Thursday, 31 March 2016

Star Wars Rebels 'Twilight of The Apprentice' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is the season finale of season two of Star Wars Rebels and there is only one word that can adequately describe it, epic.  A double length episode that focused purely on the Jedi/Sith conflict, featured three inquisitors, the crippling of Kanan, Ezra beginning to turn to the dark side, the return of Darth Maul and Ahsoka fighting Darth Vader.  There is not a minute of this episode that isn't amazing television.  It was emotional, it was intense and there were so, soooo many lightsabre fights.

When Kanan, Ezra and Ahsoka travel to the planet Malachor to find a way to defeat the inquisitors they discover an underground battlefield full of Jedi and Sith bodies, as well as a massive Sith temple.  The three of them discover an inquisitor, one we've not encountered before, and Ezra is separated from the group.

Ezra stumbles across an old man who claims to be an enemy of the inquisitors and the reason one is on Malachor.  The old man is in fact Darth Maul, who appears to have discarded his Sith teachings and simply calls himself Maul.  Despite being a former Sith Ezra begins to trust Maul as the two of them travel deeper into the temple.

Together Maul and Ezra retrieve a Sith holocron, before rejoining Kanan and Ahsoka who are busy battling the inquisitor, who has now been joined by the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister.  Ahsoka immediately recognises Maul and she and Kanan are initially wary of him.  Maul manages to convince them that they are fighting a common enemy and even joins the Jedi in the fight against the inquisitors, fighting alongside Kanan and Ahsoka.

Agreeing to team up with Maul to reach the top of the temple to find the knowledge they seek the four of them make their way to their destination.  Along the way they are forced to split up, with Maul going along with Ezra.  The two of them are attacked by the Seventh Sister and Maul manages to overpower her, giving Ezra the opportunity to kill her.  Ezra refuses to do so, instead leaving it to Maul to end her life.  

Once they reach the top of the temple they see that Ahsoka and Kanan have been ambushed by the Fifth Brother and the Eighth Brother.  Maul tells Ezra to go on without him to activate the temple whilst he goes to help Kanan and Ahsoka.  Maul manages to kill the Fifth Brother, with the Eighth Brother falling off the temple to his death.

Maul then reveals to Kanan and Ahsoka that their is no secret knowledge at the top of the temple, but Ezra is instead activating a device that will turn the whole temple into a battle station that he intends to use against his enemies.  Maul tells Kanan that he intends to take Ezra as his apprentice and attacks, injuring Kanan and blinding him.

Before Maul can deliver a killing blow Ahsoka stops him and the two of them battle.  Despite being more than a match for Mauls skills Ahsoka backs down to let the injured Kanan finish the fight, who despite having lost his eyesight, uses the force to beat Maul, throwing him off the temple.

At the top of the temple Ezra activated the device with the Sith holocron before realising it's a trap and attempts to deactivate it.  He is unable to do so, witnessing instead the arrival of Darth Vader.  Ezra attempts fight Vader but is quickly overpowered, his lightsaber destroyed in the process.  

Ahsoka arrives and fights with Vader, giving Kanan and Ezra the chance to remove the holocron and stop the temple from powering up.  The temple begins to fall apart, forcing Kanan and Ezra to flee to the Phantom.  Still fighting with Vader, Ahsoka damages his mask, revealing part of the face of Anakin Skywalker.  Ahsoka tells Anakin 'I won't leave you, not this time' and the two of them are inside the temple as it explodes.

The episode ends with an injured Kanan and Ezra returning to Chopper base, where they are greeted by the rest of the crew, and Captain Rex learns of the loss of Ahsoka.  Maul pilots one of the inquisitors tie fighters away from Malachor.  On the planets surface a badly injured Vader limps his way out of the ruined temple, whilst beneath the surface Ahsoka retreats into one of the underground chambers.  Back aboard the Ghost Ezra is meditating with the Sith holocron, his eyes briefly turn red and the holocron opens.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is without a doubt the best episode of Star Wars Rebels ever produced, it's easily on par with the best episodes of The Clone Wars.  

