In between my final edits of Part 2 and the outlining of Part 3 here, Star Wars Rebels Season 3 came out on Blu-Ray, which meant we got “Twin Suns” commentary by Dave Filoni himself. In that commentary, Filoni expands on a cut scene that leads into our next scene on the Atollon airfield.
In this scene, Ezra backs down from a recon mission to Lothal and apologizes to Kanan for bailing on the mission. Kanan instead gives Ezra some chores to do around the base, and Ezra trades with Zeb in order to do the task that gets him to the airfield.
This scene was cut because it was a lot of transitional material, letting the audience know how Ezra got from point A to point B, but it was written in the first place because it kept the story centered around family. Not only would scenes like this have made sure Ezra spent more time with the Ghost crew, but it also included a commonplace occurrence in households: helping out with chores.
The removal of this scene and the one with Hera, Kanan, and Zeb discussing Ezra’s departure has the unfortunate effect of removing “family” from the core theme of the episode. The theme of family is definitely still there, in more ways than one, as we saw with the “Legacy” parallels in the last installment of this essay. However, in the final cut, the core theme of the episode is “responsibility,” with themes like “family” and “hope” tying back into and accentuating that core.
We’ll be digging further into that core theme throughout this close read, including in the very next section:
The wonderful thing about Ezras is that Ezras are wonderful things… They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!
There is so much in “Twin Suns,” so many layers upon meanings upon parallels, but I can point to two moments that stuck with me more than most upon my first viewing. One, which is at the far end of the episode, and I knew why it stuck instantaneously. The other was this moment:
For the longest time, it didn’t register with me as to why this moment stood out in my mind. Certainly it was a more light-hearted moment than most of the episode, but the little dart Ezra makes stayed with me even more strongly than the “I can’t hear you” mime he pulled, which was a more laugh-out-loud sequence. Then I began rewatching all three seasons, binge-style (purely for research purposes, I swear), and I realized how much bounce Ezra had in the first two seasons. I also realized how fond I had been of the bounce, how endearing it was.
His mop of hair certainly helped to accentuate his movements, make them seem lighter, more playful, but also his body language was radically different. More animated (no pun intended) and carefree. In Season 3, Ezra is more rigid. He has his moments of playfulness, but they are fewer and farther between – no “Fighter Flight” or “Stealth Strike” in this season – and are generally more subdued.
This obviously plays well into his character arc, establishing his growth into a mature young man. However, there’s also a bit of bitterness to it as well. While his increased maturity and the shedding of his naivete is a good development, especially in the moments he’s providing emotional support to his space family, the rigidness itself is a mark of innocence lost. Between the trauma of Malachor, the Sith Holocron’s influence, his increasing responsibility and accountability in the Rebellion, and of course, Maul’s pursuit, Ezra has been forced to give up what little of his childhood he had left.
It carries shades of how Vader and the Grand Inquisitor took away the childhood of those they turned into Inquisitors and how Sidious took away Maul’s. In fact, the only thing out of those four factors above which allowed him to hold onto to pieces of his youth is the Rebellion; it honed and grew him, to be sure, but he still smiled, cracked wise, and played. Everything else, everything related to the Dark Side, just kept taking.
So this small bounce of Ezra’s feels like more than just a light-hearted beat in an emotionally heavy episode, it was a visually important contrast between the loss of naivete the Rebellion required of him and the loss of innocence the Dark Side forced on him, which is something that Obi-Wan gets to address when the two of them meet.
Or maybe this moment isn’t as deep as I’m making it. Maybe this is my Blue Curtains moment.
In fact, I’m 100% ready to be told that 90% of this whole close read is one long Blue Curtains moment, but by gum, I’ve come this far and there’s no stopping now.
WE CAN WALK THAT PATH TOGETHER! AS FRIENDS! …AS “BROTHERS”…
In the last installment of this close read, I argued that Ezra’s desire to pursue Maul to Tatooine, in spite of the advice and orders of his elders, was not a result of him failing to learn from his mistakes. That his desire was born out of character growth, not regression. I still hold to this, but what I’m about to say seems to run contrary to that claim.
Ezra’s departure from Atollon and his arrival on Tatooine parallels two different episodes of Star Wars in a manner that indicates Ezra is now regressing into a repetitive cycle.
To begin with, his departure from Atollon is similar to the Season 2 episode “Brothers of the Broken Horn.” In this episode, Ezra bails from a responsibility to his family (scrubbing the Ghost, the recon mission to Lothal) to chase after a distress signal that is not his to pursue. This brings him into contact with an old man (Hondo, Maul) who is not to be trusted.
