Star Wars Gets Trippy, And Also There’s Time-Travel Now.
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The penultimate episodes of Star Wars Rebels aired on Monday night, and they featured incredible guest stars, some really trippy visuals, and also, maybe, possibly there is time-travel in the Star Wars universe now. Despite how sensitive Star Wars fans are to big changes in the mythology, the animation arm of Lucasfilm has always been where the wildest and weirdest parts of the lore make their appearance. It was in the cartoon canon that revealed Darth Maul wasn’t actually dead despite being cut in half. It was also there that the very nature of the Force was “explained” by masked ghosts and a weird family with boundary issues in a kind of pocket universe.
Spoilers after the jump.
First, one of the most delightful surprises about this episode was that Malcolm McDowell — yes, Alex and Caligula himself — appeared in the episode as the voice of Minister Hydan, one of the Emperor’s acolytes of the Dark Side. Tasked with figuring out how to open “the portal,” he spent his days analyzing art depicting the Father, Son, and Daughter from the Mortis arc as depicted in The Clone Wars. However, instead of the weird diamond-shaped planetoid thing where Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka encountered these mysterious figures, the portal in question released a far greater power.
Since The Clone Wars fell victim to cancellation after Disney bought Lucasfilm, the character arc of Ahsoka Tano — Anakin Skywalker’s padawan learner who conveniently avoided the time period covered in the films — was cut short. There was a novel, but the fan-favorite character deserved some closure and, since she left the Jedi Order, likely survived the purge that killed the rest of Star Wars’ lightsaber-wielding warrior monks. So, it made perfect sense when she popped up (voiced, as always, by Ashley Eckstein) in the season one finale of Rebels. Yet, our time reunited with Ahsoka would be short-lived, as we last saw her facing off against her former master, who is, of course, Darth Vader now.
[SIDEBAR: The season two finale of the show featured one of my favorite Darth Vader burns of all time. Facing off with Vader (voiced by the James Earl Jones), Ezra Bridger (voiced by Taylor Gray) stares down the Sith Lord and says he doesn’t fear him. “Then you will die braver than most,” Vader replies. Then he busts up Ezra’s lightsaber/blaster combo weapon (don’t ask), and little dude gets very scared. “Perhaps I was wrong,” Vader says.]
In these latest episodes, we get to revisit that moment because after Ezra enters the portal, he is now in a kind of pocket-dimension. It’s visually stunning: thin pathways leading to portals of various geometric shapes all against a black star field. It is through one of these portals that Ezra sees Ahsoka, who gets the better of her former master but not before he would have struck a fatal blow with his red laser sword. That’s when Ezra reaches through the portal and pulls her into the pocket dimension, saving her life. That is when the Emperor shows up, thanks to Sith magic established in one of the weirder episodes of The Clone Wars. He is voiced by Ian McDiarmid, and it’s marvelous to hear him back in the role. (Though, I swear I heard the Revenge of the Sith “help me” he says to Anakin when he was faking like he was a weak old man, but I digress.)
The confrontation with the baddest Sith Lord ever in the Star Wars universe makes for some good drama, but really it’s ultimately unimportant. What is important is that a version of time-travel is canon in the Star Wars universe. On the surface, this reveal set up the possibility that Ezra’s recently deceased master could be saved from his fate. As I wrote last week, Star Wars is not a series that often deals with grief but the pain the main characters feel for Kanan Jarrus (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) is at the center of the three half-hours of television that followed his demise. Ultimately Ezra makes the decision to let his friend and father-figure go, choosing not to rip him from the timeline as he did Ahsoka.
When convincing him not to meddle with time, Ahsoka points out that if Ezra rescues Kanan, it will mean that the characters the blind Jedi saved — Ezra included — would end up dying. (But does time-travel ever work that cleanly? No, it doesn’t.) Ahsoka also declines to join Ezra in the present, instead opting to return to where he saved her from. But when she returns, time has passed there and, for all we know, she’s stuck on the planet. (Just like Maul was, because he made a return to the series and had the confrontation with Old Ben we didn’t know we wanted to see.)
Does this mean Ahsoka is likely to come back in the finale? Maybe. Who knows? What is important, I say again, is that time-travel is now possible in Star Wars. What does this mean for the future? Is this a concept that will make appearances in other media? Or is it a one-and-done kind of thing? Does this mean that some future-J.J. Abrams can come along and “Kelvin Timeline” the Star Wars movies? (Maybe in 30 more years.) Time travel is tricky, and sometimes people get mad when it is introduced in a story where it wasn’t present at the onset (cough, cough, Lost). Yet, in story about space wizards, talking wolves, and land octopi who can suck out your memories…is it really a step too far?
