Rebels — A Darth Parable


One of my favorite shows on TV is a cartoon created for 7+ year-olds. That’s a tough pill to swallow for serious nerds like me who like to talk about their favorite serious-nerd minutiae and still feel cool about it.

One of the tent poles of new nerd-Nirvana is that everything we had to hide when we were kids is somehow magically transformed – by nothing less than the dawning of a new age – into interests and obsessions appropriate for grown ass men and women.

It’s bullshit.

Star Wars Rebels isn’t great television in the way most of your friends are comfortable acknowledging. The show itself isn’t particularly edgy. It isn’t ironically self-referential inside its own frame. It doesn’t feature a horse-faced washed up bit player, struggling to find his purpose in post-hangover Hollywood or a drunken secret agent who sometimes kills hookers.

Rebels is earnest –often painfully so. The trials of its teenage protagonists are rooted in adolescent anxiety, nagging introspection, and persistent self-doubt. The adults-in-charge struggle to provide wisdom and guidance to their charges without helicoptering.

Rebels tends to move slowly. It develops both protagonist and antagonist characters over dozens of episodes. Their stories are painted on a backdrop familiar to lovers of the Star Wars saga by inference. Somehow, most of it clicks together as easy as the Lego toy sets pitched during the commercial breaks.

Ultimately, Rebels is the story of a crew’s struggle to reach the end of the beginning. Like Rogue One, Rebels is a slice of life in an Empire fighting to stomp out its nascent rebellion once and for all. We all know the Imps lose in the end. We know the rebellion pulls itself together and becomes an alliance. We watch for the same reasons we watched Rogue One: to see that story played out for us on our external screens.

(Ezra Meets Maul – YouTube: Star Wars Rebels Official Channel)

Darth Maul figures prominently in the Rebels storyline, as does his decades-old hatred of Obi Wan Kenobi. Maul – for anyone who never suffered through the Lucas-penned “prequels” to the original Star Wars trilogy – is a bad ass dark side villain who “dies” at the hands of young and vengeful Ben Kenobi, after Maul slays Kenobi’s master, Qui Gon Jinn. Maul’s story was always dwarfed by his image, but he has grown through the expanded Star Wars universe into a true primary character, in spite of it.

Maul’s backstory is pregnant with meaning and nuance. He is the failed prototype Vader who turns against the structure of Sith power in pursuit of his own personal quest when he is abandoned by the Emperor.  His role as antagonist is complicated by the “enemy of my enemy” trope, making him appear at first, to Ezra as an ally-teacher; –a substitute master. The object here is to tease Ezra away from Kanan by provoking tension between the light and dark sides of the force.

Because we all know how this ends, Maul is destined to never achieve any of his goals. He is a tragic character because he exists only as a surrogate antagonist. At best, he is a cautionary tale.

Like all great antagonists, Maul sees himself as the hero of his own story. He helps Ezra unlock an even greater mastery over the Force by showing him how to tap into his anger. He corrupts the young Jedi by teaching him the Sith Code:


(The Sith Code — Wookiepedia —

His move to blind Kanan is designed to destroy Sith, not Jedi. He cannot understand the wellspring from which Kanan draws his power. The blind spot of an evil man is that he cannot comprehend why good men to “do good.” The obstacles he creates to defeat the relationship between a light side master and his student become the catalyst which inspires both to redouble their effort to defeat the Sith and “rebel” against the Empire’s vision of the future. It’s a goal that — deep down — Maul shares.

(YouTube.Com TR-8R)

Maul’s demise at the hands of Kenobi has always been a matter of prophecy. Star Wars Episode 4: a New Hope cannot exist if Maul achieves any of his goals. The great danger of telling stories about the past is that the future is already written. We know, for example, that Kenobi “dies” at the hands of Vader on board the first Death Star. Maul cannot win any meaningful victory here. He is all prologue and no payoff.

This grim lesson is doubly true for the “heroes” of the Rebel storyline. They must fight to overcome the forces arrayed against them, but they cannot “win.”

With so much backstory built into the telling, “Twin Suns” is a flawed episode of a great show. There is no compelling narrative reason for Ezra to be on Tatooine at all. That he arrives, just in time to lead Maul to his second death at the hands of Kenobi, is irrelevant to the larger story of Kenobi V. Maul.  More than anything else, it demonstrates his own lack of growth as the prologue transitions to the fairy tale ending we all know and remember. Ezra’s inability to grow into his power and demonstrate responsibility before the crux — is his Achilles heel.

And what does Maul get? An understanding perhaps? Elaine Tveit at DorkSideoftheForce.Com argues exactly that in her analysis/ recap here. Those who have only seen the movies don’t care about the subtext here because Maul’s understanding is inconsequential to the greater story of the Star Wars live-action movies.

If you’re like me, however, your thoughts turn darker because you know the lay of the land fairly well. You care because you have walked with these characters for too long. You have seen too much to ignore the obvious parallels between their story and your own.


(Kenobi V. Maul — Star Wars Rebels “Twin Suns.”

What does the fable of Darth Maul tell us about ourselves?

That it is possible to spend the sum of one’s days in service to an idea that has no obvious relationship with our own purpose or truth?

That — in the end — the best that one can hope for is the redemption of knowing somehow that your existence serves as a cautionary tale to others who follow in your footsteps?

What if our only purpose is as —inspiration?

It’s heady stuff for a bunch of 7+ year-olds.

I’m just saying.

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