Ben: Which is worse; a gruesome fate fully realized on the screen, or a future that’s only implied and never stated? As a narrative device, it’s almost certainly the threat rather than the act that’s more effective. While there is certainly an amount of narrative punch to be had in spelling out just how terrible the end of someone’s story winds up being, many more worse things can spring from the imagination of the audience. It’s why horror movies with low budgets can still be just as frightening by not showing exactly what might be killing its character.
That’s what makes the rules of Standards and Practices toward kids’ programs often counter-intuitive. Any potentially traumatizing acts are forbidden to be shown, so the show’s creators will get around that by having the act happen, but placing it off-screen or out of view, or even just relegating it to being mentioned. But a child’s imagination is a fertile thing, and seeing the act has little to do with actually being terrified by it. The sounds, hints and implications are enough.
Rebels very knowingly steps into this territory with “Future of the Force”. The whole plot of the episode revolves around the kidnapping of infants too young to even speak. Whatever fate they might suffer once in the hands of the Inquisitors is never actually said (the closest we get is the Seventh Sister’s declaration “Who doesn’t want to be a mother?”), much the same as this episode’s predecessor, The Clone Wars’ “Children of the Force”. To this point in canon, we don’t know exactly what fate or fates might await the unfortunate infants. But as previously stated, what we can imagine might be even more terrible than what is true.
So let’s do some imagining, shall we?
Palpatine’s plan for the galaxy under the Empire is clearly to control the Force on a massive scale beyond even what the Jedi Order attempted. The Inquisitors are charged by Darth Vader to actively hunt down any Force-sensitives, kidnapping the young and impressionable. They also have lists of any and all potential Jedi survivors, including Kanan and Ahsoka, and while they might imprison the pliable with the goal of converting them, they also kill any who resist.
It’s an efficient system, designed to eliminate any of those sensitive to the Force not controlled by the Empire. The older ones are tortured and broken down both mentally and emotionally until little remains but anger and hatred, loyal to nothing but their own base instincts. Zare Leonis’s sister Dhara nearly suffered this fate. And infants, like the ones from this episode, are likely taken to some sort of secret training facility where they are steadily indoctrinated in the dark side and become new Inquisitors themselves.
And even being an Inquisitor is no noble fate. As the pair in this episode demonstrate, it means cut-throat competition with those you call your sisters and brothers. Your only family are those who want to see you fail the most. And their quest to advance, to become the head of their own twisted order, is doomed to failure, as there is no way Vader and Palpatine would ever suffer rivals. As high as they climb, only oblivion waits for them at the top. Being an Inquisitor is also being a slave on an invisible leash made of their own greed and lust for power.
The fate of these children would be a terrible one regardless of what path might have awaited them after being taken. We haven’t even gone into the possibilities of unconscious conditioning or outright brainwashing to ensure their loyalty to the cause as they grow up. Ezra, Zeb and Kanan saved them from a fate worse than death. But let’s throw one more bit of imagination into the mix. How many other little ones were on the same list, but did not have the dregs of the Jedi Order around to save them? And where are they now?
Jay: Baby-snatching is extremely uncomfortable and disturbing. This was not an easy episode to watch. I think we’re supposed to feel added unease as we try to imagine just what the Empire has in store for these young ones. Combined with the almost impossible cuteness of these infants — especially that baby Ithorian — I think the audience breathes a collective sigh of relief that the babies have been saved from unspeakable horrors.
But let’s not forget that baby-snatching isn’t new to Star Wars. The Legends EU — specifically, the HoloNet News tie-in material to Attack of the Clones — showed that Jedi could and would take babies from their families.
We also learned that Jedi were emotionally stunted (sorry, “serene”) and that those who didn’t make the cut into the Jedi order were sent to the Agricultural Corps, which were basically labor camps. That’s pretty horrifying.
Obviously, I’m being a little provocative. I don’t mean to imply that the Jedi are just as bad as the Empire, nor do I suggest that the Jedi are robotic slave-owning baby-stealers. But it’s still pretty disconcerting when you think about it. Yoda may have been kind to younglings and Kenobi and Anakin may have had a true friendship, but was the Jedi way necessarily the best way? I wonder.
Kanan makes a comment to Ezra about how these babies no longer have the Jedi to save them. But perhaps that’s a good thing. The Jedi of old weren’t all that great, even while being better than Inquisitors or the Sith. Ahsoka seems to have found a different way, and we know Luke Skywalker will too find a different way as he redeems his father through love.
Basically, what I’m saying is: let’s hope that Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra find another way too. We have no idea if they’ll survive the series (odds seem slim) but I hope that through their work with the Ghost crew and the Rebellion writ large, they have some of that compassion that the Jedi sometimes forgot. It’s not necessarily a repudiation of the Jedi as much as truly living up to their ideals.
Sarah: I also immediately drew comparisons to the Jedi Order with this episode. It’s interesting that Palpatine uses similar tactics to the Jedi Order to maintain control over the Empire. Though the Jedi did not take infants for the explicit purpose of maintaining their own power, it’s still a form of indoctrination that achieved just that purpose.
It is obvious to me that the Emperor is taking Force sensitive infants as a way of maintaining his own power. The kindest outcome we can imagine for these children is that they are trained into the cutthroat ranks of the Inquisitors who are then sent to continue the cycle of kidnapping and otherwise ensuring that Force sensitives are under the control of the Empire (or killed if they don’t fall into line). It’s far easier to indoctrinate a young, impressionable child than it is a teenager or an adult. What happens if you raise Force-sensitives in a vehemently anti-Jedi, pro-Empire environment where failure or rebellion are met with harsh consequences (to the point of death) and your peers are competition? You’ve got powerful operatives to do the dirty work you don’t have time to do (like disposing of Jedi who are a threat to your Empire), who are so busy squabbling amongst themselves for snatches of power that they could never effectively challenge you for control. Palpatine knows this.
Conversely the Jedi take infants so that they don’t feel attached to a family or planet and can therefore serve the ideals of the Order with impartiality (at least in theory, anyway). The Jedi know that if a child is raised within the Order so that the Jedi are all they know of as family…well they are far easier to keep in line if the Jedi dogma is all the child has ever been taught. Similar to Palpatine’s empire, it’s a way of maintaining the Order’s collective power in the galaxy. It just looks nicer because the Jedi ideals are generally accepted as being good for civilization (peace, justice, etc).
But raising Jedi from infancy still ensures that they will mostly stay in line and not undermine the power and control of the Order. Sure the Jedi won’t kill you for questioning Jedi teachings, and they encourage teamwork instead of infighting, but there’s still not a lot of room for challenging the Council and its decisions. It’s still indoctrination; if it’s the only thing you know then how can you question it? Though Jedi baby-snatching comes from a place of good intentions (Anakin’s fear of losing Padmé the way he lost his mother WAS his downfall after all), we all know where good intentions can lead us. And how do the parents of those Jedi feel about giving their children up as infants, possibly to never see them again?
One side is the Dark and one side is the Light. One snatches babies for selfish reasons, the other for altruistic reasons. For all their differences and opposites, the Empire and the Jedi are rather more alike than they probably want to admit. And this is a prime example.