This concept does present an interesting possible “fix” to the problem of there being no Jedi when Luke and Ben leave Tattooine A New Hope. Conceivably, if Ahsoka or Ezra were around when Luke and pals were kicking around the Rebellion, they might have casually mentioned that Luke shared the last name of the former Jedi they are both aware of who became a more-machine-than-man terror of the Dark Side. It is crucial to the story of the films that Luke really is the last Jedi in the galaxy (and part of why I so disdained the old EU because new former Jedi were popping up all the time). But, it would also be neat if characters as good as Ezra and Ahsoka could continue to appear in the expanded universe. But with the next big animation offering from Lucasfilm suspected to be “The Resistance,” they couldn’t possibly appear in that series…UNLESS THEY TIME TRAVELED THERE!
Look, it’s kind of hokey and surely there would be (mostly adult) fans who complained that in yet another cynical money-grab, Lucasfilm and Disney refused to kill off characters whose stories were done. And perhaps they would be partly right. When Rebels began, all of the characters were new, and it worked surprisingly well (even if the early episodes skewed more juvenile than they do now, just like with The Clone Wars). But still, it would be kind of sweet to see Ahoska and Ezra interacting with the characters from the new film in a series that would be set between the second and third movies of the new trilogy. (And, this is precisely what they did with The Clone Wars when the prequels ended.)
It could happen easily enough. The show is clearly setting up Ezra to make the same kind of sacrifice that Kanan made, meaning it would cost him his life. (Hence, the “final lesson” he learned.) At the last moment, Ahsoka pops through one of these conveniently-just-introduced portals and rescues him. They are trapped in the pocket dimension and thanks to some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, Force-worcey stuff, they pop out of the portal sometime after the events of The Last Jedi. Thus they go off on an adventure to fight the First Order and join the Resistance. They meet Rey who just so happens to need a little bit of instruction about how to be Jedi.
[SIDEBAR: Can you imagine the anger the fanboys will have if the two leads from the kids’ cartoon shows end up being better Jedi teachers to Rey than Luke was? I believe there is one of those “a million voices cried out” jokes in here somewhere.]
To be clear, I remain heavily skeptical that they would do this. When announcing the fourth season of Rebels would be its last, executive producer Dave Filoni said he wanted “to end” the story. It’s possible they’d do something like this (especially to give the cartoons their own kind of inter-connected universe feel), and it’s certainly a concept I’d buy because the potential for the show sounds like it would be a great way to deepen the stories told in the films. I never “hated” the prequels, but my appreciation for them only grew as I watched the cartoon series, which turned out to be a great show for kids during a time when America was caught up in its own seemingly unending, morally ambiguous war.
After Episode IX is released in late December of 2019, the future of Star Wars breaks free from the orbit of the Skywalker saga. There will be Rian Johnson’s films and the project from D.B. Weiss and David Benihoff and television shows on the Disney streaming service. But the original films and the cartoons that accompany them will likely always be kids’ first entries into this world. Giving them familiar characters to latch on to would likely help turn this next generation of padawans into Star Wars obsessives, too. Or, perhaps I’m just missing the point of the lesson that was offered in this episode: learning to let go.
Part of what makes these new films so controversial is that their story advances the stories of the beloved original trilogy characters in ways that the fans who grew up with them aren’t happy with. Seeing Han and Leia falling into old habits and no longer the happy couple they were at the end of Return of the Jedi is hard to take. That Han Solo died as soon as we got him back also hurt. We see Leia beaten down by a lifetime of conflict and as a failed mother. With the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher, we know that her story is going to be resolved off-screen (hopefully not in a permanent way). Finally, seeing Luke Skywalker — our hero who threw away his weapon at the end, rather than killing all the bad guys — as a bitter failure whose whole career was derailed for a single moment of weakness and temptation by the darkness is almost too much to bear.
J.J. Abrams was right when he said that as soon as Luke shows up on screen, he’s all we want to see. But, at least for me, the same is true when I see Han, Leia, Chewie, or even the droids. The original trilogy characters’ shadows loom over the new characters in a way that does seem to detract from how much fans like myself care about them. Whenever Luke and Leia were off-screen during The Last Jedi a part of me kept thinking about them when I was supposed to be paying attention to the larger story. And as much as I love those characters, a part of me is also excited that Episode IX will have to rely on just the new characters to bring this story home. Perhaps a clean slate is what the animation arm of Lucasfilm needs, too. Even though the potential of time-travel means there is a way they could get Ahsoka and Ezra into the new era, the question remains: should they?
UPDATE: So, because I am a total stan for this shit, I’ve already checked out the YouTube recap they do featuring interviews from the show’s creators. It seems that this is not just a one-off thing, but actually a significant advancement of what the Force is capable of. Also, because I am complete trash, I read some Reddit comments and one user points out that the temptation to save his teacher was likely a trap set for Ezra by The Senate himself. The commenters make a pretty good case that these portals, such as they are, are likely linked to Sith and Jedi temples. This is some nerdy stuff, but damned if it isn’t fun.