A Close Read of Star Wars Rebels “Twin Suns” – Part 5 – Fireside Chats

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HE’S KIND OF A STRANGE OLD HERMIT

“I think [sound design] adds so much to your storytelling,” Dave Filoni said in the “Twin Suns” audio commentary, “so I devised these cuts so that we’re going from a feeling of emptiness to very full [with] the sand and the chaos, and [then] we go back to emptiness.”

The cuts he’s speaking of are when Ezra treks out into the desert after Maul, where the sound environment consists of “a very full-sounding shot and an empty-sounding shot.”

“[T]hat’s Ezra’s mind. The chaos in his mind right now as he’s being beaten down… and again just crashing out into a feeling of emptiness. So, y’know, if Ezra was wishing for the storm to stop, well now it has and now the sun is punishing.” (Filoni, audio commentary, 12:00)

These two sound choices evoke an edge to the environment, painting it as unwelcome and harsh. This changes once Ezra wakes up to the campfire. Audibly, the environment is mellow. Not the harsh silence of the wastes or the overwhelming roar of the sandstorm. Instead, it’s a warm sound. The gentle crackle of the fire, the ambient noise of the planet’s night critters, the soft huffing of the dewback, which evokes (sorry, Zeb), the Lasat’s snores from the episode’s beginning. The sound environment is welcoming.

Visually, the colors and staging evoke the meeting of Rebellion leaders at the episode’s start. Night’s blue fading into a soft light, around which Ezra is counselled by mentors older and wiser than himself. Even the gestures and advice coming from Obi-Wan mirror that of Kanan and Hera. A touch on the shoulder, a reaffirmation of where he’s meant to be.

Through both sound and picture, Obi-Wan’s presence is painted as safety and home.

The reveal of Obi-Wan, or rather Ben as we should call him, is wonderfully unassuming. Like his appearance in A New Hope, he first enters the scene as a daunting figure – a hooded man with a horrid cry, a monolith of a figure looming against the suns – only for a second glance to reveal a gentle old man. Even some of Ben’s animation here emphasizes his age. He makes an effort to stand on more than one occasion, even using Ezra as a means to rise as Maul approaches.


Star Wars #15

Stephen Stanton’s vocal work here carries the natural gravitas of a Sir Alec Guinness performance, but his delivery is never overbearing. He captures that friendly, almost casual tone that Ben used with Luke throughout A New Hope. I especially love the little tck Stanton gives before the line “About Maul?”

This also starts painting us a picture of Ben that’s closer to reality than the one we saw in the Holocron. As discussed in Part 2, through the Holocron’s message, Ezra sees an outdated picture of Master Kenobi. He sees the charismatic General Kenobi – the Jedi who would fight a war. But Ben isn’t that man anymore. Here in front of the campfire is the down-to-earth Ben Kenobi, the one who has “no intention of fighting.”

The new picture Ezra gets to see here is a Jedi Master who knows his place and responsibility. A man whose purpose is clear.

 

SOME NICE TOUCHES

I love the line Chopper has here. The inflection and syllables make it sound like “Look who found us,” prompting Ezra to look towards Ben. Personally, I prefer to translate it as “Look who I found,” because Chopper is the exact type of snot who would take credit for that.

Another tiny detail comes in Ben’s expression. As he says, “One doesn’t survive as long as I have by being foolish,” his expression flickers into a small, wry smile, a flash of Obi-Wan’s humor. The camera then cuts to his lightsaber as he finishes his sentence: “…or unprepared.” It’s a noticeable cut, but not dramatic. As unassuming a statement as Ben Kenobi himself.

A final small touch is the pat Ben gives to Chopper. This time, it’s a chance for Ben to parallel Ezra instead of the other way around. It’s very much like the pat Ezra gives to Chopper when discussing how they should try to return home earlier in the episode. It’s a similar to a tactic that John Jackson Miller uses in the Kenobi novel. In Miller’s notes on the novel, he says,

Seeing how Ben treats Rooh (the eopie) sells Annileen immediately on him. Always be kind to animals, folks — especially when trying to make a first impression!

Showing Orrin’s somewhat soulful relationship with the environment was key in making Obi-Wan like him. It’s the equivalent of Annileen seeing Obi-Wan being nice to his eopie.

Miller uses demonstrations of similar sensibilities to unite characters early on in the novel. Here in “Twin Suns,” this pat of Ben’s that mirrors Ezra is a nice visual cue to the audience that Master Kenobi can be trusted.

Now, of course, long-time Star Wars fans know that Ben is one of the good guys, and that makes this touch a nice character beat. But remember, those folks who are starting their Star Wars journey with Rebels only know Obi-Wan from the Holocron message. He is a Jedi of the past, and like we saw with both the Grand Inquisitor and with Darth Vader in this show, these Jedi of the past sometimes turn out wicked.

So this small pat unites Ezra and Ben before their heart-to-heart, demonstrating their shared similarities and kindness.

 

THE ULTIMATE JEDI, ALMOST

“I had no intention of fighting him, though that seems inevitable now.”

