I have never seen the worlds of Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings get as close to each other as I did last week, when a video clip from the next season of Star Wars Rebels has been released. Granted, the show’s creator, Dave Filoni, has hinted several times in the past that J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have been a great inspiration for him. There are, of course, many generic themes the tales share (and many they share with many classic heroic tales or fairy-stories), but what I saw this week in Rebels preview came very close to a specifically Tolkien-esque theme. I would not even hesitate to say, THE theme.
The clip in question is one of several short videos which were released during the last couple of weeks as vanguard for the premier episode of Star Wars Rebels Season 3, which is aired on the Disney channel on 24th of September (US time). All the clips serve as teasers for the expected plots in this season (and focus mainly on Ezra Bridger, his master, and the new villain, Admiral Thrawn). I am going to avoid direct spoilers about Rebels in this article – although I am going to refer generally to the direction the series have been taking especially in the last season and where they seem to be heading to in regards to certain characters.
The scene from the clip features the protagonist’s master, a Jedi, and a never-before-seen creature who introduces itself as Bendu (voiced by Tom Baker). The Bendu claims to be “the one in the middle”, standing between the light and the dark. It is clearly an old being with much wisdom. Ezra’s master comes to talk to it because of a Sith holocron his apprentice has acquired. He is concerned that the holocron is changing his apprentice. If you didn’t already start getting Lord of the Rings vibes, it is time to start paying attention now.
Holocrons are artificial devices made by both Jedi and Sith which contain the teachings of their creators long after their death. They can be even millenia old, which seems to be the case of the holocron young Ezra has acquired. Holocrons usually produce a lifelike hologram of their creator (if the creator so desired) or at least a voice which instructs the user of the holocron. In Star Wars universe, holocrons always had important place especially in the periods of turmoil, such as when the Jedi or the Sith order had been almost destroyed sometime during the course of their existence. In the old, now nonexistent canon, Luke Skywalker was using holocrons to rebuild the Jedi Order when no living masters were around, and likewise there were cases when a holocron made by ancient Sith caused the Sith order to be renewed when the last master/apprentice duo have been slain, and a prospective learner found a dark holocron and let the Sith master within tempt them to the Dark Side.
The problem is that a holocron is not just a “holographic textbook”; the process of its creation is very complicated, requires the use of Force as well as technology and not everyone is even capable of constructing one. Nonetheless, if one succeeds, the result is a device containing not only the knowledge the creator decided to store in it, but also part of the teacher, a life-like hologram or personality who can communicate with the holocron’s user in the same way the living Jedi or Sith would, among other things deciding at which pace to reveal the knowledge to the apprentice (if at all), and capable of feedback. Needless to say, a Sith holocron may try to present its knowledge to a Jedi user in such a manner that it would corrupt them, however it would suit the maker’s needs.
From this perspective, it is very easy to see why a Lord of the Rings parallel would occur to the Rebels writer when dealing with a plot involving a holocron. The premise is that the young Jedi has been using the holocron and his master is afraid that “it is changing him”. Just like at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings Gandalf is concerned when Bilbo, and later Frodo, is using the Ring – and warning the hobbits not to use it too much, or later, when the nature of the Ring becomes clear, not at all. As Gandalf tells Frodo in The Shadow of the Past, “if [a mortal] often uses the Ring (…) sooner or later the dark power will devour him.”
The process of an item being imbued with part of its creator’s (in the cases of both the One Ring and this particular holocron) malicious personality is also something the Ring and the holocron have in common. It is a favourite theme of Tolkien’s, present also e.g. the Unfinished Tales story of “The Faithful Stone” – a creator putting a part of themselves into an item, and also suffering part of its fate – in a similar manner, creating a holocron drains its maker considerably, which is another reason why many do not attempt it. But the closest similarity is of course that the holocron tempts, and it promises power, much like the Ring especially in later stages.
Let us, however, focus on the next thing which is an obvious parallel – and reference – to The Lord of the Rings: the character of Bendu itself.
Bendu has been compared before to Tom Bombadil by Dave Filoni. From the video clip, this is obvious: like Tom takes the Ring which everyone, including Gandalf, fears to even touch, Bendu picks up the holocron and, to Kanan’s frustration, opens it without even thinking. But that is exactly the point. Bendu, like Tom Bombadil, is outside the conflict of the Sith and the Jedi, and, as becomes clear from his speech, he does not desire power. Bendu, however, implicitely warns the Jedi against how the Sith holocron can become dangerous: if one seeks to use it to get power. That is the central theme of the Lord of the Rings (the Ring is not called the Ring of Power for nothing), and Tolkien’s tale shows over and again how characters with good intentions become corrupted when they focus on seeking power. Bendu’s words “…even the desire to do good can lead some down that path” is undeniably an intentional allusion to (and almost a direct quote of) Gandalf, who refuses to take the Ring when Frodo offers it to him: “Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good.”
Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings is a peculiar character, but what can be said about him for sure is that he is ancient (just like Bendu) and unaffected by the Ring (just like Bendu is by the holocron) because he is unaffected by the conflict. Bendu is, in fact, in my opinion a very fitting elaboration on the character of Bombadil, because it voices what has not been said about Bombadil. Unlike Bombadil, Bendu is much more “earthly” (a creature of flesh and blood in the same way Kanan is, unlike Bombadil, of whom we do not know where he comes from), also clearly has his own concerns, which just are not the concerns of the Galactic society. Bendu obviously studies the Force, just not in the way the others do. That way, he is able to give advice to the Rebels, what to do with their “Ring” and how can their “Ringbearer” be protected from it.
The young Rebel Ezra Bridger, for that matter, isn’t really a Frodo (from what we have seen so far), it seems (a bit disconcertingly for the audience) that he might be more similar to the figure of Boromir. Like Boromir, Ezra willingly seeks out the holocron and the power it contains, and wants to use its knowledge to defeat the Empire. Time and again Ezra is confronted with his inability to stand against the Empire’s Inquisitors or even against Darth Vader himself (which, we know, he absolutely cannot, if only for story reasons). His attitude is therefore much closer to the desperate Boromir, who also sees only the inevitable destruction of his country and perceives the Ring as a weapon. “Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? (…) Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon…” These are the words of Boromir at the Council of Elrond, but those who have been following Rebels would know that Ezra’s vocabulary regarding this knowledge is not very different. It therefore remains to be seen where the holocron will take the young hero, and whether the “fellowship of Rebels” will heed Bendu’s words.