Yes, I know this is a terrible title for a post. It was the best that I could come up with, however, so we are all stuck with it.
At the end of my post “Tribute to the Jedi,” I listed three of my favorite lightsaber duels in Star Wars Rebels. Discussing these battles with a friend some time ago, I recalled one I had forgotten, which will be mentioned below. During our chat I admitted something which still stands out to me in each of these encounters between the Jedi and the Dark Siders. As we go through them, I will make certain to mention what this recurring theme is.
Before we do that, though, I have something to admit: I do not like the new Star Wars timeline, especially the books. It does not jive with the original films, preaching rather than telling a story. Having read several novels in the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, along with a number of books in the new timeline, I find that the older ones (usually) fit better with the original trilogy than the new ones do.
The reason I bring this up here is because this series, to me, has always felt like it is part of the original Expanded Universe rather than the new timeline. Rebels and its tie-in media is, for me, the best thing to come out of the new Star Wars universe – which is why you are reading this post today. And so, without further ado, we turn to the battle which is still my top favorite:
Kanan Jarrus versus the Grand Inquisitor in “Fire Across the Galaxy”
I have said that the era of the original trilogy – the time of the Rebellion, for want of a better layman’s term – is my favorite in the Star Wars universe. My enjoyment of this period of the story explains why I gave Rebels a chance. I love learning about Jedi who lived through the Purge, especially if they played a part later on in Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order. Perhaps it was their surviving adversity for twenty years, or maybe it was just watching the transition to the Rebellion era. I don’t know how to explain it, or if I can, but anything that involves Jedi from the Old Order surviving to see the rise of the New just thrills and intrigues me.
So I wanted to know more about Kanan Jarrus before the series even began. I got excruciatingly little there for the first few episodes, which drove me half crazy and made every Jedi-centered episode a treasure. More than once I would leave the television feeling disappointed with an episode because it had not delivered the desired Jedi-fix.
“Fire Across the Galaxy” satisfied my wish for more Jedi stories with the amazing lightsaber duel at its climax. It is a spectacular fight that begins with Ezra helping Kanan – who has been undergoing Imperial “interrogation” – escape Grand Moff Tarkin’s Star Destroyer. For some reason I still do not understand, they decided to cut through the engine room to get to a fighter bay and freedom.
Naturally, the Grand Inquisitor is waiting for them there. Despite not being in top shape, Kanan takes his apprentice’s nifty lightsaber and goes after the Inquisitor. The battle becomes two-on-one when Ezra retrieves his Master’s blade from the Pau’aun’s belt and activates it.
But at this point, Ezra’s still not good enough at blade work to defend against the attacks of the more experienced Dark Sider. He tries Kanan’s baseball bat trick to deflect the Inquisitor’s thrown blade – and it works, in so far as the boy does not get cut in half. However, the spinning hilt does scratch his face, and it has enough momentum behind it that Ezra loses his balance and falls to another catwalk.
This is what Kanan has been afraid of from episode one of the season; that he will fail and Ezra will be killed. He already holds himself responsible, to some degree, for his own Master’s death; losing Ezra would be like going through that pain all over again. Only this time it would be worse because Kanan is not a kid. He is an adult who should be able to protect his apprentice as well as train him.
Sent sprawling by a Force push from the Inquisitor, not to mention still dealing with the aftereffects of the Empire’s torture, Kanan is not able to get up in time to prevent Ezra from tumbling to his apparent death. He ends up on his knees, looking down at the boy, whom he doesn’t realize is just unconscious.
What got me about the scene wasn’t simply the grief we see on Kanan’s face when he thinks Ezra is dead. That was to be expected. No, it is how his expression changes after this. Before he stands up, the grief and anger leaves Kanan’s face, to be replaced by calm acceptance.
This is important because, in this moment, Kanan stops fighting the Force and lets it come to him. He is still sad, he still believes Ezra is dead, and he is none too happy with the Grand Inquisitor. You can hear all those emotions in his voice when he addresses the Dark Sider in the next frame.
However, he doesn’t give in to these feelings or let them rule him. He just lets them go, allowing the Force to enter in their place. And so the Pau’aun does not realize he has just made, as his opponent says, a huge mistake. He thinks our resident Jedi is broken, an easy kill. But Kanan comes back with the response I really love, saying that now he has “nothing left to fear!”
The rest of their duel is a beautiful thing to watch, but this particular part is my favorite scene. As we see later on, Ezra is right to say that Kanan is “better than okay.” Here he is, actually, better than okay.
Allow me to explain. Kanan’s entire struggle up to this point has been with his fear of discovery. He has also been afraid to accept his Jedi heritage and to return to the Jedi path. The only times he is really able to pull off feats of strength using the Force is when something frightens him more than this.
We see it in “Rise of the Old Masters,” when he throws the Inquisitor into the ceiling to save Ezra, and earlier in the same episode when he reaches out with the Force to keep the boy from falling to his death during a lesson. Each time, Kanan has to strain to use the Force. This is both because he is out of practice and because he has two fears vying for his attention at the same time: fear of failing Ezra and fear of being discovered.
