Six episodes into the season and we finally have what I felt was the first truly great episode of the year.
The Young Jedi arc kicks off with “The Gathering,” in which Ahsoka takes a group of Jedi younglings to the planet Ilum, where they each must enter a cave to seek out crystals to construct their own lightsabers. One by one, the cave uses the younglings’ fears/weaknesses against them and they must overcome them in order to acquire their crystals.
I know the episode was aimed at a younger demographic, but personally, I loved it. I am more than sold by any on-screen reference that deepens our understanding of the Jedi and the Force. I loved the way the episode infused Ilum and the temple with the sense of mysticism the Jedi held in the original trilogy. Lightsaber building, so it would seem, is less science and more magic. From the way the temple door opened, to how the caverns echoed the Dagobah cave by forcing the younglings to face their shortcomings, to how the lightsaber crystals (once acquired) changed color based upon the Jedi who found them, the episode was more mythic in scope, which is something the prequel trilogy was lacking.
I also enjoyed the younglings far more than I thought they would. They weren’t typical, annoying children, but actually reminded me more of the nuanced characters presented in Avatar: The Last Airbender. A part of me would like to think that has a lot to do with Dave Filoni’s influence, being that he also worked on Airbender before moving on to Clone Wars, but I honestly don’t know. All I can say is that I was kind of almost embarrassingly excited by having Wookiee and Ithorian younglings present for the adventure (I will say Biff, the Ithorian, was actually my favorite of the younglings. I would buy that toy).
Speaking of our Wookiee Jedi, I am going to point out an animation detail that I loved in regards to him: this show has gotten so good in the animation department, that at one point, their attention to detail by applying a layer of frost to the Wookiee’s fur while on this snow planet drew a big smile from me (I have facial hair and live in an area that experiences some cold, snowy winters, so I know exactly how that goes).
All in all, while not a terribly complex episode, it was just solidly put together in every area. There was enough character development for me to root for these new characters, there was some deepening of the Jedi lore, and it was all pretty to look at. If the rest of this arc plays out at this quality, I’m excited for it. If this arc actually is a backdoor pilot of a future Young Jedi series (as is rumored), I’ll give them a shot, even if I’m not a part of their target audience. It’s good Star Wars storytelling, and at the end of the day, as a fan, that’s all I really want.