This is such a critical line, on three levels. One we have already discussed above: it establishes that this is not General Kenobi; this is Ben. He is not here to fight a war. Another is again about Kenobi’s arc as a character, but in almost the reverse direction of the General to hermit arc. How does Obi-Wan go from his horror at the prospect of assassinating Dooku and executing Vos in Dark Disciple to these lines in Return of the Jedi?

Luke: “I can’t do it, Ben.”
Ben: “You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Vader again.”
Luke: “I can’t kill my own father.”
Ben: “Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.”

This line in “Twin Suns” is just as critical to this change as Revenge of the Sith was, and provides that final step in his arc.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about that third level for why this is a critical line. Let’s talk about Maul. Recall our last installment, when we approached the question: could Maul have earned the right to talk to Kenobi?

At this point in his life, Ben is far beyond whatever mastery of the Force Maul could claim. Clearly aware of Maul’s hunt, he’s likely been leading the ex-Sith about on a merry chase on his dewback, keeping him away from the Lars homestead. In addition to protecting Luke, Owen, and Beru, Ben was quite likely trying to wear Maul down, a tactic long associated with Obi-Wan Kenobi both in Legends and in canon.

In the Legends series Jedi Apprentice by Dave Wolverton (Apprentice #1) and Jude Watson (Apprentice #2-#18), the first lesson we see Obi-Wan learning from Yoda is on this tactic:

Obi-Wan could sense the Force flowing around him, within him. He could feel the living Force in Bruck, the dark ripples caused by Bruck’s anger. His impulse was to match that anger with his own. He had to resist it.
Obi-Wan assumed defensive stance as Bruck lunged. He let the Force guide him as it had done earlier…
For long minutes, the two students fought as if in a graceful dance. Obi-Wan leaped away from every attack and blocked every jarring blow. He did not try to hit Bruck…
Sweat began to drench Obi-Wan’s clothes. His muscles burned. He could hardly breathe fast enough to get the air he needed. But as long as he did not attack in anger, the Force remained strong with him. He tried not to think about the fight. He lost himself in the dance, and soon he felt so weary, he did not think at all.
Bruck fought slower and slower. Soon, Obi-Wan did not even need to leap away from Bruck’s weary attacks. He merely blocked them, until finally Bruck gave up.
“Good, Obi-Wan,” Yoda called. “Learning you are… You see, to defeat an enemy, you do not have to kill. Defeat the rage that burns in him, and he is your enemy no longer. Rage the true enemy is.” (Jedi Apprentice #1, pp 6-7, emphasis mine)

In Revenge of the Sith, stunt coordinator Nick Gillard designed the fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin to be about Obi-Wan trying to wear Anakin down:

We saw it as a fight like you might have with your wife, where you just got to take it for as long as you can and hope she’s going to run out of steam. …We figured that Obi really wouldn’t want to kill Anakin. (Star Wars 100 Interviews – Sci Fi Central)

In Gillard’s original choreography, Anakin’s dismemberment was an accident, not a final blow by Obi-Wan. While Lucas chose to end with the deliberate dismemberment, that delaying tactic was quite possibly still in Gillard’s mind as he crafted the rest of the moves of the fight.

Even Obi-Wan’s chosen form is defensive, focused on defeating an enemy not by killing but by expending:

[T]he only form in which he was truly proficient was Soresu, which was the most common lightsaber form in the Jedi Order. Founded upon the basic deflection principles all Padawans were right – to enable them to protect themselves from blaster bolts – Soresu was very simple, and so restrained and defense-oriented that it was very nearly downright passive. (Revenge of the Sith novelization, p 318)

This is Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ben Kenobi in his prime.

 “But surely, Master Windu,” Obi-Wan had said, “you with the power of Vaapad – or Yoda’s mastery of Ataro –”
Mace Windu had almost smiled. “I created Vaapad to answer my weakness: it channels my own darkness into a weapon of the light. Master Yoda’s Ataro is also an answer to weakness: the limitations of reach and mobility imposed by his stature and his age. But for you? What weakness foes Soresu answer?
Blinking, Obi-Wan had been forced to admit he’d never thought of it that way.
“That is so like you, Master Kenobi,” the Korun Master had said, shaking his head. “I am called a great swordsman because I invented a lethal style; but who is greater, the creator of a killing form – or the master of the classic form? …Not a master. The master.” (Revenge of the Sith novelization, pp 318-319, emphasis mine)

This is Obi-Wan Kenobi: …A devastating warrior who would rather not fight. …the ultimate Jedi. (Revenge of the Sith novelization, p 17)

Obi-Wan, Ben, when he is being all that he is meant to be and is on the path he is meant to follow, is the incarnation of Yoda’s line from The Empire Strikes Back: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

Had this tactic of wearing Maul down worked, I hardly think Ben would have left Maul simply to perish in the desert. Obi-Wan is frequently shown tending to the dead and the fallen throughout Star Wars. Not just cradling those he loves as they are dying, though that is a constant to be sure. In Attack of the Clones, he had used the small breathing room granted by Dooku in the arena to check on his fellow Jedi. In the Utapau story reels of The Clone Wars, he gives the bodies of his foes their due respect. He insists on a proper burial for Ventress in Dark Disciple. In A New Hope and From a Certain Point of View, he tends to the Jawas killed by the Empire. The one exception to this that I can think of is Anakin on Mustafar, but we’ll be returning to that momentarily.