Malachor is an amazing setting for the finale, with the planet beneath a planet that houses thousands of dead Jedi and Sith along with the gigantic temple, light only through cracks in the upper surface that create a star field with shafts of light streaming down in places.  There's very little information given across in the episode about Malachor in the episode, or what happened to the force user who were fighting there, and that's fine.  It adds a sense of mystery and foreboding to the alien landscape.  Malachor is unlike any other place we've been to in the television shows or films, it feel big and epic and scary and dangerous and it's a perfect place to have so much happen in this episode.

The reintroduction of Maul into the series is a genius idea.  Not only is it bringing back an all time fan favourite, but it's adding a new element to the mix that was missing before.  In the Clone Wars there were multiple factions beyond the Jedi and the Sith/Separatists, you had the Mandalorians, the bounty hunters, Maul and Savage, it felt like a bigger universe with layers.  

So far Rebels has pretty much focused on the empire and the rebellion.  Pirates will occasionally turn up from time to time, but are never a serious threat, just a minor obstacle.  Maul gives the writers of Rebels the chance to bring in a third party that can actually go on to make a lasting impact.  He's only been in the one episode so far and he's already made a huge impact with blinding Kanan alone.  

Without a doubt Maul will be returning for the third season, whether as an enemy or in some cases an uneasy ally again will remain to be seen, but one thing is certain, his effect on Ezra is not over.  With Ezra having dark side leanings since season one it would seem like Maul really helped to open the door to that part of Ezra's abilities, and whether in person or through the Force I'm sure that Maul will be trying to continue to reach out to him and bring him further into the dark side.

One of the most important parts of the episode has to be the confrontation between Ahsoka and Vader, something we all knew was coming when Ahsoka first appeared in the series.  Master and apprentice met once again, with devastating results.  

The moment when Ahsoka breaks open Vader's mask and seems Anakin beneath was chilling, and watching Ahsoka accept the truth that she has been trying to fight against most of the season is heartbreaking.  The fact that we also hear Anakin's real voice, once again provided by Matt Lanter from the Clone Wars, mixed in with his Darth Vader one adds to this.  She doesn't have the anger or sadness she showed during the events of 'Shroud of Darkness', instead it's almost like a calm settles over her as she accepts her fate.

I think Ahsoka knew that she couldn't beat Vader in a fight, but she chooses to stay with him instead of running with Kanan and Ezra through a sense of guilt for not being with him during the events of Revenge of the Sith.  She's shown in the past that she feels that she should have been with her friend when the Jedi fell, and her promise not to leave him is her trying to deal with this guilt.

Despite what some people are saying on the internet Ahsoka appears to have survived the fight with Vader, as we briefly see her entering one of the chambers beneath Malachor.  I do not think that her walking away from the screen into darkness is a metaphor for her being dead, I do not believe that it was her force ghost.  Ahsoka is one of the most beloved and important characters in the expanded Star Wars universe, and her death would not be left ambiguous or half seen, the creators would want to give her a fitting end.  Whilst her encounter with Vader here would have been one, the fact that we do not see her die leads me to believe that she must still be alive, and that we will see her again in season three.

The epic scope of the episode's visual scale and amazing fights were matched with it's music, with series composer Kevin Kiner producing some of the best work on the series to date.  He gives Malachor a creepy and haunted feel, but manages to ramp up the score for the lightsaber duels, even giving us pieces of 'Duel of the Fates' when Kanan and Ahsoka fight Maul.  It's the last scene of the episode where the music really stands out though, as we're given a montage of shots without a single line of dialogue.  Kiner's music works so well with these evocative images to create a sense of awe at what you've just seen, sadness at the 'loss' of Ahsoka, and anticipation for the next season.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is the best episode of Star Wars television.  It's also a great showcase for how to produce an amazing season finale story, one that takes what the season was building up and turns things up to eleven.  It gives more than I was expecting it to and set the bar for a lot of other shows this year.

Season two may have ended, but Rebels is far from finished as it sets the stage for some amazing storylines to come in the future.


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