*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Trials of the Darksaber.”
It wasn’t really that long ago that Star Wars Rebels was seen as a show that underserved its female characters at the expense of focusing on Ezra, an adolescent male and the character closest to the show’s viewing demographic. But as time went on, the doubters were proven wrong and those who preached patience were rewarded with episodes like “Blood Sisters,” a plethora of Ahsoka Tano-centric episodes (most notably “Twilight of the Apprentice”), and this season’s “Hera’s Heroes.” Now, “Trials of the Darksaber” shifts the paradigm even further by suggesting that Sabine Wren might have a more important destiny than Ezra Bridger.
Star Wars has always borrowed heavily from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” concept, but to this point, the characters undergoing the life-changing transformations have been overwhelmingly of the Jedi persuasion. However, “Trials of the Darksaber” breaks that mold by casting Sabine in the role of reluctant hero whose fate is tied to a magical talisman. Much like Excalibur in the Arthurian legend imbued its wielder with unquestionable authority, the Darksaber commands a respect that cannot be overstated. Though it was featured prominently in several episodes of The Clone Wars and was previously used by Maul to command Death Watch, the origins and true significance of the blade were not been revealed until now. According to Fenn Rau, the Darksaber originally belonged to Tar Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Jedi and after his death, it was stolen from the Jedi Temple by members of House Vizsla who used the weapon to take over all of Mandalore. Now, with Sabine being a member of House Vizsla and in possession of the Darksaber, the opportunity for her to reunify and lead her people is at hand.
But like any true Campbellian hero, Sabine refuses the call to heroism due to self-doubt and internal struggles and must undergo trials in order to prove herself worthy. Fortunately, she has a willing teacher in Kanan, who though initially is overprotective of his young protégé, eventually comes to trust in her potential. From the beginning, Kanan professes that it is not coincidence that Sabine came into possession of the Darksaber, and one can reasonably assume that he feels the Force is at work here. For if Sabine can truly take command of Mandalore using the Darksaber, the Dark Side of the Force may begin to see its stranglehold on the galaxy start to weaken. As an aside, the fact that we have never before heard of the Mandalorian uprising against the Empire could mean many things. For instance: 1) It may not come to fruition at all. 2) The uprising could be localized on Lothal as Hera is planning. 3) The uprising was crushed soundly by the Empire. 4) Some other unforeseen outcome that the Rebels’ writers have planned for us.
In any case, Sabine’s training with the Darksaber begins in the wilderness of Atollon. Like Jesus preparing for his earthly ministry or Luke in the swamps of Dagobah, Sabine must avoid distractions in order to hone her skills. Though she is clearly not ready to wield the blade, Wren projects arrogance as a shield around her and bristles when Kanan starts her training with stick fighting as opposed to immediately handling the Darksaber.
At first, Kanan feels that he must break Sabine down in order to build her back up in the Jedi image. He even counters Hera’s argument that he should alter his teaching because Sabine can’t use the Force by replying that the Force resides in everything and that Sabine must open herself to it. Kanan’s assertion was, I thought, an elegant reminder that Force-potential is not limited to the Jedi, Sith, or even the Witches of Dathomir. Rather, every being possesses some quantity of midichlorians and therefore the ability to tap into the Force in some degree. This was alluded to in Rogue One through that film’s portrayal of Chirrut Imwe and it’s fascinating to see that axiom repeated in Star Wars Rebels.
As for the training sequences themselves, I would have been more than happy to simply watch the choreography from start to finish without dialogue. The swordplay is elegant, alluring, and beautifully accompanied by Kevin Kiner’s hypnotic score that at times evokes Asian martial-arts films and at others employs elemental and savage African drums.
Nevertheless, Sabine struggles to find her inner swordsman until Fenn Rau presents her with a Mandalorian vambrace and she is able to insert her personality into her fighting style. It begs the question of how honorable it is to fight with tricks (and Kanan is certainly against it at first), but as teacher and student open themselves to the other, the vambrace becomes a crucial part of Sabine’s repertoire.
Still, the training stirs up enough emotion in both parties to register as a disturbance in the Force that is strong enough to temporarily wake the Bendu and to bring instruction to a grinding halt. The upside is that it leads to a major philosophical shift by Kanan. After conferring with Hera about how to best move forward, the Jedi master ultimately chooses to believe in Sabine’s potential over the inherent dangers and begins training her with the Darksaber directly.
After acknowledging Sabine’s nontraditional approach to combat as valid, Kanan explains to her (and the audience) exactly how the kyber crystal inside the lightsaber and the wielder interact to form a symbiotic relationship. It’s a riveting account, an invaluable addition to Star Wars lore, and seems to be the key to unlocking Sabine’s latent lightsaber abilities and Kanan pushes the Mandalorian to her limits. It becomes clear that Sabine possesses the physical skills to wield the Darksaber. What remains to be seen is whether she’ll be able to wield authority just as capably.
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 the latest Rebels Reactions for even more insight, discussion, and analysis on this episode.
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