“Rise of the Old Masters” Analysis

Animated Morbidity

“Rise of the Old Masters,” the latest episode of Star Wars: Rebels,  sends us to a much darker place than the quotidian moments seen in “Fighter Flight,” which squares with statements Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo made at New York Comic Con in 2013 — also the moment in which the primary villain, the Inquisitor, was revealed. In an early effort to challenge the grousing of fans who exalted the notion that Star Wars would be neutered by Disney, Inc., Hidalgo entertained a question concerning the level of violence exhibited within the show, and whether any characters would meet their demise. “Will people die? Well, yeah. It’s a war. The stakes are high.” Other observers and bloggers took to Twitter during his panel presentation, paraphrasing Hidalgo saying that the 4th episode of the show will observe, “…a real tone shift…” in the series. Technically, “Rise” is the 3rd episode of Season 1, not counting the pilot, but considering the two previous adventures, the outcome of “Rise,” and the events of Monday’s “Breaking Ranks,” if we count the pilot as two individual iterations, this would be that “4th” episode in question.  And, indeed, there was a major death to add to the official canon, though perhaps not what I might have predicted when first happening upon this news online.

So, rather than hark back to the days of 1980’s G.I Joe series, which is adored but often maligned for unleashing 25 minutes of fluorescent artillery fire without a single death, Rebels would, as its predecessor Star Wars: The Clone Wars, match the violence of the Lucasfilm theatrical icons. Though fun-loving and campy in moments, the films were always rated PG rather than G because there have always been grim costs for engaging in a justifiable rebellion against tyranny — a fact Star Wars never ignored. Besides, I already knew that co-executive producer Dave Filoni, heavily influenced by Harmony Gold’s American adaptation Robotech, as I was growing up, understood that children could handle a show with triage among its main characters and villains. As the ageless nursery rhymes and fairy tales (how morbid is Ring Around the Rosie?) have always taught us life lessons, Robotech (and other Japanese Anime) was capable of reinforcing the notion that warfare (unlike G.I. Joe) always came at a cost. It was rather shocking in 1985 to venture from an animated show where no one lost their lives to one where some of the main heroes died in combat within the first few weeks, and the Earth itself was engorged in a holocaust that saw the demise of 70% of its population. That didn’t appear to happen even in the live-action cinema I consumed at the time — quietus solely reserved for background characters and sidekicks. And at the death of the first main stalwart, writers and animators took the time to flesh out the consequences his violent ending reaped upon those who were close to him. His fiance, a senior bridge officer, attempts to hide her pain while on duty, remaining strong and chipper — even as her colleagues surmise it’s all a ruse to hide her pain — but then sneaks off to wallow in sorrow and Kleenex in solitude. His best friend, the star of the show and often a callow, yet capable, fighter pilot prior to these events, begins to internalize his shock and dismay, turning it into a greater sense of maturity and responsibility — making it a watershed that changes his character forever. But before the ink is fresh on his beloved’s tombstone, the main hero is yet again thrust into a scenario in which one of his subordinate pilots, another memorable character, is tragically eviscerated by an accident while defending their ship from the primary antagonists. Not even able to fully process the passing of a friend he’s known since he was a small child, who even influenced him to become a pilot in the first place, he must now turn to the solemn duty of writing a formal death notification to the parents of yet another friend and wingman whom he’d grown close to — a task he finds almost impossible to complete. And the show only grows from there in its 85 episode reign.

Equally so, “Rise of the Old Masters” lingers in the shadow of the events surrounding the slaughter of the Jedi, as seen in Revenge of the Sith. That film graphically details the immediate destruction of the Order, though not every Jedi in existence. While some survive the speedy carnage, the Empire relentlessly pursues any stragglers wherever they may hide — yet we’ve not been privy to any of their fates officially until now (unless you count the “legends” The Force Unleashed video game). What awaits the dignified Luminara Unduli is addressed, as the crew of the Ghost encounters evidence of her imprisonment on Stygeon Prime — cognate of the Citadel from The Clone Wars, specially astute in Force user segregation. In recent statements (IGN) (Rebel Force Radio), Filoni revealed that what Kanan and Ezra saw within Luminara’s cell was a holo-recording of her actual execution. She’s seated in her prison jumpsuit, the dignity of her robes and traditional headdress removed, serial number fully emblazoned upon her bosom…she stands, walks toward them with a sad resolve to her visage, and slowly walks to an encasing mounted to the wall, where she shockingly evanescens into the skeletal remains of the once proud and elegant spiritual master.

