I have a quick question for you: what were you doing when you were 15 years old? Learning to drive? Trying to get a job so you could buy some new CDs (or Star Wars action figures)? Thinking about asking out your crush? I bet I can guess something you were NOT doing–you probably weren’t trying to avoid the Empire while living on your own because your parents had been taken away due to speaking out against the galactic government. Yeah, I’d say most of us had it pretty easy compared to Ezra Bridger. So why does there seem to be a group of fans who won’t cut him any slack?
People had a negative reaction to Ahsoka Tano when we first met her nearly ten years ago, so considering how her story developed (with a long-term plan) it is kind of surprising that Ezra has been treated in a similar fashion to some degree. One of the most important things we need to remember about Ezra is that he is a teenager. ALL teenagers are annoying (I’m kidding… mostly). Awkward social skills come with the territory of entering adulthood, as well as dealing with raging hormones, trying to figure out one’s place in the world/galaxy, and a bunch of other things that seem dire and life-defining in the moment.
When we look at Ezra as a character we need to understand there are certain character traits that are inherent due to his age. This helps the audience connect (positively or negatively) with his mindset, but Ezra isn’t just any normal young man. An oppressed Force-sensitive youth is going to be a teenager on super steroids while he finds out what type of man he will become.When looking into Ezra’s character there are three main developments that we see that start to define him. However, only two of these developments have gotten much attention over the course of Star Wars: Rebels while the third, seemingly ignored, may be the most important.
The first major moment in Ezra’s life that the audience is shown is in the very first episode of Star Wars: Rebels when he decides to abandon his life as a loner to join the crew of the Ghost. While it may appear like a logical step for someone who has been on his own for nearly half his life, Ezra’s choice is not as easy as it would seem. By joining the crew Ezra willingly sacrifices something that all youths strongly desire: freedom. No longer will he be able to come and go as he pleases. He goes from being in charge of himself to being the lowest-ranking person on the ship.
Even though he now needs to take orders from Hera and Kanan it is understandable why he would be OK with this new arrangement. The crew of the Ghost is a family, and as we know Ezra feels abandoned by his own. For all the big talk, Ezra goes on about being able to survive on his own it is pretty clear that he is lonely and unhappy. He immediately bonds with each member of the crew in unique ways, quickly filling the void of not having a normal family life. Being “adopted” by a family that is living a similar mischievous lifestyle (at least at first glance) he is able to still claim to be living the life he wants and enjoys while filling a very painful void he has felt since he parents were taken away.
At the same time Ezra finds a new “family” he discovers that he has the ability to connect to the Force the same way the Jedi could. While he may not realize what it means to use the Force, he soon realizes the significance. Ezra now has power, a power that he controls and which can grow stronger over time. For a young man that has spent his recent years under the rule of the Empire, always avoiding and evading, he starts to realize that he has to power to do greater things than he imagined possible. When an adolescent first experiences any type of power it can quickly start him down life-defining paths.
When Ezra speaks to Yoda for the first time in the Jedi temple on Lothal we can truly grasp the positive influence his new family has had on shaping him into the man he is becoming. Yoda ask Ezra why he wants to become a Jedi, and his response is quite telling:
Yoda: Why must you become Jedi?
Ezra: I don’t know. I guess because Kanan believes I can.
Yoda: Ah. Kanan thinks you can. Hmm. And you?
Ezra: Well, I’ll become stronger, powerful.
Yoda: Ah. Power you seek.
Ezra: I’d make the Empire suffer for everything it did, for everything it took, for my parents! I wouldn’t be helpless anymore!
Yoda: Ah. Jedi way is revenge? Teach you this, your Master did?
Ezra: No. Kanan would never. He’s a good Master, a-a great Master.
Yoda: – Then why seek you revenge?
Ezra: I don’t.
Yoda: Hmm. Inside you much anger, much fear.
Ezra: I just want to protect myself and my friends.
Yoda: And this is why you must be Jedi?
Ezra: Yes, and not just them. Everyone. I’ll protect everyone. Before I met Kanan, I only ever thought of myself, but Kanan and the rest, they don’t think like that. They help people, they give everything away, and I see it. I see how it makes people feel.
Yoda: Feel, yes. How?
Ezra: Alive. They feel alive, like I do now.
For a young man who has had so much taken away from him to come to the conclusion to walk a selfless path is quite impressive. We need to keep in mind that he is only 15 years old. Even when he is tempted by someone like Hondo Ohnaka to turn his back on responsibility, Ezra cannot do it. The Force has given him power, but Ezra willingly chooses to walk the difficult path of righteousness and not abuse this gift.
Until he finds out about his parents.
It’s amazing how such an important moment, both for Ezra himself and the audience, seems to have been shuffled into the background. It has been stated by the Rebels production team that they did not want the mystery of the Bridger’s fate to linger, but I would have expected more than one episode of Ezra dealing with the news. And why’s that? Because Ezra is inadvertently responsible for their deaths.
Ryder Azadi tells Ezra it was the message of rebellion which he broadcasted during season one that inspired the elder Bridgers to revolt. It was during that time that they were both killed. We see Ezra reacting to the shock of their deaths but not the moment when he pieces together his involvement. Regardless of how close he may be with his new family, the loss of his birth parents, partially due to his actions, is a tremendous burden which Ezra seems to carry silently.
It was until that moment that Ezra was walking the “straight and narrow” path of a good Jedi. As season two progresses the darkness within him grows, but it is unclear to the audience as to why. I’d venture a guess that he very quickly puts together his role in the death of his parents but carries the burden silently. But as we know from Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi who suffers silently is ticking time bomb.
By the time they visit Malachor, Ezra is in a terrible state of mind. We have seen him struggling to grasp certain aspects of the Force (such as connecting with the spiders). Ezra’s mind is not calm and he is not at peace. He is out of balance. It is this unbalance which makes him susceptible to Maul’s influence at the end of season two, which as we know has disastrous results. Had a normal teenager been responsible for such terrible events it would be quite devastating on his psyche. Unfortunately, Ezra is most unlike normal teenagers.
While most would learn a grave lesson from these event and make sure to avoid making similar mistakes in the future we know that Ezra willingly continues to tap into the dark side. And the dark side is strong; the dark side is tempting. The dark side yields easy power with quick results. For a young man who seems to be losing control and letting down those he holds most dear the idea of doing good things via negative methods–even with good intentions–may seem like a fair trade for someone seeking atonement.
But Ezra has something that Maul or Sidious or even Anakin did not have: a support system he can turn to no matter what happens. One that he can trust. Not only that, but he has the memory of his parents to steer him in the right direction during these dark times. So the next time you judge Ezra’s actions, remember that he has already suffered greatly and he is still a teenager. Ezra may make more mistakes, but he is still growing into the man he is meant to be. We can only hope he walks the path of Luke, not Anakin. But to do that he needs to deal with what happened to his parents and his role in it.