So what if Maul didn’t draw Ezra into danger on Tatooine, or what if Ezra never came at all? What if Maul had allowed the elements to humble him? What if Maul had yielded? It could have been Maul waking up across the fire from Ben, an idea briefly teased at in the mid-season trailer for Rebels Season 3, the dialogue and scenes edited to make it sound as if Ben was admonishing Maul for being in the wrong place. It could have been Maul who departed from Tatooine with a restored sense of worth and purpose.

And that honestly would have changed the course of the entire story moving forward. But we’ll save that discussion for a future installment.

For now, let’s return to Anakin, Mustafar, and how Obi-Wan could have, even after shedding the title and role of general, even after coming the closest he’s ever been to truly being that “ultimate Jedi” described in the pages of Revenge of the Sith, still encourage Luke to kill his own father.

At first, I had considered this to be a matter of Ben truly believing that no one could come back from the Dark Side, and Maul’s death on Tatooine only seemed to reaffirm that. Then I read Dark Disciple, and no one in that novel was more opposed to the assassination of Dooku than Obi-Wan himself, no one more supportive of both Vos’ and Ventress’ redemptions. The novel even concludes with a speech from Obi-Wan about how Ventress saved the Jedi Order itself through her redemption.

Kenobi was shaking his auburn head. An odd, unspeakably kind smile was on his face. “You misunderstand, Master Windu. All of you. She didn’t just save his life. She saved Quinlan. And… I believe she may have saved us.
Yoda had silenced the questions and protests, and had instructed Kenobi to speak what was in his heart.
“We lost our way,” Kenobi had said. “We lost it when we decided to use assassination, a practice so clearly of the dark side, for our own ends, well intentioned though they may have been. All that has happened since… all of this can be traced back to that single decision. Masters, I submit to you that Vos’s fall was of our making. And Asajj Ventress’s death is on all our hands. That Vos is here with us today, devastated but on the light path once more, is no credit to us but to her. …this bitter lesson that came to us at so dear a price. We are Jedi, and we must, all of us, always, remember what that means.” (Dark Disciple, pp 354-355)

There has never been anything else in Star Wars canon, Legends or the new EU, which has cast Ben’s assertions in Return of Jedi in such a harsh light. Here is a man who vehemently argued against the use of assassination, a man who passionately praised the actions of a Darksider who was pulled back to the Light, and he now is encouraging someone to kill his own father, who Ben all but calls irredeemable. It almost appears like Ben Kenobi is bitterly encouraging Luke to carry out the old Jedi’s own, personal vendetta against Vader.

It’s a rather horrific picture of a Jedi once renown for compassion.

That’s why “Twin Suns” is critical to Obi-Wan’s arc.

“I had no intention of fighting him, though that seems inevitable now.”

Fighting was not Ben’s first choice with Maul. Nor was it his first choice with Anakin on Mustafar.

“I will not kill Anakin. …He is like my brother! I cannot do it!”

The difference in these two interactions is Obi-Wan’s ability to follow through.

Unlike some interpretations I’ve seen of the duel on Mustafar, I do not think Obi-Wan left Anakin to burn out of cruelty. I think Obi-Wan was incapable of landing that final, killing blow: “I cannot do it.” And that failure is why he urges Luke to be willing to do so; Obi-Wan’s admonishments and advice usually come from a place of pain, from lessons he learned in the worst ways.

“This lightsaber is your life,” he tells Anakin in Attack of the Clones, a scold that takes on a different tone when you consider the moment Obi-Wan lost his own lightsaber. With it kicked over the edge by Maul, Obi-Wan would likely have been killed if Qui-Gon’s blade hadn’t been nearby. He scolds Anakin because he doesn’t want him being left defenseless like he was.

“Your intentions are honorable, Rex, but defying the Council’s orders for a personal crusade, on a neutral planet no less. That is not advisable.” This is a line that did not make it into The Clone Wars show, but it takes place in the canon story reels of the Bad Batch arc. Rex has learned that fellow trooper Echo may be alive and is planning to mount a rescue mission. Obi-Wan’s caution comes close on the heels of his own loss of Satine in “The Lawless,” in which he did exactly what Rex plans to do now. We could read this as being hypocritical, or we could see it as Obi-Wan wanting to spare Rex from the same pain he went through.

And then in Return of the Jedi, Ben hears his own words from Luke’s mouth: “I can’t kill my own father.” Obi-Wan could not kill Anakin, and look what Vader has wrought on the galaxy.

The key is in the intent versus the will. Ben did not wish to fight or to kill Maul; it was not his intention, but he was willing to if needed. Seeing that in Ben here in “Twin Suns” – that lack of malice and the overwhelming compassion, even when the fight became inevitable – is the critical bridge for Obi-Wan’s character arc.

Even after seeing the potential for redemption in Ventress, even after Anakin’s bitter, destructive betrayal, there is no malice or desire for revenge in Ben telling Luke he must be willing to kill Vader. And this line of inevitability followed by Ben’s treatment of Maul in their final duel, paints that clearly. He isn’t telling Luke that he needs to assassinate or execute Vader, but that he must be willing to kill him in battle.

