Star Wars Rebels season 4 introduced the World Between Worlds – adding time travel to the galaxy far, far away. Can the Star Wars canon survive?
Star Wars Rebels introduced the concept of time travel into the Star Wars galaxy; here’s how that works, and why we won’t see it again. Time travel is a common science-fiction and science-fantasy trope, but it needs to be handled with care. Because time travel is only theoretical in the real world, every franchise has to establish its own “rules,” and it’s very hard to handle them consistently. Take the example of Avengers: Endgame in the MCU, where even the film’s writers and directors don’t agree on the temporal mechanics.
Star Wars has generally been wary of time travel. It was featured occasionally in the old Expanded Universe; Paul S. Kemp’s novel Crosscurrent featured an event where ancient Sith were transported to the present day, while the Legacy of the Force series created a whole new Force-power called “Flow Walking,” which potentially allowed a Jedi to change the past. Disney branded the Expanded Universe non-canon after they acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and Star Wars has been notably wary of revisiting the idea. The ability to change time raises a lot of disturbing questions for such a shared universe.
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And then, in Star Wars Rebels season 4, Ezra Bridger accessed a mysterious realm called the “World Between Worlds.” This mysterious plane of existence transcends time and space – and appears to be a canon use of time travel. But how does it work?
Time Travel is a Logical Aspect of the Force
The Force transcends time and space, as proven by the numerous Force-users who have experienced visions of the past or the future. Ancient Force-sensitives appear to have been able to peer through the millennia, producing cryptic prophecies such as that of the Chosen One. The pursuit of such abilities was distrusted by the time of the prequel trilogy, with Master Yoda in particular fearing people would move from seeing visions of the future to attempting to control it. Some Jedi still retained an innate connection with the flow of time, though, with Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas seeing the coming of the Clone Wars long before it happened, and commissioning the Clone Army in an ill-advised attempt to save the Republic. Others possessed the power of psychometry, allowing them to experience the past when they make contact with an object – a power shown by Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when she touches Anakin’s old lightsaber.
It has long been clear certain Force Vergences prompt experiences that affect the flow of time. Locations like the cave on Dagobah trigger what philosopher William James would describe as “mystical experiences,” which involve a sense of time dilation; indeed, this is one reason it is sometimes hard to figure out the actual sequence of events in the Star Wars galaxy; because time is generally fluid, with experiences of the Force affecting its flow. The book From A Certain Point Of View features a short story from the perspective of Obi-Wan Kenobi, confirming a Force Ghost – a Jedi who has become one with the Force, essentially a permanent mystical experience – transcends time completely. All this establishes a clear precedent for a living Jedi to be able to find union with the Force, and somehow use it for time travel. And that is where the World Between Worlds comes in.
Why the World Between Worlds is the Only Place Where Time Travel Was Possible
The World Between Worlds is essentially another plane of existence, one that transcends time and space and can be accessed only through the Force. As Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni explained in an interview with Nerdist, it was inspired by the C.S. Lewis novel The Magician’s Apprentice, where a crazed scientist discovered a way to access the Wood Between The Worlds – a forest where every pool in the wood linked to a different point in spacetime (and indeed where other worlds could be accessed; in Lewis’ account, the events in this story created the links between Earth and Narnia). The Star Wars equivalent is more abstract, but the same portals are there as a clear homage to Lewis.
The precise nature of the World Between Worlds is unclear, but it appears to be a dimensional plane where two aspects of the Force – the Cosmic Force that binds the universe together and the Living Force which is associated with life – come together in union. “You have to be careful when you’re moving through these big powerful dimensions and what you’re wishing for,” Filoni cautioned, reflecting on the episodes in which Ezra explored the World Between Worlds. “Everything [Ezra] wishes for, out loud, is a dangerous thing to do. If you watch and listen when Ezra talks and he makes certain statements, there’ll be a thunder clap, and that thunder is representative of something else listening. There’s multiple things going on in there and everything becomes a choice between how you want to use power and control, and influence others.” No doubt this is where the distinction between the light side and the dark side comes in; the dark side seeks to use the World Between Worlds, with Palpatine believing it the key to enormous power, while the light side would crave only wisdom through it.
Why Time Travel Doesn’t Break Star Wars Canon
Time travel naturally leaves the concept of continuity and canon in flux, but Filoni seems aware of the problem and he insists it won’t be an issue. In fact, in a featurette released on the Star Wars Rebels season 4 Blu-Ray, he suggests he doesn’t actually consider the World Between Worlds to be time travel at all. “It’s not really a thing where you go through one door and out another in a different time,” he explained. “You can gain knowledge of the future or futures that may happen, and you can see things that happened in the past. You can at times choose to alter them, but it’s perilous to do so and when you alter something you don’t know if that’s not the way it always happened.” There seems to be a sense in which any attempts to change the timeline have already been written into the flow of history, as seen with Ezra’s decision to prevent Ahsoka being killed by Darth Vader. Although Ezra saved Ahsoka, none of his personal history was changed as a result of his actions; it’s entirely possible she had always survived.
In any case, it’s unlikely Star Wars will ever revisit the World Between Worlds in any major capacity. Only one Force Vergence appears dedicated to entering the World Between Worlds, the ancient Jedi Temple on Lothal, and that was destroyed. The Temple appears to have been created by the mystical beings of Mortis, who died in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, so they won’t be creating any new entry points. What’s more, while Darth Vader caught a glimpse of the World Between Worlds in Charles Soule’s Darth Vader run by using the power of another Force Vergence on Mustafar, he was unable to fully access it and change the past. The World Between Worlds has essentially served its story purpose – a way of saving Ahsoka from Darth Vader – and now it’s safe to assume Star Wars will discard it.
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