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‘Mine at last!’ The Emperor’s reach finds Star Wars Rebels, as another character’s fate finally is revealed

Emperor Palpatine wants the secrets of Lothal’s Jedi Temple – but the wolves are at the door, and the Rebels are on a mission to protect is mysterious secret at any cost.

Following the death of Kanan Jarrus in last week’s episodes, the heroes of Star Wars Rebels feel utterly lost — until they realize that their mission to hobble Grand Admiral Thrawn’s TIE Defender manufacturing program has actually been effectively completed with the late Jedi Knight’s final act to destroy Lothal’s previous fuel reserves. (They don’t know this will only give more Imperial resources to Orson Krennic’s “Stardust” project, but that’s another story…)

“Wolves and a Door” opens with the Ghost crew getting back on their feet, quickly buoyed by the realization that Kanan’s sacrifice was bigger than their own survival, and by the newfound certainty and drive behind Ezra Bridger’s new mission: protecting the secrets of Lothal’s Jedi Temple from Imperial abuse. The Loth-wolves, led by a most Kanan-like beast named Dume (Kanan’s Padawan name was Caleb Dume), have communicated to the no-longer-so-young apprentice that the Temple is at imminent risk.

So Ezra, Hera, Sabine, Zeb and Chopper take the Loth-wolf express to the “far north” where the site lies — and after some delightful banter and mindbending Force phenomena, they arrive at their destination to find a disturbing scene.

"Star Wars Rebels" episodes - "Wolves and a Door" and "A World Between Worlds"In an insidious tableau inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark’s chilling Nazi encampment set up to penetrate a relic’s secrets, with shades of that film’s famous final U.S. “warehouse” scene mixed in, the Empire has set up shop around the Lothal Jedi Temple and seems on the cusp of piercing its mysteries.

This threat is underscored when the project director — a Minister Hydan, voiced with academic wickedness by Malcolm McDowell — communes directly with Emperor Palpatine himself (Ian McDiarmid, reprising his big-screen role on television for the first time) and quickly catches onto the Rebel intruders’ presence.

Hydan is no fool, and he stands toe-to-toe with the Rebellion’s own art expert, Sabine Wren, when she is captured after helping Ezra unlock the painted puzzle that lets him enter the Temple.

“Ezra, it’s art. Everything has a meaning.”

Concepts like the Mortis gods indeed return here, as these mysteries from the Jedi archives, not revisited since The Clone Wars, become key to entering (and securing) the Temple.

Tiya Sircar’s performance as the creative Mandalorian demolitionist Sabine really shines, as always — even when her bravura is momentarily cowed by the brute violence Hydan isn’t afraid to employ to reach his master’s goals. (Don’t believe that for a second.)

While Sabine stalls the Emperor’s indecent docent and dignitary by giving him just enough to whet his appetite for more, things get weird for Ezra beyond the wolves’ wild door in the second new episode, “World Between Worlds.” He has entered an ethereal realm unlike any he’s seen before — a world that seems to offer him glimpses of other places and times (and many voices from the past and future, even as far as the new trilogy of Episodes VII-IX).

A “convor” bird, immediately associated by Ezra with his lost friend Ahsoka Tano, appears to guide his path. Ahsoka last appeared in Season 2’s finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” staying behind to battle Darth Vader while Ezra and a blinded Kanan could escape the disintegrating Sith Temple on Malachor.

But these callbacks are more than mere Easter eggs or long-delayed payoff from the aborted Clone Wars series. Like the entrancing entrance to the Lothal Jedi Temple itself, the doorways or windows Ezra discovers act as “a conduit between the living and the dead,” as Palpatine calls it — and this place, like Mortis, is “unlike any other — a conduit through which the entire Force of the universe flows,” as the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn once described the world of Mortis when Obi-Wan visited in The Clone Wars (a description echoed here as one of the many whispered voices fans will no doubt be picking apart for ages).

"Star Wars Rebels" episodes - "Wolves and a Door" and "A World Between Worlds"‘Beyond the veil’

So it is that while viewing Ahsoka Tano’s duel with Vader through one of the portals favored by the convor, Ezra suddenly realizes he can affect the outcome — and literally reaches out and drags her to safety. With a very much alive Ahsoka deposited apparently back in the broken Sith Temple on Malachor, it’s a satisfying but unexpected resolution to the “Ahsoka lives?” question — for now.

Beyond snatching Ahsoka Tano from the clutches of certain death, “World Between Worlds” introduces the tantalizing possibility that Ahsoka and Vader both actually perished in their battle at Malachor, until the events of this latest episode. We see more of that dynamic duel here, and Anakin Skywalker’s former apprentice actually seems to be holding her own and maybe even gaining the upper hand. Could it be that Ezra’s intervention is the reason Vader survives as well, and walks out of the broken temple? It’s a question that will spur endless arguments and probably never be answered.

It’s not quite time travel, but it is time bending — akin to the Aing-Tii “flow-walking” of the old “Legends” novels with Jacen Solo, and possibly related to the trans-galactic telepathic powers on display in Episode VIII — The Last Jedi when Rey and Kylo Ren commune and Luke Skywalker projects himself across the cosmos.

The Emperor strikes back

Despite her apparent deliverance, Ahsoka helps Ezra appreciate Kanan’s “final lesson” — that the Jedi’s death cannot be similarly averted without causing greater woe and rendering his sacrifice meaningless. Then Palpatine unexpectedly interrupts their moment.

‘Ezra Bridger and Ahsoka Tano — mine at last!’

Using ancient Sith wizardry like Force-fire, he tries to claim his new prizes, but ultimately fails to collect when the two friends split up — Ezra must return the way he came, but Ahsoka’s path takes her back to the ruins of Malachor, apparently in the aftermath of the Sith Temple’s destruction and Vader’s escape. SHE hasn’t promised to find Ezra.

Meanwhile, Chopper appropriates an escape vehicle and Hera and Zeb signal Sabine that it’s time to go.

Ian McDiarmid returns as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars Rebels

New voices, next steps?

Even from his short span of sparring with Sabine, Hydan is revealed to be an interesting character. It wouldn’t be unwelcome to see him in a future Star Wars series, animated or live action — Malcolm McDowell in Star Wars? Yes, please! If he survives the Temple’s collapse — and the Emperor’s wrath — there are plenty of Jedi and Sith secrets left to be explored.

Ian McDiarmid puts in a stellar performance as the Dark Lord of the Sith, of course, but it may not remind you much of his earlier portrayals of Palpatine; that’s not good or bad, just different — and different can be refreshing, too.

After his adventure “beyond the veil” and Kanan’s last lesson, Ezra knows what he has to do — showing that he’s both matured and become a confident Jedi. His new direction isn’t that clear to us, yet, but what is clear is that the end is very near.

The Rebels finale airs March 5 on Disney XD.

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