Though we receive no briefing upon the technology used to actually kill the Jedi, with this new information, one is almost compelled to liken this ossuary to a Chelmno, Treblinka, or Auschwitz gas chamber/crematorium amalgamation. Beginning in 1942, Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution was forged and enacted — targeting any  populations the National Socialist German Workers’ Party deemed “unwanted” — though previous years had already witnessed Nazi atrocities perpetrated on Jews, Roma (gypsies), Poles, Russians, homosexuals, Africans, the disabled, those suffering from considerable psychological disorders, and those terminally ill. Initially using his most trusted and elite Schutzstaffel to shoot Jewish captives one at a time, which proved odiously inefficient and psychologically destructive for their purposes, the former head and architect of Hitler’s SS, Heinrich Himmler, as Minister of the Interior, was tasked with overseeing the political administration of all German occupied territories. Himmler oversaw the construction and maintenance of the Final Solution, which amounted to a series of killing centers throughout Poland acting as a genocidal assembly line capable of taking the lives of 6,000 people a day. The “unwanted” were removed from their neighborhoods and property, their businesses and wealth were liquidated and meticulously cataloged. Whole families were forced into walled “ghettos,” a revival of a 16th century Italian practice, where they were eventually transported to these killing centers under the guise of forced labor, told they would be deloused in specialized showers, but ultimately were doused with fatal doses of Zyklon-B gas, with the bodies afterwards being sent to crematoriums — affixed to smoke stacks bellowing tremendous amounts of ash into the sky each day.

What we see of Luminara’s fate, reinforced by the look, color scheme, and tapered trousers of the Inquisitor’s uniform, reminiscent of the dreaded gestapo, serves as an analogy for the Holocaust I often believed was the fate of the Jedi when I was very young. Sans the events of the Prequel era fleshed out over the last 16 years, I envisioned the Jedi being scapegoated and persecuted in a similar fashion to the Jews of Europe — Obi-Wan and Yoda serving as a bantam diaspora. Given the particulars of this moment, and my congruent ages with the co-producers, it appears as though I wasn’t alone in that vision.

Inquisition: The Counter-Reformation of the Sith

Another major scoop that hit during 2013’s New York Comic Con was the introduction of the Inquisitor himself. As the concept for Rebels was first bantered about, there was always this singular question surrounding who the new heroes (as yet unrevealed this time last year) would battle. Would they most likely encounter Darth Vader — an enticing, yet wholly problematic proposition, given his sacrosanct position in pop culture. After all, unless this new cast was meant to lose their heads within the pilot episode, running from Vader’s grasp for five or six seasons would cheapen the character in most eyes. Someone else, particularly one capable of tangling with a Jedi or two, was meant to step into the fray. That void, I immediately felt, was filled by an historical reference most appropriate to the state of the galaxy, the nature of Palpatine’s sense of strategy, and also given what was witnessed in The Clone Wars previously — an inquisition targeting the Light Side of the Force. As Palpatine’s alter ego Darth Sidious once established in an earlier time, referring to Force-sensitive children soon to be cultivated by the Jedi Order:

…The natural talent these children possess is too great to be wasted by the Jedi. I foresee an army of Force-talented spies in my service, trained in the Dark Side to peer into every corner of the galaxy from afar…and my enemies will be helpless against such vision.

That moment on Mustafar during The Clone Wars’ episode entitled “Children of the Jedi,” sight of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker’s fateful melee, served to presciently guide a new era in Star Wars animated TV unbeknownst to producer and viewer alike. Though adept with one or two lightsabers, Palpatine’s primary weapons have always been everything and everyone else. Converting the Force’s favorite son, akin to Mephistopheles in Goethe’s version of Faust, would not be enough to successfully defeat his enemies and assume hegemony over the galaxy. Though not deviating from the Darth Bane-established rule of two, Palpatine understood that Force-sensitive allies, ill-equipped to challenge him, but filled enough with Dark Side abilities to mitigate low-level light side operatives, would be useful. Though the children we see onscreen were eventually rescued by the one who would later provide our Rebels’ antagonist his marching orders, the seeds we were not privy to have fully bloomed almost two decades later — ready to continue the inquisition against the religion that had now been deemed heretical.

As a series that often draws upon our own Earthbound history for grounding, using the inquisition as the foundation for villainy is equally apropos and problematic. There is often a collective consciousness surrounding the inquisitors of Europe’s Catholic past that may align with the aura of our new antagonist. However, throughout much of the Catholic Church’s history, inquisitors could be relatively benign.

Inquisition history is often divided into three phases: the sometimes mild Medieval  and Roman Inquisitions, the latter of which was founded upon the schism instigated by Martin Luther, with the middle phase belonging to the infamously violent Spanish Inquisition.