That doesn’t make Ben right in his assertion, but “Twin Suns” allows us to see that Ben was not speaking out of hate. It allows us to see Obi-Wan still as that Jedi who would rather subdue than kill, even if he believes the latter has become inevitable.

 

FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW

The key to destroying the Sith: Luke Skywalker. Protected by Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is why the Holocrons showed Ezra the old Jedi Master, right?

Well, yes. From a certain point of view.

We can also take this from a more literal perspective. Ben Kenobi himself is the one who destroys the Sith plaguing Ezra’s portion of the Rebellion. He is the one who kills Maul, who has doggedly been pursuing Ezra and his friends since Malachor. He is the one who frees Ezra to refocus his efforts on Lothal.

We can also give this interpretation a metaphorical bent. If Maul hadn’t insisted on fighting – yes, we will be coming back to this “if” many times – and instead talked to and listened to his old foe, Ben still would have “destroyed” the Sith.

Anakin was “destroyed” by becoming Darth Vader. Ben Solo was “killed” by becoming Kylo Ren. Luke Skywalker “destroys” the Sith by redeeming Vader. Maul and the last remnants of his Sith title could likewise have been destroyed by a change of heart, by redemption through Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But Maul rejects that and instead is destroyed literally.

 

HOW DO WE BUILD A REBELLION FROM THIS?

Spoilers for The Last Jedi Incoming

We’ve already discussed at great length how “Twin Suns” is a refocusing for Ezra. He needed to learn – or relearn – that it was Lothal, not the Sith, that was his calling to make right. However, “Twin Suns” is also how Ezra learns that it’s himself that Lothal needs.

Filoni points out in the audio commentary that Ezra has been constantly looking outward for answers to save Lothal. He looks to Kanan and Hera, Ahsoka, even Maul and the Sith Holocron, and now Ben for someone to save Lothal. In spite of his hyper-responsibility, Ezra doesn’t see himself as capable of saving Lothal.

It’s very much like another of our recent Star Wars heroes…

Rey is not one to back down from a fight; she’s always the first one to charge in to help. Yet she denies that her role in the story is anything large. Throughout The Force Awakens, she’s committed to defending BB-8 through all odds, but she refuses to accept that the Force calls her to be something bigger, grander.

By the end, by the times The Last Jedi begins, Rey has accepted that she does have a larger role, but it’s still centered around who else she can bring to the fight, not what she herself can. She looks first to Luke, and when he fails her, she looks to Kylo Ren.

Rey assumed, as many fans did, that the story’s hero must be a Skywalker: first she thinks it must be Luke, then Ben. When she catches the lightsaber that has bisected Snoke, she gazes up at Ben as if she has found her hero. (Mark Eldridge, Paths of Redemption: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Kylo?, Eleven-ThirtyEight.com)

It isn’t until the end, again, that Rey accepts that it’s her – Rey from nobody and nowhere – who can bring hope back to the galaxy.

It is Rey the Resistance look to as their hero, awe on their faces as she lifts the rocks to save them. (Eldridge)

Ezra is very much in the same vein. When he commits, he commits hard, but he doesn’t yet realize what he has to offer just as himself. Like Leia answering Rey’s despondent question, folding her hand over the young Jedi’s –

Rey: “How do we build a rebellion from this?”
Leia: “We have everything we need.”

– Ben Kenobi reminds Ezra of the hope he can be.

“What you need, you already have.”

End The Last Jedi Spoilers

 

ALL OUR MISTAKES

There’s one last push that Ben needs to give Ezra for the young Jedi to truly get back on track, because – surprise, surprise – Ezra feels guilty for letting Maul use him to get to Ben.

“I led him to you; let me make it right.”

In Ben’s response – “That is not your responsibility” – his voice takes on an edge that has never been present in the Alec Guinness Obi-Wan. Not even when fighting Darth Vader or telling Luke that he must be willing to kill his own father does his voice take on such a hard tone. It’s as close to a snap as any line Ben Kenobi ever gives.

Partially, I think this is because this is what Ezra needs to hear. He needs to be told, in no uncertain terms, that the Sith, be it the Inquisitors, Maul, or the Empire itself, is not his problem to fix. It wasn’t his problem to fix back when they went to Malachor. It wasn’t his problem to fix when he began using the Sith Holocron or when he and Maul joined the two Holocrons together. It isn’t his problem to fix now, on Tatooine. The Sith are not his fight, and their presence is leading Ezra away from what he is meant to do and who he is meant to be.

Which is the other reason I think Ben’s reprimand here is so harsh in comparison to anything else he says in the Original Trilogy. The presence of the Sith, which led to the Clone Wars, led the Jedi as a whole away from what they were meant to do and who they were meant to be.

Mace Windu: “We’re keepers of the peace, not soldiers.”

Qui-Gon Jinn: “I can only protect you. We can’t fight a war for you.”

The Sith and their war turned the Jedi into Generals who became willing to overlook the people who needed their help for the sake of a “larger picture.” Felucia, Mandalore, and Onderon, among others, all became the “Lothal” of the Clone Wars. These farmers, pacifists, and freedom fighters were those that the Jedi Order were sworn to help and defend, but due to the Jedi’s focus on the war of the Sith, such things fell to the wayside to varying degrees.

