[WARNING - This review of Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 2 contains SPOILERS.]
Last week, Star Wars Rebels returned with a darker, thought-provoking premiere in which Ezra exhibited greater powers than ever before, but also a growing affinity with the dark side of The Force. Kanan, too, battled blindness and his inner demons before regaining a Jedi's calm and coming to Ezra's rescue, reuniting master and apprentice. The two-part premiere also introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn, though the full scope of his plans to squash the rebellion were kept purposely vague.
And though Thrawn will certainly have his role to play this season, tonight's episode, 'The Holocrons of Fate' sees the return of yet another villain: Maul. Having abandoned the 'Darth' title when the Sith abandoned him, Maul has become an unpredictable enemy with allegiance to no one but himself. He also became extremely interested in making Ezra into his apprentice after admiring the boy's potential during their time in the Sith temple. And while Kanan and Ezra's relationship appears to be on firmer footing following the events of the premiere, leave it to Maul to find a way to again sow distrust between the two.
Master and Apprentice
Much like the premiere, 'The Holocrons of Fate' kept focus on Kanan and Ezra's strained relationship; from a continued tension over Ezra's use of the Sith holocron to Kanan helping Ezra to let go of his guilt over Kanan's blindness. Kanan has become much wiser since losing his sight - partially because of that trauma, but also because of his time spent with The Bendu - and that wisdom is reflected in his continued teaching of Ezra. Needing to retrieve the Sith holocron from a spider-infested cave, Kanan turns the task into a lesson, urging Ezra to trust him and learn to problem solve without resorting to his lightsaber. It's in these brief moments that their relationship feels as if it's mending, and perhaps becoming even stronger.
The Return of Maul
Then there's Maul, still keen on making Ezra his apprentice, he spends much fo the episode investigating his rival, trying to learn what he can of Kanan. It's an interesting way for Maul to bide his time before Kanan and Ezra arrive with the holocron, and especially since he's so quick to dispatch with Kanan as soon as he arrives. There's a sense that Maul has lost his way since The Clone Wars, that he finds himself without purpose. Turning Ezra into his apprentice feels a little bit like trying to regain that sense of purpose seeing as they both share a desire to destroy the Sith, but that's obviously also why he's so interested in unlocking the secrets of the holocrons.
As it's explained by The Bendu, holocrons are libraries of information but they are also much more. When two of them are combined they allow someone to experience a vision through The Force that would answer any question or reveal any destiny. But as The Bendu also warns, once a secret is learned it cannot be unlearned. Ezra, however, either wasn't listening or doesn't care, because once presented with the opportunity to combine the two holocrons he practically leaps at the chance. For him, learning of a means to defeat the Sith is too important to pass up, and for Maul, the holocrons offer something even simpler: hope. There isn't more time given to explain precisely what Maul means by the statement, but it adds another unexpected layer to the villain.
The Key to Defeating the Sith is...
In the episode's final minutes, Maul and Ezra begin combining the holocrons, receiving glimpses of the knowledge they seek - Maul claiming to have seen "him", while Ezra mutters something about "twin suns." Kanan is able to interrupt and eventually convince Ezra to look away, stopping the vision from becoming any clearer, but for fans it's already pretty obvious just what Ezra and Maul were seeing: Tatooine.
Granted, there are other planets in the galaxy that orbit twin suns, but Maul's utter glee over having seen him - meaning Obi-Wan Kenobi, as there's nothing that would give Maul hope like learning a long-sought revenge is still possible - basically confirms it. But beyond teasing another match between Maul and Kenobi, planting the seed that Tatooine holds the key to defeating the Sith is a big deal. In fact, it's a pretty staggering revelation for Star Wars Rebels to make, drawing a line directly between these characters and their journey to that of Luke's in Episodes IV-VI.
Choosing to actually feature Luke in an episode would probably be taking it too far, pulling focus away from Ezra's story and the rebellion's early days. But it's these connections that form the backbone of the Star Wars universe, and it's nice to see Rebels embracing that - especially with a timeline that runs closely to the events that started it all.
'The Holocrons of Fate' works more like a third act to the season 3 premiere than an entirely separate episode, continuing with themes first established there and concluding with a huge and unexpected reveal. It also works as a more clear cut continuation of the season 2 finale, reintroducing Maul and giving further clarity to what his function will be on Rebels. What it doesn't do, though, is provide much in the way of meaningful things for the rest of the Ghost crew to do, (perhaps with the exception of Hera) which was something the premiere was lacking, too. Thankfully, next week's episode appears to be widening its lens a bit, centering on Sabine recruiting imperial pilots to join the rebellion and including yet another link to the original trilogy.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday, October 8th with 'The Antilles Extraction' at 8:30PM on Disney XD.