The first iteration arose from 13th century northern Italy and southern France, under the purview of Pope Gregory IX, to combat the many iconoclastic organizations challenging church doctrine and legitimacy. The inquisitors, from the Latin inquiro, meaning one who “inquires into,” were essentially specially trained judges with the permission of the Pope to deal with offenses against the faith. Highly educated in church doctrine and theology, Dominicans and Franciscans were often tapped for the inquisition because they already retained the requisite knowledge and detachment from secularism administration deemed necessary. Though initially tasked with stamping out any heretical uprisings within a court in which the threat of torture and death could be used as a persuasive tool, inquisitors were not given authority to torture until 1252 by Pope Innocent IV.  Most likely, upon the sermo generalis where sentencing was pronounced, persons found guilty in an inquisitor’s court were condemned to pray, they could be imprisoned, or for severe cases turned to secular authorities where a death sentence would be meted out. Torture, when deemed necessary in extreme cases, was only used to gather a confession, but was highly discouraged as one couldn’t trust the information often drawn under duress. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, however. Helen Ellerbe (1995), in The Dark Side of Christian History, writes that, by 1262, inquisitors were given the freedom to absolve themselves from the crime of bloodshed, which means that if a victim’s neck was broken under their care, it was explained as having been caused by the Devil (83). Dressed in all-black, inquisitors sought to draw out confessions from varied devices, often with the motto, “Glory be only to God” affixed. The infamous rack, tearing limb from trunk, stocks used for foot roasting (hilariously applied to droid feet in 1983’s Return of the Jedi), water torture methods, and even gibbets — cages suspended in the air where people could die from exposure (also featured in The Clone Wars episode “Escape from Kadavo”) — were also used. A particularly grisly practice was the dreaded dish of mice, which was turned upside down upon the victim’s naked stomach, after which a fire was applied to the dish, and the mice would claw, bite, and dig into the subject’s flesh in their attempt to flee the heat. Though prior to this self-absolution from bloodshed, burning at the stake — afforded the victim during the auto-da-fé, or ritual of public penance — became a common means for extreme cases of heresy, or for those who refused to confess. Justification for capital burning was derived from an interpretation of John 15:6, which states, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Perhaps the most famous case that appeared before Phase III Roman inquisitor courts was that of Galileo Galilei. The 17th century in Europe exhibited the exploration, the revision, and the expansion of human knowledge of the sciences — aided by Gutenberg’s printing press, which afforded these ideas a much broader audience. Upon the observations and mathematical computations of Nicholas Copernicus, the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe (championed by the church) was successfully challenged. In existence, via the minutia of telescopic observations and mathematical formulae, was hard evidence that proved the Earth was not the center of the universe, but that it revolved around a much larger luminous body, along with various other planets in the solar system. Innocuous as this seems in today’s world of practical space travel, satellites, GPS, and Google Earth, for 17th century Europe, this was rather provocative. After all, if the Ptolemaic explanation that the Earth was the center of the universe, and therefore the zenith of God’s physical creations, was officially certified by church officials as ecclesiastic, to disprove this axiom would call into question everything associated with the faith. In 1610, Galileo — having already studied Copernicus’ observations, having already built his own telescope from the lessons of Dutch lens makers — published his Starry Messenger, detailing his own contributions to the field of astronomy; shattering the theories of Aristotle while bolstering the arguments of Copernicus. By 1616, the Catholic Church sent official warning to Galileo about his activities, arresting his public support of Copernicus, though he privately continued his observances. In 1632, Galileo produced Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which detailed the fundamental astronomical theories of Copernicus and Ptolemy side by side, but feted the heliocentric model over the Ptolemaic. Ultimately, Pope Urban VIII ordered the 69 year old scientist before the Inquisition, forcing a confession denouncing Copernican theory from the old man, under threat of torture. Galileo eked out his last nine years under house arrest, vilified and disgraced in Catholic lore (until 1992, when the Church officially certified his ideas).

The inflammatory reputation often associated with the inquisition largely stems from its Spanish iteration, beginning November 1, 1478, under the authority of Pope Sixtus IV, at the behest  of Columbus-era’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Having been previously dominated by North African Muslims, at a time in which 200,000 Jews also inhabited the country, the Spanish crown believed their rule, and the unity of their country, required all to be baptized in the name of the Church. There were to be no pretenders nor agnostics, and certainly practitioners of either Judaism or Islam within the purview of the Spanish monarchy. The Pope, Ferdinand, and Isabella agreed that the inquisition could be a valuable tool to uncover those who proclaimed their loyalty to the Church in public, but continued to believe in their hearts, reinforced by observance in secret, Gods and traditions antithetical to Jesus, the Pope, and the divine right of the throne of Spain.