Unlike “Legacy,” or “Spark of Rebellion,” in which the parallels to “Twin Suns” accentuated a growth in Ezra, especially in learning from past experiences, the parallels in “Broken Horn” show Ezra repeating mistakes. And, as discussed in the last installment, is very unlike Ezra. He never stops making mistakes, but he rarely makes the same mistake twice. The fact that he’s doing so now in “Twin Suns” indicates that Maul’s plan to remake Ezra into a version of himself is working.
Maul is a character who lives in a cycle: climbing to power, seeking revenge, and falling hard. According to his voice actor, Sam Witwer, he’s been reliving the same exact cycle since Naboo.
I think Darth Maul has been on a vicious cycle, he’s been on a merry go round. In some way he’s begging for Obi-Wan Kenobi to take him off that ride. Guess what? We’re going to see almost a replay of what we saw in Clone Wars because this guy is not learning what he needs to learn. Maybe he is going about it in slightly smarter ways and maybe he understands a little bit more through the loss of Savage what it means to have a brother, but ultimately he’s going to make a lot of mistakes. This is a man who needs Obi-Wan to help him get off this ride, to help him out of this cycle. That’s the way I read it. Without anyone’s help, Darth Maul will only commit himself to his mistakes of the past. Every time we find this character, he is living in the past and in some cases he is living with the dead. (Sam Witwer IGN interview)
And now Maul is drawing Ezra into a cycle of his own.
Again, Ezra’s desire to go help Obi-Wan is coming from a place of greater maturity. One of the primary differences between Ezra’s actions in “Broken Horn” and “Twin Suns” is that in the former, Ezra is chaffing under too much responsibility and running away from it. In the latter, he’s trying to take on too much responsibility and running after a problem that he believes he created.
“No, I’m not running away from my problems,” he tells Chopper unconvincingly in “Brothers of the Broken Horn.” “I’m simply helping someone else with their problems.” In “Twin Suns,” this is no longer an excuse for Ezra; it’s something he genuinely means.
However, even though the repetition of his mistake in “Broken Horn” – bailing on an important task, stealing a much-needed ship, and flying after a distress call that was not his to answer – may have been born out of a sense of responsibility, it was still the wrong decision to make. And the consequences for such a mistake have been amplified.
The Phantom’s autopilot brought it back home, the generators (and Hondo) in tow. The A-wing Ezra stole was destroyed. In helping Hondo, Ezra puts himself and Chopper in danger. In pursuing Maul, Ezra puts himself, Chopper, Lothal, Obi-Wan, the Lars’ homestead, and by extension, the entire galaxy, in danger.
Even more damning is that Ezra knows this. On some level, he knows what he’s doing is wrong, even if he’s doing it for the right reasons.
“Hera, I hope you can forgive me,” he says, even as he consciously makes a decision to begin a cycle of his own. And between his departure on Atollon and his arrival on Tatooine, his cycle takes a distinctly darker turn and begins to parallel someone else.
In The Clone Wars episode “Brothers,” Savage Opress commandeers a ship, using a mystical, blue device to track down his brother, Maul. During this mission, he lands on a backwater planet, fights some locals, and is at one point tricked into believing the person he seeks is dead.
In the time it takes him to travel from one planet to the other, Ezra has shifted from repeating his own cycle to entering Maul’s via his brother. With every step Ezra takes, he’s falling deeper into the ex-Sith’s designs.
FAKE IT UNTIL YOU ALMOST MAKE IT
The blue lighting up on the Holocron that Ezra takes with him threw a number of people off in the reaction videos I watched. Some people thought that it was truthfully leading him to Obi-Wan, one Youtuber thought it was Luke’s Force signature that the Holocron was reacting to, and of course, Ezra was fooled as well into thinking it belonged to a Lightsider. The reveal that it was Maul all along brings up back a statement Witwer has made multiple times about Maul since “Twilight of the Apprentice.”
Sam Witwer: It’s fun to wonder how much of what we’re seeing from Darth Maul in [Twilight of the Apprentice] is him becoming more eccentric and older and wiser but also a little more frayed, versus what’s play-acting. You know what I mean?
Entertainment Weekly: So he’s putting up a front even after all these years?
