by Ross Brown
“Steps into Shadow,” the Star Wars Rebels season three premiere, focuses on the lingering aftermath of last season’s events on Malachor, namely the loss of Ahsoka Tano and the blinding of Kanan Jarrus. By its conclusion, master and apprentice are symbolically reunited through Ezra recognizing the limitations of his growth and Kanan resolving his inner turmoil courtesy of the giant Bendu, but this reconciliation was incomplete. “Holocrons of Fate,” picks up this final step in healing the relationship between Ezra and Kanan, while hinting at something long desired by fans of the prequel trilogy era.
It begins with the Jedi emerging from hyperspace aboard a corvette with the intention to rendezvous with a rebel transport. The transport is exactly where it’s supposed to be, but afloat in space littered with damage from an attack. Kanan and Ezra board the ship and discover a dying crewman who manages to utter a warning about a red lightsaber, which raises the possibility of another Inquisitor entering the scene, and that the Ghost was in danger. Hurriedly, our heroes reach out to warn Hera, but only to discover they’re too late; Hera, Zeb, and Sabine have been captured by Maul.
The Maul of the Rebels era, voiced immaculately by Sam Witwer, represents a third iteration of the character introduced in The Phantom Menace. In the film, Maul bristles with the ferocity of a caged predator simply waiting for the opportunity to pounce. In The Clone Wars, Maul returns damaged, and not simply missing the lower half of his body. The danger he poses is both physical and sharpened by a mind that just bordering on insane. Finally, with his Rebels debut in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Maul trades some of his physical prowess for a voice and mind like a soft lullaby promising nothing but violence and anger. Witwer evokes what might be peak Maul, and in “Holocrons of Fate” he excels as Maul holds the crew of the Ghost hostage in return for the Sith Holocron and the Jedi Holocron.
Kanan and Ezra agree to bring Maul the Sith Holocron in exchange for the safety of their friends, but first must seek out Bendu, the current owner of the Sith teaching device. Just as fascinating and mysterious from his premiere last episode, Bendu doesn’t surprise Ezra nearly as much as one would expect. Tom Baker remains a delight, bestowing upon Bendu a sense of ageless wisdom as one would expect from a Time Lord. In this case, Bendu immediately recognizes Maul’s intent with the holocrons – to combine them as a means to gain clarity of vision through the Force which will reveal the truth of any secret, wisdom or destiny. Teasingly, Bendu absently claims to have seen the effect of combining holocrons before, offering no more bits of information as to the when or where.
Bendu tells the pair that they can have the holocron, but must find it somewhere in the depths of the cave lairs of the local spider monsters. Reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s descent into a dark cave on Dagobah, Ezra is sent on his own into the darkness, albeit without a weapon. Kanan, exerting his return as mentor, doesn’t give his apprentice the choice that Yoda gave Luke.
Lightsaber-less, Ezra enters the creepy tunnels first seen in “The Mystery of Chopper Base.” Not yet ready to trust Kanan’s words on remaining calm, Ezra quickly gets in trouble, prompting Kanan to come to his rescue. Bendu serves as narrator for the audience, telling no one in particular that either Kanan and Ezra will heal the imbalance that exists between them or they will die in the caves. It’s in the caves that the pair do resolve the conflict in the form of Ezra apologizing for Malachor – a callback to Hera’s own words to Kanan last episode – and Kanan telling Ezra he doesn’t hold him responsible for anything. It concludes with the pair hugging it out with an immediate cutaway to the Bendu smiling to himself, sensing the last of the rift healing between master and student.
The pair retrieves the Sith Holocron with Ezra appreciating Kanan’s mastery of dealing with the spider creatures. Like some aged seer telling adventurers that their journey has now only begun, Bendu warns them that the struggle which will ensue is just now starting. If they must combine the holocrons, one of them, Kanan or Ezra, will be exposed to the power of the act and must resist the lure of seeking an answer they might regret. They depart for Maul, who has been busy aboard the Ghost.
