A chapter closes as another is about to open in this week’s episode of Star Wars Rebels. The long awaited final confrontation between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Maul is finally upon us in “Twin Suns.”
The episode marketed heavily with an iconic shot of Obi-Wan and Maul, lightsabers ignited on moonlit Tatooine. Certainly had some great moments and some interesting storytelling choices, but in the end over sold and under delivered on a confrontation years in the making.
Stephen Stanton takes up the role of Ben Kenobi in this episode. It is a different portrayal than what we came to expect from James Arnold Taylor’s younger version of the character. Stanton brings to Kenobi less of a whimsical undertone and more of a wistful one. It is a very nice performance that shines in this episode, albeit briefly.
Sam Witwer once again returns as Maul, and we see the continued decompensation from the psychological healing that Mother Talzin gave him during The Clone Wars. Witwer has enough vocal range to convey this advancing instability even without animation to back it up. It is always a joy to hear his vocal performances.
Before I get into my specific critiques of the episode, I do want to highlight some of the parts of the episode I really enjoyed.
The final shot was lovely with Obi-Wan returning to his solitary watch over the Lars homestead. The voice of Beru calling Luke home and away from danger of the Tusken Raiders in the dark. This is a moment that is rich with meaning as Maul has sent ripples through the Force.
The recycling of the vocal track from Shelagh Fraser was a nice touch and the fact that we never actually saw Owen, Beru or Luke is probably for the best.
The use of the Sand People attacking Ezra was a nice call back to A New Hope as was their being cut down a call back to Anakin’s easy slaughter of them in Attack of the Clones.
The fact that Ezra ends up with Maul’s custom painted Mandalorian Kom’rk starship is pretty awesome.
The fan service name drop of the “Old Wounds” comic story was a lovely touch.
The reluctance of Ben to fight until Maul searches his feelings and reveals the truth is great storytelling. It echos Luke and Vader aboard the second Death Star and it also shows Obi-Wan’s connection to the living Force and the sympathy and pity he has for Maul.
Maul at this point in the timeline is little more than a rabid dog. In fact that thing that popped to my mind after seeing this duel was Gregory Peck killing the dog in To Kill A Mockingbird. For Maul in the era of Rebels there was never going to be any happy ending or grand return to power. Since the loss of his brother and Mother Talzin he has been a beast in its death throws.
Ben’s killing of Maul was an act of mercy. Truly Maul was someone to dangerous to be left alive, but clearly Ben took no pleasure in the act. This mercy is exemplified by the tenderness he shows in Maul’s final moments after the killing blow is dealt, giving Maul one bit of hope and then closing his eyes gently.
Now lets get on to what I found problematic in the episode.
Ezra blurts out in this episode that he knows Maul is heading to Tatooine. Yet we never established how he knows this. In a previous episode, “Visions and Voices” Maul says within Ezra’s hearing he is looking for a desert planet with twin suns and we see an image of that in the green mists of the Nightsisters magic. But we have no idea how Ezra was able to narrow this down in the galaxy or how many planets orbiting binary stars there even are in the galaxy.
This is a particular problem because the main plot of the season has been Thrawn’s attempt to narrow down the planetary location of the Rebel base. A search that has been explained. On the other one this is simply revealed for conveniences sake.
Once again Holocrons can do just about whatever the story needs them to do. Some how Maul can activate a piece of a Sith holocron to work as a homing beacon to Ezra’s Jedi holocron piece.
Not the biggest deal as some latitude should be given the storytellers, but a little more explanation following the rules that govern this would have.
The Ezra/Maul Arc:
With the death of Maul we bring an end to the Ezra and Maul arc that began at the end of last season. An arc that never felt like the writers fully committed to taking it to the places it should naturally have gone. Ezra never went to explored the dark side to the extent he should have.
As a result we are left with Maul using Ezra simply as a vehicle for revenge and coming out of it pretty unscathed.
There was simply way too much Ezra in this episode and way too little Maul and Ben screen time together.
After the 1:30 cold open featuring Maul on Tatooine, we then get a little over 13 minutes focused on Ezra, a little under 5 minutes on Atollon and over 8 minutes on Tatooine.
We get a brief Obi-Wan and Ezra scene before the big scene and a pair of closing scenes, one with Ezra on Atollon and one with Obi-Wan at the Lars Homestead scenes.
The entire Maul and Obi-Wan reunion only lasts around 2:30 of which the duel lasts a pair of heartbeats.
The problem is that this does not give the confrontation a chance to breath and build up narrative tension in the scene. As a result the death of Maul feels cheap and disposable.
The crew was able to use a duel earlier in the season to much better emotional effect. Sabine’s cathartic training duel with Kanan was wonderful storytelling, and Maul deserved a similar but darker and unhinged scene before Obi-Wan dealt the killing blow.
In the end while “Twin Suns” was well acted and had some terrific moments, unfortunately it felt like a story shoehorned into a series when it deserved to stand on its own.