The second instalment of the epic finale to the Clone Wars promised us a duel for the ages and it does not disappoint. The duel was everything a Star Wars fan could possibly want – the animation, the fluidity of the action choreography, the uniqueness of the fighting landscape itself, and a genuine emotional connection between the combatants. That even the duel itself was not the episode’s greatest achievement is a testament to what is the show’s greatest instalment today. Episode 10, “The Phantom Apprentice”, is one of the most exemplary pieces of Star Wars storytelling ever told.
The most effective achievement of “The Phantom Apprentice” is its mood-setting. The episode exudes a sense of foreboding from its frame opening on a moodier title card to the final shot of Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) looking upwards towards the sky, wondering if against everything that she knows, if what Maul (Sam Witwer) told her could actually be true. The snippets of information from Revenge of the Sith, from Obi-Wan’s (James Arnold Taylor) note that Anakin (Matt Lanter) killed Count Dooku (Corey Burton), to his reveal of Grievous (Matthew Wood) on Utapau, and his revelation of Anakin’s assignment to spy on the Chancellor (Ian Abercrombie, Tim Curry) augment that foreboding, putting you neatly on edge even though you know exactly what is going to happen soon enough.
“The Phantom Apprentice” is a title that works on multiple levels. It refers to Maul, who was cast aside by Darth Sidious to make way for Dooku and eventually, Anakin. It refers to Ahsoka, who is in the shadow of the Jedi Order after having left it under heartbreaking circumstances. It refers to Anakin himself, unknowingly being groomed to replace the man he murdered. It refers to what Maul unexpectedly offers Ahsoka – an opportunity to join him and defeat Darth Sidious. The “join me and together we can defeat x” is a staple of Star Wars storytelling but it’s significantly complicated here because there is a deep degree of truth in both Ahsoka’s and Maul’s perspectives.
They’re both cast-offs. They have both been abandoned by the institutions that gave them meaning and shaped their entire worldviews and to a certain degree, even their identities. They both, and Ahsoka more so, have very little to go back to outside of the circumstances that they both find themselves in at that specific moment. If Ahsoka turns Maul in, which is where the next instalment is heading, then where is she going to go? She knows that there is some potential in Maul’s offer to defeat Sidious – she has heard that name enough and is concerned about Anakin’s name being connected to all of this – that she even agrees to Maul’s offer of working together. Where she snaps away from that offer, heartbreakingly and tragically, is when Maul reveals what Anakin’s role in this conflict is to be.
The duel itself is stunning and instantly iconic. It’s an intense and fiery duel driven not necessarily by what these two characters feel about each other – they simply have not known each other long enough to be in that headspace – but rather about the circumstances they find themselves in and not knowing where they – or in Ahsoka’s case, the people they care about – are going to go next. They’re lost in more ways than one. Their fight is also fuelled by a desire to find some meaning, and not be lost for that brief moment. They also know that the conclusion of their duel won’t necessarily take them to that point anyhow and that resultant confusion and desperation drives them to fight even harder. When Ahsoka defeats Maul and he is captured, she should be triumphant. But she is still lost and the fuel of the fight is no longer there. There is instead an existential dread that her foe just may have been right about a nightmare she could never have even imagined.
+ Shoutout to Ray Park and Lauren Mary Kim for their phenomenal motion capture work for Maul and Ahsoka, respectively
+ Great music choices here – always love whenever there’s some chorus work imbued into a score and it’s used to great effect here
+ That shot of the broken glass, smoke, and embers enveloping Ahsoka and Maul before their duel is stunning.
+ “The moment may be upon us.”
+ Ahsoka and Obi-Wan’s final exchange comprising “Tell Anakin…” and “I will” is appropriate and heartbreaking.
+ “I know Anakin.” Oh…
+ “Justice is merely the construct of the current power base.” What a powerful line, what a tragic line, and what a prescient line in a galaxy far, far away and our own.
+ Shoutout to Kevin Kiner for his expert use of music in these episodes.
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