Twin Suns has become an instant classic, bringing the samurai influence on the Jedi back to the forefront. Joe Tavano explores the dynamics of the Kenobi/Maul duel and discusses why it needed to happen exactly how it did.
Star Wars Rebels, at its best, has the ability to tell stories that are integral to the Star Wars mythology. Episodes like “Twilight of the Apprentice” raised the bar; yes, in animation, and yes in exquisite storytelling, but it also proved that moments of true consequence–ones that reverberate across the entire saga–can succeed in animation. “Twin Suns” is the fulfillment of that promise, a prestige episode that hits closer to the core of the Star Wars mythology than any story in the new canon. The culmination of Maul’s story (if not the climax) unfolds through an intimate, isolated story that showcases Tatooine’s utter desolation as a reflection of the dark side character himself.
Maul, at this point, is beyond a beaten man. He was literally cut down before his prime, the discarded waste of a master with grander plans. Despite the best efforts of the universe that was constantly against him, Maul survived and persisted to rise up again and again, like a festering pestilence that was never eradicated. Now, as an old man, Maul has long been defined by his obsession with revenge over Kenobi, to the point where it has been the single greatest relationship in his life. And, while it has not defined Kenobi, it has certainly tied him to this old demon.
They are reflections of one another, Kenobi and Maul, twin suns in their own right. However, just as Maul has allowed this connection to define his existence, he has never allowed himself to grow past it as well. In many respects, Maul is still the man he was on Naboo decades earlier, whereas Kenobi has never stopped moving forward, progressing into a master of the Force beyond any of the former Jedi Order.
In the Wrong Place
Kenobi is a font of knowledge that, instead of asking questions, explains Ezra’s predicament to himself. This is no isolated old wizard, and is clearly in communion with great sources of wisdom. He knew exactly who Ezra was, why he was there, and the presence of Maul.
The simple statement that Ezra is “in the wrong place,” is loaded with mythic mystery, reinforcing the idea that like Luke, Ezra’s destiny lies on a different path than Kenobi. Indeed, the first two thirds of the episode seem more as if Ezra has strayed into a bad dream out of time and space.
He’s outside of his story, like one who has gone past the borders of a painting or a character who has gone off the playable map of a video game. In Kenobi’s view, Ezra ventured beyond the pale of his own destiny, a quasi-reflective summation that the Star Wars Rebels series is coming damn close to the core storyline. It’s like Kenobi himself is breaking the fourth wall to tell Filoni to back off; before his “meddling,” he never had to deal with Maul, but now it must be settled.
Bushido, the Code of the Samurai
Despite the obvious inspiration from Kyuzo’s famous duel in Seven Samurai, Kenobi and Maul’s duel in “Twin Suns” works for reasons much more important than mimicry of great film. Inspiration from other films and genres is nothing new in Star Wars; Lucas infused a healthy dose of Kurosawa’s samurai into his original Star Wars film, and he and Filoni carried this melange further with the Clone Wars, tackling kaiju movies, noir mysteries, and more. But there’s more to the Jedi than oblique references to Kurosawa.
The warriors have always been imbued with the concepts of Bushido, and these core tenets are why “Twin Suns” works. Without ever having seen a samurai film, or even another Star Wars film, the Kenobi/Maul duel is instantly iconic and one of the most important moments in the saga.
One of the lesser known, but intrinsic ideals that make samurai what they are is in the meaning of the word. Samurai means, “to serve.” A samurai who is not in service to a greater power, be it a daimyo or the Chosen One, is by definition no samurai. They are ronin, a samurai who has no master.
Despite the “cool” factor that Western culture has put upon the idea of ronin as a Steppenwolf-type of character, ronin were in their time without honor and despised, because samurai tied their lives to their service. A samurai who has allowed their master to die was expected to die as well; therefore, a ronin was without honor because they were either dismissed or turned away from their duty.
True to form, Kenobi is the ideal samurai as well as the ideal Jedi, face to face with Maul who is ronin–discarded and defeated, a master-less warrior serving no one and nothing, bent only on a final confrontation to complete his empty, wasted shell of a life.
Bushido masters train to dispel attacks with one clean technique, an economy of energy at complete odds with many martial arts worldwide. The traditional martial styles of Japan do not involve training to fight–instead, one trains to end fights only, a major distinction. It’s the difference between engaging an opponent in battle and being outside of the cycle of conflict, interacting only to remove the threat.
Bushido is not about jumping and flipping around. It’s not a multitude of parries and blocks that probe for weakness. Duels are not won from the multitude of moves performed prior to the killing blow. Duels are won by the final blow. Bushido, along with various Japanese hard styles like Shotokan, are the pursuit of the perfect technique; one clean, clear, conscious willing of mind and body in union to conquer one’s opponent in a single act.
If you were to see a traditional match, the conflict is quicker than the blink of an eye. It’s a lightning flash that determines all. It is not defense. it is not attack. In the traditional styles, they are actually one–a defensive block, done correctly IS an attack. An attack, performed correctly, is only executed for defense.
Yoda’s words may be taking on greater meaning right about now.
Kenobi exemplifies this harmony. He’s a master in complete control of the situation, one who has progressed from an aggressive padawan to a daring knight and finally to a master who only fights reluctantly, only when his charge is threatened. His fighting style is consistent with the one he exhibits with Vader on the Death Star. Although, in that instance he is perhaps more evenly matched against a master whose skills, even when more machine than man, are significant compared to the untamed aggression of Maul.
Was Maul looking for victory over his old enemy in “Twin Suns?” It didn’t matter. It was about the conflict. Maul existed only for this moment. He had proved multiple times nothing else could kill him; he would only allow himself death from Kenobi or victory over his old enemy. For the first time in his brutal life, Maul was at peace at the moment of his death, a small mercy bestowed upon him by Kenobi, his greatest enemy, greatest focus, greatest friend.