Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Star Wars Rebels reviews here.
Kanan and Ezra’s first visit to the Jedi Temple on Lothal resulted in one of the best episodes of Season 1. This week, their return to that Temple made “Shroud of Darkness” one of the best episodes of the series. “Shroud of Darkness” took advantage of Rebels‘s chronological placement in the saga and wove together past, present, and future for a fantastic, revelatory, and highly emotional episode.
The episode wasted no time getting down to business, picking up in the middle of an intense lightsaber duel between the teams of Kanan and Ezra and the Inquisitors. The scene deftly established several things: Kanan and Ezra’s growth as a team, Ezra’s own increasing Force powers, the Rebellion’s need for a new base, and the Inquisitors’ incessant presence at every turn preventing them from finding one. All of that was packaged in an excellent action sequence, making that information dump feel natural rather than heavy-handed exposition.
Feeling that their presence was endangering the Rebellion, Kanan and Ezra resolved to search for a way to defeat the Inquisitors—and Vader—and thus consulted Ahsoka for guidance. This led the trio to appeal to the only person who might have the knowledge they sought: Master Yoda. Back to the Lothal Jedi Temple we go! I found the setup to be organic and quite clever, as it positioned all three characters exactly where they needed to be to move the story and their own development forward.
On Lothal, each of the characters experienced a Force vision (all of them provided by Yoda, according to co-executive producer Henry Gilroy) uniquely tailored to their personal journeys. Thus, both Kanan and Ezra’s visions were in some way related to Ezra’s development as a Jedi, and shared a common message and warning, whereas Ahsoka’s was deeply personal.
In Ezra’s vision, he finally met Yoda in person (well, through the Force). This was a great encounter in which Yoda urged Ezra not to fight, showing him how the Clone Wars corrupted the Jedi into becoming unwitting agents of the dark side and their own downfall. But Ezra, who’d come for answers on how to fight and defeat the Inquisitors, was not deterred. It was only then that Yoda, with a heavy sigh, instructed Ezra to go to Malachor. Setting aside the major Legends-related implications of that namedrop, I found it interesting that Rebels keeps sowing the seeds for a possible dark side turn for Ezra. I’m not sure the show so far has done enough exploring that side of his character, but the potential is definitely there, and so is the foreshadowing.
The anti-fighting Jedi philosophy carried over to Kanan’s vision. In it, he was confronted by a Jedi Temple Guard who warned him: “Try to fight, and you will fail. You will die, and your apprentice will become a servant of evil.” It’s a pretty clear-cut message: fighting leads to the dark side, a path Ezra could already be on. This point was made even further by the Temple Guard unmasking, revealing the Grand Inquisitor’s face underneath. For the fans, it was confirmation that the Grand Inquisitor had indeed been part of the Jedi Order once. In-universe, it was a foreboding look at what might end up being Ezra’s fate.
As for Kanan, his duel with the Temple Guards ended with him learning the right lesson and choosing not to fight. This led to the Guards (and by extension Yoda) officially recognizing Kanan passing his own trials and knighting him. It was a cool scene for a character who was always described as an almost-Jedi, the Last Padawan who never became a real Jedi Knight. It is the maturation of his character arc. Though Yoda’s declaration that Luke was the “last of the Jedi” in Return of the Jedi seems more foreboding now that the technicality disqualifying Kanan has been removed. Of course, we don’t have to take his statement at face value, but still.
Ahsoka’s vision was not about Ezra or the Inquisitors. What Yoda chose to show her was the answer she had been seeking since “The Siege of Lothal”: Darth Vader was indeed Anakin Skywalker. It was a short but fantastic scene, with Matt Lanter reprising his role as Anakin’s voice, angrily accusing Ahsoka of selfishly abandoning him, before in a haunting and utterly broken voice saying, “… Do you know what I’ve become?” It was an incredibly emotional scene that left Ahsoka in tears, and left me with chills all over. This was the beginning of an end that has been building for 8 years.
One thing I loved about this episode is that despite referencing so much from the films and The Clone Wars, it still worked as a standalone. For example, showing us the training hologram with Anakin quickly introduced and established who Anakin was for any viewers who were unfamiliar with the larger Star Wars saga. There have been concerns that Rebels had become too much of a Clone Wars sequel, that there were too many cameos of old characters, but I feel that the writers have done an excellent job making Rebels work as a standalone show. Ahsoka was introduced as a member of the larger Rebellion and a former Jedi, only when she became relevant to our heroes’ story. Vader was introduced as a natural escalation of the Empire’s response to the Rebellion. And for those who didn’t know anything about him, Rebels made sure to make him a major intimidating villain and to play up the mystery of who he was, so that new viewers would be just as invested in Ahsoka’s discovery as Clone Wars fans were. And this episode strategically introduced us to Anakin in a seemingly offhand manner, before it paid off in Ahsoka’s vision. Do Clone Wars fans get a little extra enjoyment? Of course. But I don’t feel that the writing gets enough credit for the way Rebels has established itself as a show that works on its own.
Back to the episode, though, my favourite part was Yoda appearing to Ahsoka, raising his arm in farewell much like the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Ahsoka is the only main Rebels cast member who was part of the original group, which is what made that so heartwarming.
Still, Knowing Yoda orchestrated all of the visions, one has to wonder what he was telling Ahsoka. His message to Ezra was clear: fighting is not the Jedi way, but go to Malachor for more answers. His message to Kanan was also clear: you’re a Jedi Knight now, but be wary for your apprentice. Was his message to Ahsoka simply to give her the answer she was looking for? Or was he motivated by more?
This is the same person who withheld this very information from Luke. It’s possible, in this pre-Luke world, that Yoda wants Ahsoka to confront Vader. Whether he wants her to destroy him or turn him back at this point is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Ahsoka tries to turn Vader back and fails, and that’s why Yoda ends up lying to Luke and insisting he kill his father? Or was Yoda simply doing an old friend a favour, and I’m reading too much into a little goodbye wave?
The fact that “Shroud of Darkness” raised so many questions is one of the reasons it’s so great. This post is much longer than my TV reviews tend to be, because this 23-minute episode was absolutely packed. And if there was any question that darkness and danger were coming, Darth Vader’s return at the end eliminated all doubts. The season is nearing its end, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
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