Of all the various trust issues that Star Wars Rebels have dealt with, there has been an important one that hasn’t been addressed, not until now. We’ve seen the issues between Ezra and Kanan, Ezra and Zeb, and Hera and Sabine, but we’ve never dealt with Ezra and himself. On the surface, this sounds lame, but it’s key to understanding exactly who Ezra is, why he is the way he is, and what conflicts, both internal and external, that he will have to deal with on his way to becoming both an adult and a Jedi.
“Gathering Forces” isn’t just the conclusion to “Empire Day,” but the culmination of events and themes established in the previous eight episodes, particularly when it comes to Ezra as a character. We’ve seen him act cocky, brash, and a tad bit whiny—all the “typical” attributes of a teenager. He’s also masking a lot of pain, confusion, and insecurity, which are attributes of teens as well (particularly orphan teens). Rebels has successfully blended the conflicts and feelings inherent to the adolescent with the mythology and lore of the Star Wars franchise, without coming off cloying, lazy and/or contrived.
At the end of last week’s episode, Ezra is in state of shock after Tseebo reveals that he knows what happened to his parents, all of which occurs while he and the Ghost crew are being chased by the Inquisitor and his men. It’s probably the show’s most intense space battle sequence, the scene ratcheting up the problems one bit at time—more TIE Fighters arrive, Chopper is out of commission, Imperial Ships appear in front of them, and the Nav-computer is down (preventing them from jumping to light-speed). All the while, Ezra attempts to process the fact that Tseebo knows what happened to his parents. And he refuses it.
Ezra doesn’t just refuse it; he turns the reveal against Tseebo himself, exerting misguided logic and teenage emotions onto the innocent Rodian, blaming him for failing to protect his parents and himself. Of course, as a viewer, the idea of a regular citizen in any way standing up to the Empire is ludicrous; the rest of the Ghost crew admits as much. Yet Ezra is so confused and disturbed—much like the chaotic space battle around them—that all he can do is throw the blame outward instead of accepting that there are just some events that one cannot change. He further walls himself off by absolutely committing to the idea that his parents are dead, that because he raised himself on the streets, he is a stronger and more capable person, the person who he is today.
Ezra isn’t wrong. After all, we are the sum total of our life experiences. Yet questions remain: are we truly the best we can be? Can we still change for the better? This is where Kanan comes in. After Tseebo fixes the Nav-computer, the crew jumps to hyper-space, only to discover that a tracking device has been attached to the Phantom. Kanan plans to take Ezra and fly the Phantom out to the abandoned base from “Out of Darkness,” where they can take control of the vicious creatures and hopefully take out their pursuers.
I love that Kanan continues to come up with poorly thought-out plans. They aren’t dumb plans, but they are reckless, and I think part of it has to do with his Force connection—Jedi are able to engage with danger with a bit more ease than regular people. Kanan also mistakenly things Ezra should, too. He puts Ezra face-to-face with the monsters around him, forcing him to connect with the beasts so that he and Kanan can control them. Ezra indeed overcomes his emotions, no longer blaming Tseebo and forgiving him, surpassing his internal blockage and unites with the Force, subduing the beasts. Kanan’s plan works! A little too well.
Kanan fails to realize that overcoming emotions is different from controlling them. Ezra has come to terms with his past, but the present—with the Inquisitor easily besting the beasts and Kanan—still terrifies him. Still lacking any concept of “the dark side,” Ezra instinctively taps into that fear and anger, summoning the big beastie above (in what is by far the show’s strongest visual). Even the Inquisitor, who encouraged Ezra to tap into his dark side, is taken by surprise. Kanan manages to grab an overwhelmed Ezra and escape, but it’s too late: the kid had his first taste of the dark side. It may have knocked him unconscious, but we all know what just a little taste of that Sith power can lead to.
There’s an air of discomfort by the end of this episode. Sure, Tseebo has been handed over to Fulcrum, and Kanan and Ezra escape the Inquisitor, but the kind of power Ezra exhibited seems to have Kanan on edge (he soothingly forgives Ezra on the Phantom, but has a more urgent tone when he tells Hera, “We need to talk.”) The prequels noted that young Vader was too old when he started Jedi training, so it looks like the older, more emotionally-wrought teen will make his training a lot more complex. And dangerous.
- “… it’s learning like you do best—by surviving.” Kanan isn’t a great teacher, but he does recognize Ezra’s ability to grasp concepts during life-or-death situations, considering that he grew up alone. Certainly not ideal, but it’s a truth the Jedi can’t ignore.
- “Kanan, I can’t. I’m afraid.” The Star Wars franchise has always played “loose” with how negative vices affect characters connections and reactions to the Force/Dark Side (the original trilogy was pretty clear on this; the prequels muddled things up). Rebels has a better handle on this, providing a more complex approach to Ezra’s responses to his fear. There’s a thin line between the two sides, and Ezra embracing both within a few scenes really increases the emotional stakes.
- THIS WEEK IN EMPIRE EVILNESS: That moment when the Inquisitor just walked right between those two Imperial officers who were having a nice conversation. Rude.
- That’s it for this year. Star Wars Rebels will return with new episodes starting January 5th. I’ll see you then, and I’m hoping to watch a good number of Clone Wars episodes before then.