Star Wars has always been about lightsaber combat. It is one of the iconic devices of the franchise and the makers of Star Wars Rebels decided to highlight it in the last episode. Even if it didn’t involve only Jedi.
If Warhead was a “Zeb episode”, Trials of the Darksaber was a “Sabine episode” – and a good one at that. The whole story revolves around the precious artifact Sabine Wren had acquired on Dathomir – the Mandalorian Darksaber. A symbol of power and a tool to potentially rally her clan to the Rebellion. To be really able to claim it, Sabine needs to practice saber combat. The actual struggle is, however, not mastering the art, but facing her own past and her insecurities.
The episode is full of interesting interactions, especially between Sabine, Kanan (in the position of a Jedi teaching a non-Jedi student) and Ezra (apparently on the edge of his seat to show Sabine how “I’ve been there, done that”. Insufferable kid, but so genuinely convincing behavior for a boy like him!). There is also the occassional chime-in from Fenn Rau and Hera as the representatives of “culture” and “family”. In the end, Sabine is forced to reveal a lot about herself and her past, which is a powerful moment – not the least because Sabine had to go through obvious struggle to be able to speak about something she had been keeping inside for so long. When it comes to personal matters, Sabine is actually an introvert who expresses herself only through her art. Her confession was therefore a dearly bought and the more valuable.
Visually, two sequences in particular stood out to me: Sabine’s battle with Kanan and the 2D animation of Darksaber’s origin. The choreography of Sabine’s training with Ezra and Kanan was beautiful and it offered a peek “behind the scenes” of a lightsaber combat. Because Sabine is not Force sensitive, she cannot just use the Force to anticipate her opponent’s movements, therefore everything we saw in this episode reminisced much more closely of traditional sword-fighting. Nonetheless, even the Jedi combat has its own techniques and we got a glimpse of some of the lightsaber forms. As a bonus, fans of Mandalorian/bounty hunter gadgets surely appreciated the brief appearance of Sabine’s vambraces.
The short 2D animation narrating the story of Tar Vizsla and the Darksaber not only provided important context regarding what the Darksaber is supposed to be (definitely important for most fans who aren’t super-deep into the lore), it also sketched out something regarding the Mandalorian culture (for those who aren’t exactly deep into the lore in general). At the same time, the narration was informative and interesting enough to both brief everyone and not to bore veteran fans. The simple style of the animation fit very well with the stern and warrior-like culture of the Mandalorians, but it was still executed beautifully and it reminded me for instance of the Tale of Three Brothers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
One more memorable thing in this episode was the music. After some time, Sabine’s catharsis was a piece of soundtrack that definitely stood out. Unlike most other themes which simply run in the background, this one made me stop a few times and think “wait a minute, what is that piece of music?” The use of bowed string instruments at times was also unexpected, but certainly not disruptive. All in all, good job, Kevin Kiner and everyone else involved.
Trials of the Darksaber has advanced the plot both on personal level (Sabine) and presumably the whole-story level (possible massive consequences for the Mandalorian clans). I am, of course, curious how the possible recruitment of the Deathwatch will play out in terms of the Rebellion (the old canon didn’t originally count with Mandalorians as a power to be considered during the Galactic Civil War). I, probably along with the rest of you, wish Sabine enough strength to carry the heavy burden of responsibility she just took upon herself.