*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice.”
The second season of Star Wars Rebels began with an episode (“The Siege of Lothal”) that introduced the show’s heroes to the saga’s biggest icon, Darth Vader. Since that time, the narrative has been slowly building toward a confrontation between the Lord of the Sith and his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. Originally introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and revealed in Rebels’ first season as the mysterious “Fulcrum,” Tano has since been an integral part of Phoenix Squadron and a powerful ally to the crew of the Ghost. The addition of these two characters to Star Wars Rebels at virtually the same time has always suggested (and Dave Filoni had all but stated) that a final showdown between the pair was on the horizon. “Twilight of the Apprentice” fulfills that promise.
In truth, there is probably as much ambiguity in “Twilight of the Apprentice” as there is resolution. Like The Force Awakens before it, “Twilight” presents the viewer with several unanswered questions and essentially requires repeated viewings to fully appreciate it. To begin with, we find Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka arriving on Malachor in accordance with Yoda’s instructions in “Shroud of Darkness.” From the outset, the planet appears to be dead, and soon Ezra’s impulsivity in regards to stone spires and the ancient runes carved upon them leads the trio into subterranean caverns.
The descent into the literal netherworld reveals the site of an ancient Sith Temple, as well as the location of many perished souls who died thousands of years ago during the “Great Scourge of Malachor.” The bodies of these fallen warriors are petrified reminders of a war in which there was no victor, and Ezra’s discovery of a claymore lightsaber much like Kylo Ren’s foreshadows the perpetual and mutually destructive nature of the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance that evolves into the conflict between the First Order and the New Republic.
An attack by the Eighth Brother (the latest Inquisitor added to Star Wars Rebels) causes Ezra to be separated from his companions, and the boy falls into yet another subterranean level much like Bilbo Baggins plunged into Gollum’s cave in The Hobbit. As “Twilight of the Apprentice” is rife with mythological symbolism, this second descent also serves as multiple stages of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey–most notably the “Belly of the Whale” and “Apothesis.” Isolated from his mentors, the Padawan’s journey through the center of Malachor will be both terrifying and transformative in nature, made all the more so for he will not be alone.
Maul, the former Sith lord and apprentice of Darth Sidious has been waiting for someone such as Ezra for a long time and meets the boy on this lower level. Serving as something of a twisted Yoda, Maul presents himself as a harmless and elderly traveler who only wants to help his new friend. The façade is so convincing, I kept hoping Maul would actually quote the wizened green master and tell Ezra, “Away put your weapon. I mean you no harm.” Although he appears to be possibly unstable, he presents himself as a sympathetic former Force wielder wronged by the Sith whose purposes are therefore conveniently aligned with the boy’s. But even at this point, Maul’s suggestion to Ezra to refer to him as “Old Master” is a portent of a darker purpose and his continual flattery of the boy reflects his training at the feet of Darth Sidious.
Both characters are seeking recompense for the wrongs done to them by their enemies, but while Maul prescribes vengeance, Ezra seeks justice. The former claims that this distinction is irrelevant and that the knowledge of how to accomplish each of their goals can be found in the Sith temple, so Ezra agrees to accompany Maul as the two make their way to the pyramidal structure
Once there, Ezra unwittingly undergoes several tests of his ability to tap into the Dark Side of the Force. At Maul’s urging that “always two” are needed to open the various temple doors, Ezra calls upon his anger to strengthen his abilities and facilitate the pair’s journey into the temple’s core. The Sith maxim of “Always Two” is repeated several times by Maul, which both hints at the Zabrak’s plans for Ezra and solidifies the concept’s status in canon.
Finally, Ezra and Maul enter a chamber containing a great chasm, on the other side of which lies a Sith holocron. There is no clear way across the abyss, and the challenge feels like the “leap of faith” scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But there is no hidden bridge this time, and instead Maul uses the Force to throw Ezra toward the holocron. The boy claims the prize, and again Indiana Jones is referenced as the temple reacts to the removal of the relic just as it did in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And just as Indy successfully escaped danger, Maul and Ezra make their way outside–although there is a (in my opinion, very Aladdin) moment where it seems the former is ready to cast off the latter since the boy has accomplished his purpose.
