"Star Wars: Rebels" 2.16– Shroud of Darkness (9.5 out of 10)  –  Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas; Directed by Brad Rau; Written by Kevin Hopps; Starring: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar, David Oyelowo, Dee Bradley Baker; Special Guest stars: Ashley Eckstein, Matt Lanter, Frank Oz, Jason Isaacs, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Earl Jones. Rated TV-Y7, Aired on Disney XD 3/2/16. 

This review will contain spoilers.

"Shroud of Darkness" is an episode of "Star Wars Rebels" that dives deep into the mythology of the Force and propels our heroes forward toward a conclusion we might not like. It is the episodic equivalent of Luke's descent into the cave on Dagobah and that's not a bad thing.

Much like the beginning of an Indiana Jones film, this episode drops us in media res in the middle of an adventure we have no context for, save the dialogue of the participants. Clearly, Kanan and Ezra were on a mission to find a secret base for the Rebellion. The Inquisitors, the Fifth Brother and the Seventh Sister, found them. A fight ensued. 

Much like Luke realizes he's endangering the mission on Endor by his very presence, Kanan realizes that same truth about he and Ezra as far as the goals of the Rebellion are concerned. With the Inquisitors showing up every time they make a move, their presence is obviously destabilizing to the movement rather than helpful. It's such that they seek the advice of Ahsoka Tano.

This is where the episode kicks into high gear and Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra face a test of the proverbial cave. Traveling back to Lothal, they go open the Jedi temple they find there, hoping for the guidance of Master Yoda. Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka, all have different experiences in their meditation. Kanan is revealed terrible truths and forced to take what is essentially the Jedi trials. Ahsoka is forced to face the terrible truth she knows to be the case. Ezra takes the counsel of Master Yoda.

But things are not as they seem and this is what I love about the episode. Because we're seeing visions in the Force, the artistic teams, writing and in visuals, are able to give us things that shouldn't make sense, but do in the context. They're able to show us things we wouldn't be able to get in a more realistic episode. And they're able to hint at things to come. This episode is very much a setup for the showdown we're sure to get at the end of the season, but it twists things. 

Will it be Vader and Ahsoka facing off? Or Ezra and Kanan? Or some other combination of those characters? 

This episode not only delivered a solid piece of a quickly escalating story, it also gave me one of my favorite Indiana Jones homages. As the temple of Lothal is crumbling and the heroes are escaping, Ahsoka turns back to see Master Yoda offering a somber wave and acknowledgment, just as the Grail Knight does to Indy. It was such a perfect moment not just for its reference, but because of what it means for the acceptance of Ahsoka and the pain that seeing her again, fighting the good fight, must cause Yoda.

This twenty-five minutes of "Rebels" sets the stage for everything that's coming next. In the past, episodes like this on "The Clone Wars" and "Rebels," haven't always been the most successful. Sometimes it was too much table-setting, sometimes it wasn't enough. Sometimes there was no weight or gravitas, sometimes there was far too much that the episode didn't earn. This time, though... This episode earned every shred of it. This is an important episode and my favorite of the season that isn't a premiere or a finale. 

It was emotional. I gasped. Repeatedly. I cried. Repeatedly. I had my notions of what was happening and what could happen questioned over and over again. 

There is more going on than we understand, and that's one of the feelings I love "Star Wars" to give me most.

The voice acting on this episode was nothing short of perfect, and not just the James Earl Jones and Frank Oz moments, but Jason Isaacs (in a surprise cameo), Sarah Michelle Gellar, and others. The most important though? Matt Lanter. 

For many, Matt Lanter is Anakin Skywalker. Hearing him now, in this context, is nothing short of thrilling. 

Adding these heart-wrenching performances to the best visual work the show has achieved and another step in quality from Kevin Kiner's score, you're getting some of the best "Star Wars" we've ever had the privilege of witnessing. I'm giving this episode a solid 9.5 out of 10. This is hands down one of the best of the season. This is one we'll be revisiting. A lot.

Season 1 Scorecard

Season 2 Scorecard:

Season Average 8.84 out of 10

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Tags: Rebels , Star Wars