But in this duel, he finally lets the fear go. And that allows the Force to enter him at last, making him a willing vessel for its designs. This is why he does an apparently inexplicable one-eighty degree turn in his skill level during the duel. While he still needs to practice his sword work the fact is that, here, Kanan is no longer alone. He is finally – finally – letting the Force guide him and act through him.
This makes up for his lack of training and experience, giving him the edge over the Grand Inquisitor. It is why he bests him. Kanan’s no longer fighting with his own skill and power here. He is in the same position as Chirrut Îmwe; he is one with the Force, as it is with him. And the thing which still gets me is that he is kneeling down when he lets the Force in. This is not a big deal, right? He got knocked over, so of course he would be on his knees when he lets go of his fear to allow the Force to enter him –
Whoa, not so fast there, Speed Reader! Let’s take a look at my second favorite battle on this list….
Ahsoka Tano versus Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister on Garel in “Future of the Force”
I have never seen more than a few clips of The Clone Wars. The poor direction of the prequel movies left such a bad taste in my brain that I could not stand the cartoons. And yeah, I was naïve enough at the time to think the series did not tie into the larger Star Wars universe.
Well, I eventually found out that Clone Wars WAS part of the Star Wars timeline even before the new trilogy arrived. This meant, naturally, that I needed to learn more about it. As I was digging through the archives about the series I stumbled on Ahsoka Tano’s file.
Everything I read about her made her sound interesting, to the point that when I pictured her being killed by Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, I wished she didn’t have to die. I had not even seen her yet, readers, but I already thought she was a great character! So I was relieved to learn she left the Jedi Order before the Purge. That at least put off a confrontation between her and Vader, hopefully permanently. I really wanted her to survive to meet Luke after Return of the Jedi so we could watch her connect with her master’s son.
Learning that this amazing character would be reappearing in Rebels was very exciting. I would finally get to meet the famous Ahsoka Tano and see if she was everything I expected her to be. Her fans will not be surprised when I say she did not disappoint; I still do not like The Clone Wars, but I am definitely a fan of Ahsoka Tano….
…So I was rather irritated when she did not get to use her lightsabers immediately upon her appearance in season two of the show. We had to wait until “The Future of the Force” to see her draw her new white blades, let alone use them.
But it was worth the wait. Watching Ahsoka hand Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister their fannies on a platter was amazing. She eventually managed to throw Fifth Brother into a column, briefly sending him to dreamland, before focusing entirely on Seventh Sister.
I will never forget what she did next because it was so unexpected. Instead of pressing her advantage with the remaining Inquisitor, Ahsoka shut down her blades. Then she put them away, knelt down on the ground, and held her open hands up to the air. Of course, Seventh Sister thought Ahsoka was an easy target. But without even opening her eyes, Ahsoka caught the other woman’s lightsaber hilt between her hands and, using the Force, shut the blade down before tossing it aside.
Notice we once again have a Light Side Force wielder kneel down before defeating her opponent. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Let’s press on to battle number three, the confrontation I forgot to mention until I was discussing these duels with my friend…
Kanan Jarrus versus the Sentinel Spirit in “Shroud of Darkness”
“Shroud of Darkness” was such a powerful episode that I did a post about it almost two days after it aired. Most of that article revolves around the shocker of who the Sentinel Jedi was, along with theories about how he got to the Lothal temple and the Light Side. As lightsaber duels go, this one didn’t really stick in my mind the way the previous two did.
Except for one scene, that is.
This scene comes when Kanan has been knocked down by the Sentinel Jedi. Two others have come to back the lead Sentinel up, and the Lothal temple has begun to collapse as Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister force their way inside. Kanan is once again on his knees. But here he is also surrounded and running out of time.
Having declared Ezra too dangerous to be allowed to live, the vision Jedi states that Kanan cannot protect his apprentice from the lure of the Dark Side or the Sentinels. “You’re right,” he replies. “I can’t protect Ezra, least of all from himself. All I can do is what I have done – train him as best I could.”
Since I knew this was a vision, I knew that Kanan could not truly be hurt here. So when the Sentinel raised his lightsaber, I was pretty sure Kanan was not going to die. I didn’t know he would be knighted, but I knew he would not be killed.
Again, though, in this scene Kanan is on his knees. He has been forced there by the fight, and because of time constraints, he does not try to stand up. He stays kneeling, fully expecting to be struck down. What is the significance of this? Why, other than the fact that he is officially knighted in the next moment, is Kanan again on his knees here?
Let’s look at the last battle on my list to find the answer to that question.
Kanan Jarrus versus Maul in “Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 2”
If there is one character in the Star Wars universe I despise completely, I would have to say it was Maul. Ever since I saw him in The Phantom Menace, I have hated him. Why Lucas made him and his species is beyond me.
For some reason, I thought we were done with this Zabrak even before the new timeline was announced. No such luck; Maul returned to plague us again in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” managing to hook Ezra with the lure of the Dark Side in the process. For a while he played he was on our guys’ side, but we all knew that he was tagging along for the ride. He wanted something, and he needed Ezra to get it. So while it was not a surprise when he attacked Kanan, I was not expecting him to blind my favorite Rebel Jedi.