Witwer: What is just a lie in terms of his behavior and what is actually the truth? People were commenting when we were recording the episode that they’d never seen a sincere, sweet Darth Maul [Laughs]. You know kind of a sweet, old man. To lie that convincingly, he has to understand the emotions he’s hitting. And in order to understand them, he must possess them in some degree. So in order to portray that level of sincerity, there’s got be some piece of him that is actually sincere. (Filoni & Witwer interview, Entertainment Weekly)
Witwer: [H]ere’s the other thing about Darth Maul is that we do play with the idea that on some level he understands sincerity. He understands what it means to love someone and to lose someone. (Witwer interview, Star Wars Report)
The greatest tragedy about Maul is that he almost makes it. Since his revival on Lotho Minor, he has begun to understand compassion and goodness, and by the time Ezra finds him on Malachor, he’s realized that something is wrong in his life, that he’s on the wrong path. To quote Witwer again, Maul is starting to ask “some of the right questions” (ComicBook.com). Even in “Twin Suns,” where he has so very clearly reverted to the revenge-based obsession that destroyed his life and the people he loved, he is still able to fake the Force signature of a Lightsider. Maul, on some level, gets it. He’s so close to breaking out of his own, self-destructive cycle.
This brings to mind a brief moment of hope in the novel Moby-Dick. As a side note: Captain Ahab may be the poster boy for revenge-driven tragedies, but you would still not believe the minutia of similarities between him and Maul. This isn’t just broad strokes of shout-outs we’re talking about here. Somebody on the writing team for The Clone Wars must have been a Melville fan.
Towards the end of the novel, right before the fateful encounter with Moby Dick, Ahab’s first mate pleads with him to consider reason, to consider his family, and turn back before it’s too late.
“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own, proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare?” (Moby-Dick, Chapter 132 “The Symphony,” p 622, Barnes & Noble Classics edition)
Ahab is aware of his own folly; he’s aware of what’s good and right, but he cannot bring himself to change his course. In a similar vein, Maul understands sincerity; he understands the Light Side, but he refuses to respect it (Witwer interview, Wookie Gunner’s Rebels Chat, 7:26). Thus, consumed by their own hatred, Ahab and Maul spell out their own doom.
And of course, they lead others to that same oblivion.
CROSSING THE WRONG THRESHOLD
Maul is so good at faking sincerity, at least where Ezra is concerned, that he even pulls it off on a metatextual level. The trap that he’s laid for Ezra, this path into the self-destructive cycle, carries all the trappings of a Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey, also known as the Classical Monomyth or just monomyth, has been a formative part of Star Wars since the beginning, so it’s no surprise to find elements of it throughout the franchise. “Twin Suns” is no exception. In fact, it’s almost an abridged version of the monomyth, with nearly the entire structure – stages and archetypes alike – present.
A few notes on the interpretation of the monomyth used in this essay before we dive into it:
For this analysis, I am mostly using The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is because Vogler, in his examination of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with A Thousand Faces, uses more modern stories as examples than Campbell did. In doing so, Vogel explains the monomyth using the same sort of environment that produced “Twin Suns.” Additionally, in updating Campbell, Vogel also removes most of the misogyny from Campbell’s interpretations of stories (meaning I have to do less editing of Campbell’s text than I did for my Halo analysis of the monomyth).
Beyond the misogyny, Campbell’s monomyth also tends to accentuate the similarities and not the differences between cultures, thus leading to a very Eurocentric view of the world and a simplification of the cultures analyzed. These are exceptionally valid criticisms, but since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, much of our western stories have revolved to some extent around this formula, thus making it a valid lens through which to view, analyze, or interpret stories. This impact on western media is another reason why I chose to use Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, as it takes Campbell’s influence into account.
Campbell’s monomyth is a flawed, incomplete interpretation of what stories mean to us and how we tell them, but we cannot deny its impact on the Star Wars franchise. That’s why I find it significant that “Twin Suns” seems be a perfect example of the Hero’s Journey at the surface, but on closer inspection, it falls apart in the comparison at critical points.
The basic idea of the monomyth goes like this:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (Campbell, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, p 23, third edition)
Vogel in The Writer’s Journey outlines the structure of that idea like this:
- Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
- they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
- They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
- are encouraged by a MENTOR to
- CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
- they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
- They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
- where they endure the ORDEAL.
- They take possession of their REWARD and
- are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
- They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
- They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World. (p 19, third edition)
Let’s see how these stages apply to “Twin Suns.”
The Ordinary World is the everyday world inhabited by the hero, sharply contrasted (Vogel, p 10) in mundanity to the wonders of the Special World. There is often something wrong with the Ordinary World, some flaw that needs remedy, and the remedy – called a “boon” or “elixir” by Vogel – can only be found in the Special World.
In the framework of “Twin Suns,” Ezra’s place in the Rebellion is his Ordinary World, and in this, we see the mundane highlighted. Our first introduction of Ezra is while he is sleeping. His first few scenes are not of action but of talking. In the deleted scene, he would be performing the equivalent of household chores. This world is busy and collaborative in nature, a far cry from the isolation he is about to experience on Tatooine.
