“Rise of the Old Masters” was most anticipated episodes of Star Wars Rebels yet and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere, dialogue, and storyline are so reminiscent of the darker aspects of the Original Trilogy, and it’s clear the creators know exactly what tone to create when it comes to more serious episodes. There’s not much that can be said about it without delving into spoiler territory, so to the cut!
At first glimpse, the plotline to “Rise” could raise some concerns over fans like me who don’t want Rebels to be overrun with Jedi. A rogue Imperial Senator sends a transmission over the Holonet that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli is alive and being held in the Stygian System. Kanan’s immediate reaction is to go after her, and, as he’s so far been unsuccessful in teaching Ezra the ways of the Force, plans to have her become Ezra’s new master. Ezra isn’t pleased, as he feels he’s being pawned off on some stranger because he’s not good enough.
But then, after infiltrating the prison and breaking into Luminara’s cell, they learn she’s not alive at all. What they see is actually a hologram of her being executed by the Inquisitor, and her body was kept around to lure potential rescuers–meaning Jedi–into a trap. Everyone who was worried about Star Wars not going dark with Disney in charge is proven way wrong by this episode.
This episode gives us our first look at the Inquisitor in action, and he doesn’t disappoint either. He’s full of ruthless elegance, as one might expect from a character voiced by Jason Isaacs. He reminds me of a cross between Count Dooku and Darth Maul. I still this his spinning lightsaber is completely ridiculous, though, and wonder when a plain old lightsaber was no longer cool enough to sell toys. I get Kanan’s lightsaber coming apart so as not to give himself away as a Jedi, but c’mon. There’s no need to continuously one-up on the lightsabers.
I also had an issue with the Jedi training in the beginning. Everyone is a bit ruthless with Ezra, who’s not even given a chance to take his training seriously. And I realize this is the first time Kanan has taught anyone how to use the Force, but doing so on top of a spaceship while hovering hundreds of meters in the air — high enough that there’s CLOUDS around them (so they’d probably be in really low pressure and would be really cold and possibly pass out) — is not the best idea. Perhaps Ezra would do better on the ground, Kanan. That said, I did laugh at the milk bombs, although I hope they were empty or they’re wasting precious supplies!
The infiltration into the prison was really cool to watch, and I love the Phantom. Kanan’s reaction to Luminara being dead was so sad, and I enjoyed his lightsaber duel with the Inquisitor. It was interesting that the Inquisitor’s first mode of business is to tempt Ezra to the dark side, and makes me wonder just how many dark side adepts there are running around the Empire. (I won’t lie — the idea of a tiny Mara Jade, or any Emperor’s Hands really, being involved in the show makes me very happy.) It makes sense, really; Palpatine wouldn’t want to risk dealing with fully trained Jedi and would order them killed on sight. Children/young adults who were never trained (and therefore fully moldable) would be too useful to kill. This is my head canon and I’m sticking to it.
The most enjoyable part of this episode, though, was definitely the tone. It was dark — a mummy Jedi Master! ack! — but it still took the time to lighten the mood throughout. Zeb and Sabine’s back and forth in the turbolift about Kanan’s plan being terrible; Chopper pouting about being left in the Ghost; “Does yours do that?”; Hera and her “fleet” returning to save the day. All those moments made an episode that could be depressively grimdark extremely enjoyable. That’s what made the Original Trilogy, specifically The Empire Strikes Back, so appealing. Star Wars is at its best best when it strikes that balance between light and dark.
The crew escapes the trap, of course, but the Inquisitor doesn’t seem too upset, almost like he knows he’ll have another chance at them soon. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Another thing that intrigued me about this episode is how strong Kanan is in the Force, specifically when it comes to telekinesis. He’s like the anti-Corran Horn. It’d be interesting to see if they address this, and makes me wonder if he’s being portrayed as too powerful. He never did finish his training, after all. How much more powerful would he be if he’d become a full Jedi? I guess we’ll never know.
I also have to mention that we’ve seen four episodes so far and there’s still been very little of Hera and Sabine. Zeb and Ezra have had episodes focus on them, and Kanan is the focus of everything. I hope Hera and Sabine get their own episodes soon. It was nice to see Hera pilot the Phantom and I was glad Sabine was the one to give them the spiel about the prison.
A few minor nitpicks aside, “Rise of the Old Masters” is a great episode with the right tone, dialogue, and plot we’ve all come to think of as Star Wars. I look forward to more episodes just like this.