It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. Never before have we had such a torrent of great Star Wars content streaming to us. This column will serve as your guide to the Star Wars galaxy, covering the new movies, comics, novels, games, and more.
While The Force Awakens was the first project announced by Disney, Star Wars Rebels was the first Star Wars project created entirely under the Disney banner and it gives us a good idea of the quality of storytelling we can expect from Lucasfilm properties going forward.
A New Hope in Animation
Star Wars Rebels was announced in the wake of Clone Wars’ cancellation. Dave Filoni returned from Clone Wars to lead this new show and brought much of the same team along for the ride. On Clone Wars, Filoni was charged with executing Lucas’ vision – specifically the many episodes that are homages to and retellings of classic films with a Star Wars bent. (Side note: check out the great work Bryan Young is doing with the cinematic ties to Star Wars over on starwars.com.)
With Rebels, Filoni and his team are telling their own stories and exploring new grounds. Rather than fleshing out existing characters from the films as Clone Wars did, Rebels follows an all-new crew of characters. It’s set five years before A New Hope, during the dark times. Rebels shows us a galaxy where peace is enforced under the jackbooted Imperial heel. There is little hope. The Rebel Alliance doesn’t yet exist. All we have are the titular rebels – a small, ragtag band harassing an inconsequential world in the Outer Rim. They are hardly a military force worth consideration by the Imperial navy.
The show follows the crew of the Ghost. Captain Hera Syndulla is an ace pilot and captains the Ghost. She has ties to other rebels, though there is no central planning. Kanan Jarrus survived Order 66 and the Jedi purge when he was a Jedi padawan. In the years since he’s turned to a life on the fringe of society. Zeb is the muscle – an enormous Lasat who may be the sole survivor of Imperial genocide against his people. Sabine is the resident artist/demolitions/tech expert. She’s Mandalorian but we don’t know much about her past other than she has very personal reasons to rebel against the Empire. Chopper is a grumpy, cobbled-together astromech. If R2-D2 is the family dog, Chopper is the family cat: indifferent and cantankerous. The last crew member is Ezra, an orphan taken in off the streets by the crew when he awakens to the Force. Kanan acts as as Ezra’s Jedi master despite having never completed his own training. Together they try to bring hope to the galaxy once again.
The rebels encounter new villains. Chief among them is The Inquisitor – a dark side Force-user with a malevolent presence and an intimidating spinning lightsaber. His mission is to hunt down renegade Jedi and either turn them to the Dark Side or kill them. Aiding him in his hunt for Kanan and Ezra is Agent Kallus of the Imperial Security Bureau, a cold and sadistic military officer. Various other Imperial officers and criminals act as foils for the crew of the Ghost but the Inquisitor and Agent Kallus are the most impressive.
Rebels wasn’t created in a vacuum, however. It is indelibly tied to the Star Wars universe. We meet a roguish Lando Calrissian eight years before we see him on Cloud City. Yoda makes a vocal cameo mid-season. Vader appears briefly in the special edition of Spark of Rebellion shown on ABC and returns in season two opener. All three of these roles are reprised by their original actors (Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, and James Earl Jones, respectively) for a nostalgia factor turned up to eleven.
Aside from calling in fan favorite characters, the show is connected to the larger events of the galaxy. The Imperial activities the rebels disrupt tie into the sinister project that fans know will one day become the Death Star. How this all plays out, we can only guess for now.
Rebels for All Ages
What makes Rebels great is that it deftly balances the need for new characters and stories with the need to exist in the Star Wars universe. The first season takes place almost exclusively on Lothal – a new world that feels instantly familiar. It hews so closely to Ralph McQuarrie’s iconic artwork that one can’t help but be swept away in the beauty of the alien plains. Lothal is almost the perfect expression of Star Wars Rebels: new yet somehow familiar. It’s a group of new heroes on a new planet fighting new villains in a previously unexplored era but it is undeniably Star Wars. The adventure, humor, pacing, visual aesthetic, and even Kevin Kiner’s soundtrack all harken back to 1977 when we first discovered that galaxy far, far away.
In the end, what makes this show great is that Rebels is a kids show that adults can enjoy. Fans of the original trilogy can appreciate the retro aesthetic while introducing their kids to a more modern group of heroes. Children love Chopper and adventure of the show. Grownups appreciate the layered narrative and how the show weaves into the larger universe. Watching Rebels is a delight because it adds context and depth to what we already know about the Star Wars universe. For that reason, I highly recommend everyone give it a chance.