The wrong faced in the Ordinary World are the Sith. Whether it be by the Empire or by Maul, the Sith are a constant threat to the Rebellion and to the galaxy itself. And Ezra believes he must bring back the key to destroy them from the Special World: Tatooine.
However, Ezra exists outside of the framework of “Twin Suns.” It’s the show as a whole that encompasses his monomyth. The Rebellion is not the Ordinary, but the Special. His true Journey began back in the very premiere of the show, as the crew of the Ghost called him up and out of his Ordinary World, Kanan and Hera doing so quite literally.
His true Ordinary World – Lothal – is the place to which he needs to return with the true elixir: the Rebellion. It’s significant as well that on Lothal, before being called into the Rebellion, Ezra was very much in isolation, even if he was surrounded by other citizens. The fact that going to Tatooine returns him to isolation is another indication that Maul is leading him into a cycle.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
The Call to Adventure is what highlights the wrong in the Ordinary World, presenting a challenge for the hero to take on. This is often presented by a Herald archetype who delivers the message.
In “Twin Suns,” the Call is the activation of the Holocrons. Since learning that Obi-Wan Kenobi was dead, it appears that the Rebellion and Ezra set aside the hunt for Obi-Wan and Maul. The Holocron messages reignite the fire in Ezra to destroy the Sith.
But again, Ezra’s Call happened all the way back in the premiere, where the Force itself drew him to the Holocron and Obi-Wan’s message. Here, in “Twin Suns,” Maul wears one of Ezra’s initial Heralds’ faces as a mask, a commonality in monomyth (p 101), to draw Ezra in.
REFUSAL OF THE CALL/MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
The Refusal of the Call is when the hero turns down Call for the sake of remaining in their ordinary world. See, for example, Luke initially refusing to go to Alderaan in A New Hope. Frodo’s ongoing delay in leaving the Shire is another. The entirety of Halo 2 is essentially one long Refusal by the Arbiter. What’s interesting is that some stories don’t put the Refusal of the Call at the feet of the hero.
“While many heroes express fear, reluctance, or refusal at this stage, others don’t hesitate or voice any fear. … However, the fear and doubt represented by the Refusal of the Call will find expression even in stories of willing heroes. Other characters will express the fear, warning the hero and the audience of what may happen on the road ahead.” (p 110)
“Twin Suns” is the Journey of a willing hero, so the Refusal is performed by Rex, Kanan, and Hera. Obi-Wan is dead, this is likely a trick by Maul, and Lothal needs you, Ezra. The issue here, the indication that this is not Ezra’s true Journey, is that these three aren’t Threshold Guardians (a role discussed just ahead) that Ezra needs to defeat. These are his Mentors.
The Meeting with the Mentor is a moment in the Journey in which a form of aid is given to the hero to prepare them for their entry into the Special World. Because “Twin Suns” is a false Journey, this Meeting is masked as a Refusal that the hero must overcome. As such, Ezra leaves in defiance of his Mentors, which means that he is unprepared for the trials ahead.
CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD
This is the moment that the hero fully commits to the Journey and passes from the Ordinary World into the Special World. This is often a trial that the hero must overcome in order to gain access to the Special World, a trial that is usually given by a Threshold Guardian. This Guardian is often a personification of the Ordinary World, a representation of what the hero is leaving behind for their journey (Campbell p 64). Sometimes this is a test to prove the hero’s worth, or sometimes it is the last remnants of the Ordinary World attempt to maintain control of the hero. In “Twin Suns,” we find neither.
As mentioned before, Rex, Kanan, and especially Hera act as metaphorical Guardians in this drama of Maul’s. All three and their advice are placed in opposition to Ezra’s false Journey, but this is not an effort to maintain control of Ezra’s life. All of them are willing to let Ezra choose his own path; it’s Maul who seeks control of the young Jedi.
The flight deck officer that Ezra faces acts as another Guardian. Ezra must use his wits to first discover which fighter to take and then to give the officer the slip. However, this is not a test of his skills or his character. He did not have to earn the officer’s trust nor did he have a fight in reaching the A-wing. This is especially significant because encountering and defeating a Guardian usually indicates that the hero has learned something new (Vogler, p 51), but here, nothing is learned. Ezra doesn’t gain anything new from this trial and is regressing to old tricks.