During its early period, up to 1530, inquisitors sought to snuff out converted Jews who feigned fealty to the church. Deputized in defense of ecclesiastical rules and procedures, inquisitors  were to be at least 40 years old, of maintaining an incontrovertible reputation, documentable sagacity, and conversant in Catholic theology and canon law. In less than a year, they were already known for their cruelty — the office of the Pope logged cases of unjust imprisonment, torture, and seizing the property of the executed. No one was more vile, however, than Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, the very official who pushed the monarchy to expel all Jews from the beginning. Not until the defeat of Muslim armies at Grenada in January of 1492 did Ferdinand and Isabella agree to pass the Edict of Expulsion. Even Columbus, in his personal diary, makes note of the mutable situation for Spanish Jews in the wake of his fateful voyage, as extreme evangelism was noted as one of his many objectives for that year:

Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet [sic], of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith…So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said regions of India…and ennobled me that thenceforth I might call myself Don, and be High Admiral of the Sea…

Torquemada believed the Jews of Spain to be the greatest threat to Catholic unity. Uprooting a population that previously retained residency for hundreds of years wasn’t enough for the Inquisitor General, who then targeted Marranos (Jewish converts) and Moriscos (Muslim counterparts) under the guise of religious subversion. By the end of his life, Torquemada had presided over 100,000 convictions based on heresy, sorcery, or even sexual perversion (who were frequently tortured while in custody), and over 2,000 executions — where the preferred method was burning at the stake. Similar to the Nazis of World War II, he had also organized book burnings of sacred Jewish and Islamic literature. His legacy set a precedent that continued well into the 16th and 17th centuries. Between 1540 and 1700, it is believed that nearly 50,000 cases were brought before the Inquisition. During much of that time, torture was applied liberally — reaching its apogee under the reign of Emperor Charles V.

Within Star Wars: Rebels, the Inquisitor character appears to draw from elements of both the Medieval and Spanish traditions. Elegantly voiced by Jason Isaacs, and accompanied by the quasi-religious dulcet baritones from Kiner’s choir, the Inquisitor is granted the authority by Darth Sidious, communicated via Darth Vader, to “hunt down” a new threat from “children of the Force,” potentially guided by surviving Jedi, “…who would train them…” — as recently witnessed within the special edition of the pilot episode “Spark of Rebellion.” As the Sith have all but completely driven the Jedi from the galaxy, deeming discussion of their lot an act of treason against the Empire, the Dark Side has become the official “state religion” for the galaxy of Force users. With this new mandate, Force-sensitive children should be sought, approached, converted, or destroyed if they don’t swear fealty to the Emperor. And all discussion of the Jedi, within the Empire, has been effaced, similarly to Copernican discoveries within 17th century Christendom. Jonathan Jackson Miller’s novel A New Dawn highlights this fact during an early Kanan/Hera mission, as they team up with a Sullustan planetary station security agent named Zaluna Myder. He writes,

Kanan looked at Zaluna, who was clutching her bag tightly to her and shaking her head over the thought of losing her homeworld. “The Jedi used to take care of these things.”

The remark startled Kanan. Jedi were a topic people weren’t supposed to speak of. “What do you know about the Jedi, Zaluna?”

“More than that silly story the Empire put out about them.”

Of course, to be an inquisitor, Vader would not recruit someone ill-equipped in the “old religion.” Akin to the Spanish version, inquisitors should demonstrate sagacity and proficiency in the Force, they should be erudite in the history and lore of the Jedi, and they should be accomplished saber practitioners. “Rise” affords the Inquisitor’s character each of these attributes, as he lures our “heretical” heroes into the prison trap. Capable of dissecting Kanan’s technique to the point of determining his master’s identity, upon studying the completely preserved Jedi Temple records, he sentences Kanan and young Ezra, via his Stygeon auto-da-fé, to death — presumably in the manner in which Luminara was eviscerated bloodlessly. This, of course, comes upon his obligate invitation to join the Dark Side. Fortunately, for our heroes, and for the longevity of the story, the Hebrew appellative Kanan and Ezra escape their captor’s secret court and flee, just as the Sephardim became the fate of Spanish Jewish survivors of the Inquisition. The question that awaits Star Wars fans is whether or not there is more than one inquisitor prowling the galaxy for additional Kanan’s and Ezra’s. My vote is hopefully yes, and that one would be the remnants of Barriss Offee (the former apprentice of Unduli, who used the Dark Side to strike against the hypocrisy of the Jedi during the Clone Wars), who perhaps is inquiring as to the whereabouts of one Ahsoka Tano. Another could be the as-yet unidentified sibling of potential rebel spy Zare Leonis — recently introduced in the latest episode, “Breaking Ranks.”

To Teach or Not To Teach

Yeah, this episode features dark themes…yeah, this episode introduces its primary villain…yeah, this episode infuses a Prequel Trilogy-type saber battle into the Original Trilogy era…Yeah, the setting was borrowed from what would’ve been the continuation of Darth Maul’s story arc within The Clone Wars

As each of these elements infuse the episode with a sense coolness, at the heart of its tractability is the logos inherent within the mentor/student relationship exhibited with the Hebrew-appellates Kanan and Ezra. Inherent within this 22 minute story is a faithful interpretation of the endeavors and challenges one must endure when attempting to teach or mentor young people.