And Ben sees that clearly now. With this line, not only is he setting Ezra back on his own path, away from the Journey Maul had crafted for the boy, but Ben is also making sure Ezra doesn’t make the same mistake that the Jedi Order did years ago.

 

WITH NO SELF-AWARENESS COMES GREAT SELF-PROJECTION

Maul’s taunts following Ezra’s departure are an interesting look into Maul’s character, similar to his rant to Ezra in “Visions and Voices.” In that episode, as Ezra refuses (again) to abandon his friends for Maul, the ex-Sith demands that Ezra “[f]orget the past! Forget your memories! Forget your attachments!” A little rich, coming from a guy who defines himself by all three of those. Part of that is selfishness – Maul wants others to sacrifice for him but won’t do the same for others – but another part of that is a clear lack of self-reflection.

After Maul’s debut in The Clone Wars, Sam Witwer discusses this lack of reflection in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:

EW: Back to the idea of “the party” (i.e. the Clone Wars) having started without him. Wouldn’t Maul feel resentment toward Darth Sidious for pretty much just forgetting about him?

Witwer: He’s not brave enough to acknowledge that resentment. He definitely feels it. But the Sith are fearful people… They’re all about themselves, all about accumulating power to protect themselves. Everyone’s always out to get them, everyone’s always limiting them and they want to break through their limitations. But the person they could point to — if they had any logic or reason — who has done them the most harm is their master. Maul takes all that resentment he should have toward Darth Sidious, who put him in that terrible position to begin with, and places it on the most convenient target: Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Not only is Obi-Wan a convenient target for revenge, he’s also a convenient place for Maul’s self-loathing to land. His first direct comment to Ben in “Twin Suns” sounds very much like Maul describing himself:

“Look what has become of you, a rat in the desert. …I have come to kill you, but perhaps it’s worse to leave you here, festering in your squalor.”

Back in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” we find Maul in the most self-aware place he’s ever been in his life, fully admitting that he has fallen from power and from whatever twisted version of grace the Dark Side has to offer: “Once I had power, now I have nothing. Nothing…” He was marooned on Malachor, having to scrounge to survive, the very picture of a rat in squalor. And he’s eager to see that Obi-Wan Kenobi has fallen to the same fate.

This bears similarities to “The Lawless” from The Clone Wars, where Maul finally takes his revenge by killing the woman Obi-Wan loves.

In murdering Satine, Maul metaphorically recreates his own fall on Naboo. He pushes for Obi-Wan to latch onto his hate, takes the life of Obi-Wan’s other half, and orders him to be imprisoned to wallow in his misery. Maul has brought in all the elements that had resulted in his state on Lotho Minor. He, according to the Rebels Season 3 featurette “Apprentices to Outcasts, wants more than simply to see Obi-Wan suffer like he did. Maul wants to see that Obi-Wan would take the same path as him. Maul wants to see that the man who bested him would still fall prey to the same failings as he did.

This desire carries through all those years to Tatooine. Maul’s taunts in “Twin Suns” reflect his actions in “The Lawless.” He wants to see that Ben has sunk as low as he has. He wants to claim some degree of victory from knowing that his old foe is as desolate as him. And, interestingly enough, that’s a mindset that Ben Kenobi shares, but from a different perspective.

According to the audio commentary by Filoni, Ben wants to see that Maul has changed. He wants to see that Maul has also risen above their old rivalry, that he has been able to make something of his life. It’s a stance that’s also very reminiscent of “The Lawless”

The conversations Maul and Kenobi have in both these episodes share equal beats:

  1. Maul taunts Kenobi, intending to get a rise out of him.
  2. Kenobi responds by declaring his own identity and the power that comes with it.
  3. Maul doubles-down on his initial stance.
  4. Kenobi responds with a sympathetic commentary on the effect Maul’s choices have on the Sith’s life.
  5. Maul reacts by lashing out and throwing Kenobi’s words back into his face.
  6. Kenobi lets the reaction pass.
  7. Maul calms himself by threatening someone Kenobi loves.

I had broken down this dialogue previously in a stand-alone essay: Emotional Attachments: A Character Analysis of Obi-Wan and Maul. I’ll be repeating a lot of that piece here, but not nearly all of it, so I’d recommend that as an additional read for another take on this scene.

Right now, we find ourselves at the fourth point in the conversation, a line in “Twin Suns” that doesn’t necessarily sound sympathetic at first:

“If you define yourself by your power to take life, a desire to dominate, to possess, then you have nothing.”

These words specifically target the methods which Maul has used to form bonds with others. His connection to Kenobi was entirely through killing others. With Savage, Maul made it clear that it was not a partnership; Maul was the dominant brother. As for Ezra, it has almost always been about possession; how often does he stress the phrase “my apprentice,” especially around Kanan?

Within one sentence, Ben has rejected all the emotional attachments that were significant in Maul’s life. Rejects everything around which Maul has built his life around, leaving Maul with face to face with nothing. Only oblivion. Hardly a declaration that sounds kindly, until we contextualize it.

Consider again the scene of Satine’s death. Before that final blow, Obi-Wan actually attempts to make a gesture of peace, even of reconciliation. As he blatantly shuts down all of Maul’s arguments for the powers of the Dark Side, he also dares to show sympathy towards his enemy:

“I know where you’re from. I’ve been to your village. I know the decision to join the Dark Side wasn’t yours.”

