Yoda: Inside you much anger, much fear.
Ezra: I just want to protect myself and my friends.
Yoda: And this is why you must be Jedi?
Ezra: Yes, and not just them. Everyone. I’ll protect everyone. Before I met Kanan, I only ever thought of myself, but Kanan and the rest, they don’t think like that. They help people, they give everything away, and I see it. I see how it makes people feel.
Yoda: Feel, yes. How?
Ezra: Alive. They feel alive, like I do now.
– Rebels S01E09, Path of the Jedi
Anakin at nine: The golden child of the twin suns, given the choice to leave his hard but love-filled slave life behind to become a champion of the galaxy. He is warm, talented, and compassionate, but fear and anger already have firm footholds in his heart.
Ezra at fourteen: A street rat who will help others subjugated by the Empire, as long as it suits him. Trust doesn’t come easy after years of being alone and he is afraid, though he’ll never admit it. Still, there is goodness deep inside him, and Hera and Kanan encourage the light inside him.
Both of these young boys are taken in by a new family at the start of their respective stories, the promise of becoming a Jedi dangled before them. We know where Anakin’s journey takes him—his fall, his redemption at the end—but we don’t know where Ezra’s heading yet. His future is totally open.
Anakin’s fall to the dark side is inevitable, and we know from the start that this kind boy will become a machine of chaos that destroys everything he has ever loved. Ezra has hints of darkness in him, has used the dark side of the Force when confronting the Grand Inquisitor (S01E08, Gathering Forces) who taunts him with the potential deaths of his friends. There’s a possibility of him falling to the dark, to a point.
However, he and Anakin differ in a very important way: Ezra has the support group Anakin never did. Obi-Wan is like a brother to Anakin, yes, but he’s also totally entrenched in the Jedi mindset of no attachments, no feelings. It’s clear enough from Revenge of the Sith that there was enough friction between the two to cause Anakin to start to lose faith in his friend and somewhat father-figure.
When Anakin struggles emotionally, Obi-Wan’s reaction is to advise him to simply quash those feelings, as if that was something that would ever work for a young man with such awful attachment issues. The importance of the Jedi Order is always placed above actually helping Anakin through his problems, which only serves to create a rift between the two men that Palpatine does not hesitate to use to manipulate the young Skywalker.
As for the other Jedi, the Council is unable to see beyond the code they have lived by their entire lives and are of no help to Anakin emotionally. Ahsoka is there too, but she’s only a child and can’t ever offer the total emotional support Anakin needs, as well as Anakin likely feeling like he has to look the strong hero he is supposed to be to his Padawan.
After everything, she leaves him, walking completely out of his life when her faith is shaken. She can recognize when the Jedi aren’t able to be there for her how she needs, but Anakin can’t look past his childhood dream and what he has sacrificed to be where he is to see how much the Jedi are damaging him mentally.
His relationship with Padmé is unhealthy, not helped by their having to keep it a secret. Even she, his wife, can’t fill in the gaps where support should be coming from other place. When they eventually begin to fall on opposite sides of the war, their ability to open up to each other is further harmed. Lies and secrecy only help to make things worse.
When Clovis comes between them, their communication totally breaks down and nearly breaks them up. Having to repress his feelings instead of being helped to work through them, Anakin ends up with a lot of festering anger, fear, and guilt.
Ezra, on the other hand, finds himself being trained as a Jedi, but also among a found family. Hera speaks to him openly and plainly, never making him feel shame for his emotions, and Kanan is honest about his own lack of understanding of the Force and the world around them. Sabine and Zeb are like siblings to him, both blunt but genuinely caring for the new addition to their crew.
Anakin was never allowed the chance to go back and see (or free) his mother, expected to forget her. Plagued by dreams of her death, he eventually witnesses his very nightmare when he goes against orders to return to Tatooine. Where the Jedi are blind to what Anakin needs, the Ghost crew is ready and willing to help Ezra find his parents, and just as willing to be there for him if the worst comes to pass.
One of the most poignant moments showing where Kanan so vastly differs from Obi-Wan as a mentor to Ezra, is when his Padawan is desperately trying to find his parents (S02E10, Legacy). When Ezra is chasing after the Inquisitors and Kanan shoots the door control to separate his Padawan from the Inquisitors, Ezra turns to Kanan in a rage, saying, “You don’t know what this is like.”
Kanan replies genuinely, telling Ezra’s he’s right, and that he never knew his own parents. He recognizes what Obi-Wan never could: that his padawan has known a parent’s love, something that can’t be forgotten as easily as the Jedi seem to expect. When confronted with Ezra’s rage and grief, Kanan is totally open. Ezra apologizes for lashing out, and Kanan assures him it’s okay. They actually communicate their issues and their struggles, and through this Ezra can recognize where his emotions are coming from and can work through them in a healthy way.
At the end of the episode, when Ezra learns of the truth, he turns into Kanan’s arms and cries. Kanan isn’t just his master, he’s his family.
Anakin’s lack of a support network at such a formative time in his life, when a young person is learning how to properly cope with their strong emotions, aids his fall to the dark side. Ezra, however, has that support group, has people he can rely on to turn to when he needs.
Despite being surrounded by a Jedi Order that is ostensibly a family, Anakin is isolated, while Ezra—a boy who has spent the majority of his life completely alone—manages to find real love in a group of strangers who would risk their lives for him. They can help guide him towards the light and though he may stumble at times, they’ll be by his side the whole way.
Ezra’s journey, unlike Anakin’s, is not certain, and he has a very real chance of avoiding the mistakes Anakin has made before him. He can become the man he has the potential to be because he has the help he needs to avoid falling astray.
The Jedi fail Anakin, who begins as nothing but a young boy torn from his mother and promised the life of a hero. This story has been told, and Ezra has a new path to forge, one that hopefully shows children that even if they struggle, are sometimes selfish and terrified, they too can survive the darkness and become a hero in their own right.