We didn’t know what we were missing in 1980. The number of lightsaber fights portrayed on the big screen—on any screen, really—could be counted on a single hand. To expect that little green Muppet in the swamp to be able to hold his own in one? Ludicrous.
That was The Empire Strikes Back. We were still decades away from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the clear and obvious reveal that Yoda was a master at the art of lightsaber combat.
And so, subsequent Star Wars stories came with expectations.
In Star Wars Rebels, Obi-Wan Kenobi dispatches Maul in the moonlight of Tatooine with no more than three swings of his blade. That’s it? But what about his swashbuckling swordfights during the Clone Wars? He was a legendary general!
In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker doesn’t even ignite a lightsaber in the sequel trilogy. It’s all a game of smoke and mirrors and the Force. But he was the greatest Jedi master of his era! Let’s replay the tape on those Dark Troopers getting slaughtered—at least Luke was actually there.
And now we come to Ezra Bridger in Ahsoka.
Ezra was a shoot-first, ask-questions-later kind of guy throughout Star Wars Rebels. Deeply wounded by the loss of his family, grappling with profound experiences of suffering at the hands of the Empire—and witnessing that of others—and wrestling with the constant pull of the Dark Side, it’s no wonder. Like so many Star Wars heroes, Ezra was driven by a need to protect his friends and his chosen family. That need ultimately drove him to sacrifice himself in an effort to purge the galaxy of the threat of Thrawn.
And led him to his place of exile in that galaxy far, far away.
We’ve seen in Star Wars what exile—both forced and chosen—can do: Dooku plotted, Maul’s hatred festered, and now we see Thrawn ready to enact his revenge. Even Bo-Katan Kryze was little more than spiteful when Din Djarin visited her in her self-imposed exile in the third season of The Mandalorian.
All this to say, it wouldn’t have been shocking if Sabine Wren had stumbled upon a less-than-cheerful Ezra. It certainly wouldn’t have been surprising—or even out of character—for Ezra to reclaim his lightsaber when Sabine offered it, to ignite that laser sword, and go to town on the Night Troopers that came to threaten his friends, new and old.
In the words of the Grand Inquisitor, another of Ezra’s old foes: “Revenge does wonders for the will to live.”
But Ezra declines Sabine’s offer, encourages her to keep the blade, and reminds her—even if a bit tongue-in-cheek—that she’s been practicing. “The Force is my ally,” he says with a grin, riffing off that same Muppet master exiled to a swamp. And he proves it.
Star Wars Rebels fans know what we were denied: Ezra was quite the duelist. But this intentional decision to reject the weapon of the Jedi in favor of the all-encompassing Force is an important one.
And I think it is directly connected to the theme of exile.
After all, despite his superior skills with a blade, when pressed on Dagobah, Yoda trains Luke in feeling the Force, trusting it, and recognizing its presence in all things. Lightsaber combat is not the primary course load.
An old Obi-Wan picks up his blade only begrudgingly on Tatooine when the threat of Maul is unavoidable—and even then, he makes his displeasure at the forced fight known. Contrasted to his war-hero days, we see what old Ben has risen above in the wake of his own desert exile.
And Luke, self-exiled to Ahch-To, has seemingly left his lightsaber fighting days behind him. Even when he reopens himself to the Force, it’s not to prove his death-dealing power but rather his own trust in others, his own willingness to sacrifice himself, and his own understanding of the omnipresent power of the Force.
Exile becomes our heroes. And it teaches them to move beyond the dichotomy of Jedi and Sith, of green lightsaber and red. Instead, this period of forced reflection pulls out of these heroes a greater understanding of the nature of the Force and the realization that it is more than a weapon. It is the very fabric of the universe.
So, why doesn’t Ezra take his lightsaber from Sabine? I think he, too, has learned something about himself, about his relationship to the Force. It is sometimes necessary to fight, but perhaps the lightsaber is not the extension of the Jedi it was once thought to be.
Perhaps it is a symbol of their past, of their fall, of their overreliance on brute force rather than the Force as the best path to a new hope.
As in Star Wars, so too in our own lives: Sometimes, we can’t see the anchors that are holding us fast to a past we’d do well to let go of. Sometimes, we need to be pulled into a place of silence, solitude, a place of exile to see clearly that which has held us back.
And when we emerge from that place of exile, it only makes sense that we’d see things and do things differently. The Force is our ally and a powerful ally it is.