Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 8: "Path of the Jedi"
It was fitting that "Path of the Jedi" was the first Star Wars Rebels episode of 2015, making it the first official Star Wars content of the year that the Force awakened. This episode showed us the Force awakening within Ezra, who came into his own as a Padawan learner with an understanding of how to rely on the Force and how it was not to be used. Ezra's training will remain difficult, but the events of "Path of the Jedi" gave him new confidence—thanks in part to guidance from an iconic Jedi voice.
Like many other episodes, "Path of the Jedi" began with an indication of Ezra's struggle to fully commit to his Jedi training. The series has been emphasizing Ezra's back-and-forth, on-and-off relationship with this training, as if to suggest that his connection to it is tenuous. This would be the episode that fully tested that connection. Before he got there, however, Ezra was just a kid late for a meeting.
Airy but frantic music accompanied Ezra across the grasses of Lothal as he raced to his training session with Kanan. Upon his arrival, he apologized for his tardiness but not for neglecting to knock on Kanan's door, prompting his exasperated master to reply, "It's all the same thing." Indeed, Ezra was taking a rather blasé approach to a process that demanded his full commitment. He still didn't understand what Kanan was so worried about. The problem was that Kanan's concern necessitated fast and disciplined training, but that involved rules, and as Ezra noted, he wasn't used to rules. He was used to playing things by ear, and he was struggling to break that mold. Because he'd been playing it fast and loose for so long, he had a hard time seeing himself as a buttoned-down Jedi Knight. He admitted as much to Kanan when he said that he didn't always see his own potential.
Ezra's self-doubt was apparent at numerous points in this episode, especially as it pertained to finding and then opening the temple on Lothal. Ezra had to trust the Force to show him the temple, but his anxieties interfered at first. When he finally connected with the Force and found the temple, the audience heard that great spiritual music, accompanied by the whistle of the series' magnificent and understated Force theme. Yet even after trusting the Force once and succeeding, Ezra reverted to the wrong approach as he searched for an entrance to the temple. It was fitting that we heard Luke's theme as he felt around for a hidden doorway, because it emphasized his reluctance to trust the Force. He was still insisting on what we might call a "crude matter" approach rather than a "luminous beings" strategy.
Once again, the Force theme accompanied Ezra's discovery of a hidden entrance accessible only through the Force. Having learned that the Force contained the answer, Ezra seemed to commit himself to opening the doorway by trusting it. He scrunched up his face as he and Kanan summoned the entrance out of the rock. So far, so good, right? He was trusting the Force again, and as he entered the temple, he was visibly awed by its presence. Unfortunately, Ezra still lacked discipline. Just as Luke lost focus on Dagobah when he sensed his friends suffering, Ezra freaked out when he saw the skeleton of the dead Jedi Master. He momentarily lost his grip on the Force, sealing the temple behind him and Kanan. It was an unsettling reminder of how casual his commitment to the Force still was.
Ezra faced his next challenge when Kanan told him that he'd have to proceed deeper into the temple on his own. The young man recognized the awesome responsibility Kanan was giving him: come back or I'll end up like these dead guys. Kanan's trust in Ezra likely buoyed him, but it must also have scared him, especially because his insecurities still persisted. These insecurities manifested themselves in two key ways. First, Ezra shunned the Force in choosing a way forward. Instead of opening himself to the Force and letting it guide him, he used the Lothal version of eeny-meeny-miny-moe and picked a doorway without any attempt to sense its contents. Not for the first time, Ezra's behavior reminded me of a child who didn't grasp the magnitude of his situation. Again, the word "blasé" came to mind.
The second time Ezra's insecurities manifested themselves was when he faced the dark and disturbing visions that the temple had in store for him. These visions were exciting to watch, but they didn't carry any drama for viewers who identified them as mere apparitions. (Granted, many young viewers probably didn't suss this out right away. For them, the drama must have been tremendous.) For example, the lightsaber duel between Kanan and the Inquisitor was a fun what-if sequence, but the drama in that duel—and Kanan's subsequent "death"—came from Ezra's reaction, not the events themselves.
"I'll make you pay," Ezra shouted in despair after the Inquisitor kicked Kanan's lifeless body over the edge of the cliff. This was the first verbalization of the problem with Ezra that Kanan sought to address. Ezra, we now clearly saw, didn't understand how to use the Force. Sure, he could call on it in in literal terms, levitating a data card off of Agent Kallus' desk or calling his master's lightsaber to his hand on an asteroid base. But he didn't grasp the ethics of the light side of the Force.
Ezra wanted to use the Force to hurt the Inquisitor. He wanted to make the Pau'an suffer. Because the entire sequence was a metaphor for Ezra's limitations and his lack of discipline, the lightsaber that he called to his hand didn't work for him. Even though it wasn't a real lightsaber and this wasn't a real duel, the metaphor of the nonfunctioning weapon worked on a deeper level. This was Kanan's lightsaber, the weapon of a man who had overcome a turbulent period to regain the discipline with which he had been instilled. Kanan understood that the Force was to be used for knowledge and defense, never attack. Thus, even the mirage of his lightsaber failed to activate for Ezra, because the boy's plan of revenge was an abuse of the light side of the Force.
