s fighting style (and former master Depa Billaba) than the Jedi does himself, he has no reason not to feel this way. As incredible as Kanan was earlier in the episode, he is severely outmatched by the Inquisitor.
In what will surely be the first of many lightsaber duels against the Inquisitor, Kanan uses every ounce of his cunning and skill to hold off his enemy and keep Ezra safe. And when the Jedi is temporarily incapacitated, the boy acquits himself nicely despite his limited formal training. However, it soon becomes clear that a fight against the Inquisitor is a futile exercise, and since discretion is often the better part of valor, Kanan and Ezra decide that escape is the best plan and attempt to make their way back to the Phantom and meet up with Zeb and Sabine.
As the four rebels try to leave the prison, the Inquisitor continues to stalk his prey calmly and yet invokes terror as seemingly no obstacle can even slow him down. Like a villain in a slasher film, the Inquistor just keeps coming after our heroes. And when they finally reach the door to the landing platform, they find it locked. The situation forces Kanan into a realization; regardless of how the Jedi training has gone, he and Ezra are the only ones who can do anything about the crisis. Accepting this, he exhorts the boy to join with him and they successfully work together to use the Force to open the locked door.
Once outside, the circumstances seem to have only worsened for the crew of the Ghost as they are met by a battalion of Stormtroopers. To add to the crisis, Hera has been forced to relocate the Phantom due to the fact that Sabine’s jamming signal has been interpreted as a mating call by some large indigenous flying beasts called tibidees. And yet, this signal confusion bears fortuitous fruit as the airborne Stygeon creatures assume the role of a fleet, and much like the Ewoks before them, prove that sometimes nature can be a worthy adversary of technology as they provide Hera with just enough cover to safely get Kanan, Ezra, Zeb and Sabine off the landing platform.
Back on the Ghost, Kanan reluctantly acknowledges to Hera his feeling that he is possibly the only Jedi remaining–or at least the only one they’re likely to encounter. Now resolved that he might be Ezra’s only possibility as teacher, Kanan commits to train the boy. Again echoing the words of Yoda, the lone Jedi tells his Padawan that from now on, he will no longer try to teach him; he will teach him.
“Rise of the Old Masters” closes with a lingering glimpse of Kanan throwing objects to Ezra as the boy confidently slashes them with a lightsaber and we realize that although this episode’s title seem to indicate a possible return of Luminara Unduli, what it gave us instead was a resurgence of at least part of the old Jedi Order in the person of Kanan Jarrus. They’ve taken a page from Yoda and a page from Luke, and yet the producers of Rebels have ultimately given us something entirely new–an unorthodox Jedi for a desperate time and a new hero for a new generation of fans.
Thank you for reading! If you have feedback or just want to say hello, you can leave a comment on this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me on Twitter @influxman or check out my Rogue page on “Star Wars in the Classroom.”
And don’t forget to check out Rebels Reactions for even more insight, discussion, and analysis of this episode.
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