You Say You Want a Revolution
Star Wars: Rebels
After suffering through all of the prequel trilogy plus The Clone Wars, I really wasn't looking forward to diving into another Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. TV show. I really just wanted to get back to the movies I liked, the original trilogy, but if we're going in chronological order then Rebels was next on my list.
The one thing that gave me hope, though, was that most people I know thought that Star Wars: Rebels was actually pretty good. Much better than any part of The Clone Wars. After that rousing endorsement I had to see for myself. As such, we're starting with the two-part pilot and then watching an additional four episodes from the series to see if it's really worth all the hype.
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2: Spark of the Rebellion, Parts 1 & 2
We open with Ezra, street rat (think Aladdin, but on a distant planet) working the back alleys of some no-name city on a no-name planet. His middling cons and basic tricks eventually have him competing with a Rebel cell, lead by Han Solo-type Kanan Jarrus (who, as we learn by episode's end, is also a Jedi). He, along with his crew -- Twi'lek pilot Hera Syndulla, Mandalorian explosive expert Sabine Wren, Lasat warrior Zeb Orrelios, and the droid know as Chopper -- were working a mission to steal food and ammo before Ezra got in the way. Stuck dragging the kid along with them, the Rebels end up attacking an Imperial ship to free some Wookies, and then when that plan goes sideways, the Rebels have to regroup, head to Kessel, and find a way to save the day, and the furballs in the process.
Already we're doing better with this show than we ever did with The Clone Wars. While the format is still the same -- 20 minute CGI-animated episodes set in the Star Wars universe, the simple fact is that the show has breathing room the previous series never achieved. Simply put: Rebels doesn't have to tell a story that directly ties itself into any of the per-existing properties. It doesn't have to try and lead into Episode IV, doesn't have to somehow reference any events taking place around the same at the same time, and because of that it can basically do whatever it wants. It has new characters that can live or die on their own without affecting other events, and it's stronger for that.
Think of it this way: while it relates itself to the fact that the Jedi have been wiped from the universe, talking about what happened after (and then features a Jedi within the story), it doesn't show us anyone that appears anywhere else in the series. Thus, whatever happens here can be self-contained, can do whatever story beats it needs to and, so long as the Rebels somehow don't bring down the Empire eight years or so before it's supposed to crash, they can do whatever they want. It's a great setup that finally lets a show like this just be, exist for its own sake. It works so much better than trying to do a midquel to a series of prequels to a trilogy that's already been talking about ad nauseum.
As far as the story of this episode itself is concerned, I wouldn't say it's all that ground breaking. Street rat falls in with a bunch of outlaws with hearts of gold, proves himself to the band of criminals, and then becomes one of the crew. We've seen plenty of these stories before in westerns and the like, and considering the fact that the Rebels, with their Solo-esque attitudes, are basically western heroes (like The Magnificent Seven, but in different species) it feels natural in this Galaxy Far, Far Away. Plus, exploring this side of the Rebellion, with just a cell of random people doing their own thing, it makes the Rebellion itself feel lie something other than just an equal alternative to the Empire. We finally get to see them as rag-tag heroes, underdogs in the fight for freedom. It's a good perspective to explore.
Overall this episode works so well. While it might not tread new ground on the hero's journey, it does provide a fun story that more engaging than anything we saw in The Clone Wars. A solid way to introduce us to the series and already get me hooked on what's to come.
- Obi-Wan, you sly dog. You show up in all the holograms. "Jedi, avoid the Jedi Temple at all costs. And now for the weather..."
Season 1, Episode 5: Rise of the Old Masters
When our plucky band gets word of a captured Jedi imprisoned at a Imperial facility, trapped there since the Clone Wars, the heroes head off to save her. Not just because it's the right thing to do but also because Jarrus has hopes that the Jedi Master, Luminara, can train Ezra better than Jarrus has so far been able. Sadly, when they get to prison they find that Luminara is dead, a force ghost trapped in a prison cell, and that it was all a trap set to lure unsuspecting Jedi. The prison master, the Inquisitor, is a Sith just waiting to kill anyone, and Jarrus, Ezra, and the crew have to fight the Inquisitor and save themselves before they all die.
The movies pretty well establish that the only Jedi left in the galaxy is Obi-Wan and Yoda. But because Rebels shows us other Jedi have survived, it was only reasonable to then think, "hey if Jarrus is out there, what about some other survivors." What I like here is that not only does the episode play on that hope, but then goes to a reasonably dark place (for a kids' show) to show us that not everything is going to work out quite as you'd hope. The Empire is a dark place to live and Jedi aren't just gonna come pouring out of the woodwork to save the day all of a sudden.
At the same time it also gives us a pretty excellent new villain, the Inquisitor. He's menacing without being a scenery chewer, and he has a pretty wicked double-bladed saber. Presumably we'll see more of this guy later in the series but, again, it's nice to have a new villain that isn't tied in to existing sequences we've already seen before. Here we don't know what's going to happen with the Inquisitor, if he'll be defeated easily now (or soon in the future) or if he goes on to be the Big Bad of the series. That lack of knowledge makes him more effective than just having our heroes fight Darth Vader over and over again.
The episode isn't all that deep -- a simple smash and grab rescue op that goes sideways -- but it sets up a lot of interesting elements to explore in the future. That promise is enough to carry a lot of weight moving forward.