All these are once again clues that this isn’t the true First Threshold of Ezra’s Journey, but it is undeniably still a Threshold. Many First Thresholds play out like a leap of faith: “[l]ike jumping out of an airplane, the act is irrevocable. There is no turning back now” (Vogler, p 130). Ezra seems to understand this as he asks for Hera’s forgiveness; it feels almost like a good-bye that she won’t ever hear.
And with that good-bye, Ezra fully commits to the path Maul has laid out and crosses the wrong Threshold.
After the crossing, Maul’s hand becomes far more evident. Ezra has been repeating his own cycle on Atollon, Savage’s above Tatooine, but upon setting his feet on Tatooine’s sands, he fully enters Maul’s. The trials that Maul put him through mirrors much of Maul’s life – a comparison we will get to in the next installment of this close read. We also start to see more clearly how Maul has cast himself in almost every archetypal role in the Journey.
We already know that he wore Obi-Wan’s face to play the Herald. We already know that he’s cast himself as Ezra’s Mentor since Malachor, but once again he also fakes Obi-Wan’s Force signature through the Holocrons to guide Ezra to the Tuskens’ territory. As the Shadow, he knows he is a reflection of the Dark Side’s draw on Ezra, and he reveals himself as an enemy to lure Ezra deeper into the desert. And of course, he sees himself not only as Ezra’s true Mentor but also his true Ally. In “Twin Suns,” Maul is the ultimate Shapeshifter, projecting whatever masks he requires to draw out the right reaction from Ezra.
If we follow Maul’s false Journey for Ezra to its conclusion, we see that, by the end, it’s not even about Ezra anymore. That, on the surface, makes for a very weak Hero’s Journey:
“A frequent flaw in screenplays is that the Hero is fairly active throughout the story, but at the most critical moment becomes passive and is rescued by the timely arrival of some outside force. At this moment above all, a Hero should be fully active, in control of his own fate” (Vogler, p 31).
But in “Twin Suns,” this works, because this isn’t supposed to be Ezra’s Journey, even by Maul’s standards; Maul has also cast himself as the Hero.
The Reward to be claimed is Maul’s: the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ezra as an apprentice. Ezra’s Road Back, that return to the Ordinary World, bearing the life-giving elixir, is completely erased. His Resurrection would be that into a Sith: Maul’s Reward. That is the endgame of Maul’s design.
And what of the true elixir for both Maul and Ezra? Destroyed. Maul’s hope will have ended by his own hand, and Ezra will have left Lothal to fall.
The metatextual angle of Maul’s deception here with the Journey almost indicates a manipulation of fate itself, which does exist, in some form, in Star Wars. Obi-Wan will later say that Maul “altered many things,” and that Ezra “should never have been” on Tatooine. In the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars, the Son breaks the laws of time in an attempt to change the future into what he wanted, an act that has to be undone. From “Master and Apprentice” in the A Certain Point of View collection, Qui-Gon, being one with the Force, can see that Obi-Wan will die on the Death Star. Not just a possibility, but an actual fact.
And, interestingly enough, this doesn’t negate the existence of free will in Star Wars. Obi-Wan still choses to die in the manner that he did. It was his decision. He makes it freely. The fact that the Force, being all times at once, knows this outcome does not negate Obi-Wan’s ability to choose it. Therein lies the difference between the Force (the Light Side, specifically) and the actions of the Son and Maul. The former cooperates with free will; the latter two seek to overrule it.
We see this on an even broader scale in the Legends novel Darth Plagueis. The entire novel is about the manipulations of Plagueis and Sidious, both with Republic politics and midichlorians, to undercut and overpower the free will of the galaxy. The Sith prepare to spend long hours in meditation to beat the Force itself into submission in regards to their experiments with midichlorians; experiments that were designed to extend their lives and their rule indefinitely. Yet the battle they are expecting doesn’t happen; the Light Side doesn’t attempt to override even the free will of the Sith.
But it does not remain passive either. As Plagueis and Sidious continue to experiment with midichlorians to control life itself, the Force responds in kind, using midichlorians to give birth to one who will defeat the Sith: the Chosen One.
Even though the circumstances of Anakin’s birth may no longer be canon, we do know that the Light will actively push back against the Dark Side, as we saw with Obi-Wan’s holocron message here in “Twin Suns.” Additionally, it seems to do so by working within the medium being used to control free will. From Plagueis’ experiments to Anakin’s immaculate conception: midichlorians. From Maul’s bait to Obi-Wan’s warning: the Jedi Holocron. Maul’s trap, framed as a Hero’s Journey for Ezra, is no different.
Into this false Journey, so carefully constructed to draw Ezra into Maul’s own self-destructive cycle, the Force begins to weave in a redemptive layer as soon as Ezra’s boots touch sand.