You may have noticed that we didn’t review Episode #2.16 so far. Shroud of Darkness is a remarkable episode with huge foreshadowing of tonight’s season 2 finale. I will review it now but with a look forward, speculating on what we will see tonight. A finale that may be the most profound Canon story since … Revenge of the Sith.
Instead of just reviewing the episode I will discuss the events in Shroud of Darkness and their possible implications for the Season finale by person. You might recognise the format I use from a well-known Star Wars film novelisation.
Ezra & Yoda
This is what it is like to be Ezra at the moment: “you are growing impatient with the Force, you are determined to fight the Empire because of the constant threat it poses to your newly found family, because of what it did to your birth-family. You have experienced in your interaction with the Purgills that you can find powerful allies in the world around you, even some who have seemingly ‘unnatural’ abilities. You can bond with them if you allow them to bond with you. Your experience on the finding of Lirasan has shown you the Force is larger than just Jedi or Sith, that even seemingly silly individuals can hold great wisdom in the Force, that you can move of if you are willing to be a Fool, a Child and then also a Warrior. You know how important family is, that you would do everything for them. But you also have realised that fathers do not always act in the best interest of their children if their minds are set on higher missions. Yes, you have seen they may even betray you! You have not yet learned to see the human in your enemy, as your friend Zeb has. This is what it is to be Ezra while you enter the Temple on Lothal.”
In the Temple on Lothal Ezra has a vision in which he communes with Yoda. To Yoda the fact that Ezra can see him is further evidence of Ezra’s strengthening force-abilities but also of the increasing threat to Ezra’s balance. Yoda warns him for the simplistic interpretations of what it means to ‘fight’ and to ‘win’. This lesson partially repeats what Kanan was trying to tell Ezra when they were sparring in an earlier episode. Ezra’s question to Kanan; “Since when are you my enemy?” has not been answered yet. From the look on Yoda’s face and the way he shakes his head when Ezra re-affirms his desire to ‘fight’ it almost seems as if the Jedi Master is ready to give up on Ezra.
Yoda sends Ezra to Malachor evidently in the belief that there Ezra will learn a lesson about the futility of violence and war. Yoda explained Ezra how he was misled by his fears during the Clone Wars, we now indeed see a Yoda who has learned the lessons from his adventures on Dagobah, the planet of the Midichlorians and Moraband, the Sith homeworld, just before the end of the Clone Wars. But Ezra does not seem open to this teaching. And thus he sends Ezra to see the scourge of war with his own eyes on the scarred planet Malachor. But he does not send the boy alone into that abyss where unknown temptations may be present in the form of an Old Master. Within he will send a Jedi Knight and another Force-user as belonging to him.
Kanan & the Grand Inquisitor
This is what it is like to be Kanan at the moment: “You are growing increasingly worried about your padawan. Not only do your doubt your own ability to teach him, after all your own training was even never completed. But you also see his skills exceed yours and in the daily life of your Rebellion Ezra takes the initiative more and more. So you wonder where your Padawan’s confidence ends and his over-confidence begins. Your feel responsible like a father and you know the worries of your partner Hera. Her expectations of keeping Ezra in check also weigh on your shoulders. You know she hates to see you go and expects you to bring the boy home, safely. You will do anything to keep your family together and you will fight to protect Ezra from harm or temptation, but you doubt your strength not your resolve. This is what it is to be Kanan as you enter the Temple on Lothal.”
In the Temple Kanan also has a Force-vision in which he meets Temple Guards. The temple guard lectures him about the danger that Ezra poses for whatever is left of the Jedi. Although it is not said explicitly, you can read between the lines the worry what chances the Jedi Order would have if Ezra would turn to the Dark side knowing or sensing where Yoda is. Only when the survival of the Order is at stake could you imagine a Temple Guard demanding the murder of a young Padawan. The Temple Guard and Kanan fight, at some point with Kanan even wielding a red lightsaber. The message is clear: Kanan’s attachment to Ezra threatens his ability to see clearly. Kanan intuitively recognizes that if he cannot stand to his own limitations, then he will fall to the dark. It is this act, of recognising his hubris that opens up the path for the first real surprise of this episode: Kanan is knighted by the Temple Guards.
One dilemma of Kanan is thus resolved. His doubts about whether he would have the strength to protect Ezra from the dark and whether he has the authority to teach him are now answered: he must accept that protecting Ezra is not a matter of Kanan’s strength but only something Ezra can do himself but his authority to teach his padawan is confirmed by his knighting. Yet one dark cloud looms over his future in a dire warning uttered by the Temple Guard twice: if Kanan cannot let go of Ezra it will be Kanan’s death! This warning comes from the Temple Guard who then outs himself as the former identity of the Grand Inquisitor of Season 1. That is the second big surprise of the episode.
What are we to make of that? The Grand Inquisitor warning Kanan that holding on to this boy may cost him his life. It comes from the man who himself spoke last words at his own death to the effect that ‘there are far worse things than death’. It makes me worry that Kanan could be moving into a situation where for him there is no good outcome possible of their next mission. I could see a scenario where he cannot protect Ezra from losing his way and yet sacrifices himself to keep the slimmest of chances open that in the end things will not all fall apart. Surviving but losing Ezra and Ahsoka might be one such situation that for Kanan is worse than death.