Ahsoka went up about twenty more bars in my estimation for jumping in automatically to protect him, but it was still nerve-wracking to watch Kanan, on his knees once more, searching for his lightsaber. Seeing him best Maul in three short moves – perhaps a nod to the former Sith Lord’s later defeat by Kenobi – did not exactly ease my fears, but it certainly proved Kanan could still fight (and how!).
The main point, however, is – you guessed it – the fact that Kanan landed up on his knees again. By now you are furious at me for taking so long to get to this point. “Just what is it about Kanan and Ahsoka kneeling down or ending up on their knees in all these battles that has you so interested, Mithril?” you are snarling at the screen.
Well, we all know that Lucas borrowed elements of Christianity for his fantastic galaxy far, far away. When watching the Star Wars films or reading the books, the Christian aspects of the stories have always stood out to me – especially in Zahn’s novels about Star Wars (this is another reason why he is my preferred writer in the original EU).
So when I saw Ahsoka, in the middle of her duel with Seventh Sister, inexplicably put aside her blades to kneel down and raise her hands, I was immediately put in mind of the act of praying. The same impression hit me when I saw Kanan on his knees in “Shroud of Darkness.” I thought of it again, to a lesser degree, in his search for his lightsaber after Maul blinded him in “Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 2.”
And I cannot watch him duel the Grand Inquisitor in “Fire Across the Galaxy” without thinking of it. For “perfect love casts out fear,” we are told, and Kanan’s fear has blocked him from the Force up to this point. Just so, our irrational fears block us off from God’s grace. (The same can be said about anger, of course, along with selfishness, pride, and the rest of the seven deadly sins, but that’s another story.)
Thus the small, seemingly inconsequential moments when the Jedi kneel down during these duels has far more meaning than most of us suspect at first viewing. Interpreted through the lens of faith, we can see a heartening message in these “pivot points” where the Light Siders put their faith in the Force to help them win the fight.
Does that mean the writers and Dave Filoni put these moments here on purpose? Perhaps they did. I do not know any of them, so I cannot say. And if they want to keep their jobs, then I do not think they can come out and admit that they even have faith of any kind. It is something of a taboo subject in the circles where they work these days (just look at how Marvel Comics’ roster of writers treats the subject).
In the end, though, it does not matter whether these moments are messages from Christian writers to Christian viewers. What matters is these scenes are present for an astute Christian to see, which is why I bring them up here and now. One of the reasons I started Thoughts on the Edge of Forever is because I believe God talks to us through the fiction we enjoy. Over the years I have come to see His Hand in more than one of my favorite stories.
Sometimes it is easy to know when He is there, as it is in the Chronicles of Narnia. But in other stories – like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, and a multitude of different fictional universes – He takes us by surprise. This was the case with me when I went to see Marvel’s The Avengers. I had caught glimpses of Him in my research into the comics, but I really saw and heard Him in that movie.
Obviously, this is why I have taken such issue with Marvel Comics’ current course, not to mention attacked other franchises when they “play politics.” As Dean Koontz pointed out in his novel Ashley Bell, good fiction can heal souls. It can do this because, through the veil of the fantastic, God touches our lives and raises our minds to Him. So when authors and/or their employers begin to drag the focus of the story toward “representation for all,” “women’s rights,” “equality for everyone,” or they try to make their fiction “realistic,” they chase God out of their fantastic universes.
And a story without God in it, no matter how artistically done or how much time, effort, and money are lavished on it, fails to become a story at all. Why? Because God made stories, too, readers. He made our very lives, and what are they but stories?
He doesn’t make our choices for us, or push us to do things His way. Rather, as Star Wars Rebels: The Rebellion Begins puts it, He weaves a pattern through the universe. We are free to act in accord with that invisible web, to run away from it, or even to attack it. God doesn’t force us to take any one of these three courses, but it is His right as the Creator of the cosmos to fit them into the pattern He is weaving. Whatever we choose, we are free to choose it, as He is free to undo it or make it better.
That, at its core, is the basis of Star Wars. Filoni and his crew – along with Zahn and other authors for the “old EU” – understand this very well, at least on an instinctive level. But many of the new authors for the franchise, either because they are blind to the Truth or because they fear the Emperors of this galaxy, are letting this understanding go. This is poisoning their new stories in the process and, while it does not mean the whole new timeline is worthless, it does make it inferior to the original in most cases.
While some will think this is reason for despair, I ask you to remain hopeful, readers. After all, God can turn even great sorrow to joy. He may have some great good planned which will upend the schemes of the Saurons, Sarumans, Gollums, Emperors, Inquisitors, and Mauls tearing apart story land – and Star Wars – today.
In which case, it is best we imitate Kanan and Ahsoka, metaphorically speaking, and open ourselves to listen to what He has to tell us. “For even the very wise cannot see all ends” – and when they try, they stop being wise. It is better, oftentimes, to wait and listen. He’ll tell us when the time is right to act. He always does.
May the Force be with you, readers, always.