Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Star Wars Rebels reviews here.
What an emotional rollercoaster. “Twilight of the Apprentice”, the long-anticipated Star Wars Rebels Season 2 finale, pushed our heroes to their limits and delivered the kind of payoff that only years of fantastic character-driven storytelling can deliver.
A lot of things happened in “Twilight of the Apprentice”. Fan favourite characters returned. Secrets were revealed, and new, deeper mysteries emerged. Some characters died, while others changed forever. And it culminated in an epic and emotional clash 8 years in the making.
In a very Dante’s Inferno meets Indiana Jones type of story, Ezra descended into Hell and was tempted by a devil to retrieve an evil artifact. Hell in this case being the ancient Sith Temple on Malachor, a desolate place filled with the scorched remains of an age-old battle, whose mystery was a great added element to Star Wars lore. And the horned, red-skinned devil was none other than Darth Maul.
Maul’s return, though unfortunately spoiled by a far too much promotional material, was awesome and very welcome. Maul was a one-dimensional character in The Phantom Menace, but every subsequent appearance in The Clone Wars had added a layer of depth that made him compelling beyond his intimidating appearance and powerful skills. His return in Rebels was no different, as “Twilight of the Apprentice” revealed yet another side to the former Sith Lord.
Maul no longer identified as Sith, and in fact declared them enemies, which was a perfect bit of characterization for this discarded apprentice. He was older, perhaps wiser, and willing to work alongside our heroes with surprising sincerity, if only up to a point. Yet underneath all of that, he was still the lying, manipulative, power-hungry villain we’d left in The Clone Wars. Maul was one of the many highlights of this episode, a huge testament to what these Star Wars animated shows have done for a character who’d started off with the cool factor but nothing more.
As for Ezra, I was concerned that his turn to the dark side, heavily implied in the trailers, would be rushed in the finale. Though there were hints of it throughout the past two seasons, Ezra’s inner darkness was not enough of a focus on the show for a genuine transformation to feel justified at this point. Which is why I was very grateful to see that “Twilight of the Apprentice” was the beginning, rather than the end, of a potential dark side turn. It all played out much better than I’d thought, with Ezra tapping into his anger even as he resisted Maul’s teachings. This slow burn made the moment when he opened the Sith holocron at the very end of the episode—a mirror of him opening the Jedi holocron in the premiere two years ago—feel legitimately earned.
There were many lightsaber duels in “Twilight of the Apprentice”, most of which featuring multiple combatants. Seeing Maul in battle again, with a double-bladed lightsaber no less, was incredibly cool, whether he was fighting alongside Ahsoka and Kanan or against them. And these duels had legitimate consequences. Three Inquisitors, including the Seventh Sister and Fifth Brother, were killed. And Kanan was blinded, probably for good, which led to a fantastic yet far too brief one-on-one duel in which he exemplified the Jedi teaching of relying on the Force rather than his senses to defeat Maul.
The best lightsaber duel, and the strongest part of the episode, was between Ahsoka and Darth Vader. Everything about that sequence was perfect. The initial confrontation. “Our long-awaited meeting has come at last.” Ahsoka still fighting her knowledge that Anakin was Vader, declaring that she’d avenge her master. Vader, still treating her like his padawan even now, telling her that revenge was not the Jedi way. Ahsoka’s powerful “I am no Jedi.” And the duel itself.
The highlight of the confrontation, the best scene in both Rebels and The Clone Wars, and the pinnacle of 8 years of storytelling, was the end of that duel. The animation in that scene was impeccable. As Ahsoka partially unmasked Vader and was about to leave with Kanan and Ezra, Vader reached out, in a voice that was a perfect mixture of James Earl Jones and Matt Lanter’s, and said her name. “Ahsoka.” And that’s when she turned back and told her former master, “I won’t leave you. Not this time.” That alone damn near brought me to tears. Followed by Vader’s chilling response, “Then you will die.” And when Ahsoka Force-pushed Ezra away, the Temple walls closing around her and Vader, as she faced her destiny alone… I was broken.
It might seem like I’m recapping what happened rather than offering any commentary on it… and that’s because I am. The scene speaks for itself, far too powerful on its own for me to describe it.
I will say that the decision to use Anakin’s voice and his eyes was genius. For the first time in Star Wars history, any hint of a disconnect between Anakin and Vader was completely gone. Any detachment one might feel thanks to that black mask, wiped away. Hearing Matt Lanter’s voice coming from behind that mask, the same voice we’d heard throughout The Clone Wars, truly cemented the idea that this was Anakin fighting Ahsoka. And that’s what made this confrontation so heartbreaking.
I also want to praise the decision to not have it play out in a way that hinted at any good in Vader. It would have been so easy, and would still have pleased many, to imitate his confrontation with Luke. Have Vader express some regret and ask Ahsoka to join him. But Filoni knows how these characters work. Much like Obi-Wan was never allowed to express true emotion in The Clone Wars in order to preserve the uniqueness of “You were the chosen one!” in Revenge of the Sith, any hint of redemption within Vader needed to remain buried to maintain the impact that Luke will have on him. No matter what their relationship was, Ahsoka was a reminder of a past Vader wanted to forget. He had no desire but to kill her.
But… did she die? We saw Vader limping away from the ruins (an awesome shot) and a glimpse of Ahsoka walking into the darkness of the temple, which could be a metaphorical image or some sort of Force vision… or she could have survived. It was a question left intentionally ambiguous, which upset some viewers, and pleased others. I’m not sure how I feel. I did think “Twilight of the Apprentice” was a fitting last stand for Ahsoka. But I love the character too much to let her go, which could be exactly what Dave Filoni felt about his beloved creation. One thing is clear, though: Ahsoka’s gone, at least as far as Rebels is concerned, and if she comes back, it won’t be for a long time. We’ll just have to come up with an answer ourselves in the meantime.
I don’t want to end this review without mentioning the music. Kevin Kiner outdid himself, weaving Ahsoka’s theme and the Imperial March in a fantastic way, and even dropping bits of “Duel of the Fates” in some of Maul’s scenes. It was all excellent.
Considering what was in this episode—Darth Maul! Darth Vader! Ahsoka versus Anakin!—”Twilight of the Apprentice” could have easily spiraled into meaningless fanservice and failed. But Dave Filoni has a knack for taking episodes that seem like a child mashed their favourite Star Wars toys together and making them work with incredibly strong storytelling. And that’s exactly what he did in “Twilight of the Apprentice”, a superb hour of Star Wars television featuring both major emotional payoffs as well as severe consequences the effects of which will be felt for a long time. I can’t wait for Season 3.
Rating: 5/5 (Perfect)
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