“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Star Wars Rebels has been a very well written and crafted show in it’s first season. One of the more interesting things that they teased out is the temptation of the Dark Side. Through the course of the first season we have seen The Inquisitor attempt to entice Ezra to embrace the Dark Side. We even see Ezra unknowingly touch the darkness when Ezra took control of the giant Fyrnock in the episode “Gathering Forces.”
In the season finale “Fire Across the Galaxy” we see a climactic duel between, Ezra, Kanan and The Inquisitor but it isn’t Ezra who is faced with the temptation of the Dark Side in this situation, it is Kanan.
Now on the surface, the duel in this episode is reminiscent in setting and style to the duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace. The more interesting parallels with the duel however are with two other duels, Anakin versus Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith and Luke versus Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.
In each one of these duels we see the “hero” come to a moment of choice. Leading up to this choice each hero is put through emotional stressors. For Kanan it is the extended physical and psychological torture and the presumed death of his apprentice. For Anakin it is a little more complex because, frankly Anakin is a psychological mess. In Anakin’s case he faces a situation where one of his surrogate father/mentors is in danger (Palpatine) and the other is injured, possibly severely in Obi-Wan. On top of this he is facing a duel with the man who bested him in lightsaber combat and took his arm, given Anakin’s ego seeing Dooku again no doubt pushes him closer to the emotional edge. For Luke he is facing the extinguishing of the hope for galactic freedom, destruction of the Rebellion, death of his friends, and possibly the corruption of his sister.
In each duel, the hero eventually goes into a more offensive posture and takes the advantage. In this case the parallel between Luke and Kanan is particularly strong. When Vader threatens Leia, Luke loses what remains of his calm and touches the Dark Side, his fear for his sister turning to anger and the power of the Force coming to him quickly and impressively. Despite his diminutive size, Luke overpowers Vader with a rain of blows, severs his robotic hand and pauses the moment before what could be a killing blow.
After the Inquisitor knocks Ezra out of the duel and Kanan believes that he has lost his student, we see Kanan go through a range of emotions. The shock and denial of Ezra falling, the attempt to reclaim his Jedi calm, but in spite of his words, the facial expressions and body language of Kanan conveyed a strong sense of cool anger to me. Kanan continues his blaster/lightsaber combo strategy and eventually catches the Inquisitor off-balance and then disarming the villain.
In all three duels the hero emerges from the duel triumphant and have the villain at their mercy. For Anakin, with Dooku disarmed, on his knees and with lightsabers crossed at his throat his opponent is totally defeated. Anakin pauses assessing the situation for himself and the advice from his mentor Palpatine.
Luke has Vader beaten to the ground, defeated and disarmed Vader expects the killing blow to come from his son echoing his own choice. Before killing his father, Luke pauses and ponders his own cybernetic hand and his failure in the cave on Dagobah.
Kanan’s destruction of the Inquisitor’s lightsaber has caused the villain to fall off the platform where he now clings by his hands. Kanan echoing Anakin’s actions crosses his sabers at the Inquisitor’s throat and pauses while considering whether to deal the killing blow. The very direct parallel of Anakin and Kanan’s crossed lightsabers brings the theme of choice very clear.
With Palpatine’s encouragement and permission Anakin filled with the rush of the Dark Side chooses to step out of the light and decapitates Dooku. Taking control of his fate and that of his victim.
Luke also has Palpatine’s encouragement to crystallize his impulsive touch of the Dark Side into something much more permanent by killing his father. Unlike Anakin however, Luke does not have a relationship with Palpatine as a mentor/surrogate father and as such the influence is not nearly as strong. Luke willingly discards his lightsaber, rejects the Dark Side and pledges himself to the path of the Jedi. In doing so Luke submits to the will of the Force and the possibility he will be killed by the Emperor.
Kanan is another step removed from Palpatine. Anakin had the relationship and the pressure, Luke had the pressure but no relationship, and Kanan has neither in his situation. However much like both Skywalkers, Kanan has his own moment of choice.
With the Inquitor under his blades, Kanan chooses to step from the shadows back into the light, extinguishing both lightsabers and assuming a more passive Jedi posture. Kanan’s choice is not as stark as Lukes in that he retains the sabers despite extinguishing them, but he still gives agency in the situation to the Inquisitor. Presumambly Kanan would have allowed the villain to climb up and surrender if he had not chosen suicide.
In Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi and Fire Across the Galaxy each Jedi faces their moment of choosing, and in doing so Luke and Kanan choose the light and Anakin surrenders to the dark. In his choice Anakin enslaves himself to his emotions, while Luke and Kanan free themselves. Only by recognizing that they had erred, accepting this and moving on can heroes return to their true spirits.
The beauty of Star Wars storytelling is that this theme returns again and Anakin is given a second chance, a second moment of choice.