Other than “The Call,” the last four or five episodes of Star Wars Rebels have been pretty great, primarily focused on individual members on the Ghost crew (as well as Kallus) and having them face some uneasy revelations about their pasts. It hasn’t done too much in terms of broader narratives, but the more intimate character studies have been a welcome treatment thus far. “Shroud of Darkness” continues that tact by focusing on the three Jedi (well, two: Ahsoka mentions she isn’t a Jedi, but technically, neither are Kanan or Ezra), and while the episode is more about reveals, table-setting, and foreshadowing, it still manages to be an intriguing outing, if because the specific things that the three Jedi confront are powerful, and genuinely invoke an impact.
Apparently, the Inquisitors have been “tracking” Kanan his crew for while now, which is kind of laughable, since 1) we’ve hardly seen the Fifth Brother or Seventh Sister in action all that much, and 2) every encounter with them was handled fairly readily by the crew. They’re not really a threat, but since this episode wants us to assume they are, I guess we’ll buy it. It allows for a pretty decent fight sequence early on, showcasing a good mix of Force moves and techniques that feel… fulfilling, in a way. It also shows that Ezra has definitely grown as a fighter, and has a stronger handle on his abilities: he communicates with one of the winged creatures so he and Kanan can escape upon it.
Confused by how they’re constantly being tracked, Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka head off to the Jedi temple on Lothal to get some answers/guidance. Here, things get a little quieter, but a bit more tense, as writer Henry Gilroy spends a surprising amount of time really exploring each of these characters and their individual place in their relationship to the Force. ”Shroud of Darkness” sort of does an analysis based on each Jedi’s level within the Force: Kanan and Ahsoka are roughly the same age (I think), but it provides a “novice” vision for Ezra, an “intermediate” vision for Kanan, and an “expert” one for Ahsoka herself.
The rumor early this season centered on pushing Ezra more and more up against the Dark Side (there were a few moments during the season where the young padawan engaged in some dark moments), and his brief talk with Yoda seems to gently confirm this. Even in his quasi-spiritual state, Yoda comments on what seems to be regret on allowing the Jedi to take a firm side in the Clone Wars, a stance that arguably has been questioned more or less through The Clone Wars show and, somewhat, on this show as well. And it’s a tough road for Star Wars to go down: after spending a lot of franchise time defined by heroes of light and beings of darkness, opening up the moral quagmire of war is some tough nuance to crack. In a way, Rebels’ narrow focus helps, letting that struggle take place only within a few select character. Here, Ezra passionately defends using his Jedi skill to fight no matter what, and it’s a tone that the episode strikes as maybe not the morally righteous. Yoda, unable to reach him, simply tells him to head to Malachor for more answers.
This connects to both Kanan’s and Ahsoka’s visions. Kanan, in his own way, has gotten caught up in the heroics of being a Jedi, and to be clear, this is an admirable mindset. Yet the Force battles Kanan’s passion for protection through the spirits of Jedi temple guards, forcing Kanan to accept some humility in this regard–that he can’t always protect those around him (namely Ezra), and can only do the best he can. (This parallels the lesson he learned back in “Rise of the Old Masters.”) As for Ahsoka: she all but receives confirmation that Darth Vader is her former Jedi master. While it would have been good to see more of Ahsoka’s reaction to this revelation than a close-up of her tear-soaked face (the animation, god-bless it, doesn’t give this the visual justice it deserves), it does bring Ahsoka face-to-face with her choice to leave the Order, and the guilt that decision must bring to her. (Good on the episode to start with a scene of her watching an old Anakin hologram: it’s a bit heavy-handed but subtle, and allows for her later vision to have more of an impact). The three Jedi have some soul-searching to do, and Malachor may have the answers they seek, answers that go far beyond why the Inquisitors continue to find them. It’s telling that that question is never answered.
- According to my brief research, Malachor is mentioned in the Star Wars universe twice: once in “Missing in Action,” an episode in the quite-terrible Void Arc of the fifth season of The Clone Wars. It’s also mentioned in two video games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Commander. I’m shocked that the show acknowledged a part of Star Wars that was utilized in video games, but I’ve never got a chance to play them. So it’s up to you commentors to school me about the planet’s significance, if any.
- Seriously, though, that Void Arc is awful. I get the need to occasionally do something for the younger kids, but it was just so long and tedious, and those Droid characters (and their leader, Colonel Gascon) were pretty much unbearable.
- The temple guard that “knights” Kanan is the Grand Inquisitor from the first season, who apparently was once a real temple guard. It’s difficult to ascertain what this means: did the Grand Inquisitor learn his lesson in his death? Is this just Force vision shenanigans? Most likely, the use of the Grand Inquisitor–who could “read” Kanan like a book–was the perfect figure to teach Kanan another hard lesson.
- Darth Vader shows up at the end, who claims their soul-searching will be their undoing. Ominous for sure, but the more Darth, the better.