“Shroud of Darkness” may end up being remembered as one of the great episodes of Star Wars Rebels. Many episodes of this show have been fine, but still standard children’s programming with single episodes telling a nice story about one or two characters. They’re fine, but come down to basic fun. “Shroud of Darkness” goes well beyond being mere entertainment, not only by advancing the overarching plot of Rebels but also by becoming a focal point of the entire Star Wars saga. This was quite possibly the Star Warsiest episode to date, and it was great.
After yet another fight with a pair of Inquisitors, Kanan Jarrus is tired of the growing Rebellion’s lack of a stable safe haven from which to hide from the Empire. In addition, he’s burdened by his ongoing concern for Ezra, who’s nearly killed in the fight. Taking refuge back on the Ghost, Kanan consults former padawan Ahsoka Tano for ideas on where to go for the future.
Kanan, Ahsoka, and Ezra determine to return the Jedi Temple on Lothal (last seen in Season One’s “Path of the Jedi”) where Kanan and Ezra briefly contacted Yoda. Their hope is that the old master can advise them on where to head next. The visit is rough on Ahsoka, who–sixteen years later–is still wounded from her sad final days in the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars series. Part of it is undoubtedly from her having been framed for murder, but moreover, she’s clearly still haunted by her memories of Anakin Skywalker. She spends her time watching his old training holocrons, and she tells Ezra that the last time she saw him was when he left to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (an overt nod to the opening of Revenge of the Sith). Thus, when it’s time to open the Jedi Temple, she chooses not to participate: she left the order, and it hurts to step back into it.
As the three force-users meditate on how to reach Yoda, their paths split. Kanan is summoned into a door only he can see, and Ezra vanishes into his own vision shortly thereafter, while Ahsoka is left to meditate on her own. Really, at this point the episode symbolically becomes about the various time periods of the Star Wars saga: the past, the present, and the future
Kanan’s part of the story deals with the future, for both his mission and his apprentice. His vision puts him in a Jedi Temple training room, where a Temple Guard taunts him about his impending failure as Ezra’s master. The team’s fighting is going to bring them to ruin, and Ezra will fall to the dark side of the Force. Kanan’s temperament doesn’t do much better (one of the lightsabers he grabs in the vision turns red, and we all know what that means) as he battles multiple Guards, who warn that Ezra must die before he turns. Kanan’s victory comes when he learns to no longer let his fear of the future control him. He’s been through this in prior episodes, but Kanan once again forcibly accepts that he can only train Ezra, not control him.
Two shocking moments happen here. One, the Temple Guard knights Kanan a full Jedi Knight (remember, he never got past Padawan). Two, the Guard reveals himself to be the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor who died over Mustafar in Season One’s climax. Moreover, he was once a Jedi Knight himself. This is pretty astonishing given how overtly evil he was last season, and he had no moment of redemption before his death. The only real baffling moment of the episode, this reveal is really going to have to be addressed in a future Rebels episode.
Meanwhile, Ezra makes contact with Yoda, who we actually see in this episode as opposed to his disembodied voice from “Path of the Jedi.” If Kanan’s part of the episode was about the future, then Ezra’s journey is about the present: the here and now of the Rebels saga. He’s anxious to learn from Yoda, and their interactions are friendly enough. However, Ezra eventually shows that his goals are exclusively to fight back against Vader and the Empire, missing a deeper lesson Yoda’s trying to impart. Apparently he’s missing the same thing Luke does in The Empire Strikes Back: Jedi defend, never attack. Disappointedly, Yoda advises him to go somewhere (more on that in a bit).
Finally, for Ahsoka, her journey is about the saga’s past as much as her own. She’s haunted by angry visions of Anakin, who blames her for abandoning their partnership just before the events of Revenge of the Sith. Palpably, Ahoska is overburdened by feelings of guilt that maybe the Clone Wars’ tragic end would have been different if she’s stayed with the Jedi. Worse, the vision crushes her with a single haunting question from Anakin, now replaced by a vision of Vader: “Do you know what I’ve become?” What Ahsoka suspected earlier in the season is now an undeniable reality for her.
All this gets interrupted by an attack from the two Inquisitors, who tracked the trio since the fight at the beginning of the episode. However, it’s the Grand Inquisitor’s ghost itself which engages his two former pawns so that the Jedi can get away. (“Shroud of Darkness” weirdly shows Force Ghosts to be much more interactive than the films and old Expanded Universe ever did.) Ahsoka at least earns a moment of peace on her way out, as she has a quick vision of Yoda who gives her a friendly goodbye. As Kanan has made peace with the future, so does Ahsoka get some measure of reconciliation with the past.
With their escape affected, Ezra reveals Yoda’s final instructions: the team must go to the planet Malachor. The full significance of this world isn’t revealed, but Kanan and Ahsoka definitely seem apprehensive about it.
- So, Malachor. In the “Legends” continuity, it was a planet where some awful, awful events happened in the Old Republic era, so going there doesn’t bode well for anyone. Oh, and it’s also the site of a massacre several thousands of years earlier, and it’s where Kylo Ren got the design for his sword.
- How awesome were all the classic voiceovers in this episode? Obviously Ashley Eckstein returned as Ahsoka, but we also got Matt Lanter reprising his role as Anakin from Clone Wars, Frank Oz once again doing Yoda, and James Earl Jones again getting a brief moment as Vader.
- On the other hand, the Rebels styling for Yoda looked terrible, neither resembling his film version nor his Clone Wars animation. This design could use some tweaking if Yoda appears again someday.
- Once again, we visit a rock planet. Every planet. I would kill for some grass and trees in a future episode.
- You know how this show is set in the five-year period before A New Hope? It recently came out that Rebels moved to three years before ANH sometime around the Princess Leia episode. (Ezra turned fifteen in Season One’s “Empire Day,” so somehow the show jumped a whole year and more since then.) We still have some time until Yavin, but this move makes it seem like this show could reach a conclusion sooner than we’d like. Then again, Clone Wars went for six seasons despite being set in a three-year war.
- It also occurs to me that, even with the new canon being relatively young, we haven’t seen any Inquisitors in the Original Trilogy era. That could change, but maybe Palpatine gets rid of them by that point.
- We’re on a break next week, and then two more (apparently Chopper-centric) episodes before the big finale.
Rating: Five Force Visions out of Five.