Star Wars Rebels: First Looks and Early Impressions
Star Wars Rebels is set to be the latest on-screen entry to Star Wars canon and the successor to the popular Clone Wars series, which is set to debut its final season on Netflix in a few weeks. The history behind Rebels is an interesting one in itself; the series was greenlighted and announced despite the fact that there was already an ongoing successful TV series for Star Wars on Cartoon Network. Unfortunately for fans of that series, Rebels is helmed by the same team, including producer Dave Filoni, meaning that The Clone Wars would have to face its end to make room for the new series.
The development team contains several members that worked on The Clone Wars and also shares the same, 3D cartoony art style. Unsurprisingly this announcement came after the Disney purchase of the Star Wars franchise and makes complete sense from a business standpoint. Disney would naturally want to capitalize on the popularity of The Clone Wars, but on their terms and on their own channel, Disney XD. So while we may mourn (or celebrate, depending on what camp you’re in) the loss of The Clone Wars, let’s look forward to the latest entry in the saga of a galaxy far, far away and see if it’s worth getting excited about!
The setting of Rebels differs from that of The Clone Wars rather notably, and takes place about 5 years before A New Hope (5 BBY for those familiar with the Star Wars dating system). This is over a decade after the end of the Clone Wars and the bloody ascension of the Empire as seen in Revenge of the Sith, meaning that the Empire has solidified its grasp on the galaxy and all but wiped away the last vestiges of the Republic, including most of the Jedi Order. This time period naturally lacks a bit of the large scale excitement and intensity of the warfare present in The Clone Wars, but it makes up for it in other ways. Instead of featuring huge, destructive battles on land and in space, Rebels seems set to take on a more grounded tone, focused more on survival and the day-to-day lives of enemies of the Empire who now fight a more secret war.
This period is a dark time in Star Wars lore, as the Empire puts forth all its effort in extinguishing the last rays of light in the galaxy, merciless hunting Jedi and Rebel sympathizers throughout the galaxy. Rather than following squads of elite soldiers and their superhuman Jedi leaders, Rebels features a group of rebels (surprise!) who comprise the crew of the Millenium Falcon-esque starship, the Ghost. It’s hard to say right now what the goals of the crew are, but the creators have said they want to explore the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance, and the Empire has seen fit to send an Inquisitor after them, so it would not be a stretch to imagine they will be doing their best to be a thorn in the Empire’s side.
While some may prefer the galaxy-spanning battles and consequences of the events of The Clone Wars, there is a different kind of excitement to be found in following a smaller cast taking part in smaller, but no less important, actions. The idea of following the crew of one ship as they have adventures and subvert the Empire reminds me greatly of the show Firefly, heralded by a dedicated cult following as one of the greatest science fiction series of all time and still greatly beloved by deeply loyal fans despite its very short lifespan. Settings like this are very conducive to storytelling focused on character development and interactions, which provide the potential for some very enthralling story arcs.
Just because the crew is small and might not be fighting the Empire directly does not mean their actions will be inconsequential of course, Malcolm Reynolds and his crew succeeded in making some VERY big waves with their actions after all! Firefly was described as a “space western,” providing a science fiction setting with more emphasis on the frontier and less “shiny” aspects of a futuristic setting, (think Tatooine) and early materials for the show seem to indicate Rebels seeks to evoke a similar aesthetic. So who makes up this intrepid crew we’ll be following?
Kanan Jarrus could go either way in terms of being a good or bad character. While it is good to see that the Jedi will be represented on the crew, Kanan seems to fill the rogue archetype so commonly represented in the media these days, throwing caution to the wind and having little regard for the rules. Not to say these characters are not good ones, simply that they are highly represented already, and Kanan will need some more depth to avoid being boring. As seen in the video Kanan also seems to embody a reluctant hero as circumstances have made him turn away from his Jedi heritage for some time now and he may have some difficulty getting back into the Jedi state of mind. His behavior is markedly un-Jedi like after all.
