The Star Wars canon changed forever Saturday night with the latest episode of Star Wars Rebels, "Twin Suns." It was a massive episode in terms of character, Star Wars history, and precedent. So we simply had to talk to Dave Filoni, the executive producer of Rebels, to get the scoop on the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Darth Maul rematch... and that very surprising cameo.
There's so much to discuss here, but let's start with the biggest thing in terms of canon: Obi-Wan Kenobi kills Darth Maul. He's dead. Gone. For good this time.
Since Filoni had decided to bring Darth Maul back in The Clone Wars originally, he felt a responsibility to end the former Sith apprentice's story. So he and the Rebels production team checked with several members of the Lucasfilm Story Group to make sure there weren't any future plans for the character in other Star Wars media. But for Maul, there really couldn't be.
"If there's a character like Maul running around during one of the old films, he's such a big-time player you think there would have been an echo of that somewhere," Filoni said. "So it was just the right time to tell the story and bring that thread to an end."
Maul's death comes very quickly and very decisively. Kenobi kills him with only a few short moves and Filoni knows that may be a controversial decision, but one he didn't make lightly.
"It was a much-discussed thing on how that was gonna go down," Filoni said. "The instinct would be, and probably, I admit, the expectation, is for some kind of prolonged lightsaber battle. But I've done a lot of prolonged lightsaber battles over the years and I think what's most important about any kind of confrontation is what's riding on it. What's the tension going into it? It starts to matter less and less how you swing a sword or how creatively you do it if there's not a lot riding on it."
Filoni said the inspiration for the fight was Kyuzo, the master swordsman in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and his duel which he doesn't want to fight because he knows it will be over quickly. Plus, Filoni saw an opportunity to really highlight their characters with a quick, decisive battle.
"I felt strongly Obi-Wan, if he could help it, would really rather not kill Darth Maul. Obi-Wan is at a point, in my mind, where he's become rather enlightened. He's been in the desert discovering who he is, really evolving as a character. He's not that young brash kid that went into a fight with Maul out of anger for the fact his master was killed. It can't be that same situation this is so many years later. Maul, for his part, is pretty much hung up on that exact moment. That's where his life went wrong. He can't let it go."
Filoni hopes the duel, and the moments after, are the perfect representation of one of the most important conflicts in all of Star Wars.
"It really is to express the difference between the Jedi and the Sith. Which is the Jedi become selfless and the Sith remain selfish. When pressed, because Obi-Wan is protecting someone else in the end, he does fight. But because he is so true and knows who he is in that moment, you can't defeat that. So Obi-Wan is going to strike down Maul because Maul is such a broken and lost person, which I think is why in the end you see Maul being cradled by Obi-Wan.
This idea is that Obi-Wan is willing to forgive this person who is so cruel and terrible because he feels pity for him. To his dying breath Maul is hoping there will be some revenge exacted upon his enemies. And in my mind, Obi-Wan expresses sadness there because that means that Maul has never grown and will never be released from his suffering. So I felt that moment had to be beyond a lightsaber fight and had to be more an expression of their characters."
Also, you may not have noticed this, but Filoni pointed out a moment that showed how Obi-Wan has been ready for this fight since The Phantom Menace:
Maul tries to get Obi-Wan with a very similar move as he gets Qui-Gon. Which is he blocks and uses the blunt of his hilt to smack Qui-Gon in the face. So I had Maul try to do the same thing to Obi-Wan but again, to show growth, Obi-Wan is ready for that and slices it right in half. That slicing of the lightsaber hilt is to represent Maul being sliced. But we all joked that maybe Obi-Wan should dice him up and bring him to other parts of the planet because he tends to come back, that crafty Maul. But not this time.
The binary sunset from Star Wars: A New Hope, which is directly referenced in the latest Rebels. Image: Fox
All throughout the episode, it's mentioned that Obi-Wan is watching over someone, "the chosen one." "He'll avenge us all," Maul says.
Obviously, there's no question who they could be referring to. And at the end of the episode, we see Luke Skywalker running around as a little boy at the Lars homestead, with the binary sunset, and hear Aunt Beru calling him, along with iconic John Williams' iconic score.
Filoni explained his decision to show Luke Skywalker wasn't just for long-time Star Wars fans, but primarily for the new ones:
"We have to look at every episode of Rebels as if you've never seen Star Wars before. So if you think of it that way whenever Maul and Obi-Wan are talking about 'The Chosen One' or 'Who are you protecting?' if you never see or we don't give the context of that, there are a lot of people who won't know whats going on there. The Star Wars fan will but the average person will not. So at the very least the scene establishes, in its simplest form, there's Obi-Wan, he was protecting someone, and there's a woman yelling 'Luke,' and we see what we think of as a young boy running. 'Oh, so Obi-Wan is protecting a boy named Luke.' It's designed to give you that specific bit of information that you need in the story.
Now, if you're a fan and you go 'OH MY GOD that's Luke Skywalker, that's even better. Now you're getting the whole thing... But from a sensible story point you have to have that scene at the end to give some idea of what this old man is doing in the desert. You can't rely on the Star Wars films as if they have been universally watched even though we know they're pretty popular."
Incidentally, the late actress Shelagh Fraser, who played Aunt Beru in the original 1977 film, actually voiced the character in the episode. Filoni said he believes they used one of her takes from the original filming of A New Hope. (If you were wondering, previous recordings of Alec Guinness were not used to voice Obi-Wan in the episode; voice actor Stephen Staunton is just that good.)
As fun as it is to talk about legacy characters like Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul, this is Star Wars Rebels after all. It's not the story of those characters, it's the story of young Jedi-in-training Ezra Bridger. Bridger is a key component in the episode, but how these events will change him remains to be seen.
"Season four will answer that," Filoni promised. "Going into season four now Ezra has a much greater sense of who he is.... season three, in a lot of ways, has been about a quest for power, for true allies and true family. So you see most of the characters deal with that in season three."
Filoni explained, however, that "power" means different things to different people. For the Sith it's literal, but for the Jedi, it's about selflessness and sacrificing to help others. "Ezra is taking a bigger step along that path, which is helping others," Filoni said. "Which he has always wanted to do but knowing you should do that and knowing how to do that are vastly different things."
Bridger's involvement was so important to the director/writer/producer that he personally storyboarded the entire episode where Ezra walks out from the archway (above), all the way through the end credits.
I really wanted to get into the psychology of this moment and what it's like for Ezra to commit to going out into this nothingness to find this man. And it's a very searching moment. Mythically. Going out into the desert is almost like a purification thing. Travelling through fire, travelling through cold, coming out on the other side….It's Obi-Wan. When it's all on the line like that I have to be right there.
Star Wars Rebels wraps up next week with a two-part finale and then will be back later this year for its fourth season, already in production.