Rebels season two episode “Shroud of Darkness” has sparked a great deal of discussion from Star Wars fans thanks to its mythos-expanding storyline featuring Yoda’s lessons at the Jedi Temple on Lothal. I’ve very much enjoyed the commentary I’ve seen and heard about the episode on blogs and podcasts, but I’ve found there’s a common takeaway from one of the episode’s more ambiguous lessons that I don’t quite agree with myself.
In an effort to better understand how to deal with the perpetual threat of the Inquisitors, Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra travel back to the Jedi Temple on Lothal in order to commune once again with Yoda. Through meditating in the Temple, all three rebels are able to experience Force visions that are facilitated by Yoda, the Temple, and themselves. These visions are representative of considerable growth for at least two of our three featured heroes, but it seems only Ahsoka’s conclusion is straightforward enough to find consensus among fans.
There’s no doubt by the conclusion of “Shroud of Darkness” that Ahsoka has accepted the truth she’s been running from all season; her former master Anakin is Darth Vader, and while it’s a bitter truth for her, it’s clear that she now understands what she’s been afraid of facing since encountering Vader in “Siege of Lothal.” Some part of Ahsoka must’ve known all along that Anakin had become the Sith Lord, but facing that fear and, crucially, accepting it is critical to her spiritual and emotional progression.
Kanan and Ezra’s questions are rooted in a different kind of fear, however. Where Ahsoka surely knows the truth about Anakin but attempts to avoid it before arriving on Lothal, Kanan and Ezra seek a type of knowledge that is beyond them before their experiences in the Temple. Both feel overpowered and outmatched by the Inquisitors and especially Vader, and neither knows how to successfully fight the dark side and the Empire.
Kanan is the first to receive a vision (confirmed to be orchestrated by Yoda on Rebels Recon) as he enters an approximation of a Jedi dojo and comes face to face with a Temple Guard. Kanan’s greatest fear at this point is that he cannot protect his pupil Ezra from the Empire, from Vader, from the dark side, and from himself. When the Temple Guard tells him that if he continues to fight he’ll fail and Ezra will become an agent of evil, Kanan resists. He engages the Temple Guard in lightsaber combat, but it quickly becomes clear that he is yet again outmatched and can’t win.
And this is where I start to disagree with most of the opinions I’ve seen and heard since “Shroud of Darkness” aired a few weeks ago.
After realizing that he will not be able to defeat the Temple Guards (two more joined the fight to emphasis the futility of resistance), Kanan lays down his weapon and accepts the truth that he cannot protect Ezra forever. He states that he knows that all he can do is train Ezra to the best of his ability. In this moment he faces his fear that he isn’t good enough to protect Ezra, accepts the reality that he can only control himself, and resolves at least part of his own internal conflict.
But I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussion concluding that the lesson Kanan learns in “Shroud of Darkness” is that fighting, generally speaking, is wrong. Many voices seem to be suggesting that Kanan now knows not to fight the Empire or the Inquisitors, that he’ll now holster his saber and avoid violence at all costs. However, I just don’t think that’s the case. I believe the lessons Kanan learns in the Temple are far more personal than global; he understands what he’s afraid of and he masters that fear by accepting it rather than denying it. So at this point Kanan and Ahsoka have both come to important realizations about themselves through the acceptance of their greatest fears.
Meanwhile, Ezra questions Yoda about the nature of fighting. Ezra’s fears are less apparent to us as an audience, and they’re less apparent to Ezra as well. It feels as if throughout their discussion, Yoda is hoping Ezra will come to a conclusion or understanding that’s probably beyond him at this point in his development. Yoda talks about the Jedi’s fear and arrogance during the time of the Clone Wars hoping Ezra will learn from the mistakes of the past, but he (like Empire-era Luke Skywalker) is too impulsive and confident to pause and listen. When their conversation ends, Yoda is disappointed (but probably not surprised) that Ezra still has much to learn. He understands that while Kanan and Ahsoka were able to find acceptance of their fears, Ezra isn’t there yet. Unfortunately, rather than Ezra accepting his fear that he may not be powerful enough to defeat his enemies, it’s Yoda who confirms his concerns that Ezra must learn hard truths through his own error.
It’s tempting to view his earlier comments about fighting as a grand statement of non-violence on Yoda’s part (especially when paired with Kanan’s experience with the Temple Guard), and from a certain point of view maybe we should. But from my perspective this is much more about internal conflicts than external ones. Kanan has learned to accept limitations, to be at peace with the limits of his power, but Ezra doesn’t truly internalize anything Yoda tries to tell him. He simply states that his decision is made, that he will fight, making it clear to Yoda that he knows essentially nothing more than he did when he entered the Temple. None of the humility displayed by Ahsoka and Kanan in accepting difficult truths is present in Ezra.
Viewing Yoda’s lesson to Kanan and Ezra as one of total non-violence is too literal a reading of his comments for me. Just as Luke’s refusal to fight Vader and Palpatine at the end of The Return of the Jedi is his moment of acceptance of the realities of the scenario in which he found himself rather than an absolute truth, Yoda pushes Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra to accept crucial truths in their own lives in “Shroud of Darkness.” He calls on them to emerge from the Temple more wise and more self-aware than they were when they entered. Ahsoka and Kanan clearly meet that challenge, but Yoda is disappointed to find that Ezra cannot understand the lesson he needs to learn through his wisdom, but that he instead must experience the pain of making his own mistakes, something we’ll most likely see in the final episodes of season two. Yoda’s purpose is to teach Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra not to fight themselves and to accept critical personal truths; simplifying that lesson to an instruction that Jedi should avoid violence altogether is just not complex enough, especially considering the ambiguity surrounding other aspects of the episode (particularly the reveal surrounding the Grand Inquisitor which surely cannot be read entirely literally).
Like many of the best moments in Star Wars, “Shroud of Darkness” is storytelling that asks as many questions as it answers. Yoda’s lessons through the Force are specific not only to the characters he instructs, but also the unique moments they find themselves in on their own spiritual journeys. It stands as one of the best episodes of Rebels so far, and it’s one that will be worth revisiting often as its characters’ stories continue to develop during the end of this season and beyond.