That being said, he evokes memories of both Anakin Skywalker and Han Solo in his personality and attitudes so far. Kanan could give us a look at what Han Solo would be like as a Jedi, and definitely seems set to be an Anakin surrogate for fans of The Clone Wars. As Kanan was not present at the Temple for Anakin’s assault he was probably not a youngling at the time, so he likely has some experience in warfare and leadership. The dark side will be a constant threat for this Jedi, already far removed from proper Jedi behavior and thrown into the role of fugitive and prey. He’s said to have forsaken the Jedi ways upon their destruction, and it’s hard to see him not being driven by revenge or hate for the Empire given those circumstances. On a separate note, fans should be pleased to see Kanan will be voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr., who also voiced James Vega in Mass Effect 3 and is a sci-fi fan himself.
Ezra Bridger seems to clearly fill the role of audience surrogate for the younger members of the audience Disney will obviously want to win over. The immediate impression is of a slightly more selfish Aladdin, given his mischievous thieving and unwillingness to stick his neck out for strangers. Interestingly Ezra is also Force-sensitive and is said to have a mentor relationship with Kanan, which is sure to be one of the strong character driven relationships audiences should hope to see.
Now the biggest concern with Ezra is that he’ll end up falling into another character archetype that is far too prominent these days, that of the whiny adolescent/teenager. It’s a mystery why these types of extremely annoying and unsympathetic teenage angst characters seem to be very prevalent lately and they are often used to sloppily create drama. Ezra is said to be charismatic so hopefully we’ll avoid that particular pitfall with him and fans should look forward to seeing him learn to control and master his ability with the Force, although the dark side will be a worry for this young one as well.
Chopper (C1-10P) looks to be quite the entertaining character. Personally I’ve always had a soft spot for droids, and Chopper seems to be a refreshing subversion of the usual droid characters in Star Wars. Approximately 90% of the astromechs in Star Wars fill the R2-D2 description of a dutiful, loyal droid with some personality quirks and a penchant for sarcasm, so it is nice to see a different approach being taken for such a character.
Chopper is described as a cat in comparison to R2 being akin to a dog, and the little guy already seems endearing in a rough sort of way. Droids are often relegated to the background, even in-universe, and seldom get much attention or development aside from the aforementioned R2-types, so it will be nice for Chopper to show that even droids have variety in personality.
Sabine Wren is an interesting one to say the least. A Mandalorian graffiti artist is a first for the franchise. It’s not surprising the crew would include a Mandalorian, Boba Fett’s popularity is legendary and who doesn’t think jetpacks are awesome? She seems to be a bit of an oddball even by Mandalorian standards, wearing pink armor and displaying some decidedly unprofessional and goofy mannerisms, hardly the usual traits for a Mandalorian. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, there can only be so many strong but silent armored Mandalorian badasses before it starts to get tiring.
One thing to note is that she is working for a team that cannot have that much in the way of substantial financial resources, and Mandalorian mercenaries either fight for money or honor, and usually the former. Given the sizable reward she would gain by turning in a Jedi AND a Force-sensitive, it will be interesting to see if this creates some tension among the crew. That said, the Empire did not give the Mandalorians much reason to like them and the two factions often clashed during the Rebellion, so it would not be hard for Sabine to have plenty of motivation to fight the Empire.
The development team seems dead set on averting the usual dumb muscle archetype with Zeb Orellios, who is more akin to Chewbacca than Jayne Cobb. As a trained professional and honor guard of his home planet, Zeb is definitely very capable, although apparently quite vulnerable to Ezra’s mischief and Chopper’s intractability. Longtime fans will be reminded of Zaalbar and Mission Vao from Knights of the Old Republic when they see that the interactions between Zeb and Ezra would be a focus for his character. Zeb also evokes Chewbacca in his fighting style, straight down to the move of slamming the helmets of two stormtroopers together.
Unfortunately for poor Zeb, he’s the type of character who will be the butt of many jokes and pranks, and also likely the first to get thrown around to show how dangerous a new enemy is. Also notable is his voice actor, Steve Blum, notable for roles such as Wolverine, Spike Spiegel and far too many other roles to count. The writers have a great deal of potential for depth in Zeb, and hopefully they’ll take advantage of it.
Last but not least is the pilot of the Ghost, Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek who interestingly enough shares a surname with the revolutionary leader featured in The Clone Wars, Cham Syndulla. Whether or not there is any relation remains to be seen, but it is doubtful such a name choice would be unintentional and it would show that the team is going to pay attention to issues of continuity. Hera is said to be the heart of the team, sort of a reasonable authority figure and perhaps a maternal figure as well.