The Inquisitor may have been a mirage as well, but he was certainly right that Ezra, in his present state, wasn't "quite ready to become a Jedi" with that attitude. Something else worth noting about the Inquisitor in this scene: his apparition may have referenced a key detail about Kanan's life. When Ezra spoke his master's name aloud, the Inquisitor replied, "So, he called himself Kanan, did he?" This would appear to reference the fact that the Empire's files showed Kanan's name as Caleb Dume, which John Jackson Miller's novel A New Dawn reveals to be his birth name. Interesting, indeed.
The next vision was equally profound, although initially less violent. Ezra stumbled across the crew of the Ghost—his friends—revealing what the temple wanted Ezra to believe were their true feelings about him. The vision was ruthless, faithfully matching each crew member's insulting remarks to their personality. Zeb wanted his cabin back, Hera only liked Ezra for instrumental reasons (his technical skills), and Sabine, Ezra's crush, pitied and infantilized him.
It would be tempting to scold Ezra for buying into this vision for even a second, but remember how relatively new his friendships with the Ghost crew were at this point. He had been on his own for almost a decade, and street life did not lend itself well to trust and vulnerability. Yet this was exactly what Ezra had to contend with aboard the Ghost: opening oneself up to others and contending with their opinions and evaluations. In this context, the vision of condescension from people he considered friends bypassed Ezra's logic synapses and struck at the core of who he was—and who he wanted to become.
Ezra's visions of the lightsaber duel and the Ghost crew quite obviously mirror both Luke's vision of himself in Darth Vader's armor in The Empire Strikes Back and Yoda's disturbing visions from the final story arc of The Clone Wars: The Lost Missions. Kanan's death and the crew's disdainful comments were the things Ezra feared the most: the "bad guy" winning and his friends secretly despising him. Just like Yoda before him and Luke after him, Ezra let the Force distract him with the temple visions.
The Luke parallel is particularly apt, given that the thing that broke through the vision was Ezra's faith in his friends. He trusted that he knew them, and that trust told him that what he was seeing was a lie.
In a last-ditch attempt to trap Ezra inside his own fear, the scene then shifted to another nightmare scenario: the Inquisitor massacring his friends. We saw some seriously dark stuff on The Clone Wars, and even Rebels has gotten disturbing already—the hologram of Luminara—but for sheer shock value, few things can match Sabine's chilling and sharply cut-off scream, followed by the shot of the Inquisitor standing in the doorway, with Sabine's partially obscured corpse visible behind him.
By this point, however, Ezra was beginning to understand what he had to do to dismiss the visions. After escaping the nightmare, he got a second wind by relying on his old street-rat instincts: "Been alone before, survived, I can survive this." Paradoxically, however, Ezra's survival depended not on his old instincts, but on his new training. The Jedi path called for him to not fear death, or at least the illusory prospect of it. Ezra embraced this when he told the mirage-Inquisitor that he wasn't afraid of dying, only of failing his master. In a moment reminiscent of Ben Kenobi aboard the Death Star, Ezra closed his eyes, trusted in the Force...
And then everything changed.
Frank Oz's return as Yoda gave me chills. It was a total transformation of the series and the Star Wars universe, a widening of the scope of what was possible. Yoda didn't even reveal his name, referring to himself as simply "a guide," but as Star Wars fans continued to watch the episode, we were left to grapple with the implications of his presence on Lothal, in whatever form it was taking.
Yoda appeared to Ezra in the same form—a constellation of bright lights—that Qui-Gon assumed in his appearance to Yoda on The Clone Wars. In those episodes, Yoda was learning to preserve his essence after death, and the implication seemed to be that the lights represented a Jedi whose spirit was preserved in the Cosmic Force. But Yoda was alive in this episode of Rebels, so clearly the lights weren't limited to representing beings whose bodies were dead. Instead, they seemed to be a more universal way of representing a Jedi's essence, dead or alive. The lights were projections, not physical manifestations. Qui-Gon wasn't "on" that Cosmic Force planet with Yoda any more than his Force ghost was "on" Mortis with Obi-Wan and Anakin. In the same way, Yoda was not "on" Lothal; his Force essence was simply projected there.
But how? What were the mechanics of Yoda's presence? Was he literally speaking in real-time, all the way from Dagobah? If so, was he addressing Kanan and Ezra simultaneously, or pausing in his speech to Ezra to zoom over to Kanan for a chat?
Furthermore, what had brought Yoda's Force essence to Lothal in the first place? When he first appeared to Ezra, he suggested that Ezra's trust in the Force had called him to the temple. Later, he told Kanan, "See you I can. Before, I could not. Changed, something has." Kanan then brought up Ezra, suggesting that it was Ezra's growing presence in the Force that had alerted Yoda.
Both Yoda and Kanan seemed worried. Ominous music played as Kanan admitted that Ezra's abilities were outstripping his training. It was the first time since meeting Ezra that Kanan could confide in another Jedi about his own anxieties. If "Path of the Jedi" was mostly "about" Ezra, it was nonetheless an equally significant episode for Kanan, given that Ezra's success or failure would reflect on his master. Whatever happened would profoundly affect Kanan.
