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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

'Rebels' Proves Television is Where 'Star Wars' is Truly Innovating

*SPOILER ALERT for the latest Star Wars Rebels episodes*

Star Wars Rebels is rapidly approaching its series finale next week, and the latest episodes have proved how great and relevant this show really is. Last week saw the long-dreaded death of series mainstay Kanan Jarrus in "Jedi Night" as he sacrificed himself to save Ezra, Sabine, and his soulmate Hera, followed by "DUME," an episode that let the crew sort through their grief in different ways, before finally banding together again to continue their fight against the Empire.
But it was Monday night's "Wolves and a Door" and "A World Between Worlds" that truly changed what we thought we knew about Star Wars—both in terms of the nature of the Force and how innovative and abstract the franchise can get. The penultimate episodes brought in Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Ian McDiarmid himself) for his series debut, finally shed light on the fate of Ahsoka Tano, and introduced legitimate time travel to the Star Wars universe in a way that somehow worked.

Wolves, portals, and a tantalizing return

After transporting by way of Loth-wolf to the Lothal Jedi Temple, Sabine and Ezra found a mural of the Ones—the Daughter, Father, and Son of Mortis who were first seen in one of The Clone Wars' best episode arcs. With some key input from Sabine, Ezra used the Force to activate the door into the Temple and the painting moved, with the Loth-wolves forming a round portal into another dimension.
Ezra entered "the world between worlds," an endless, starry plane between time and space that echoed with the voices of the past and the future. Spotting a familiar convor, Ezra found a gate that looked onto the end of the duel between Ahsoka and Darth Vader in the crumbling Sith temple on Malachor—the part that we didn't see in "Twilight of the Apprentice." Just as Vader was about to deal the final blow, Ezra instinctively reached through and pulled Ahsoka into the world between worlds, saving her life. 
Ezra explained the situation to a bewildered Ahsoka and soon realized that there was someone else he could save, too. He found a portal that opened to Kanan's final moments, but Ahsoka pointed out that saving him would just result in Ezra's death (and create a good ol' fashioned time paradox). She pleaded with him to let go of Kanan, and he reluctantly followed her advice. "You can't save your master," she said. "And I can't save mine."
Unlike "Twilight," Anakin and Ahsoka's relationship wasn't one of the focuses of this episode, but this line seems to have brought it to a close. She'd gone from loving him as her master, to (literally) turning her back on him and the Order, to discovering – though not truly believing – that he had fallen to the Dark Side, to facing that evil head-on, and then, finally, to accepting that she couldn't save him from what he had become. It was as huge a moment of growth for Ahsoka as it was for Ezra.

But another presence suddenly appeared in the portal: the Emperor, who was seeking to enter the world between worlds and use its incredible power to control past and future events. Using a method of Sith magic first glimpsed in "Sacrifice," The Clone Wars' Season 6 finale, he sent torrents of fiery blue energy at them. Ahsoka promised to find Ezra later and ran through her portal back to Malachor with little time having passed, while Ezra returned to Lothal and closed the door to the world between worlds, causing the Temple to collapse.
Time travel hasn't exactly been off-limits to Star Wars before; there's a long history of Force visions foreshadowing future events and giving us glimpses of the past. But never before has anyone been able to tangibly interact with the past, and even irrevocably interfere with massive events such as Ahsoka and Vader's duel. 

This also answered the question of what the hell happened to Ahsoka (which has been brewing for two years) in a thoroughly unpredictable manner, while still leaving her future wide open. Now we know the context of that infamous "Twilight" tease of Ahsoka limping back into the Sith temple – she was wounded from both Vader and the Emperor, but resolved to find her way back to Ezra – but we still have no idea what she's been doing since then. 
Has she been stranded on Malachor like Maul was for many years, or – more likely – has she been avoiding the Ghost crew because she carries the knowledge of their future (particularly Kanan's death)? Does that mean she'll return to lend them a hand in next week's finale, or will another Star Wars animated or comic series chronicle her next adventures? Either way, Ahsoka's story is far from over. 

What the world between worlds tells us about the Star Wars franchise

First thing's first: the world between worlds isn't a game-changing plot device that we can expect to appear in more Star Wars stories soon. It's a painfully huge concept for any filmmaker or writer to borrow, and Rebels seemed to imply that it's been permanently closed off from the galaxy (though there's still probably some Force trick to accessing it). Rather, it's a testament to how much deeper the franchise can go in its television than in its film. 
A place ringing with the voices of everyone from Yoda to Maz Kanata, Qui-Gon Jinn to Jyn Erso? Where characters and events from every on-screen piece of the Star Wars canon meet? Forget cross-galaxy Force projections and tangible ghosts; this is the kind of jaw-dropping, never-before-seen Force action that Rian Johnson only touched on in The Last Jedi.

It's not that the people at Lucasfilm Animation are necessarily more creative and talented than those who work on the movies, it's just that they're not restricted by the pressure to turn a huge budget into a profitable feature film. As cool and totally appropriate it would be for Rey and Kylo Ren to visit the world between worlds in the Skywalker saga finale, it's just so weird that it would never be allowed to happen, out of fear of it alienating moviegoers who expect more concrete Star Wars action.
The Clone Wars and Rebels are where we can get storylines like Mortis, the Nightsisters of Dathomir, the Wellspring of Life, the Force-neutral Bendu, the Loth-wolves, and the world between worlds, each of which changes our understanding of the Force and its balance. Not to mention characters like Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra who are so popular because they've gotten hours upon hours of character development through television.
The lesson for fans? Keep on watching Star Wars movies for the epic stories and high-budget cinematic visuals, but we can only expect the really weird Star Wars stories, ones that challenge what we know about this galaxy, ones that take their time to build up lovable characters and beautiful relationships, from the animated series. All the sequels and prequels and spinoffs may the most important part of the franchise's future, but television is where some of its very best stories are being told.
What did you think of these Rebels episodes? When and where do you think we'll see Ahsoka next? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

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