In short order, Maul discerns that the Ghost is more than just a ship, but a home for the crew, including Kanan. Leaving Sabine and Zeb under the guard of droids, Maul forces Hera to provide an impromptu tour of the crews’ living quarters. After correctly identifying the dull and gray quarters as Kanan’s, Maul treats us to a little bit of A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, a novel which explores Hera and Kanan’s first meeting, and The Force Awakens. For the former, we hear Kanan’s true name, Caleb Dume, as Maul reveals that he’s aware of Hera’s close relationship with the Jedi. Then for the latter, he breaks out the mind reading trick used by Kylo Ren on Poe Dameron and Rey to learn where Kanan might have hidden the Jedi holocron in his quarters. Holocron in hand, Maul returns Hera to the others, who attempt a short, but failed, uprising to take the ship back.
We cut away to the Jedi on their way to Maul’s base on what appears to be an abandoned Mandalorian space station. As evidence of the healed bond between the pair, Kanan offers Ezra the chance to use the Sith holocron to find something to help them against Maul. Ezra declines, seeking Kanan’s own advice instead. Balance restored. Upon arrival, Maul greets the pair and immediately separates them, sending Ezra off so he can escort an unwitting Kanan right to an airlock. Believing the cold expanse of space to be the new location of a Jedi popsicle, Maul heads to Ezra to combine the holocrons. In a feat impressive for the non-visually impaired, Kanan manages to use the Force to propel himself back into the hangar bay of the station before succumbing to the harsh environment. He recovers and heads off to rescue Zeb, Sabine, and Hera, while Maul and Ezra bring the holocrons together.
The seeds of a potentially incredible match up are planted in the scene between Bridger and Maul. As they begin, Maul asks Ezra what his question is, to which Ezra contemptuously retorts, how to destroy the Sith. He turns the question on Maul, who surprisingly claims, “Hope.” Hope for what is left unanswered, but that moment of perfect clarity occurs right as Kanan and company enter the room with a brilliant blinding light that leaves only the Jedi Knight capable of perceiving Maul and Ezra. Before Kanan can convince Ezra to pull the holocrons apart, the clues are dropped. Maul exclaims, “I see him!” Ezra utters, “Twin suns…” And here, the speculation begins.
One of the more popular non-canonical comic storylines published before Disney acquired Lucasfilm was a short thirteen page story in which Maul traced Obi-Wan Kenobi to Tatooine and the pair faced off in one final battle. Entitled “Old Wounds” and printed in Star Wars Visionaries, it was never intended as canonical but as a fanciful story from the imagination of a Star Wars concept artist. The short story ends with Owen Lars delivering a coup de grâce to Maul after Kenobi resists the urge to kill his defeated nemesis. Rebels has unabashedly reached out to all parts of the previous Star Wars mediums, be it video games or novels, and it would not be too far a reach to consider this fateful meeting occurring on the show. Maul’s excited, “He lives!” which is repeated several times before the episode concludes, seems intended to punctuate the possibility of the old wizard on Tatooine making an appearance.
In the much less exciting alternative, which doesn’t hold up nearly as well given Maul’s words, Ezra’s twin suns may be the Force telling Bridger that the end of the Sith will come not at his hands, but at the hands of Luke Skywalker. We know this is how the Sith are defeated in the original trilogy, but any possible reason for invoking Skywalker is hard to discern when the alternative makes more sense, especially as Luke must by the nature of his character in A New Hope have as little contact with the rebellion against the Empire as possible (Biggs Darklighter excepted). On these two theories, “Holocrons of Fate” essentially comes to an end with Maul escaping to pursue whomever it may be that lives and the crew of the Ghost acknowledging that much remains for them to figure out about what lies ahead.
“Holocrons of Fate” essentially serves as one of the two stepping stones to launch Season Three of Rebels into its main storylines. On one side will be the impact of Grand Admiral Thrawn on the rebellion and the other, the machinations of Maul. It has repaired the relationship between Kanan and Ezra, leaving for exploration into the other characters of the show, notably Sabine, whom we know will be the center of attention concerning her Mandalorian roots. If the promises of “Holocrons of Fate” ring true, then Season Three will be one heck of a ride.
Ross Brown spent much of his childhood in the “Dark Times,” before new Star Wars films existed beyond myth and rumor, subsiding on way too many hours of Star Wars novels, games, and repeated viewings of the original trilogy on VHS. In the enlightened era of The Force Awakens, Ross continues to spend too many hours on Star Wars novels, television shows, and comic books, but does so under the guise of being a mild-mannered attorney by day. To avoid frightening friends, family, and random strangers with his passion for Star Wars, Ross writes about the franchise at Brown’s Review on tumblr, on Facebook, and on Medium. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Wolfesghost.