Since the dissolution of the Jedi Order, Kanan had been through a lot. Ezra alluded to this at the start of the episode, reminding his master that he had gotten away with a lot in the absence of Jedi Temple supervision. But whereas Ezra was actively resisting discipline, Kanan had been forced to live an alternative Jedi lifestyle. "It was different for me, Ezra," Kanan quietly told his apprentice. "Everything was different back then. All that remains now is the Force."
Indeed, the Force was the constant tying together Kanan's training as a Padawan and the training he was giving Ezra. When they first parted ways in the temple, Kanan told Ezra that inside he would find "everything and nothing." Ezra pointed out how unhelpful this statement was, a fact that Kanan acknowledged, but then the door slammed down and communication was cut off. Ezra didn't get to hear the rest of Kanan's statement: "But that's what my Master told me." I really enjoyed this reflection of Kanan's experience going through this trial. He didn't have time to tell Ezra that last part, so it sounded like he was being cryptic for the sake of crypticness, but he really did want to impart onto Ezra the lessons from his own past. No exchange did a better job of highlighting the symbolism of Kanan putting a new apprentice through age-old trials.
Kanan may have been training Ezra, but his conversation with Yoda reminded him and the audience that he was in no position to call himself a Jedi Master. Yoda was surprisingly critical of Kanan, calling his relationship with Ezra his "last chance" to right the wrongs of his mistakes. This comment only deepened the audience's sympathy for Kanan and the tension between a nervous master and a wayward apprentice.
Now, back to that wayward apprentice. By trusting in the Force and dismissing the temple's visions, Ezra began to "see more clearly what [he] could not see before." But even though Ezra had cleared the first hurdle, he had a long way to go. He was still pursuing the easy path, as he demonstrated when he returned to the set of doors and asked Yoda which way he should go. Yoda appropriately called this "the wrong question." Thus began a series of Luke parallels.
"I don't even know what I'm doing here," Ezra said to Yoda, mirroring Luke's later words to the hermit on Dagobah. Just as Obi-Wan would tell Luke to go to Yoda on Dagobah without elaboration, Kanan had told Ezra that he would be tested in the temple without explaining why.
"Why must you become Jedi?" Yoda asked Ezra, the same exact question he would later pose to Luke. Just as Luke would cite his father in answering this question, so too did Ezra cite Kanan, rather than any internal sense of purpose.
But Ezra did have an internal purpose powering his decision to embrace Kanan's training. As Yoda's questions began to tease out this purpose, Ezra's understanding of his own goals became sharper. First, he admitted that he wanted to become a Jedi to "make the Empire suffer." He actually began to yell as he reiterated his anger at being "helpless." Sensing Yoda's concern, Ezra then basically said, "Don't blame Kanan for my un-Jedi-like thirst for revenge." He wanted Yoda to know that Kanan was a good person, and that whatever moral failings Ezra showed were not Kanan's fault.
Then came Ezra's next, more refined explanation of his goals: "I just want to protect myself and my friends." He had seen the Ghost crew acting selflessly, distributing supplies and rescuing enslaved Wookiees, and he wanted to be selfless too. Yoda seized on Ezra's lionization of selflessness and urged him to focus on what that felt like. This feeling was the key that he had been missing in his training. The music grew lighter, almost revelatory, as Ezra recognized and gave words to the feeling brought on by selflessness: it made him feel "alive."
The appearance of a Kyber crystal reflected a breakthrough moment for Ezra. He recognized how he should approach his Jedi training, and the Force rewarded him with the first step toward his lightsaber. The weapon itself, which we saw in the episode's final scene, was a reflection of Ezra's future. It represented teamwork and friendship: Kanan, Hera, Sabine, and even Chopper had contributed parts for it, metaphorically echoing their contributions to his personality and development. It also represented improvisation and secrecy: the lightsaber was cobbled together, making it inelegant but also concealable.
Just as Ezra's lightsaber made perfect sense both for his character and for Star Wars Rebels as a whole, so too was "Path of the Jedi" the perfect way to show Ezra's growing competence as a Jedi student. It used Yoda to great effect, letting him guide, rather than direct, Ezra through the process of admitting his goals and refining his attitude. Thanks to Yoda's light-touch approach, Ezra's understanding of what the Force called on him to do came naturally. The episode threw many hurdles at Ezra, but his many and deeply illustrative failures only made his ultimate success more rewarding.
It was fitting that "Path of the Jedi"—an episode about Ezra rejecting past impulsiveness for future discipline—ended with him showing off his new lightsaber. The weapon, as I noted above, was all about rejecting the past for the future. Ezra is not a prequel-era Jedi, and this is no longer the era of the prequels. Things are very different now. Kanan suggested as much when he told Ezra why they wouldn't use the hidden temple as a base. It contained nothing for them, Kanan said, only "the past." The Force wanted more than a reliance on the past from Kanan and Ezra, the next generation of Jedi. It was calling on them to build their own future.
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