Maul interrupts him, consumed by his hatred, and Obi-Wan’s gesture appears to go to waste.

But in this light, Ben’s takedown of Maul’s self-definition here in “Twin Suns” seems also to be an offer, a suggestion to seek a better way. To actually have a life that means something. Maul isn’t even the first person Kenobi has approached like this. In The Clone Wars, we see Obi-Wan pull this with another of his nemeses, General Grievous:

“I hear a lot of talking, General, but in the final accounting, what does all the talk get you? A futile quest for power? A mutilated body? Your place as Dooku’s errand boy? …An army with no loyalty, no spirit, just programming. What have you to show for all your power? What have you to gain?” (Season 2, Episode 9, “The Grievous Intrigue”)

Ben is inviting Maul to reflect on his own life, to truly become aware of all that has kept him down, to humble himself so that he can rise above that which had defined him and kept him in squalor. But instead, Maul rejects Ben in-turn and slaps out the fire with an enraged question, “And what do you have?!” that he immediately answers with his next line.

Purpose.

Ben Kenobi has purpose.

 

THE OLD MAN AND THE DUNE SEA

This was initially intended to be just a silly pun of a title to be used when Maul was wandering about the desert. Then I actually did my homework and read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and I found a whole host of similarities to “Twin Suns,” starkly defining the difference between Ben’s and Maul’s purpose, that I couldn’t just let it pass. So, dear readers, it’s time for a high school book report.

For all articles referenced, please ask your local academic or public library about their database collections or interlibrary loan options!

Hemingway’s famous novella is one of those literary classics that has a thousand interpretations. Some see it as a thrilling triumph of the human spirit. Others see it as a sobering tale about the futility of human suffering. Others still interpret it as a critique of America’s cultural imperialism in Cuba (a singularly fascinating read, highly recommended). Personally, I came away with something else entirely.

The plot of The Old Man and the Sea goeth thusly (with apologies to Jill Bearup for stealing her catchphrase):

Santiago is an old fisherman who has had a long streak of bad luck with no catch. He has a friend in the boy Manolin who used to work on Santiago’s boat until his parents instructed him to work with a fisherman who had better luck. Manolin still spends his evenings and mornings with Santiago, talking with and helping out the old man in any way he can. Santiago often reflects on the days of his prime during these times and is confident that his luck will return soon.

One morning Santiago sets out to fish, meticulously tending to his craft in ways that surpasses many other, luckier fishermen. As the day stretches on, his line is taken by what could only be a massive fish. Two nights and three days pass in which Santiago battles the biggest marlin he has ever seen, pushing his body, mind, and skill to the limit. He reflects on life and begins to form a strange bond with his marine foe. On the third day, he finally kills the fish and lashes it to his boat to return home.

As he returns to the ports, sharks come, and though Santiago fights them off as best he can, when he finally reaches his home town, there is nothing left of the marlin but its head. Manolin is there to greet him and help him home while the other fishermen marvel at the largest catch their port has ever seen. Santiago goes to sleep and dreams again of the days of his prime.

Please stay with me; I promise this will connect to Star Wars soon enough.

Most interpretations I found in my research painted Santiago’s struggle in a triumphant light, as “a heroic testimony to [a] person’s endurance and courage,”1 their articles displaying titles like “The Majesty of Human Effort”2, while framing Santiago as a Greek hero in which “one gets an unforgettable glimpse of what stature a man may have”3. By these interpretations, Santiago is defined by what he conquers, regardless of whether he kept the marlin or lost it. They’re almost a reaffirmation that he is still the man he was in his prime, making incredible catches of fish and winning impossible feats of strength.

Santiago is defined, even revered, by taking life and by dominating.

This is not the conclusion I reached by the end of The Old Man and the Sea, but nor did I reach the opposite conclusion, that the loss of the marlin was a tragedy. In fact, I feel that both interpretations miss the point, as Santiago and maybe even Hemingway himself did. That is not to say that these other interpretations of the text are invalid – that’s the beauty of literary analyses – but that I believe there is another, critical way to view Santiago’s life and purpose.

I’ve found that many of these interpretations begin with the assumption that Santiago is correct in his worldview, that he himself is not an unreliable narrator. Thus, they make value statements like these:

Santiago fights his bloodiest battle alone, without even the awareness of others to comfort him. He repeatedly wishes that the boy were with him, but he realizes that his loneliness is a necessary condition if he is to maintain his self-respect.4

He wishes that Manolin, his boy, should have been there… yet he knows that every man’s struggle is his own and has to be waged alone. He even aspires to prove to Manolin his strength since Manolin is now growing up and worships him as his hero. To prove himself worthy of this boy’s cult of hero worship, he brings the skeleton of the marlin in spite of losing its flesh to the rapacious predatory sharks.5

In assuming that Santiago’s worldview is the manner in which the narrative itself works, we are shown a very bleak world in The Old Man and the Sea. A bleakness that is strangely offset by the novel’s opening, in which we are first introduced to Santiago through the lens of Manolin. In this manner, the novella starts off incredibly warm in tone. We meet Santiago, not defined by his failure, but defined by the love the boy has for him. But Santiago almost seems oblivious to this. Flashes of clarity and humility come to him –

