"Star Wars: Rebels" Episode 15 – Trials of the Darksaber (10 out of 10) – Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas; Written by Dave Filoni; Starring: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar, David Oyelowo. Rated TV-Y7, Aired on Disney XD 1/21/17. It is currently available on the Disney XD app.
This review will contain mild spoilers.
"Trails of the Darksaber" delves into the history of the Mandalorians through the lens of Sabine and the Darksaber, which was recently acquired in the episode "Visions and Voices." As a powerful symbol to the Mandalorians and a relic of the combination of their warrior past and brief brush the Jedi, it's possible that Sabine could use it to rally the Mandalorians to the Rebellion. But she believes herself to be an exile, considered a traitor to her culture and family. Reluctantly, she agrees to train with the saber under the tutelage of Kanan (and, to a lesser extent, Fenn Rau.)
I've watched this episode twice, trying to divine exactly what it was that brought tears to my eyes not once or twice, but at least three times during the episode. This was a simple training episode, why did it resonate emotionally with me so much?
I think the answer is three-fold. First, we've spent two and a half seasons with these characters and they're becoming known enough to us that when they do something striking or out of the ordinary, it's shocking. Second, it's the writing. Dave Filoni wrote this episode personally and there's a passion to the history that makes the exposition of the episode sing. Filoni understands the characters implicitly and offers them dialogue that gives you the chills. Third, is the voice talent. Every single actor in this episode brought a level of mastery to their craft that was stunning.
The first moment that brought those tears to my eyes belonged to Hera, as played by Vanessa Marshall. There's a reluctant pain in her voice that you can feel when she asks Sabine to consider going back to the one place she feels completely unwanted. Tiya Sircar's reaction as Sabine was equally heartbreaking.
The second time I broke was when Kanan gives Sabine her history lesson. In his voice is the angered edge of a father or a mentor, letting his student know that this is no longer a game. The history here, the tantalizing tidbits about the war between the Jedi and the Mandalorians is incredibly interesting to me. When I heard about it here, in this context of the new canon, I instantly thought about how I felt about the Clone Wars when I first heard Obi-Wan utter those words. Perhaps that war will play a part in the future of the Star Wars saga.
The third time was the end, that final moment where Sabine has finally won the approval of those trying to train her. The credit for this scene goes mostly to Tiya Sircar. Her Sabine through this episode went through the gamut of emotions, from angry and cynical to hurt and determined. She brings a range to the character here that is at once arresting and real. You can feel the loss of her family. Between her work and that of the animators, Sabine's pain was brought to life.
Taylor Gray as Ezra brings an earnestness to all of it that help glues everything together.
Although on the surface this episode might just seem like the part of Rocky IV where he goes to the woods to train in order to defeat Ivan Drago, there's so much here that I can't believe I'm rating it the best of the season so far. I still can't put my finger on why I had such a visceral reaction to this episode, other than it fires on all cylinders to give us something that we haven't quite seen before.
And I love what it adds to the lore. Not only does it add the Jedi and Mandalore War, but it also gives us a new insight into how lightsabers work and how the power comes from the emotion or force sensitivity of the person wielding it. It's amazing to me, but it makes sense. Thinking about that philosophically, the kyber crystals channel emotion through the weapon: The Death Star is a manifestation of the fear and anger in the heart of Palpatine and Tarkin.
It should also be pointed out that the animation in this episode was some of the best on the show. From the animation of Tar Viszla's story to the fight choreography during the training, Rebels has never looked so good. The lighting effects of the Darksaber are always something you want to watch as well. Add to that the work of the sound designers and you have one of the best episodes of technical achievement Lucasfilm Animation has produced.
For being emotional, incredibly well-written and acted, and so vital to the lore of Star Wars, I'm giving this episode a 10 out of 10.
Season 3 Scorecard:
- Steps Into Shadow (8 of 10)
- Holocrons of Fate (9 of 10)
- The Antilles Extraction (8 of 10)
- Hera's Heroes (8 of 10)
- The Last Battle (9 of 10)
- Imperial Super Commandos (7.5 of 10)
- Iron Squadron (7.5 of 10)
- The Wynkahthu Job (7.5 of 10)
- An Inside Man (8.5 of 10)
- Visions and Voices (9.5 of 10)
- Ghosts of Geonosis (8 of 10)
- Warhead (8 of 10)
- Trials of the Darksaber (10 of 10)
Season Average: 8.34 out of 10
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