But Maul has bigger plans for Ezra, and as the pair reunite with Kanan and Ahsoka, the Zabrak begins to reveal his true nature. The ruse of his innocuous persona does not work on Jarrus or Tano who know his reputation, so Maul invokes the ancient proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” in order to convince the three Jedi (including the “part-time” one–his description of Ahsoka) to join him in pursuing the Sith temple’s secrets and in the fight against the Inquisitors as by this point, the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister have joined the Eighth Brother on Malachor.
For his part, Ezra still trusts Maul enough to accompany him in the ascent to the top as the quartet must pair off due to the size of the temple’s lifts. In effect, the contrasting routes to the top of the structure represent divergent paths to enlightenment. Ahsoka and Kanan are seeking a means to save and protect others, but Maul is in pursuit of personal gain and hopes to corrupt Ezra to better serves his own purposes. An encounter with the Seventh Sister along the way illustrates this beautifully as Maul tempts his potential apprentice to slay the Inquisitor in cold blood. However, Ezra refuses and Maul viciously cuts her down.
Even still, the depth of Ezra’s trust in Maul exceeds the grievousness of this act and the boy continues to follow instructions by independently taking the holocron to the top of the temple. Kanan and Ahsoka rendezvous with Maul and the remaining Inquisitors are dispatched. Then the true depths of Maul’s evil come to the surface as he claims Ezra as his apprentice, reveals the Sith temple’s purpose as a superweapon, and strikes out at Ahsoka and Kanan–blinding the latter with his lightsaber.
Miraculously, Kanan summons the strength to rejoin the fight. Donning a nearby discarded Jedi Temple guard helmet, a sightless Kanan personifies the final stand of the Light Side of the Force and serves as the guardian of Ezra’s soul. Calling upon the Force to heighten his remaining senses and allow him to “see,” Kanan defeats Maul and sends the former Sith lord to a fate all too familiar for him–a long fall from a great height. With twice the pride, comes double the fall.
Normally, this would be a great place to end the episode, but “Twilight of the Apprentice” contains one more bombshell–the aforementioned clash between Vader and Ahsoka. Darth Vader’s arrival on Malachor while standing atop his TIE fighter might be the most mythically epic image of the Dark Lord we’ve ever seen, and his swift dispatch of Ezra (who had already foolishly activated the temple superweapon) serves only to remind us of his formidability. Only the intervention of Ahsoka prevents Ezra’s death, and the ensuing battle between the former master and apprentice is the stuff of legend.
In much the same way that he will tempt his own son in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader offers Ahsoka a place by his side in return for information about the location of any remaining Jedi (most likely referring to Obi-Wan Kenobi). And much like Luke will do years later, Ahsoka refuses to join him but vows to avenge her former master after Vader proclaims that, “Anakin Skywalker was weak. I destroyed him.”
As the duel ensues, a reunited Kanan and Ezra manage to work together to short-circuit the temple’s superweapon by removing the holocron which causes the structure itself to collapse. The pair nearly escape to the Phantom, but their path out takes them into the vicinity of Vader who has seemingly dispatched Ahsoka. Because they have the holocron, they quickly attract the attention of Darth Vader who begins pulling the artifact (and Ezra) toward him, and only the desperate actions of a returning Ahsoka enable them to escape. Effectively sacrificing herself, Ahsoka covers Kanan and Ezra’s exit by re-engaging with Vader. The temple explodes just as the Chopper-piloted Phantom makes its way from the site.
The epilogue for “Twilight of the Apprentice” is a series of sequences backed by Kevin Kiner’s melancholy score. The crew of the Ghost is reunited with all members heartbroken at the loss of Ahsoka and Kanan’s sight. Maul is seen piloting a TIE fighter away from Malachor. Darth Vader emerges from the ruins of the temple. A ghostly figure who could only be Ahsoka is seen entering the structure. And Ezra opens the Sith holocron–a feat seemingly only accomplished by using the Dark Side of the Force. What these images mean for Star Wars Rebels going forward is unknown, but the journey will surely be worthwhile.
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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