The Star Wars universe has time travel now—everybody panic!
Okay, it sort of does. But panic is actually not necessary! Because the fact that time travel has finally been introduced has served as a valuable lesson about who wields power in this galaxy and when there is just too much going around.
[Major spoilers for the last episodes of the Star Wars: Rebels, as well as The Clone Wars.]
If you were watching the Rebels episode “A World Between Worlds,” you were probably a little shocked (/confused/excited/furious?). The remaining Ghost crew trekked to the Jedi temple on Lothal only to find that the Empire was busy trying to excavate the darn thing. And they were doing a pretty good job of it, too. Ezra had already been nudged toward the temple by the Force-connected guardians of the planet (lots of Loth-cats and Loth-wolves, one who might basically be the embodied spirit of his former master Kanan Jarrus), and though he and Kanan were able to enter the temple before as a duo, he was relatively lost on how to enter it without that handy master-apprentice tag team. In getting closer to the Empire’s operation, Ezra and Sabine find artwork at the base of the temple, artwork connecting the temple to the Ones.
Okay, this is going to take some explanation.
The Ones were revealed in a special George-Lucas-plotted set of episodes in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Viewers learned that there was a planet named Mortis hidden away from normal space-time (think the Phantom Zone from Superman?) in the Star Wars galaxy, and that planet housed a trio of hyper-power Force-wielding beings: the Father, the Daughter, and the Son. The Daughter embodied the light side of the Force, while the Son embodied the dark side, with the Father acting as a balancing point between them. The Father broadcast an old Jedi distress call to the Jedi Order, who sent Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano to investigate. Drawn to this planet by the Father, the trio found that he had been searching for Anakin in particular. Having heard about Skywalker’s potential “Chosen One” status, he decided that Anakin must be the one take his place keeping the balance between his children following his death.
For some reason, the Father assumed that the Chosen One’s job would be babysitting. Anakin disagreed. (He was also not sure that he was the Chosen One at all, which is fair, if surprisingly humble of him.)
Long story short, Anakin’s presence leads to the death of both the Daughter and the Father—and then he kills the Son to make sure the guy won’t escape Mortis. As he lays dying, the Father tells Anakin that he has brought Balance to their realm (by killing everyone, it seems) and that he will do it again (…by killing everyone, if we’re being honest).
It turns out that the Jedi temple on Lothal is a relic of the Ones; the art in the planet’s caves and the outside the temple are depictions of them, and also serve as a guide on how to access the temple… in a manner of speaking. Ezra figures out how to engage with the art in order to enter the temple and finds himself on a different plane altogether. It is a dark realm with portals leading to different points in space-time; Ezra hears the words of Force-users past, present, and future through the portals, and paths lead in every direction. While he’s there, he finds one portal that leads to the point in time about two years previous when Ahsoka fought Darth Vader—and he removes her from the fight before she falls. Ahsoka warns Ezra against using the realm to that purpose, and prevents him from rescuing Kanan in his master’s critical final moments. Ezra realizes that this is the reason why Kanan’s spirit wanted him to find this place; he wanted Ezra to learn that it was his duty to find the point in time when he could be most useful to those he cared for, and make his life count.
Unfortunately, the Emperor has also been looking for this realm, and Ezra’s entry into it gives him a window on the place. Ezra and Ahsoka barely escape with their lives, and there’s no indication of whether or not the Emperor will be able to find his way back and use the space-time realm to his own ends.
Well, there is an indication in the long run, being that the Emperor clearly does not manipulate time to defeat the Rebel Alliance. So what exactly is going on here?
It seems likely that time travel was introduced Star Wars for the express purpose of proving why it cannot exist in the Star Wars universe as a constant. And also, explicitly, why beings who are too powerful in the Force are not capable of living alongside the rest of the galaxy.
That the Ones discovered the ability to time travel should come as no surprise; the Father tells Anakin that he and his children fled the “temporal realm” in his explanation for their circumstances. It stands to reason that the ability to place themselves in a “non-temporal” realm would coincide with the ability to manipulate space-time. But leaving that portal realm behind for others to find is a perfect example of the problems raised by overly-Force-powered individuals. Whether they result from purely normal circumstances, or they are created by another being’s ability to manipulate the Force (as in the “Sith legend” about Darth Plagueis being able to influence midi-chlorians to create life from nothing), there are fundamental risks that go well beyond the struggle of “light vs dark.”
