Overview: An orphan on the planet Lothal joins a ragtag group of smugglers and studies the ways of the Force. 2014; Disney-ABC Domestic Television; TV-Y7; 16 Episodes.
Spark of Attention: After the most recent teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens made me bawl my eyes out, I turned my attention to devouring as much Star Wars content as possible. I planned on watching The Clone Wars on Netflix before diving into Star Wars: Rebels, but the gods smiled upon me and presented every episode of Rebels online for free over the past weekend. I have officially caught up with the series. I have a lot to say.
My New Hope: Star Wars: Rebels is the best addition to the Star Wars universe in decades. There’s a renewed sense of wonder in this universe with the announcement of a new trilogy, anthology movies, and a universe that will sprawl across various mediums of entertainment. We had the prequel trilogy, but even the best moments of those infamous disappointments can’t touch the magic of the original trilogy. Not only does Rebels boast characters that are actually pleasant to spend time with, it gives us the same sense of adventure that Star Wars is famous for.
Ezra Bridger is an orphan who resorts to stealing to survive as he crosses paths with the crew of the Ghost, our smaller version of the Millenium Falcon. From there we meet one of the last surviving Jedi, Kanan, who promises to teach Ezra the ways of the Force. Hera, a pilot and emotional center of the crew. Sabine, a mandalorian artist who looks like a quintessential Star Wars action figure. I figured Zeb would be the Chewbacca of the group, only to find he’s more literate and rough around the edges than our favorite space fuzzball. And finally, there’s Chopper, the angrier version of R2D2. Our motley crew of space heroes are proper Star Wars affiliates. No Mannequin Skywalkers to be found here, the designs are simplistic but imaginative, and the characters all interact with their own voices. They argue but they’ll always have each other’s backs. Think of Firefly but with less melancholy overtones.
Rebels feels appropriately small scale for a first season. The major conflict is with the Empire, but we take our time to get to that larger story. First we get to know the crew of the Ghost and their personalities. Admittedly, we don’t actually get to know them beyond who they are in this point and time. Ezra, as he is our entry point to the series, gets the most to do emotionally and otherwise. It’s his journey we’re following. Kanan and Zeb’s backgrounds are hinted at, and Sabine and Hera get even less history. It’s all fine because we get well-rounded exposure to who these people are, what they want, and where they’re heading in life. Future seasons can explore these characters more properly. As for the first few episodes of the season, they’re relatively standalone, with character arcs tracing through the entire season. While the season comes to a close, everything ties together and no episode feels wasted. A 13-episode first season doesn’t feel as tight as you might think it would, but it’s giving breathing room to let us relax with this universe.
All I love about the series can be encapsulated by the character Sabine. I know I just said we don’t know anything about her, but she’s a character that is literally splashed with color and looks like an action figure – but she’s incredibly alive. She’s constantly expressing artistic endeavors at any available opportunity to showcase her creativity. It’s the heart of Star Wars. A little mystery, a whole lot of imagination. It’s just so damn imaginative. Story beats here and there are predictable – I called one of the later season twists before the halfway mark of the season – but it gets the basis of what makes this fictional universe resonate with people so well.
The animation for the show is a mixture of almost too simplistic and fluid in a way that makes them easier to comprehend from visual sensory – like a CG version of Spectacular Spider-Man’s animation. The colors pop, the motion and movement feels natural, and the characters aren’t stocky. It was a big issue I had with The Clone Wars series from the episodes I saw. I wonder what my reverse transition to that series will be like now that I’ve seen a series with such high highs and not a single sign of Jar Jar Binks anywhere. Speaking of villains…
As far as antagonists go, The Inquisitor ranks among the better Star Wars rogues gallery. If Darth Maul had more screen time or had better heroes to fight against, that’s what the Inquisitor would feel like. His aristocratic presentation is so classic Star Wars, I can’t wait to see how the villains of Season 2 are brought to life. No spoilers, but as the kids say, “Shit is going down.”
The structure of the season isn’t revolutionary but it works as an introduction. Coming from Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, and Greg Weisman, I’m not surprised how well written the show is in and of itself. Greg Weisman in particular is an animated series legend from his work on Spectacular Spider-Man (aka best Spider-Man outside of the comics), Young Justice, and the animated all-timer Gargoyles. I was saddened to hear Weisman won’t be returning for season 2, leaving the co-creators to run the show from now on. Dave Filoni worked on The Clone Wars animated series, which I never finished but definitely plan to, and the undeniably best animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Simon Kinberg wrote last years Big Hero 6 and X-Men: Days of Future Past so he’s either a hit or soft miss. Due to fan/critical response to the season 2 premiere at Star Wars Celebration, I think it’s safe to say the quality is still there.
Final Thoughts Across the Galaxy: There have been little inklings of good stories here and there in the Expanded Universe (no longer canon, thank god) but the majority of stories were on various spectrums of needless and mediocre to disgracefully bad (see previous parenthetical). Rebels has me excited for Star Wars outside of the movieverse. It’s a refreshing journey into unabashed space fantasy. All Star Wars lovers need to join the Rebels cause as soon as possible.