Warning! Spoilers ahead! This recap obviously contains major plot details for Star Wars: Rebels episode 1.04 “Rise of the Old Masters”. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Well kids, here it is, the episode we’ve all been waiting for. After two great, but somewhat less compelling episodes, Star Wars: Rebels has rounded a corner in the minds of many fans, including myself. My biggest takeaway from “Rise of the Old Masters”? We’ve entered uncharted Star Wars storytelling and the franchise is going to be better off for it.
Interestingly enough, this episode actually retreads a lot of old ground in terms of the dialogue. The opening scene finally shows us the beginnings of Ezra’s “formal” Jedi training, with echoes of Luke’s initial training under Master Yoda. Karan shows frustration with Ezra’s lack of focus, much how Yoda did with Luke. The famous line, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” is used here. Thankfully, the episode manages to clarify this bit of dialogue, reinforcing it with a message of self confidence that plays well into the overall theme of the episode.
While “Fighter Flight” clearly focused on the dynamic between Ezra and Zeb, this week’s episode zeroed in on a much more complicated relationship. Zeb is written to be a kind of big brother to Ezra. In previous episodes, I felt that Kanan was also filling that role in some way, however I now understand that his role is much more paternal, with Kanan acting as more of a stepfather to Ezra than a big brother. Throughout the episode, we see that relationship evolve and find its footing by the end. It’s plain to see that these two characters need each other, but are unsure how to express those feelings. It’s a great way to explore the complexity of father-son relationships in the context of what some people still refer to as a “kiddie” show.
Of course, some of the situations presented in “Rise of the Old Masters” couldn’t possibly be any less kiddie. While we’re not getting into evil rituals, sacrifice and the like (see The Clone Wars, season six), this episode delves into some dark places that are on par with what fans have come to expect lately. After some comedic bits featuring Chopper turning into a batting cage machine, the gang gets an underground message from Senator Gall Trayvis (Brent Spiner). The senator reveals that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli, a hero of the Clone Wars long presumed dead, is actually alive and being held in a maximum security prison on the planet Stygeon Prime. Our heroes decide to free Master Unduli, with Kanan feeling that she will make a better teacher for Ezra.
I felt that this plot line was brilliantly presented and executed. Dangling the prospect of the crew adding another Jedi to their ranks was so tantalizing for the audience. What’s more is that Luminara is a fan favorite, making the coming revelation even more shocking. Upon reaching her cell, Kanan and Ezra find a very sad-looking, mute Luminara in orange prison clothing. She gets up and, after giving a heartbreaking glance to her would-be rescuers, walks toward a coffin-shaped apparatus on the wall. She then dissolves into it and we’re shown what appears to be the frozen, decomposed face of the old Jedi Master. It’s a very haunting moment, and it lets us know that the show’s creators aren’t afraid to tread some very sinister ground, as the Inquisitor explains that “her bones continue to serve the Empire, luring the last Jedi to their ends.” It’s also unfamiliar Star Wars storytelling, the fact that even a long-dead Jedi still carries traces of the Force. Could we be seeing story elements to be used in Episode VII? Only time will tell.
Speaking of the Inquisitor, I can honestly say that I love this character right from the get-go. As much as I originally thought of him as a Vader wannabe, this guy is a much different kind of evil. The Inquisitor carries with him an air of cold confidence, as seen in his slow yet deliberate pursuit of Kanan and Ezra down the hallway, red lightsaber in hand. It’s not arrogance, as many a Sith have exuded, but plain and simple self-confidence that he’s on the right side of history by serving the Empire. His brand of evil is a much more deductive, logical one as opposed to Vader’s hatred and self-loathing. To him, the dark side just makes sense (“…there is another path: the dark side…Have you taught him nothing?”). I love how this episode introduced the Inquisitor in such a creepy context, but held him back just enough to leave us wanting more. Finally, I can’t move on without acknowledging Jason Isaac’s wonderful performance. Excellent casting decision!
Technically speaking, this episode was banging on all cylinders. As was the case last week, we saw very limited set pieces in this episode. Activity time: focus on this next time and try to count how many unique sets are in an episode, then compare that with any one episode of The Clone Wars. Trust me, you’ll be surprised. Again though, this doesn’t work against the show. It only proves that good storytelling can indeed be done with an economical effects budget.
The lightsaber action was spot on here. Really, it’s much more deliberate with less flourish and acrobatics than fans have gotten used to in recent years. This, to me, sets the stakes higher for each fight. I really felt for the first time that these characters were in danger. As for the Inquisitor’s TRON-esque lightsaber? It was used with enough restraint so as to keep me from rolling my eyes, so I’m good with it. I’ve seen negative comments online regarding the thin sabers as well; to that I say go watch A New Hope. Last of all from a technical perspective, Filoni and the gang clearly understand that sometimes less is more when it comes to the score. It’s really amazing to see how, even in a 22-minute episode, limiting the scenes with musical scoring gives scenes with heavy dialogue more room to breathe. Bringing the music back in then moves the audience more naturally into the fast-paced action sequences. No matter what anyone says, these episodes do not have pacing issues.
If you’ve been having doubts about Rebels, I really hope “Rise of the Old Masters” fixed that for you. It was a much-needed foray into more substantial storytelling that moved the show forward by leaps and bounds. I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, “Breaking Rank” to keep that momentum going.
Come join me back here each and every week as I recap weekly episodes. Also, leave a comment or tweet at me @dtippetts or @rotoscopers to get in on the discussion in between episodes and possibly have your input featured in an upcoming recap!
Here’s what loyal reader aquapyro had to say about last week’s episode “Fighter Flight”:
“The Rebels showcase a rare thing found in animation shows and that is family. Its really entertaining to see how unique e everyone are and how they work as a family.”