[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 15.]
Throughout Star Wars Rebels season 3, the series has been dropping hints about Sabine's troubled past, and in doing so, revealing more about Mandalorian culture as a whole. We learned of her time spent at the Imperial Academy, her family's ties with Deathwatch and later the Empire, leading her to eventually join up with the Rebellion. She's also added some valuable Mandalorian tech to her arsenal, like the iconic jet pack and, of course, the Darksaber.
That ancient blade is the main focus of tonight's episode, something made evident by its title alone - "Trials of the Darksaber." Written by series creator Dave Filoni and directed by Steward Lee, this episode digs deep into not only Sabine's past, fully revealing the truth of why she left Mandalore, but also the origin of the Darksaber - the lightsaber which came into Sabine's possession when she and Kanan followed Ezra and Maul to Dathomir. But since then, Sabine has given it to Kanan for safe keeping, not interested in the great responsibility it represents. However, Fenn Rau - former leader of the Protectors of Concord Dawn, recent ally of the Rebellion, and fellow Mandalorian - believes that Sabine should not only wield the Darksaber, but use it unite all of Mandalore against the Empire. A tall order, to be sure, and one Sabine isn't necessarily willing to accept - that is, until her fellow Rebels urge her, insisting that if there's a chance she could use the Darksaber to bring more allies to their cause, she should.
Mandalore is a unique and fascinating culture among Star Wars canon, with a complex and heavily militarized society, sorted into clans and houses all with competing loyalties. It's an odd group for a Jedi to come from, but as we learn in this episode, the Darksaber itself was originally the weapon of the very first Mandalorian Jedi - Tarre Vizsla. After his death, the Darksaber was kept by the Jedi until members of House Vizsla liberated it, returning to Mandalore with the blade and using it to cement their power as the ruling house. The Darksaber remained with House Vizsla until Pre Vizlsa, leader of Deathwatch, lost it in a duel with Maul - which is how it ended up among his cluttered possessions on Dathomir.
The Darksaber is a very old and powerful weapon with great significance to the Mandalorians. It's been assumed lost since Maul took the blade during the Clone Wars, and were practically anyone to return to Mandalore with the Darksaber it would be a huge moment. For it to be Sabine who returns with it, a member of Clan Wren of House Vizsla, that moment could very well become a movement.
Though a loyal Rebel and friend to her Phoenix Squadron teammates, Sabine isn't one to openly discuss her past - it's why learning she was a member of House Vizsla or had previously worked as a bounty hunter came as such huge surprises. However, before Sabine can become any sort of leader, she needs to face the demons in her past. Taking up the mantle of the Darksaber means not only accepting that responsibility but being honest about her past.
"Trials of the Darksaber" forces Sabine to confront those demons - the guilt she carries from being made to construct weapons which were used to subjugate her own people; the pain she feels from being abandoned by a family who chose allegiance to the Empire over her; and the fear she has about returning home and confronting them. All of this is revealed when it comes tumbling out as she engages in a brutal and intense duel with Kanan, the culmination of a training session that tested their patience and their friendship. (Guess Mandalorians and Jedi training just don't mix.)
But once free of the burden of those secrets, Sabine is able to eventually gain the upper hand on Kanan. The moment is a cathartic one for her, easing her suffering and also giving her pause to consider that maybe uniting Mandalore against the Empire is what she was destined to do. Kanan doesn't believe it was a coincidence the Darksaber came to her, neither does Fenn Rau, and with them and the rest of her friends behind her, Sabine may just stand a chance at convincing the other Mandalorians as well.
The Rebellion Needs Mandalore
Most of all, as season 3 of Star Wars Rebels has made abundantly clear - the Rebellion needs allies. They are not yet the full-blown Rebel Alliance. There is no unified coalition, just a bunch of separate cells lashing out at the Empire. And Mandalore would be an incredibly powerful ally, one that would come well-trained and impeccably armed. It isn't yet known if Mandalore turns against the Empire and joins the Rebellion, so much of this history is still being written (on Rebels and elsewhere in the Star Wars canon), and they have in the past remained neutral in conflicts that engulfed the entire galaxy (see the Clone Wars).
Still, with the heavy focus Mandalore is receiving this season on Rebels, the odds are good that at least the Rebellion's influence on the planet will increase. It may not be enough to fully swing Mandalore to their cause, but Sabine and the Darksaber could at least reignite the spirit of resistance among her people.
"Trials of the Darksaber" was an emotional episode - for Sabine especially, but also for Kanan, who at Hera's insistence had to rethink his approach to Sabine's training. And now that Sabine has become "proficient with the blade", Star Wars Rebels is poised to dive head first into Mandalorian politics, pitting Sabine's claim to rule against her reputation as a traitor.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 will return February 18th with "Legacy of Mandalore" @8:30pm on Disney XD.