While watching “Rise of the Old Masters,” I couldn’t help but think, “This is pretty much ‘Spark of Rebellion: Part Two.’” Following a Jedi training sessions between Kanan and Ezra that goes wrong, the crew of the Ghost learns that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli is being held captive in the Stygeon system. Our heroes attempt to rescue her only to discover that she is already dead, and that it was a trap set by the Inquisitor. The Rebels then must fight their way out of the prison in order to escape.
Unlike the two previous episodes, it was more of a direct continuation of threads started in the premiere movie. Ezra and Kanan’s relationship was central to the story, and as much as I like Zeb, it was nice to shift the focus off of him and back to what ‘Spark’ had been building. Then again, having the two episodes where Kanan wasn’t the one building a relationship with Ezra helped further the point that he is unsure of himself as a teacher. I thought that Kanan’s uncertainty of his skills added a lot to the character in a very believable way — he’s a Jedi but not really, as his own training was never fully completed due to Order 66 wiping out most of the Jedi.
Kanan’s self-doubt strengthened the show’s villain, the Inquisitor, who makes his true debut here. He’s cocky, over-confident, and extremely skilled, providing an excellent contrast to Kanan. Jason Isaacs does an incredible job voicing the role, and at no point was I ever reminded of Lucious Malfoy, Colonel Tavington, or his other animated role of Admiral Zhao from Avatar: The Last Airbender. What I especially liked about this character is that he doesn’t come across as disposable, which is what I’d feared when they first announced him. There is a genuine menace to the Inquisitor, and his very presence felt like the stakes had been raised for our heroes.
Apart from building Kanan and Ezra’s relationship and the threat posed by the Inquisitor, I also really liked the opening Jedi training sequence. Initially, I was confused why they weren’t just training on the ground, but I suppose if one is hiding their Jedi identity, training on top of a starship in the clouds is a good way to stay out of sight. Also, I laughed quite a bit at Chopper’s antics in the sequence, even more so when he threw the last carton at Ezra, and it came across as Chopper trying to kill him.
If I have any complaints, it’s that the series still feels like it’s picking up traction. “Droids in Distress” and “Fighter Flight” didn’t do much moving the overall narrative, feeling more like additional set up than anything, while “Rise of the Old Masters” finally takes the step forward that the show needs. I actually had a conversation about that with my buddy Coach over the weekend, with both of us in agreement that following “Spark of Rebellion,” it’s felt like the show has been more of a traditional kids’ show and less like a genuine Star Wars adventure. And before anyone throws out the argument, “But it is a kids’ show,” I’d like to point towards Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Gargoyles, Batman: The Animated Series, and the best episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars as kids’ shows that strike an excellent balance of appealing to children without watering down their dramatic content. Still, “Rise of the Old Masters” does a lot in getting past that, and I hope that moving forward we get many more episodes like it and “Spark of Rebellion.”