From the moment Kanan crosses paths with Ezra, recognizing the potency of spiritual power he possesses, his own jaded past conflicts with his commitment to end the reign of the Dark Side in the galaxy. Jedi allies would be necessary and powerful in their struggle against the Empire, but given the immaturity of his own skills, and the time that has passed since his Jedi world was violently eradicated, only through direct prodding from Hera is Ezra reluctantly trained. Anyone adept in the field of education, be it in the classroom with young children to flight instructors on the line at a given fixed based operator, will tell you a good teacher is never reluctant to teach their students. A lack of desire often breeds contempt within the teacher for their students, it translates consciously and subconsciously with their interaction, the students pick up on this cosmic vibe, and often become defensive — partly because they feel picked on, partly because they fear poor teaching associated with negative experiences of the past. Educating is an art form — one that must be cultivated through nurturing, and more so with older adolescents. Duke Helfand (2003) highlighted the findings of researchers in the book, Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers by High School Students, written by Kathleen Cushman, for the Los Angeles Times. She and other researchers catalogued the responses of 40 high school students from across the country, emphasizing what they believed was most important for their educational success. Among the wisdom they shared: teenagers crave the relationships that make learning possible. “What we’re hearing from students is that they want partnerships,” he quotes Cushman. “…People who think of teaching as simply the delivery of information are missing the point.” Did you hear that, Kanan?…Mr. “Do, or do not — there is no try…” The robotic regurgitation of classic Yoda at the beginning of the episode is fundamentally indicative of most people surrounded by great teachers, or any masterful professionals — regardless the countless hours, months, years, decades required to work at their present level, to the uninitiated, it appears easy. A local news reporter once complained via Twitter that someone approached him, while on assignment, to inquire about potential jobs at the station, as the work appeared superficial; to which the reporter replied, “you don’t know how hard this job is, and how much preparation goes into appearing before the cameras every evening.” I felt the urge to reply to him, saying, “But that’s the mark of a strong professional, when you make it appear that anyone can do your job.”

Another student profiled in the book, then 17 year-old Luiz Martinez from Oakland, California, felt that, “…good teachers are always there for you, always helping you out. They are like friends. They tell you about their own life experiences. The more you know about your teachers, the more they can help you.” Even under the threat of death, Ezra continually endeavors to build a greater understanding of his teacher. As the Inquisitor pulls out his tricked out “spinning wheels” sabre, Ezra looks to Kanan and quips, “Does yours do that?” A throwaway moment of levity to the uninitiated, but such a sentiment speaks to his inherent desire to build a bond with his new instructor. To learn about the Force from Kanan means to learn about Kanan the man, and the Jedi — a notion even he hasn’t quite figured out. Unlike Hera, who acts as a soothing presence for the troubled youth, Kanan is afraid to get close to his new apprentice. Discovering the possibility that Unduli is alive serves more as a relief valve for retreating from a potential attachment to Ezra than for the potentiality of adding the experienced sage to the Ghost crew.

At 19, Vance Rawles, of New York, must’ve felt that all great teachers were proven Jedi, as he stated they should have the telepathic acuity to identify and adapt to teenage shifting moods, and the perception that stems from empathic bonding. In the fictional world of Star Wars, Kanan certainly does have the literal, albeit limited, capacity to do this with Ezra. This is a kid who’s been orphaned, lived a good portion of his life on his own at a time of military dictatorship, but ultimately still a child — assumedly undisciplined, unfocused, and prone to error. The worse thing Kanan can do with his young ward is yell when Ezra commits errors; faults should be assumed and anticipated. Such an axiom guides the skillful teacher, and affords appeasement of the many stressors associated with mentoring young people. In the educational field, students with learning challenges and disabilities are often attached to Individual Educational Plans, or IEPs. Though the circumstances surrounding said IEPs involve serious concerns, in jest, I once said to a Special Education colleague that students should receive IEPs just for being 14. Indeed, the level of development surrounding the adolescent prefrontal cortex, the decision-making center of the brain that inhibits impulsive activity and also governs goal setting behaviors, is far behind the rest of the brain, until about age 25. Neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Aamodt, author of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, told NPR in 2011 that the prefrontal cortex of children emanating from deprived childhoods exhibits even further instability:

…so, somebody who has had an unstable home life is more likely to have trouble with planning and organizing behavior and with inhabiting impulses than somebody who has had a stable life.