- Seriously, the Inquisitor has a double-bladed saber with a circular hilt, allowing him to then spin the saber like a buzzsaw. It can also be thrown like a boomerang. All lightsabers should be this cool. If only it came in a color other than red.
Season 2, Episode 15: The Call
Much of Rebels is serialized. There's an overarching story about Ezra training to become a Jedi and his struggles with the light and dark sides. This, however, is one of the standalone episodes, one suggested because it's something just a little different. Instead of the fight against the Empire, or dealing with the Sith, this is a tale of space whales and an evil mining organization. It's nothing more than a fun little adventure, but it also doesn't try to be more than that.
it is nice to see the dynamic of the team having settled at this point. While Jarrus is the leader, it's pretty clear that Ezra is really the mastermind of much of what they do. He's the O.P. Jedi padawan, the Marty Stu thrown into the group who has the powers, and the smarts, and can always come up with the solution. He, honestly, might be a little too powerful, but at the same time it's a wish fulfillment kind of dynamic that I'm sure the ids watching the show probably liked. He's young like they are and he of he can think is way out of situations, and use the Force, maybe they can, too.
I do feel a touch weird reviewing only this episode for all of second season. I know there's more to the overarching storyline, things we probably should cover if we wanted to get deep into the story of the show. At the same time, though, it's nice to see that even when the series is going deep on mythology it still has time to set aside for one-off adventures. This is a fun tale that doesn't take itself too seriously, a delightful little adventure for the hell of it. I can dig that.
- Space whales. Almost as if Star Wars needed it's own Voyage Home moment.
Season 3, Episode 15: Trials of the Darksaber
So we're taking a bit of a time jump here, only to be expected considering we've jumped ahead a full season from where we left off. And this episode is very deep in the serialized story. In the episode before, Jarrus got ahold of the Dark Saber (which we last saw in The Clone Wars), and now we learn the history of it. It's a one-of-a-kind saber forged by the Mandalorians, a blade use by their leader to unite and rule the various clans. Jarrus wants to have the ships resident Mandalorian, Sabine, wield the blade and bring Mandalor together, to free the planet of Imperial rule and bring the clans into the Rebellion. But to do this he has to train Sabine and get to willing accept the blade and the responsibility it conveys. Sabine, though, keeps holding back, so it's up to Jarrus to get through to her and find a way to help her accept the role she's clearly meant for.
After a few episode where Ezra was the main focus, the guy clearly meant to be the main character of the series, it's great that we're getting some time with one of the other characters. Sabine, honestly, has been a highlight of the series for me, fun and interesting with a lot of story that, because of the quick way we're cruising through this series, we haven't had a chance to learn yet. To go in deep with her, to find out what makes her tick and flesh out her character, is a bold move for the series. Plus, it makes for an engaging and emotionally satisfying episode.
I also really dug the whole aesthetic of the training. The show played up the Japanese influence of the lightsabers, the clear parallel between them and katanas. It didn't it not only in fighting techniques of the swords but also in the music playing behind the characters as they practiced. Despite things like light sabers and Mandalorians being the key concepts of the episode, this didn't really feel like Star Wars, not like you'd expect it. This is the show firing on all cylinders, exploring parts of the Galaxy Far Far Away that the Saga hasn't really given us before. There's a lot of potential in this universe beyond the stories and style of George Lucas, and this is the first time I've felt like the creators of these works have really felt like they could let loose and try something new.
Overall this was a fantastic episode, the highlight of my entire dive through the Saga so far.
- Jarrus apparently lost his eyes at the end of last season. Now he sees via the Force and is a total bad ass.
- Ezra is also older here, and instead of his bodacious power-mullet he has a nasty crew cut. It's great they aged him up some but couldn't they have given him better hair?
Season 4, Episode 7: Kindred
Okay, so admittedly we're ending on a pretty boring note. This episode was listed as one of the highlights of season four, but I have to admit it just wasn't that great. It's another one of those "Ezra has an idea, and then he gets to save everyone" type episodes which, honestly, I've already seen enough of. Ezra is too powerful, please nerf.
The crew is on a mission to collect a hyperdrive unit they hid hours earlier, but during the search for where they hid it the Imperials come to the planet, hot on their trail. Splitting up, most of the crew, led by Jarrus and Ezra, run into the nearby mountains. There they mean weird space wolves, Ezra somehow is able to communicate them, and then the space wolves lead them to safety. It's like with the space whales, oddly enough, just with wolves on a planet instead of whales in space. Otherwise exactly the same.
I don't know that watching this episode in the context of the rest of the season would have improved it. The friends I watched it with admitted that this episode is more filler than a lot of what comes in fourth season. It's annoying then as we only have so many episodes we can reasonably watch for an article like this and this one feels like kind of a waste. It's not bad, but it's also nowhere near as good as "Trials of the Dark Saber". A bit of a disappointment.
Still, even as lame as this episode was, it doesn't put me off of the series. This one might not have held up to what we've seen before, but it's wasn't as bad as much of what we suffered through in the previous shows and movies, so that's still a win.
- An evil General is seen in a brief communication. He's big, and blue, and looks a lot like Captain Planet. I feel betrayed now.
So yes, I really did enjoy Star Wars: Rebels, and that's coming from me, someone that really doesn't care much about the Galaxy Far Far Away. if I could get into this series I fully understand why fans of the Saga were so happy with it. It's fun, it's witty, and it has actually decent stories set in the universe. It's a good way for us to lead into the movies that actually matter, a fitting way to feel better after the crappy prequel trilogy that came before.