How Star Wars: Rebels Introduces (Canon) Time Travel to Star Wars
[Spoilers for Star Wars Rebels Season 4]
Time travel is an age old sci-fi and storytelling trope that varies in it’s significance from story to story, and can either be a crucial story point, or oftentimes simply a get out of jail free card. It’s one that’s pretty hard to get right, but when it is done well it delivers genre defining movies like Back to the Future and Terminator, and even shows like Doctor Who and (certain arcs of) Star Trek. With that in mind there is one huge sci-fi franchise that has (mostly) stayed away from the concept of time travel altogether, until now… Star Wars.
Admittedly the Star Wars Expanded Universe has brought in time travel elements here and there, but the majority (if not all) of them are no longer cannon since the universe reset. There have been hints of it in the more mainstream movies, with Luke’s time on Degobah (whilst training with Yoda) often being cited as a somewhat ambiguous time period. But as far as clean cut time travel goes the only real example we’ve seen in the current canon is during the Mortis arc in the Clone Wars animated series, and that was less about going back and influencing the past and more concerned with the force affecting someone perception of time.
Heading into Rebels’ endgame (with the final six episodes debuting over three weeks) there were a lot of questions left to round up. The first two part story (‘Jedi Night’ and ‘DUME’) show us Kanan’s death, and then everyone’s difficulty in dealing with it – following this very somber and meaningful arc it almost felt like the remaining four episodes wouldn’t quite be enough to tie up the loose ends (such as what actually happened so Ashoka), whilst allowing the remainig characters time to grieve for Kanan. Thankfully however, both ‘Wolves at the Door’ and ‘A World Between Worlds’ seems to of set up the final two episodes of Rebels perfectly.
In the previous episode, DUME, Ezra is told that he must go to the Jedi temple on Lothal as the Empire are there looking to uncover it’s secrets. And so in episode twelve, Wolves at the Door, we see just that. In what may be the craziest, and most franchise influencing, Rebels storyline we’ve had yet.
As we discover the Empire has uncovered a mural, depicting the Gods of Mortis (the father, sister, and son from the Mortis arc of Clone Wars) Ezra and Sabine work out it’s an entrance, and how to open it. Ezra follows the Loth wolves and as the episode ends, enters the mysterious portal.
Before we even see anything in ‘A World Between Worlds’ we hear a number of Star Wars quotes, from Yoda to Obi-Wan, and then see Ezra fall through the portal. He finds himself in a strange ‘World Between Worlds’ filled with pathways and what look to be doorways, as more dialogue plays over head, and he questions what it means.
We hear lines from Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Ashoka, Vader, Luke, Leia, Rey and even Kylo Ren (most of which are yet to happen in the Star Wars timeline), and begin to understand that wherever (or whenever) Ezra is, it is perhaps outside of time itself.
As Ezra works his way through the world he notices the Convor bird above a triangular doorway, that was on the mural of the Mortis gods (at which point he explained he recognised the bird from ‘whenever they saw Ashoka’). He heads to this portal (the first triangular one we see), and through it Ezra begins to see back in time, to Ashoka and Vader’s duel at the end of Season 2.
As Ashoka force pushes away Ezra (in the past) we see what happened after the temple began to collapse around Vader and Ashoka. The two duel, but as Ashoka notices how bad the damage is and attempts to save them both (or at least herself) Vader goes for the killing blow. Out of pure instinct Ezra shouts for Ashoka and reaches through the portal, grabbing and pulling her (out of time) into the World Between Worlds.
This was not not only a huge and crazy moment for Rebels, a show which has for a while towed the line between a more ‘silly’ kids show and a mature Star Wars series pretty well, but a literal game changer for the Star Wars franchise. As I mentioned earlier there have been hints of time travel in Star Wars over the years, but we’ve never seen it in a directly canon (mainstream) medium, and never in such a blatantly past altering manor.
After saving Ashoka, Ezra decides he had been sent there to save not only her but Kanan as well. It takes Ashoka explaining that removing Kanan from the moment of his death would not only stop him saving Ezra in the past but also undo his work and belittle his sacrifice. Ashoka explains that both she and Ezra need to accept that their masters are lost.
Then, to add to the craziness of this arc, Emperor Palpatine shows up, harnessing some sort of blue flame Nightsister-esque magic that looks to pull him into the World Between Worlds, presumably intending to kill Ashoka and Ezra in the process of gaining power over space and time. The two barely escape, and return to their own times; Ezra back to the present, and Ashoka back to the Sith temple, only a little later than her battle, and with no Vader in sight.
Obviously the implications of this Rebels arc are pretty huge, and we learn that not only is the Force outside of time and space, but that it can allow people to directly interact and alter both the past and future. Thankfully both the actual events of the episode, and the lessons they lead to, work well for multiple characters and set up the final two episodes of the series perfectly.
Although many fans don’t seem too thrilled with the idea of the Force facilitating time travel (in a similar way to the new powers we’ve seen in The Last Jedi), in total honesty we’ve always seen the Force as something that can at the very least look into the future (and possibly the past) as well as let the living communicate with the dead, so it isn’t that far past what we’ve known for years.
Whether or not we’ll see this time influencing ability used in a live action movie, or in any other way again remains to be seen, as both the episode (and the subsequent episode of Rebels Recon) confirm that the temple of Lothal is indeed destroyed, but Dave Filoni himself expresses the idea that this World Between Worlds is it’s own place, and one that has always and will always exist. So it’s easy enough to see the possibility of time travel returning to Star Wars in the future.