As a 14 year-old orphan and “street rat,” it should come as no surprise that Ezra has a hard time “focusing,” to the consternation of his impatient, inexperienced and undisciplined teacher; which leads me to yet another critique of Kanan’s failings. In “Miscommunication in the classroom: What teachers say and what students really hear,” author Joseph Simpllico (2002), for Education, documents a number of deceptively simplistic common phrases uttered by teachers that do not convey to students their intended message — leading to a disruption of effective teaching. One such phrase on his list is You need to… Simpllico says that when teachers declare, “You need to study…” or, “You need to do your homework,” students don’t often  internalize that this is something to be assessed or measured as a performance goal. Instead, they associate it with yet another common misunderstood phrase: This is important. Both, for the student, according to Simpllico, imply that the activity or information is important to the teacher, but doesn’t apply to them. The value of the message isn’t shared between the teacher and the student, and therefore the student doesn’t feel the need to do what the teacher insists. Inevitably, the fundamental question that arises in their collective minds is, why? So, in that vein, why should Ezra learn how to focus; especially as The Ghost is cruising through the clouds, potentially on an imminent collision course with an unidentified space cruiser or mountain ahead, while taking a ribbing from his analogous older brother? Simply repeating what he’d heard at the temple, without inherently understanding those lessons, serves neither Kanan nor Ezra. Only through a deeper understanding of the principles he wishes to convey will he find the proper path to enlightenment, can he then lead Ezra to his own understanding of said principles.

Finding a deeper, participatory understanding for each skill that must be mastered is a requirement when working with older adolescents. In “Do teachers and students agree in their perception of what school discipline is?,” for Educational Review, authors Ramzi Haroun and Christine O’Hanlon (1997) published data given what students perceive school discipline to be in their eyes. While younger children (aged 12 to 14) asserted that students should respect and obey their teachers, older children (aged 15 to 19) added that teachers should also respect students and treat them positively. They further reinforced the necessity that developing positive relationships between themselves and the adults in the building to be paramount to school discipline, as compared to younger students. The teenaged years are the moments in which, simultaneous with prefrontal cortex development, the independent psyche of the adult, who’s responsible for oneself, emerges. So, it’s to be expected that the older student would perceive school discipline as more of a partnership than a mandate, and it is wise for their supervising adults to be mindful of this knowledge as they guide them. Perhaps this is the reason for Master Yoda’s declaration that older children and adults are “too old to begin the training.” In fact, it’s far more difficult to teach older children (and adults), whose natural inclination is to build an intimate understanding of a concept by calling it into question — a potentially dangerous notion when one possesses super powers. Indoctrinated in the confines of the temple since infancy, socialization acts as the handcuffs that bind older Jedi Padawans to the Order’s incessant structure. Moving forward, Kanan will need to make due with a student not previously primed as he was, which makes for wonderful storytelling.

In the Clouds

What a spiritual turn of events it was for fans to see Jedi training take place in the clouds. Not only was it breathtaking from an animation perspective, and of course it harped on the Empire Strikes Back nostalgia chords as it invoked the beige atmosphere of Bespin, while affording them an excuse to use the howling winds sound files from that place, but there’s a sense of serenity when one trains in the light side of the Force while surrounded solely by nature, somewhat removed from the realm of technology — as exhibited also in Empire’s Dagobah setting.

As an instrument-rated pilot, I’ve experienced first hand how powerful and wondrous the grey matter we take for granted, or wish away, can be. Next to mastering landings, nothing gives a pilot more of a sense of accomplishment like filing an instrument flight plan with the FAA and traveling from one airport to a distant location safely without largely seeing the ground until 700 feet or lower from touchdown at your destination. The instrument rating is one of the toughest to attain, and maintain, for pilots, as it has its own set of rules, procedures, and skills one must master on top of those required to fly under normalized visual flight rules. Not to mention our body’s internal sense of balance and orientation are not suited for mastering the air, unlike the organs of birds and flying insects, which have the biological equivalent of spinning gyros that feed directly into their nervous system. With our eyes feeding the vestibular system of the inner ear, human beings can accurately determine a sense of orientation with the ground and horizon, given the changes in motion that occur while suspended in flight. Once our vision is robbed, that same vestibular system projects errors and false sensations, leaving even the greatest of pilots susceptible to spinning out of control. While flying in a day time rain system, with the sun shining brightly above, the IFR pilot is instantly surrounded by nothing but bright, white light — very much as Benjamin Sisko, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lore, witnessed while flying a shuttle craft into the wormhole to visit the “aliens” that resided there. For the brain, there is no up, down, left, or right, and without any visual cues, the vestibular system confuses the brain. In aviation physiology, this is called spatial disorientation. More than a few pilots, including John F. Kennedy, Jr., have succumbed to the dangers of spatial disorientation. From wind resistance and convective currents, an airplane can begin to turn and lose altitude at such a slight amount the pilot’s inner ear fluid will stabilize, fooling the brain to suggest no movement is occurring. So while the pilot feels the plane is traveling straight and level, it’s actually corkscrewing toward the ground. The more the plane descends, while still in a turn, the greater the speed increases, which can also be detected by increased RPM output from the engine and a rise in the airspeed indicator. The inexperienced or untrained pilot seeks to compensate by pulling up on the control yoke in an effort to increase altitude and level off, which results in a steeper turn, an increase in G-forces, and a sharper corkscrewing moment, resulting in a crash or an in-flight break up if gravity tolerances are exceeded. So flying in the clouds, or without a visible horizon at night, without the proper training all IFR pilots must master and maintain, can be considerably dangerous…but it can also be absolutely stunning. Depending on the depth of the system, with multiple layers, in the daytime, it can appear as though one is flying through underground caverns — complete with stalactites and stalagmites; at night, with openings underneath the plane, cities appear to be engulfed in flames. Unbeknownst to the non-flying community, one also learns that turning off exterior lighting is a common and wise practice in the clouds, as light reflects back at you. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, as there weren’t any opportunities to fly into actual Instrument Meteorological Conditions during my training, beyond simulation. He had forgotten to tell me about what happens when lights are used in the clouds, and so my first trip on a night mission in such conditions was rather surprising at first. On approach to Baltimore, from Pennsylvania, not more than a few weeks after my checkride, I turned on my landing light while still in a cloud deck, and it appeared as though phantoms and poltergeists were flying toward me at considerable speeds! It was pretty shocking to see, to say the least.

