The second act in the final Clone Wars story may just be the series’ best episode, and it’s all thanks to Maul and Ahsoka.

Ashley Eckstein wasn’t being hyperbolic when she declared this last stretch of Clone Wars episodes is “some of the best Star Wars ever made.” To quote Han Solo, it’s true. All of it. The Siege of Mandalore is only half over and it’s already lived up to all the hype that’s built up over the past year. Last week’s “Old Friends Not Forgotten” was a terrific start to this climactic story arc. But “The Phantom Apprentice?” There’s a strong case to be made for this installment being the single best Clone Wars episode ever. Which, by default, basically makes it the best Star Wars TV episode overall.It’s actually pretty impressive how well this episode functions as a piece of standalone entertainment when it’s also one small piece of a bigger whole. More so than even the other two Season arcs, The Siege of Mandalore feels like one big movie broken into four parts. There’s the more cinematic intro sequences, for one thing, but also the fact that Episode 9’s cliffhanger flows directly into Episode 10’s first scene. It seems even more likely that Lucasfilm will be releasing a feature-length cut of this arc, either theatrically or straight to Blu-ray. If the series began life via a lackluster movie, it might as well end with a much better movie.
Speed is definitely one of the show’s biggest assets right now, something that couldn’t be said for either of the previous Season 7 arcs. This show normally has a bad habit of wasting time during the longer arcs and stretching out storylines that would be better served in tighter, shorter formats. But once Ahsoka confronted Maul in the climax Episode 9, it was clear speed wasn’t going to an issue this time. That efficient pacing continues in Episode 10, which manages to forge a much deeper connection between Ahsoka and Maul and cram in not one, but two major lightsaber battles for good measure.On the subject of those battles, this episode is yet another showcase for the improved animation quality in Season 7. The fact that original Maul actor Ray Park was brought in to provide motion-capture for the lightsaber fights brings a new level of realism and authenticity to the combat. The character models may be heavily stylized, but their movement is graceful and organic. In a series full of epic lightsaber showdowns, the two Ahsoka vs. Maul sequences stand out as some of the best and most lavishly rendered. It’s not just the choreography itself, but the way body language is used to show Maul dominating the first fight and then Ahsoka surging back to overwhelm an increasingly tired and desperate Maul in Round 2. There’s a great sense of progression that’s reminiscent of the Cloud City duel in The Empire Strikes Back.
This episode is great about adding far more depth and nuance to the Ahsoka/Maul dynamic. While both are among the most important players in this series, they haven’t actually had much (or any?) direct interaction. Maul has always been pretty laser-focused on Obi-Wan, after all. B e we see a fascinating relationship develop. Where first Ahsoka is an annoyance to Maul – a stand-in for the enemy he truly craves – she quickly becomes something more to him. It’s a lot of fun seeing Maul grow to respect Ahsoka and even attempt to make her his new apprentice. All three movie trilogies had their own “Join me and we’ll rule the galaxy” moments, and this episode gives us a fantastic riff on that old trope.
Another reason “The Phantom Apprentice” works as well as it does is it mages to highlight just how pointless and destructive the entire Clone Wars conflict has been. Maul’s lingering insanity really shines through (kudos, as always, to voice actor Sam Witwer) as he grapples with his foreboding premonitions and the even deeper understanding of how much a pawn he was to Darth Sidious. Seeing Maul sink from ambitious usurper to a twisted, petty man who seeks only to ruin his old master’s plan casts Maul in an even more tragic light. This series has brought such a new level of depth and pathos to a character who was previously known for looking cool. Even at this late stage, it’s finding new ways to explore Maul’s tragic arc.
This episode is equally haunting in hit portrays the growing devastation of Mandalore and Ahsoka’s despair at seeing the monster she’s unleashed. She may have come to this world with the best of intentions, but the images of Clonetroopers wearing her colors and herding “liberated” Mandalorians like prisoners of war speak for themselves. It’s a dark but necessary counterpoint to the rousing scene of Ahsoka being greeted by her old comrades in Episode 9. And it only draws further attention to the question of what will happen with the 501st are forced to choose between their commander and their Empire.
This arc continues to use the looming specter of Episode III to its advantage. We may know what’s coming for most of these characters, but rather than deflating the tension it only adds to it. This episode cleverly ties into the events of the movie through Ahsoka’s conversation with Obi-Wan (quite possibly the last they’ll ever share), cluing us into the fact that the death of General Grievous and the beginning of Order 66 are mere hours away. It creates a ticking time bomb that’s impossible to ignore. And again, the rapid-fire pacing of these first two episodes really pays off. The fact that we’re only halfway through the Siege of Mandalore and Maul has already been taken off the board suggests anything can happen in these final two episodes. To quote Han again, it’s not over yet.