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“Path of the Jedi” isn’t a perfect mid-season premiere, but has enough unique touches to make it a worthwhile watch.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, there’s a brief two-minute scene where Luke enters a cave that manifests his darkest fears. It’s a great sequence foreshadowing his encounter with Darth Vader, but it’s also something the original trilogy never revisited again and didn’t need to. But since Star Wars is now the inspiration for multiple expanded universes, it’s also a canonical fact that writers can explain in further detail and add their own twists to. That’s why the old EU gave that cave a history stretching back hundreds of years, and why Star Wars: Rebels can introduce its own version as part of Ezra’s Jedi training.

The result is something of a mixed bag. Giving Ezra a vision that developed his character or foreshadowed his future would be promising, but the concept doesn’t have enough meat to simply extend across a half-hour episode. All we end up is a bunch of spectacle that viewers know isn’t real and is pretty much forgettable. That said, Rebels adds several details on the sidelines of the vision that put a nice spin on Star Wars. We’ve got hidden Jedi temples, actual “custom-built” lightsabers, and a bleak glimpse of what happens when padawans fail their Jedi tests.

More importantly, it looks like Rebels might be dropping the “will Ezra turn to the dark side” subplot that’s well-played out in Star Wars, so future episodes can come up with original twists. We’ll find out in upcoming weeks, but in the meantime you can catch up on the latest episodesRebels via Disney XD or iTunes. If you’re all caught up, you can also catch up on our previous reviews. Now, on to this week’s “Path of the Jedi.”

After the explosive fall finale, Kanan slows things down a bit to address the force-sensitive elephant in the room: That Ezra was drawing on the Dark Side in the battle with the Inquisitor. But instead of trying to calmly talk him out of a path that never ends well, Kanan decides to nip this in the bud by raising the stakes and forcing Ezra to confront his fears head-on. But as the episode progresses, we understand why Kanan was reluctant to do so before: Not every padawan, or even their masters, survive the attempt.

Guided by a holocron and force senses, Ezra and Kanan make their way to a Jedi Temple on Lothal that’s been hidden since the Republic fell. It’s also largely been undisturbed since its door needs two Jedi to be unlocked: a master and a padawan. As Ezra and Kanan enter however, we realize that the Temple’s greatest security measure is also its greatest danger. Inside are the bones of Jedi masters who entered with their padawans, but couldn’t leave when they failed the test. Presumably when the Jedi Order existed, someone would check up to let the masters out if things went wrong, but now Kanan is literally staking his life on the hope that Ezra won’t break.

Rebels is supposed to be a children’s show, right? Well that’s probably the darkest implication in a children’s show I’ve ever seen, and certainly the bleakest moment in Rebels so far. At some point, Jedi brought their padawans to this temple for an important test, and not only did the apprentice die, but the teacher was left behind to slowly starve and decay. I’m amazed there aren’t more actual Force ghosts kicking around to cause trouble with that history, but showing that might be too harsh for younger Star Wars fans. Regardless, it’s impressive (in a horrifying way) that Lucasfilm decided to go ever this far.

With Kanan waiting by the door, Ezra descends into the Temple alone and almost immediately stars experiencing Force visions. But instead of the dreamlike ambience from Empire Strikes Back, “Path of the Jedi” is significantly less subtle. Ezra is chased across chambers by the Inquisitor, occasionally encountering the Ghost’s crew only to see them struck down. The metaphor is pretty clear: Ezra feels like he’s letting everyone down and will ultimately be left alone thanks to the Empire. As a moral of the story, that’s fine, but the execution falls a little flat and drags out too long to have a substantial impact.

The sequence concludes when Ezra decides to let the Inquisitor catch and “kill” him, ending the vision (for some reason). Then a new voice emerges to guide Ezra to the middle of the Temple. And in case “Path of the Jedi” is the first Star Wars anything you’ve ever watched, the same voice stars speaking to Kanan to confirm that Yoda himself is using the Force to see who’s exploring the Temple. But that’s not the only detail Kanan reveals while chatting with Yoda. While details are light, it sounds like Kanan never passed this test, and may have gone through a dark side period of his own. We should expect that little issue to come up again later this season.

It’s here that Yoda’s usual obtuse conversational style is used to great effect when he asks Ezra why he hopes to be a Jedi. Without leading the response, Ezra’s answer quickly appears darker than expected: That he wants power to defeat the Empire after what they did do his family. It’s a great little twist that we usually wouldn’t have seen until Ezra started killing younglings or something, suggesting that he’s further along that dark side than we thought.

Sadly, it almost immediately undercuts that moment and backtracks when Yoda suggests Ezra actually wants vengeance. Ezra denies it, explaining that after seeing what the Ghost’s crew can do for the innocent civilians of Lothal, he wants to use Jedi abilities to do of the same. Way to go for the bait and switch, Rebels. But apparently it’s enough to satisfy Yoda who gives Ezra a reward: His very own lightsaber crystal.

Which brings us to one of my favorite points of the episode: If the Jedi Order has collapsed and force use is heavily monitored, where exactly do apprentices get the parts to make sleek custom lightsabers? In Ezra’s case, they don’t; he needs to use whatever spare parts are lying around the Ghost, with a few donations from the crew. The end result is a clunky piece of hardware that looks like someone cobbled together a lightsaber and a blaster pistol (and its not clear if the blaster is functional). But you know what? That custom appearance gives it a unique charm no amount of extra lightsaber blades can achieve. Plus this likely means Ezra can finally ditch that energy slingshot that’s been almost useless in most combat engagements. Well done, Rebels. Well done.

Bottom Line: “Path of the Jedi” is the obligatory force cave episode where Ezra faces his inner fears. That part of the episode falls flat, but everything on the sidelines somehow makes up for it. Everything from Ezra’s custom-built lightsaber to the darker implications of Jedi training offer lots of food for thought, and make this mid-season premiere a pleasant return to Rebels.

Recommendation: It’s not perfect, but still resolves Ezra’s dark side subplot before getting too stale, and has several nice touches to make Rebels a distinct entity within Star Wars. If you’ve enjoyed the show so far, this is worth a watch.

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