Speaking of Dagobah, while on a recent trip to my alma mater Penn State University, I flew a pattern for landing in State College that reminded me of Luke’s trip to the swampy world. Almost the entire trip was flown in IMC, and as I approached the State College area, New York ATC instructed me to increase my altitude to 6,000 feet as they wanted to get a few airline commuter flights on the ground prior to my arrival. Normal approach to State College airport along their instrument procedure for runway 24 is flown at 3,900 feet. So, they had me flying away from the field above the cloud deck, and as the larger planes touched down, they cleared me to intercept the localizer (a radio signal that expresses itself as a needle reading on the instrument panel, aligned with the runway) and continue the approach , which meant I had to execute a descending turn toward the field, all while entering the cloud deck identical to  Luke’s visit in Empire. Breaking out of the clouds 900 feet above the ground, between two mountains, aligned with the runway, thank goodness my landing was much better than his!

In the clouds, en route to State College, PA.

In the clouds of Maryland, en route to State College, PA.


Circling State College @ 6,000 feet.

Circling State College @ 6,000 feet.



  • Saber as phallic symbol. One of the many humorous scenarios exhibited in this episode occurred in the opening training sequences. After Ezra’s failed attempt at balancing himself in a single-armed handstand, amidst Zeb’s ribbing, Kanan approves his attempt to practice deflecting objects with a lightsaber. Almost immediately, Ezra’s eagerness to ignite the famed weapon nearly leaves Kanan speared, to which he directs his young charge to adjust the length of the blade for his height. This was wonderful to see, as we’ve often seen explanations of lightsaber controls in various books, but there was never an on-screen canonical demonstration of this attribute. Without missing a beat, however, Zeb buttresses this illuminating moment with a humorous, “I think it should be a little shorter,”along with the obligatory index finger/thumb pinch for added humiliating effect. Indeed, infusing adult subjective humor into animated “children’s” programming is nothing new, including for Disney, so I’m sure they couldn’t resist. This laugh-out-loud moment also reminded me of another hilarious Star Wars parody, in which the concept of the lightsaber as a symbol of phallic supremacy was significantly more blatant. But these “schwartz is as big as mine” jokes are rooted in the psychology of a male-centered world for thousands of years. Controversial psychiatrist Dr. Frances Kress Welsing (1992), in The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors, argued that cultural symbols were powerful tools to reinforce subjective images in society, and that nothing was more commonly reinforced in a male dominated world than the phallic symbol. The Christian cross, the knife and the sword (by extension), even the gun, are all shaped in the vane of the external male genitalia — essentially a long shaft flanked perpendicularly by a straight outcropping in testicular positions. The most powerful of these weapons and symbols, naturally, would be those associated with length and thickness. If one is confused with how the gun is an extension of this legacy, she offers a profile view of the male genitalia, as if a man is prone on a table or ground (i.e. — in death), and one sees the trigger housing is situated in the testicular association with the barrel. Aligning spiritual and cultural symbols with physical genitalia is nothing new in human societies. In KMT (or what the Greeks called Egypt), the famous ankh is a symbol that signifies “life,” the creation of the universe, even the belief that God ( Neb-er-tcher) willed itself into existence. Inherent within the “cross” is an amalgamation of the male and female genitalia, with the female vagina represented in the upper oval. Indeed, phallicism throughout the world, as a subject, has often been explored by psychoanalysts, anthropologists, and cultural theorists for some time. In fact, 1950 saw the first publication of Samuel Aun Weor’s The Perfect Matrimony: Why Sex and Religion are Inseparable.
