Jedi Masters: Depa Billaba

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The prequel trilogy introduced dozens of Jedi to the audience. Many of them appeared on-screen only once, and only a few of them had actual lines. Even those who didn’t, however, often participated in some action that made them memborable. Those most remarkable received their own death scene in Revenge of the Sith.

Depa Billaba, A Council Member

Depa Billaba first appeared in Episode I: The Phantom Menace as a member of the Jedi Council. Being one of the humans present on the Council, she nonetheless bore distinctive markings of a culture that the encyclopaedias subsequently identified as belonging to her home planet of Chalacta.

Depa was portrayed by Dipika O’Neill Joti. Later in the film, Depa also appeared attending the funeral of Qui-Gon Jinn and the victorKanany celebration on Naboo. Footage from the first film was also reused for her appearance at the Jedi Council in Episode II. That was the end of it as far as the movies were concerned.

Since Depa was a Council member, one could already assume her abilities and achievements to be significant. Her importance is underlined by those parts of her background story that were established early on: that she was the Padawan of Mace Windu. This relationship to one of the Jedi whom even casual audience would remember by name places her, in essence, on the same level with Anakin, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Dooku: these all are characters who were taught by a “Master with lines in the film”.

Depa Billaba and little Caleb Dume alias Kanan Jarrus in “Kanan: The Last Padawan” comics.

The Shattered Master

Depa’s absence from the films after Attack of the Clones prompted extended stories about what happened to her. The original story, depicted in Matthew Stover’s 2004 novel “Shatterpoint”, described a traumatic experience in the jungles of Haruun Kal, Mace Windu’s home planet. Having encountered the horrors of war, Depa had an all too close run-in with the Dark Side and ended up completely broken.

The old canon ended on this note, but with Disney’s 2014 reset, some of the elements were reappropriated into Depa’s current story. She was reintroduced into the canon with airing of Star Wars Rebels, where she was revealed to be the late Master of Kanan Jarrus. It may be interesting to point out that this makes Kanan the “grand-Padawan” of Mace Windu, similarly to how Anakin was Qui-Gon’s, or Obi-Wan was Dooku’s.

In person, Depa reappeared in “Kanan: The Last Padawan” comics. The series explored young Kanan Jarrus alias Caleb Dume’s training and his first encounter with his Master, and later their mission during the Clone Wars up to Depa’s death during Order 66.

The interesting part was that Kanan/Caleb first encountered Depa when she was in a coma, floating in a medical tank. The story did not mention specifically what induced her state. It was, however, a clear “retcon” or a way to follow-up on Matthew Stover’s story without explicitly confirming it as binding for the canon. Later, it was added that Depa had led a mission to Haruun Kal (the same planet mentioned in “Shatterpoint”) and things had gone very bad.

Depa Billaba’s face behind her Master Mace Windu on the cover of “Shatterpoint” novel from 2004.

The Only Fighter Of Her Kind

One element that was addressed in “Shatterpoint” but did not leave any important mark in the new canon was Depa’s mastery of the “forbidden” Vaapad style of lightsaber combat. Mace Windu was the one who invented (or actually re-invented) the style (also known as “form VII”), which allowed a Jedi to strike with exceptional speed. However, thanks to the aggressivity of this style, Vaapad led its user “through the penumbra of the Dark Side”, and only a very disciplined Jedi could afford to use it. The fact that Depa mastered it (even though in the original story, it contributed to her own fall and trauma) is a testimony to her prowess.

Depa Billaba is certainly a very interesting character. Despite having no important role or dialogue in the film, her backstory opens up a rather fascinating perspective. It is good that the authors of Star Wars Rebels realised this and emphasised her importance by making her the Master of Kanan Jarrus – and therefore, “grand-master” of its young Jedi protagonist, Ezra Bridger.

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Dorothee Sölle, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.