He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride. (Hemingway, pp 13-14)

– but there is still a different sort of pride that keeps Manolin at a distance. He pushes back at any real sort of vulnerability, still determined to prove himself as the face he gave his friend:

“I told the boy I was a strange old man,” he said. “Now is when I must prove it.”
The thousand that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. (p 66)

Santiago is constantly reliving his past. His past feats, his past abilities, and trying to recreate them to find a sense of worth. He “eagerly tries to re-establish his working relationship with the fishermen in his village, including Manolin”2 but fails to recognize that there is nothing to re-establish. He already has Manolin’s love. He already has the respect of his fellow fishermen, including Martin, the store owner who aids Manolin in providing for Santiago’s needs at the novella’s beginning.

Santiago is so caught up in defining himself by what he can do – or rather could do – in defining himself by his past, he misses the worth he could have been defining himself by all this time. Much like a certain Zabrak.

I (Sam Witwer) think [Maul]’s living in the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is never being able to achieve his potential in any way. The problem is he’s thinking about it in all the wrong ways. One can achieve one’s potential simply by helping other people, by being selfless, by looking after others before you think to look after yourself in some cases. That’s not how he was trained to think by Palpatine. So his potential just requires the accumulation of things, wealth, control over people, control of large amounts of people. For him that he’s not conquering star systems and bringing entire governments to their knees and all kinds of stuff he feels like my life is a failure. No one is acknowledging my greatness and boy I have that potential, I’m smarter than everyone, I’m faster, I can fight better, I can do all these things.

He completely missed the point of life. If he could have just hit the brakes and gone in the opposite direction, taken a 180, served someone else, then that probably would have filled the hole in his heart. The problem with the Sith and the Sith philosophy, it’s about that hole becomes a black hole, something that can never be filled. So you keep trying to jam as much into it as you possibly can and it’s usually horrible things that don’t really give you any lasting joy. It’s all very temporary.

That’s the whole thing. He’s an Olympic athlete who trained his entire life and never got to go to the Olympics. What he’s missing is [that] your life can be so much fuller than that. It’s not about that. You could actually be your own person and make better choices. But he’s incapable of seeing beyond himself … It’s that person who never made it to the NFL because he blew out his knee in his final college game. It’s that. That guy can go around being obsessed with the fact that he blew out his knee and he should have had a big NFL contract and all these things that never happened for him and he missed out on all that. You can obsess over that. Or you can reach out to people who could use help, who could use a friend, you can make your life more about the people around you and suddenly your life has extraordinary meaning. (Sam Witwer, SyFy Wire interview, emphasis mine)

Santiago nearly catches that understanding of real worth near the end. A quick glimpse of his real purpose, if only he would grasp at it. A truth that seems to slip unbidden into Santiago’s thoughts.

[H]e thought, everything kills everything else in some way. Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive. The boy keeps me alive, he thought. I must not deceive myself too much. (Hemingway, p 106)

This moment of clarity, of humility, is lost again as Santiago fights against the elements of the sea. Neither Santiago nor Maul allow themselves time – though time is the one thing they both had in abundance in the hunt across their respective seas – to reflect on how they are defining their worth. Santiago thinks constantly of Manolin, reflecting on their time together. Maul calls out to Ezra, as (according to the audio commentary) he knows that his life began again by meeting the boy, and he will need him again to gain some resolution. Yet still, neither of the old men reflect on why that relationship is or was meaningful.

Santiago is detached from all others: nearly everyone else is a name encountered in the newspaper or a dim recollection or a presence encountered on trips back and forth to his boat. Santiago says that he loves Manolin, but it is not clear what his love amounts to.6

Both Santiago and Maul miss the purpose that is waiting for them in the meaning life has in simply loving another being. They both nearly get it at multiple points in their journey, Savage and Talzin both being lead-ins to the impact Ezra makes in Maul’s life, and by the end, they come the closest they ever get to this revelation. But they still can’t fully grasp it.

Santiago admits to the Manolin that he missed him and agrees to let him help on his boat again, but he goes to sleep – on what’s commonly interpreted to be his death bed – and dreams again of the days in his prime. Maul lets allows himself to accept and return Ben Kenobi’s sympathies, but it’s still within the context of revenge, of the final domination of his foe, Sidious.

And this is what sets Ben Kenobi apart.

Ben too shares similarities with Santiago. A strange old man, he lives on his own, detached and rarely interacting with others. He had a purpose in watching over – and hopefully training – a young boy, but due to the boy’s caretakers, he is kept at a distance. But unlike Santiago, Ben recognizes this purpose for what it is, recognizes its importance.

Youtuber Generation Tech spends a good portion of his “Twin Suns” video looking at the differences between Ben and Maul through the context of purpose:

Obi-Wan has an extremely important purpose, one with galaxy-wide consequences. Maul’s purpose only serves himself. …There was a time that Maul would taunt his enemies into attacking him, but this time, Maul’s dialogue is different. Instead, it’s searching for something. Purpose. It’s all about purpose. Everything is about purpose. And when Darth Maul finds out about Obi-Wan’s purpose, he becomes filled with jealousy and hunger. …Darth Maul dies because he has no purpose. And Obi-Wan Kenobi’s purpose is so great that he can never fail. (Generation Tech, Why OBI WAN Beats DARTH MAUL, starting at 1:41)

And that purpose, so important and unfailing, unclaimed by Maul and Santiago alike, is simply the love of another person.