  • Speaking of Sabers. Since the introduction of Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the double-bladed lightsaber, originally appearing solely in comics and dreams, has officially become canon. Initially designed to separate an era where saber skills had either tarnished or disappeared completely, George Lucas set out to establish an age in which Jedi skills were fluid, proficient, and flashy. This extended to the Sith, where audiences became privy to the first Sith lord sans life support equipment and old age. By the time Phantom Menace debuted, I had been studying the martial arts for four years, beginning with Bong Sul Staff (a Korean form), and eventually landing on my primary martial arts home: Yoseikan Aikido and Kobudo. As each involves weapons training, and forms, I was ready to critique the new choreography with a newfound sense of enlightenment. I was highly pleased with what I saw on-screen, beyond the obvious “woodstock” sentimentality one expresses when a new Star Wars film hits theatres. In hiring a choreographer and an actor/stuntman to bring Maul to life, there was a sense of technical proficiency inherent in the performance. The first time we see Maul “introduce” himself to Qui-Gon Jinn, he doesn’t ignite both blades — only one. This is perfectly in line with the execution of Bo and Jo staff strategy, as these weapons are largely held in the way that swords are commonly held (with a few minor variations). In essence, you really don’t hold a staff in the center — as is commonly seen in the movies — until it is time to go on the defensive. When someone is striking at you, particularly with speed and ferocity, both Korean and Japanese schools teach a technique known as “hiding behind the tree.” The weapon is held with one hand in the center, at a slight angle toward the opponent, while the body is in a slender side-stance — as one who is literally hiding behind a tree from an attacker. With this in mind, the staff remains static, and the body moves away from strikes, adjusting to the distance and position of the blows. When Maul must face both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in the Theed hangar, this is where he immediately ignites both blades, holding the saber in the center of the hilt, and Maul largely uses this “hiding behind the tree” technique to near perfection. He may ignite his weapon horizontally, but the melee exhibits his saber in a vertical position, as it should be while on the defensive. It is often discussed that to use a lightsaber required considerable technical proficiency and Force talent (else the practitioner sever their own limbs); it was assumed that only the greatest fighter could wield two blades simultaneously. After witnessing Episode II, III, and The Clone Wars series, and now watching the Inquisitor in action, I believe we have to revise this notion. Apparently, the use of two blades doesn’t discern one’s proficiency, but rather serves as a necessary crutch to equip one for handling multiple opponents at once. For the Jedi, Ahsoka had proven through two and a half seasons that Clone Wars combat sometimes proved too much for her abilities. Therefore, her second and final character model change has her carrying a “wakizashi” lightsaber until the end. When it was time to bring Maul back to the fray, his brother Savage Opress became a student of the Dark Side — initially under Count Dooku. Upon moving to using a lightsaber, Dooku builds one similar to his own, but it is double-bladed. Many of us assumed that Maul, once psychologically healed, would rebuild his original saber, but he kept his damaged single blade in tact. Now, we have the Inquisitor, who also wields a double-blade, which as Dave Filoni states, makes up for any weaknesses in his technique and abilities. We can even extend this principle to Anakin, during the duel with Dooku in Attack of the Clones. With Obi-Wan on the ground with an injured leg, Anakin was left on his own to handle a significantly more powerful former Jedi. Obi-Wan tosses his weapon to Skywalker, wishing to even the odds a bit. Finally, though Darth Sidious carries two blades himself, as Bane-descendant Sith are naturally expected to fight off multiple opponents, he only uses one at a time to engage Jedi masters, including Yoda. The only time we see Sidious use two blades simultaneously is in The Clone Wars, where he doesn’t underestimate his newly-resurrected former apprentice nor the magic that imbues his sibling (I won’t count the encounter in Season Six, as that was a force-induced vision rather than an actual physical rumble, though you can imagine Sidious using both blades anyway if he had to tangle with the two most important Force beings next to himself).
  • It’s all about the lighting. Earlier in the year, Lucasfilm released a clip from this episode featuring the Inquisitor battling Kanan and Ezra in the prison hallway. This was prior to the show beginning, and all of us were wondering what the quality of the animation would be. With a significantly reduced budget, would it compare to the Clone Wars? Most of us viewing this clip weren’t concerned, beyond the fact that the Inquisitor’s teeth appeared a bit too long, but the main difference with that clip and what we see in its completed airing is lighting. It’s obvious that the lighting for those shots was tweaked, compared to when USAToday released the exclusive — the image of which was significantly brighter. With the proper lighting in place, the set looks more real, and the lightsabers take on a theatrical aura not present this past summer. The colors were richer, and therefore the presentation was stronger.