Standing in the looming shadow of a coming doom: “The Phantom Apprentice” is the best episode of The Clone Wars… so far!

I loved this episode. I would venture so far as to say it’s probably the greatest Star Wars story in years told in either movies or television. I felt more emotion, more tension, and more coming dread from this episode than any of the sequel trilogy (keep in mind, I am not a sequel trilogy hater), any of Star Wars: Resistance (I am a hater), and Solo (not a hater). To get anything that even remotely approaches this level of sheer amazement, you would have to go back to Kanan’s death in Star Wars: Rebels or the ending of Rogue One.

Basically, take whatever praise you think I’m going to give, triple it, and then dump it right on top of this episode because I honestly think that I lack the sufficient vocabulary to describe how great this episode was… how respectful of the lore it was… how viscerally real the fighting, dueling, dialogue, and characters felt. “The Phantom Apprentice,” quite frankly, is peak Ahsoka and peak Maul. These two characters have been built continually since their introduction and here, they have completed their long evolution.

Picking up right where we left off, Ahsoka and Maul have finally confronted each other in the sewers of Mandalore. It never occurred to me before, but this is actually Maul and Ahsoka’s first meeting and Maul has never met Anakin before. How did I never notice this before?

I loved… loved… loved the way that Maul was depicted in this episode. While he has always been a creature of rage and malice, here, he was showing something new… this man was hurt and haunted and he was afraid. It’s a new level to Maul we have never seen before: Sheer white-hot desperation and fear. This is a man who has finally put the pieces together, seen the outside of the machine he was an unknowing part of, and can only watch as it mows down everything in his path.

In some ways, Maul is the potential hero of this episode. He knows what must be done, he knows that Sideous must be destroyed, and he knows that Anakin is too dangerous to live. In a way, this is a guy we should be rooting for.

This, of course, puts Ahsoka in the unenviable position of antagonist. These are my favorite type of stories, you see… stories that are far beyond good and evil and right and wrong, but stories where two people come into opposition and neither of them are completely in the right. Both of them are the heroes of their own story. Neither is evil, neither is good… they are in simple opposition and the sakes to their confrontation are just so desperately high.

Brother, this confrontation is amazing. The dialogue between these two was outstandingly written and tense as Maul doled out just enough information to manipulate Ahsoka and Ahsoka, devoted to Anakin, was given just enough motivation not to believe him. What’s more, the scenes with them were never predictable. Sure, we knew that both of them would survive, but the victor was never assured. Heck, when Ahsoka actually accepted Maul’s offer to track down and destroy Sideous, I was genuinely surprised… and when Ahsoka changed her mind when she discovered what Maul’s intentions with Anakin were, I was more surprised. These weren’t twists for twists sake, they were organic and served not only the story, but the characters as well. This is some of the best writing that this series has ever seen.

The saber battle between Ahsoka and Maul was some of the best we’ve seen on the series… and movies… as well. Brutal, constantly switching locations with precarious footing, and constant danger at every turn. You got a real sense that both characters were desperately trying to keep up with the other and their attacks were just as vicious and unforgiving. When one of them was cornered, they fought back harder and more ferociously.

Underlying that, Maul’s words… the fact that Order 66 is looming and the clones are destined to turn against the Jedi at any moment, filled the dual with a heavy foreboding. Maul didn’t care about defeating Ahsoka… he wanted to escape. He frantically wanted to get away from the tidal wave that was about to crash around them his screams as he was taken prisoner were not the cliched rantings of a villian, they were genuine pleading for his life, attempting to even warn his foe what was coming.

The hero of the story had been defeated.

Beyond all of that, the battle scenes on Mandalore were breathtaking to behold. A savage and unflinching confrontation between Mandalorians and clones that, unlike the earlier episodes of this season, never shied away from showing the brutality of war.

The battle scenes, the scenes with Ahsoka and Maul… so heavy with atmosphere and tension that, even at the end when all seems well, you can still feel that gullotine blade hanging overhead.

I loved this episode. Loved, loved, loved! I don’t think I have been this emotionally invested in Star Wars since, like I said, the best episodes of Rebels or Rogue One. Heck, I would even say that this story arch has the potential to eclipse even those if the final two episodes of the series don’t blow it.

I simply cannot recommend this episode enough. Usually when I name an episode “The best of the series,” I do it with a modicum of doubt or uncertainly… Well, is this really the best or am I just hyped right now?

Folks… “The Phantom Apprentice” is the best episode of The Clone Wars.

I say it without a doubt.

This is not hyperbole.

There is no second-guessing.

I am sure of it.

This is simply the best episode of The Clone Wars ever.

The only doubt I have about making that statement is that next week or the week after has the potential of me saying that again.

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