To that end, the Ones pointedly don’t have much of a backstory; it is presumed that they are a family of Celestials, members of an ancient civilization that predated the galactic community entirely (also known as the Architects; these are a people rooted in the old Legends canon, so it is entirely possible that the concept of Celestials do not carry over into current canon). It is unclear if their abilities are naturally occurring due to their status as such, or if they might have been given those powers as a result of an experiment similar to Palpatine’s on Shmi. All the same, their powers are staggering—the Son and Daughter are shown with the ability to shape shift into animals and even other people. The Son shows Anakin Skywalker his entire future, including his fall to the dark side and transformation into Vader. Later, the Father forcibly removes that information from Anakin’s mind so that knowledge won’t have any bearing on his upcoming decisions. The trio also appear to be extremely long-lived; the ancient Jedi distress call that the Father sends out to broadcast their location to the Order is over 2000 years old, and the temple on Lothal is similarly ancient. There are references to the Ones going back ages in architecture and Jedi scripture. Adding a breakdown of space-time to their list of skills seems fair enough; they’re basically gods.
And as near-gods (in ability if not invulnerability), they have to be locked away somewhere else.
The Ones have sequestered themselves in isolation for good reason; the Father knows that they are too powerful to be around average citizens of the galaxy, that they pose a danger to others. The Son is itching to be set free, but that’s in his nature for being a pseudo-embodiment of the dark side. Anakin is called in as a proper replacement for the Father—and it’s important to note that had things not gone incredibly sideways on his visit, Anakin could have done this job. He displays the ability to keep both the Son and Daughter under his power. Which means that Anakin himself is essentially too powerful for the galaxy as well. He is on par with the Ones, some of the most mighty beings this galaxy has ever known. With enough time and experimentation, he might have been able to learn all of these extra powers for himself as well. And let’s not even start on the problems with someone like Anakin Skywalker having access to endless time travel portals whenever the mood strikes him.
This leads back to an argument I’ve made before—it’s possible Rey’s awakening abilities in the current Star Wars trilogy are the result of the Force (consciously or not; I personally like to think of the Force as the immune system of the galaxy) attempting to eradicate the Skywalker line. The Skywalkers are too juiced up as Force-wielders—their continued presence in the galaxy has led to a wide breadth of catastrophes. And due to the presence of the Ones, we have seen where that unchecked power can lead. If the ability to fuss with space-time is a natural progression of the certain amount of power in the Force, then anyone too powerful is an automatic threat to the fabric of their entire universe. An abundance of meddling could bring the whole thing crashing down, and there’s nothing to stop it once someone reaches that kind of power… unless they’ve got a very particular Force-balancing dad, apparently.
There are classes of powerful Force beings that subvert this, but they are mostly animal in nature, or completely removed from the galaxy at large. There’s the Bendu, the self-professed “one in the middle” of the Force that Rebels introduced to canon, but the advantage of the Bendu is that he clearly isn’t interested in the machinations of the galaxy. The Bendu doesn’t care about strength or even about controlling others to his own ends; he wants to be left alone, and only becomes dangerous when his peace is disturbed. Then there are the Force-imbued lothcats and lothwolves, and the convorees, who have Force abilities, but seem to be more deeply connected to the will of the Force, often seeming to act on its behalf. Their engagement with the Force seems primal, often even supernatural, though it is often unclear where those lines are meant to be drawn where the Force is concerned.
But even if we account for the lothcats and the Bendu, too many Force-sensitive beings in the galaxy reach a point of raw strength that puts reality in danger. The ability to understand and manipulate space-time is a deeply intertwined part of this problem. To some extent, Force-users already meddle in it too much; visions of the future are part of the difficulty in keeping Jedi focused and uninhibited by fear. Yoda can insist that it is “always in motion,” but it’s rare that students take that lesson to heart every time the Force offers up a glimpse of what may be coming. And that’s without noting the Force-wielders who actively go out of their way to suss out the path before them. This ability to perceive space-time and its currents are already an ability that Force-sensitive beings actively engage with, sometimes without intending to. The idea of them gaining more power in that arena is a frankly horrific concept, one that may have been a part of the galaxy’s emergence, but is no longer useful to them now.
So there it is. The concept of time travel was introduced to the Star Wars universe… to basically prove that this universe cannot function with it. Or function with uber-powerful Force-wielders who have the ability to engage it on a manipulative level. Here’s hoping that Palpatine never gets the chance to futz with it now that Ezra directed him to the exact spot where this odd portal realm exists. And here’s also hoping those are the last of the time travel shenanigans for Star Wars. I will take them briefly for the sake of getting Ahsoka back, but anything beyond is going to tumble the delicate house of cards into a conveniently placed black hole.