Rebels returns this week with “Path of the Jedi”. This is an episode that focuses entirely on Kanan and Ezra trying to find their footing again after Ezra’s brush with the Dark Side in “Gathering Forces”. To do this, Ezra must face a challenge, much like the challenge Luke faces in the cave on Dagobah. To echo themes that have been brushed upon in previous episodes, “Path of the Jedi” is as much a trial for Ezra as it is for Kanan, as he is more unsure of his ability to teach Ezra than ever. From the opening music sequence of this episode, which fades in softly rather than bursting into classic Rebels fanfare, we know we are in for something different.
Between the music, the wide arching camera angles, and the scenery itself, the stage set in “Path” carries a unique weight when compared to many of the other episodes. While “Empire Day” and “Gathering Forces” are some of the strongest pieces of storytelling the show has offered so far, this most recent episode centers wholly on Ezra and Kanan, allowing for more in depth insight into the characters and their emotional states. I think the most interesting thing about the dynamic between Kanan and Ezra at this point is their complete confidence in each other, and their complete doubt of themselves. Kanan never questions Ezra’s abilities, but is constantly questioning his ability to teach him. Ezra, meanwhile, has many times now demonstrated a fierce loyalty to Kanan, defending his master at the slightest word against him.
One thing that definitely stood out as an odd choice to me was how the entry chamber contained the corpses of masters whose Padawans never returned. Honestly I thought that this was a little brutal for the Jedi, and hoped that the bodies were either part of the illusion or that Kanan was simply guessing as to why they were there. For all we know, these were Jedi who resigned themselves to death in meditation rather than face the death the Empire had in store for them. It seems a much more Jedi thing to do to die on one’s own terms than to die as a result of the failure of one’s student.
The fears of both master and student are addressed in the temple, but Ezra actually experiences them in the form of illusions. He sees not only the death of his master at the hands of the Inquisitor, but also confronts his fear of abandonment as he overhears Hera saying he was only useful for his skills, Zeb wishing to reclaim his bunk, and Sabine saying that he’s just a lonely little kid and that she pities him. At first Ezra can’t tell what is an illusion and what is real, but in a final confrontation with the Inquisitor, the biggest figurehead of his fear and hatred of the Empire, he is able to truly stand up and realize that this is all in his own mind.
I would assume based on the information given in the films and in The Clone Wars that Jedi temples are raised on locations that are inherently strong in the Force, so it’s no surprise that the mere location could trigger this form of illusion, making manifest the fears of the Padawan so that they may be faced head on. An interesting point to be made is that Yoda specifically tells Luke that the cave on Dagobah is strong with the Dark Side of the Force. Based on the similarity of the trial, could it be assumed that Jedi temples were built on locations that were strong not just in the Force, but specifically strong in the Dark Side? It is mentioned in James Luceno’s Tarkin that the Jedi had in fact raised the temple on Coruscant over an ancient Sith shrine. Perhaps this was a conscious choice, echoed in the other temples scattered across the galaxy. It begs the question of why, though. Perhaps it was to cancel out the Dark Side energy there. Perhaps we will never know.
Yoda only reveals himself to Ezra once he was able to overcome his fears, almost as a reward, a light in the darkness. Ezra of course has no idea who Yoda is, but I still believe he needed this external validation of his path in order to set himself back on the right track. What’s amazing about this scene, and others throughout “Path of the Jedi”, is the extremely subtle use of Luke’s dialogue from Empire Strikes Back. “I am ready!” Ezra tells Kanan at the beginning of the episode. This might have been a coincidence, but when you then hear Ezra tell the Inquisitor “I’m not afraid” and my personal favorite, when he admits to Yoda “I don’t even know what I’m doing here”, it becomes clear that this was intentional. Coupled with the original Yoda musical theme and Frank Oz making an absolutely phenomenal return performance, the emotional anchor of this scene was enough to instantly make the connection between Ezra’s story and Luke’s. It’s almost as if Yoda uses Socratic dialogue to peel away Ezra’s fear, anger and thirst for power to reveal his pure intent and selflessness underneath. If you listen to the musical score of this scene carefully, it opens with a long, deep note similar to “Palpatine’s Teachings” or “Padmé’s Ruminations” from Revenge of the Sith, and ends with more familiar notes reminiscent of “Binary Sunset”. To me this is not unlike peeling away the Anakin-like darkness to reveal the more Luke-like qualities inside. This is definitely a different twist on the original cave scene on Dagobah, where Luke also sees himself within Vader.
On the other hand, Kanan heard Yoda right when his fears were starting to get the better of him. Perhaps this is because Kanan already faced his trial, but maybe Yoda only was able to contact each of them right when they needed to hear him the most. “I am here because you are here”, Yoda tells Kanan. He wasn’t able to reach him before this moment, before he was in this location. There is some wonderful insight into Kanan’s character here, as he vows not let Ezra lose his way as he did. I am curious if this refers to where we found him in “A New Dawn”, or if Kanan had his own brush with the Dark Side in his past.
A really cool callback in this episode is Yoda’s presence as a cluster of floating lights. This is the same form Qui-Gon took in order to guide Yoda in the last season of The Clone Wars, and it seems that by this point Yoda has taken well to the training, especially considering his body hasn’t even returned to the Living Force yet. (I did read a compelling fan theory once that Yoda was dead before Luke met him and was just really good at being a Force ghost, though I don’t really believe that. But these floating lights coupled with Artoo not recognizing Yoda does at least make you go “huh…”).
Another interesting implication here is that Yoda is even capable of reaching out and communicating with other Jedi after his exile on Dagobah. I always had this sense, since in Empire Strikes Back he tells Obi-Wan “This one a long time I have watched,” referring to Luke. This means that Yoda was at least able to see or feel Luke from across the galaxy. Perhaps he could feel Kanan as well, but could only communicate with him from the temple. These locations, as previously discussed, are likely extremely strong in the Force. Perhaps a skilled enough Force user such as Yoda can tap into the temples like a Force nexus, reaching out across the stars to other Jedi in hiding. There is also the negative aspect of this type of connection; In Return of the Jedi Yoda tells Luke “When I am gone… the last of the Jedi will you be”. If Yoda can indeed feel the presence of the other Jedi in the galaxy, then he isn’t just assuming here. This means that Kanan, Ezra, and the other remaining Jedi either turn their backs on the way of the Jedi, or don’t make it out of the war.
It’s fitting that Ezra came away from his trial with a Kyber crystal, as this is concrete proof for him that he is on the right path. In the traditional Jedi lightsaber ceremony, seen in the Clone Wars cartoon, it is said, “All are intertwined: The crystal,The blade,The Jedi.” Ezra has trained as a Jedi in the episodes so far because Kanan believed in him, but this crystal, and the lightsaber he builds with it, is his first step on his own Jedi path.
“Path of the Jedi” has definitely plunged further into the Jedi mythos than any Rebels story we have seen so far. The echoes of similar lessons learned in The Clone Wars really show us that this is truly a different time for the Jedi. One where lightsabers must be disguised, Force abilities must remain hidden, and Jedi must remain off the radar. I wonder if in fact these temples were designed to be hidden for instances such as this- both the temples on Lothal and on Ilum were disguised as landscape on were only accessible through use of the Force. When Ezra mentions uncovering what else in inside the temple, I believe Kanan has the right idea. “I know what’s in there,” he says. “The past.”