Ahsoka & Anakin
This is what it is like to be Ahsoka at the moment: “Your feelings tell you that you are far deeper entangled in the mess surrounding the inquisitors and their Sith Lord boss than your know. In fact, you have felt what your heart so far refuses to acknowledge. One whose memory you hold very dear is no longer what he once was. His virtues turned to vices. You are trying to avoid that conclusion because if you draw it, you don’t know what to do even though you will feel very compelled to do something. You have mustered your skills over the past years and though Inquisitors are no match for you, you also know you are no match for your former Master even when he would not draw on the dark side. You have so many questions, but none that you can ask as long as you do not acknowledge what your heart already knows. This is what it is to be Ahsoka as you enter the Temple on Lothal.”
In the Temple on Lothal Ahsoka has two Force visions, unlike Kanan and Ezra. Before entering she once more underlines how she is no longer a Jedi. Ahsoka did not just leave the Order, despite what she says, she also feels cast out. Her departure from the Order has filled her with a mix of rejection of the Order but also guilt for leaving Anakin behind. It is however Anakin that brings up the issue of guilt. In her first Force vision she hears his voice accusing her of abandoning him. The way he speaks it is not like a Sith Lord taunting an apprentice to be turned to the dark, it is an agonised human who rages internally because of what he has become. When he finally say that to her, his voice is filled with self-loathing and equal guilt. This is not the confident Vader of Bespin trying to convert his son, neither the Vader in a state of denial on Mustafar trying to bring his wife on his side. This is an agonized Vader on the banks of a lava river whose flesh is scourged while is heart is scourged by anger directed at Obi Wan who says he loved him.
This Anakin brings Ahsoka to tears and she silently weeps on the Temple floor. But this Anakin also makes Ahsoka realize there is still something she can do. Having accepted what she knew to be true, clarity comes to her as what her options are. She runs out of the collapsing Temple, but with a new conviction in her step and her heart. When she looks back for a moment she has her second force vision: Yoda, who is waving at her. She nods in response with the faintest of smiles. It is her acknowledgement that she is still part of the world from which Yoda and the Council expelled her more than a decade ago. It is in a sense Yoda’s answer to the question she asks Yoda in his force vision near the end of the Clone Wars when he wanders through the Halls of Extinction. There Ahsoka asks Yoda whether she is a Jedi, whether she will become with the Force after her death. Yoda cannot answer there … but here he waves at her in a silent recognition.
Ahsoka’s new determination highlight something that many previewers seem to completely overlook. I guess the majority of people in the Star Wars community expect a Ahsoka v.s. Vader battle that ends in a dramatic and heroic death for Ahsoka, probably saving Kanan and Ezra from Vader in the process. That could of course be. But that in a sense completely ignores what this means for Vader. I think the season finale is going to be as much a challenge for him as it will be for Ahsoka. It will be a contest that is not decided by their skills with a lightsabre.
Great Canon Events ahead
When Ahsoka, Kanan and Ezra leave the Ghost crew behind as Sabine & Hera watch them take off you can clearly hear a musical queue from Battle of the Heroes. I think that is wholy appropriate. For those who have been following CLone Wars and now Rebels this season finale promises to be an event in Canon Star Wars as we have not seen one since Revenge of the Sith. I deliberately discount The Force Awakens here, since the consequences of the canon-character death we see there have remained fully unexplored as of yet. The implications of the events on Mustafar between Anakin, Obi Wan and Padme have provided the fuel for the entire Original Trilogy to run on.
As Ahsoka, Kanan and Ezra run out of the Temple they are running towards this Season 2 finale on Malachor and into a season 3 that will run alongside Rogue One and will in part share its timeline. Season 3 will no doubt deal with the implications of tonight’s finale in a massive way and I expect season 3 to tie into Rogue One. I would not be surprised if, knowingly or unknowingly, some of the things we see tonight will foreshadow aspects of Rogue One.
But even when we ignore that dimension: I think Ezra has little idea what expects him on Malachor and he is very open and susceptible now to straying from the Jedi path. He needs only a little nudge to re-order the puzzle pieces of the past years and fit them together to a new picture. He needs only someone who is good with words and who can convincingly argue for a ‘third way’ between, or outside, the Jedi and the Sith, who knows the Force and could ensnare our young Jedi Padawan. We all know that just such a person is hiding in the massive shadows of Malachor: Maul!
I think we might see Ezra go onto a path of which he will not return any time soon, possibly never. We might see Kanan making the ultimate sacrifice to allow Ahsoka an escape from Darth Vader. We might see a third inquisitor who could also turn out to be a familiar face from the Clone Wars that is all to familiar to Ahsoka. Which ever of the many possible futures will be realised tonight … I have a feeling it will not only shake our understanding of the A New Hope galaxy as we know it. I suspect we will see revelations that directly impact on The Force Awakens. We will find out when Twitter and Facebook explode in a few hours. Enjoy! Have fun!