This weekend, Star Wars Rebels broke out of its usual mode with an episode that was nothing short of remarkable. “Trials of the Darksaber” focuses on Sabine Wren’s training with the darksaber, which she recovered from Maul. However, she’s not merely learning how to wield the darksaber. Reclaiming the weapon means uniting her family against the Empire, which forces Sabine to confront the truth of why she left Mandalore.

The episode is a departure from the TV series’ usual formula, and a welcome one at that. Here’s why “Trials of the Darksaber” is season three’s strongest episode so far.

Sabine Claims the Darksaber

For the first time in Star Wars television, Star Wars Rebels devotes an entire episode to only its characters. For two and a half seasons, all the series’ episodes have focused on a mission or adventure. But instead of being plot-driven, “Trials of the Darksaber” is completely character-driven. The episode doesn’t concentrate on a rebel mission, and that’s precisely what makes it work so well.

“Trials of the Darksaber” marks the beginning of a painful yet incredibly important journey for Sabine Wren. The darksaber is a symbol of power for her family, and it could enable her to recruit House Vizsla to the rebellion. To do so, however, Sabine must come to terms with why she left Mandalore. Sabine rarely speaks about her family, and it turns out it’s because they stood with the Empire instead of supporting her when she spoke out about the Empire’s oppression of Mandalore.

Actress Tiya Sircar absolutely kills it with voicing Sabine in this episode. For one of the first times on Rebels, Sircar has the opportunity to bring out the depth of Sabine’s character. Being abandoned by her family left Sabine in a significantly vulnerable place. Now, for the first time, Sircar helps us see that vulnerability — as well as the inner resolve that’s allowed Sabine survive.

Sabine isn’t the only character who undergoes a change in “Trials of the Darksaber.” At first, Kanan Jarrus trains Sabine by having her spar with Ezra Bridger using training sticks. But Hera Syndulla helps Kanan understand that by withholding the darksaber from Sabine, Kanan is further preventing her from committing to it. When Ezra, Kanan, and Fenn Rau stand with Sabine at the end of the episode, it means something for them. It’s the first time in a while that Rebels nails its characters so well.

We Need More of These Episodes

“Trials of the Darksaber” indicates a departure from the show’s usual plot-driven formula. More importantly, it reveals what Rebels has been missing until now. Our past Recap and Reactions have discussed how it sometimes feels like the show doesn’t fully understand its characters. Thankfully, this episode shows that the series still has the potential to achieve meaningful development for its characters.

Executive producer Dave Filoni, who scripted “Trials of the Darksaber,” demonstrates a deep understanding of the show’s characters, deeper than anything we’ve seen before. Every line of dialogue, every character interaction in the episode has been honed to a point where it’s thoughtful and powerful. Filoni has amassed writing credits from co-scripting some episodes of Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars. But “Trials of the Darksaber” is his first solo episode from a writing standpoint, and he kills it.

The episode’s successful exploration of Sabine Wren is a stark contrast to last week’s “Warhead,” which provided Zeb Orellios with some much-needed focus but fell short of developing his character with the same depth. All of it goes to show that we need more episodes like “Trials of the Darksaber.” The series usually focuses on plot, but that often comes at the expense of character development. Ultimately, “Trials of the Darksaber” shows what happens when Rebels gets it right.

Other Observations

I’ll never get tired of working with fellow Fan Contributor Robert Mitchell to compile our list of other observations:

  • When Fenn Rau recounts the darksaber’s history, we’re treated to a beautiful scene illustrating Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Jedi. The sequence evokes the “Three Brothers” scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which had a similar aesthetic. This is also the first 2D animation that Rebels has done.
  • Hera’s scenes with Kanan represent the two characters’ strongest interactions so far. The fact that Hera can empathize with Sabine’s estrangement from her family is yet another reason why the episode works so well.
  • When Sabine breaks off from her training, Bendu watches her walk by. It’s a shame that the episode didn’t give them a more direct interaction.
  • Sabine’s new Mandalorian vambraces from Fenn Rau are pretty cool. They bear strong inspiration from Cad Bane‘s multipurpose gauntlets.
  • All of the scenes with Sabine’s training use great choreography. The attacks and blocks are telegraphed to a certain extent. Still, they show the foundation that sword fighters use to build a deeper understanding of attack and defense.
  • Series composer Kevin Kiner helps highlight the kendo roots of Sabine’s training by infusing the episode’s soundtrack with an East Asian flair. It’s a nice departure from the show’s usual fare.
  • So, Sabine has a brother. Hopefully we’ll meet him — in addition to her parents — in the near future.

Next Time: Return to Mandalore

If “Trials of the Darksaber” didn’t feel like it provided enough resolution, that’s because it leads directly into the next episode. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a month before “Legacy of Mandalore” premieres. Nonetheless, this is the first time that Star Wars will visit Mandalore since The Clone Wars. It goes without saying that the Empire’s tyrannical occupation has changed Mandalore, and certainly not for the better.

If you need more Star Wars before “Legacy of Mandalore” premieres, you’re in luck. You can check out Ahsoka, a YA novel that was published last October and revealed more tidbits about the siege of Mandalore. Still, the question remains: will Sabine finally reconcile with her family? Tune into “Legacy of Mandalore” on Saturday, February 18 to find out. Then come back for our next Recap and Reaction!

James Akinaka
James Akinaka arrives at Fandom by way of Wookieepedia. He covers Star Wars, superheroes, and animation and values bold, inclusive stories. He suffers from a lifelong case of nitpicking and high standards.