The natural inclination in an episode like this one is to go big, to make the proceedings grand and explosive and exciting. It’s the Original Trilogy meeting the Prequel Trilogy meeting Star Wars Rebels, and so the powers that be could be forgiven for turning the whole thing into an epic confrontation, full of piss and vinegar and force-aided fireworks.
Instead, “Twin Suns” is a quieter, deliberate, almost melancholy episode. That’s a bold choice and one that pays off. Instead of a tribute to the pulpy thrills of the old serials that inspired George Lucas, the episode feels like an homage to the more languid tragedies in the Akira Kurosawa Samurai movies that also influenced him. The result is one of Rebels’s most meditative, understated episodes, that uses that ruminative tone to do justice to the major figures it invokes.
The episode opens in Star Wars’s holy land — the deserts of Tatooine. There, in the swirling sands, Darth Maul wanders the arid wasteland, searching in vain for his mortal enemy. “Twin Suns” commits to the desolation of the planet. It frequently frames its figures in wide shots, often at a distance, showing how small and insignificant they are in that vast landscape beneath those great balls of light and heat. While there are moments of action, most of the episode is spent with the characters simply wandering through those long stretches of nothing, contemplating what it is that calls them there.
Of course, it’s not enough to just have Maul stalking his old foe, so Ezra Bridger feels his own pull to Tatooine as well. The reasons for his presence are thin, but adequate enough to get him involved in the proceedings. He is, essentially, bait. Maul employs the same misleading visions and hallucinations he’s sent Ezra before in an effort to draw him to the desert planet and put him in danger. Maul reasons that if Obi Wan is alive, he’ll be unable to keep from emerging to save the day, thereby exposing himself to Maul.
So foolhardy Ezra heeds the call, follows the visions, and gets Chopper and himself desperately lost in the vast expanses of Tatooine. Despite the half-plausible excuse for his presence, Ezra doesn’t have much of a place in this story. It gives him a few nice moments, with some deliberately disorienting cuts to convey his desert delirium and underscore his solitary haplessness. But on the whole, Ezra’s arc, to the extent it exists, is merely a familiar epiphany that he’s turned his back on his newfound family and should return to them rather than taking the world on by himself.
But it’s the man who offers him that advice who truly matters to this story. Obi Wan does, in fact, arrive on the scene and Rebels represents him well. The Star Wars franchise has yet to address the awkward business of bridging the gap between the Ewan McGregor/James Arnold Taylor incarnation of Kenobi and the “Old Ben” version that started it all. But Stephen Stanton (who also voices Tarkin and AP-5 on Rebels), does his best Alec Guinness, and it scans as faithful to one of Star Wars’s founding performances.
The version of Obi Wan that Ezra meets in the desert is of a piece with one Luke meets in Episode IV. The years have sanded down the edges of the reserved but adventurous Jedi who once fought in The Clone Wars. In his place is a wise old monk, one with the zen and worldly perspective that Guinness and George Lucas imbued in the role. Rebels’s attempts to revive characters who’ve gone unseen since Return of the Jedi have been hit or miss, but Stanton and writers Dave Filoni and Henry Gilroy deserve kudos for capturing the spirit and demeanor of the character we saw in Star Wars’s opening act.
Thankfully, his reappearance is not, however, all inter-generational crossovers and desert-worn wisdom. Obi Wan’s time with Ezra is mercifully short, just long enough for him to give Ezra the lesson he needs and send him on his way before Maul arrives. The bad guy, as expected, explains his manipulations in a suitably villainous fashion, and they trade insults and gear up for a long-hyped confrontation, years in the making.
When Obi Wan faces Maul, the scene is tense. Maul is inquisitive and taunting as he challenges his wizened adversary. He sniffs out why Kenobi is on this backwater planet, and the Jedi Master’s eyes react subtly, showing awareness and concern at what’s been uncovered. Only then does Obi Wan ready himself to fight. The two men hold the tension, standing their ground, letting the potential of this grand clash linger in the air before the first, tremendous blow is to be struck.
And then, the fight ends almost before it began. A few swift moves are all Obi Wan needs to fell his opponent. He moves slowly but decisively. Anything more would be a betrayal of the warrior we saw in Episode IV. There is mercy in his blade, and in the way he cradles Maul in his arms after the deed is done, one faithful to the character who first emerged in 1977.
But the purpose of that anticlimax is not simply fidelity to the source material. It is a reveal, a demonstration, that these are not the fiery young men who clashed on Naboo. They are not the hardened warriors who met in battle on Mandalore. They are broken down old men, the last of a generation, finishing the last vestiges of a conflict that was lost before they’d even started.
These are the last gunfighters, drawing their weapons one last time, because what else is there to do? As Maul seemingly dies in Obi Wan’s arms, he asks Kenobi if he is there to protect the chosen one. Obi Wan admits it, and Maul says the most curious, revealing words as he departs the living force – “He will avenge us.”
Maul and Kenobi have stood on opposite sides of the battle lines for decades. They have seen the fall of republics and the rise of empires. They have done this dance across the ages, each taking pounds of flesh from the other. And yet, when the final blow is struck, the clarity of the last, dying light reveals a simple truth — they are both victims of the same tormentor, the same force that tried to take away all that they cared about and believed in.
As Star Wars has gone on, its moral focus has widened, showing more shades of gray within the hero’s journey that started in Episode IV. Before that little boy running across the horizon could rise up and strike down the evil that took so much from so many, many more had to suffer, both the good and the bad.
The distance between the two seems as small as the distance between Maul and Kenobi. They are the twin suns, intertwined, eternally circling around these same events. They are pulled by the same force until they are snuffed out, ready for a new light, a new beacon, to sweep across the galaxy and wipe away their shared regrets, their shared mistakes, and their shared pain.