Like his promise to Qui-Gon to train Anakin, Obi-Wan’s protection of Luke may have started off as a sense of duty to someone he loved, but in the same manner that Obi-Wan grew to love Anakin not as “the Chosen One” but as his brother, Ben grew to this “remarkable boy” (“Time of Death,” From a Certain Point of View) not as Anakin and Padme’s son, not as but as Luke himself.

Disregarding all that Savage had done for him, Maul is not content to be defined just as a brother; he must be the Master.

Allowing all his former glory and fame as a Jedi and Master to fade away, Ben is content to simply be defined by his love for Luke Skywalker.

Maul has nothing.

Ben has love.

 

MINIMALIST

Acclaimed science fiction author, Nnedi Okorafor recently gave an interview with Gulf News in which she said of short stories:

I like an economy of words, so I enjoy the challenge of making lean prose do as much as possible. I like to see what I can do with a few simple, clear words.

Turns out, she can do a lot. My first introduction to Okorafor’s work was through her short stories which I had come across in a couple of science fiction collections. In both cases, her work was never the longest tale, but it was always the one that stuck with me. Within a few pages and with her carefully selected words, she was able to weave deeply personal tales of discovering self-worth.

Writers Dave Filoni and Henry Gilroy, the animators, and voice actor Sam Witwer have achieved the same thing in Maul’s final monologue. So much is communicated in so few words, a monologue intentionally kept lean.

Part of that was certainly the “economy” of time – twenty-one minutes for all of this to play out – and we do see more dialogue in the first draft of the scene:


WOOOSH

But another part of this was Filoni, as the episode’s director, choosing to use the visual medium to its full extent, an apparent reoccurring theme with the episodes between Maul and Obi-Wan. In “The Lawless,” he intentionally kept Obi-Wan’s vocal reaction to a minimum to sell the “emotion in the animation” (Dave Filoni talks about the Death Watch/Darth Maul Arc and the Casualties along the Way, IGN). Here in “Twin Suns,” we see something similar in the most potent way. Ben Kenobi incredibly serene throughout his appearances, never saying more than is needed. And the animation provides a softness always behind his eyes. Until Maul starts digging.

That flinch he gives isn’t big and grand. It’s subtle, but because any flinch is a contrast to his serene countenance, it flies off the screen. And when the softness is banished from his gaze at Maul’s threat, that too carries immense gravitas. It’s these small yet detailed touches of animation that compliment the monologue so perfectly.

Like James Arnold Taylor in “The Lawless” – Obi-Wan’s voice actor from The Clone Wars – Sam Witwer also wanted to provide more dialogue, pitching ideas to Filoni for Maul in “Twin Suns,” which Filoni turned down.

… and some of the stuff that I pitched I thought was very interesting. But when you see it, you realize … you’re like, “You know, I think the spirit of everything that I wanted to say is in the episode, it’s in those shots. It’s in this arc of storytelling. It’s in this piece of, this little film that he made.” (Sam Witwer, ComicBook.com Interview)

I’d argue that the spirit of what needs to be said is in Witwer’s delivery of these lines as well. “Perhaps you are… protecting something?” is delivered with such mockery and vitriol that we can tell this is the one time in “Twin Suns” that Maul truly feels in power. Witwer has mentioned developing Maul’s humor in multiple interviews, and it always seems to show up when things are going well for Maul, like his little chuckle in “The Lawless” when he learns Satine has effectively baited Obi-Wan to Mandalore. His tone then turns entirely vicious when he hones in, not on something, but “someone.”

This is a perfect summary of their rivalry. For long-time Star Wars fans it call to mind everyone Kenobi has lost to this man. For newer fans, these two lines and Ben’s subtle reactions contextualizes the exact hurt that has set these two at odds.

It’s the perfect set-up for their final fight.

(And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of my praise for minimalism in this beast of an essay…)

Face off

Up Next: Overtime – Sudden Death


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Articles Cited:

  1. Damashek, R. (2010). The Old Man and the Sea. Masterplots, Fourth Edition.
  2. Shakury, S. A. H. (2017). The Majesty of Human Effort in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature.
  3. Young, C. (1968). The Old Man and The Sea’s vision/revision. Twentieth Century interpretations of ‘The Old Man and The Sea.’ (quoted in #5)
  4. Weeks, R. P. (1957). Hemingway and the Uses of Isolation. University of Kansas XXXIV. (quoted in #2)
  5. Bharadwaj, A. & Bhuyan, N. (2013). Understanding the character of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea within the framework of Aristotelian virtue ethics and its contemporary relevance in ethical management. Indian Institute of Management Calcutta.
  6. Cain, W. E. (2006). Death Sentences: Rereading The Old Man and the Sea. The Sewanee Review.

For all articles referenced, please ask your local academic or public library about their database collections or interlibrary loan options!

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3 Responses to A Close Read of Star Wars Rebels “Twin Suns” – Part 5 – Fireside Chats

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