Oh wow. The third-to-last episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' final season arrived on Disney Plus on Friday, following on from last week's killer Siege of Mandalore opener. We also get the coolest title yet: The Phantom Apprentice.
We last saw ex-Padawan Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) surrounded by bad Mandalorians as their leader, former Sith apprentice Maul (Sam Witwer) stepped out of the shadows, apparently disappointed to see her instead of his nemesis Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor).
In addition to sounding awesome, the episode's title has multiple meanings. It alludes to prequel trilogy opener The Phantom Menace, where Maul made his debut and seemingly met his end at Obi-Wan's hands. I've always thought of Maul's master, Darth Sidious, as the titular Phantom Menace, but perhaps it referred to the Sith as a pair?
The title could also refer to Ahsoka and Maul, since both are apprentices who never completed their training. Ahsoka willingly left the Jedi and her master Anakin Skywalker, but Maul was replaced with Count Dooku when Sidious thought he was dead. The key difference is that Anakin clearly misses Ahsoka, while Sidious just doesn't give a hoot about anyone except himself.
Now let's take a trip to SPOILER town.
Revenge of the Sith
When Maul wonders why Obi-Wan and Anakin didn't come, Ahsoka tells him they had a "more pressing engagement" -- namely rescuing Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) from General Grievous, as seen in the opening of Revenge of the Sith. This episode takes place at the same time as that movie.
Maul starts to monologue about how Sidious is about to seize power and wipe out the Jedi. He doesn't get a chance to elaborate before Rex and a bunch of clones arrive. He's forced to flee, leaving Ahsoka to wonder who the heck Sidious is.
She contacts Obi-Wan, who's about to be sent to Utapau, a moment that happens about 50 minutes into Revenge of the Sith. He wants Ahsoka to capture Maul so the Jedi Council can learn more about Sidious, but I feel like Maul is way too powerful to remain a captive for long; silly Jedi!
He also asks Ahsoka to call Anakin, since her former master's in a huff about the Jedi Council tasking him with spying on the obviously-evil Palpatine. Unfortunately, Rex interrupts to let Ahsoka know that dastardly Maul has struck again and she never gets a chance to contact Anakin.
Whoops. It's pretty depressing to think how differently things could've gone for the galaxy if she'd made that call.
Plans within plans
It turns out Maul is being motivated by a Force-induced vision about Sidious taking over the galaxy, prompting him to order the lieutenants in his Shadow Collective criminal empire to go into hiding. He wants to ride out the chaos and seize whatever power is available in the new order.
His visions also revealed that Sidious has long "groomed" Anakin to become his new apprentice -- a key part of the plan. He orchestrated the Siege of Mandalore to lure Anakin and Obi-Wan there, so he could kill Anakin and "deprive Sidious of his prized pupil."
He asks Ahsoka to join him so they can stop Sidious and (mind-blowingly) she initially says yes. But the mention of Anakin turning to the dark side puts her off the idea. She can't believe the decent man who trained her would be swayed. So she and Maul do the only thing they can: They have an absolutely incredible lightsaber duel.
"You're lucky Anakin didn't show up," says Ahsoka. "The way you're fighting, you wouldn't have lasted long."
It's smack talk, but she's absolutely right. Anakin would've slaughtered Maul as he did Count Dooku. Ahsoka ultimately saves Maul from a fatal fall, and the clones capture him.
"You're all going to burn, we're all going to die!" Maul screams before being stunned by the clones. Intense, but appropriate.
Ahsoka and Maul's duel isn't the episode's only epic moment. Gar Saxon (wearer of the coolest Mandalorian armor ever and played by Ray Stevenson) throws down with Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) in an elevator shaft before escaping. In the end, he and the rest of his Maul-supporting Mandos, whom Maul was about to abandon, are defeated by the combined might of Bo-Katan's forces and the clones.
In the latter part of the episode, there's a constant tension because we know Order 66 is coming, forcing the clones to turn on Ahsoka. How will Bo-Katan and her Mando buddies react to this betrayal? Presumably they won't be targeted by the clones, but it's likely the Republic forces will refuse to end their occupation of Mandalore once they've officially become the Galactic Empire.
We'll find out next Friday, May 1, when the second-to-last episode of the show comes to Disney Plus. You won't have long to wait until the finale either; that's coming Monday, May 4.
Easter eggs and observations
- It's clear Maul knows some of Sidious' grand plan, but not all the details. It seems like he's piecing things together based on what he knew before his defeat in The Phantom Menace and what he saw in his Force vision.
- Maul pulls information about Ahsoka from the mind of captive clone Jesse using the Force, a move Kylo Ren will pull on Rey in The Force Awakens.
- The former Sith makes a reference to Saxon and Rook Kast (Vanessa Marshall) liberating him from imprisonment by Sidious and Dooku. That happened in the 2014 .
- Among the Shadow Collective lieutenants Maul orders into hiding is Solo villain Dryden Vos, the leader of Crimson Dawn. He doesn't say anything, but it's awesome to see him in animation.
- The shot after the window smashes in the throne room, causing glass and embers to waft by Ahsoka as she contemplates Maul's offer, gave me chills.
- Ray Park, who played Maul in The Phantom Menace and Solo, did motion capture for the Ahsoka-Maul duel, and it shows. His moves are super fluid and a joy to watch -- Park devised a new fighting style to account for his age (these events occur 13 years after his defeat in The Phantom Menace) and metal legs.
- Ahsoka's movement was done by Lauren Mary Kim, who did stunts for The Mandalorian and countless other movies and shows.
Come back next Friday, May 1, for the second-to-last recap of The Clone Wars season 7, ahead of the!