Like many fans of Star Wars, the experience of watching the Prequel Trilogy soured me on the saga in many ways. I found my enthusiasm for the franchise had really waned, which is something that might be surprising seeing as one of the three things I constantly talk about nowadays is Star Wars. One of the things that reignited that Star Wars loving spark in me was actually Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The six season animated series that filled in the gaps between Episode II and Episode III was so good that it made me love Star Wars again. It captured the imagination, action and character that made the Original Trilogy so amazing, and that the Prequel Trilogy sorely lacked, in bite-sized chunks. These chunks built a non-linear narrative that sprawled all across the galaxy and showed the myriad of ways that the Clone Wars affected people’s lives. It took the Prequel Trilogy as its base and built something all together more watchable, more engaging and, to put it simply, more like Star Wars.
With it’s second season about to kick off for real next week, I wanted to do a quick retrospective of Lucasfilm’s follow up series, Star Wars: Rebels, before I start reviewing the new series. There was some controversy among Star Wars fans when Rebels was announced simply because it came on the back of the cancellation of The Clone Wars, which had really hit its stride in its third and fourth seasons and become something of a fan favourite. The move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD and the massive shift in art style probably didn’t help, but we’ll get to that.
The premise of Star Wars: Rebels is pretty straight forward. The series starts five years before the events of A New Hope and follows Ezra, a young boy on the Empire-occupied planet of Lothal, as he joins a band of Rebels who are looking to fight back against Imperial oppression. Initially, this is a great starting point as the formation of the Rebel Alliance isn’t something that has been covered in detail, but I feel like the series hampered itself initially. The band of Rebels that the series focuses on operate solely around Lothal for the majority of the series and so the extent of the Rebellion that the show is building towards isn’t really felt in the early parts of the series as the group feels so isolated. This is improved on greatly in the Season One finale and especially in Siege Of Lothal, the movie that leads into Season Two, and will hopefully be expanded upon even more in Season Two as a whole.
So, while Rebels‘ scope is much more limited than The Clone Wars‘ ever was, focusing on one small group on one small planet to show the personal effects of oppression as opposed to the wide-spread effects of war, what it does have in common is the focus on character. Ezra is the focal point of the series, but we’ll get to him in a bit. The Rebel group he joins up with consists of Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi; Hera, a Twi’lek pilot and definitely not in love with Kanan at all for real you guys stop playing; Sabine, a Mandalorian who uses her art to combat the Empire as much as her blasters and Zeb who is like Chewbacca if Chewie spoke English. By and large, the series’ focus on Ezra and Kanan mean that the rest of the crew feel more like supporting roles than anything else with Hera and Sabine feeling the most left out – Zeb at least gets to be comic relief – but they still make up an essential part of the family unit that the crew exists as and I certainly hope they get some spotlight this season.
Now… as much as I like Star Wars: Rebels (and I really do like it, don’t get me wrong) it has one major problem: Ezra. Dave Filoni really wants Ezra to be Luke Skywalker. He’s a farmboy who lost his parents and meets up with a former Jedi who is hiding from the Empire and who decides to teach him the ways of the Force so they can take down the Empire together. Sound familiar? The reason this is a problem for me is that Luke is, thematically, a much more interesting character if he is the only operating Jedi during the time of the Rebellion. He is the last Jedi, the heir to the Jedi and the one who paves the way for the New Republic.Continued below
In Rebels, not only are Kanan and Ezra doing their best Obi-Wan and Luke schtick, but you also have Ahsoka Tano hanging around and a conveyor line of not-quite-Sith villains in the Inquisitors. I don’t mind that much the idea of Kanan being a reluctant former Jedi as it gives the character a lot of layers and depth (which he desperately needs to make up for that awful ponytail/goatee/single shoulder pad combination he has going on), but for Ezra to become a Jedi just five years before Luke’s journey begins feels to me like a cheap undercutting of the importance of Luke’s story.
Outside of that, though, Season One of Star Wars: Rebels and Siege Of Lothal continue to show that Dave Filoni honestly might have a better sense of what makes good Star Wars than George Lucas ever did. While the change in art style from the blocky, marionette-inspired character designs to the rounder, Ralph McQuarrie-inspired designs did take some getting used to, the animation still feels slick and the directing of the episodes is always fast-paced and engaging. As I said, it’s major problem is the focus on Ezra’s Jedi training instead of the birth of the Rebel Alliance, but with Siege Of Lothal it seemed like there would definitely be a focus on the latter in the coming season.
Star Wars: Rebels returns with the first episode of Season Two, ‘The Lost Commanders’, on October 14 so be sure to check back the next day for our review of it and every week after that for reviews of every episode in the season.