A skilled pilot (those seem to grow on trees in this galaxy), Hera will likely be the more responsible leader figure of the group in contrast to Kanan, who she will likely butt heads with constantly over his reckless methods. Given her possible connection to Cham, it is rather easy to imagine what her issue with the Empire is, and we should expect her to be a driving force for the character development among the crew and their own motivations.
Also of note is this Inquisitor, mentioned to be a primary antagonist of the series. Not much information has been revealed about him, but he will likely be a dogged pursuer of the crew of the Ghost, much like Vader was for Luke and co. He definitely has the evil Sith look going for him, and some lightsaber duels between him and Kanan are almost a certainty, as well as some attempted conversion to the dark side as well.
It isn’t Star Wars without some lightsaber action after all! Inquisitors were among the many Jedi hunters Palpatine employed in the Empire, so it will be curious to see whether this one will be the only one shown or if we’ll get more glimpses into the organization, which has been left largely mysterious even in the EU.
In summary, there is a lot to be excited about in Star Wars Rebels, which is shaping up to be a Star Wars version of Firefly if executed correctly! The characters are for the most part interesting and all have the potential for great depth and development, which is the backbone for any story in a setting like this one. The early looks we’ve been given already hint at some of the character relationships that will be developing as well as their intent to slowly explore the history and motivations of each character, which is a promising start for the show. Fans of The Clone Wars seem to mostly be very pessimistic and incensed by the existence of this series, and while much of the hate is likely misplaced, there are some things to be concerned about.
First of course, is the issue of continuity. While the Rebellion period is a bit more sparsely populated in the EU, there are some notable events which occur. The events of The Force Unleashed for example, take place in 2 BBY, only a few years later than when Rebels is slated to take place. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, TFU features a secret apprentice of Darth Vader who goes from being his master’s personal Jedi hunter to a founding member of the Rebel Alliance over the course of his journey. What is worrying is that Rebels is slated to explore the origins of the Rebel Alliance, and while many might actually prefer that TFU be wiped from canon it would set a dangerous precedent for fans of the EU. Observant fans likely noted Sabine using symbols similar to the crest of the Rebel Alliance in her graffiti, which is a potential continuity issue since that symbol was adopted at the end of TFU, which took place a few years after Rebels.
In my previous article about the Expanded Universe I mentioned how The Clone Wars had already shown a tendency to overwrite canon even when it wasn’t necessary, despite their assurances that they were taking the EU seriously. As the first officially canon work since Disney acquired Star Wars, Rebels will probably showcase their overall intentions for the future in terms of relations with the EU, and it is definitely a concerning issue as to what they might be. The creative team has once again said they are taking the EU very seriously, and there is far less ground for them to stomp on in the Rebellion period, so the impact on canon should be minimal.
One worrisome thing to note is the tone of the series. Fans of The Clone Wars will remember that interspersed with its mature themes and fantastic storylines were some truly horrifyingly immature and childish ones. I won’t name specific episodes but a good number were definitely aimed at a much younger audience and filled with silliness and superfluous filler that stood in stark contrast to the best episodes of the series. Considering Disney’s history they will definitely want to drive merchandise sales and attract a very young audience, which might lead to some childish tendencies in the show.
The team definitely heard the criticism of fans towards the silly episodes of The Clone Wars, so they hopefully have learned from their experience and know what they need to do to craft a successful show. The overall trend of The Clone Wars was to become more mature the longer the show went on, so hopefully this is a good benchmark for how Rebels will turn out.
We’ll have a better idea once the final season hits Netflix. The Rebellion period will hopefully be conducive to a more mature tone, with the cruelty and atrocities of the Empire on full display, along with their xenophobic and ruthless policies. The Rebellion was a grim time for people like the protagonists of Rebels, as those who fought for freedom were constantly pursued by the Empire’s hunters.
With the crew all stated to have their own reasons to hate the Empire, this hopefully means the tone will be a mature one. All in all I’m personally pretty optimistic about the show; I absolutely adored Firefly and Disney is clearly putting a decent amount of effort into Rebels. I am eager to see the precedent the first Star Wars work under Disney will set, and to be perfectly honest I am always willing to have more Star Wars in my life!
Star Wars Rebels is slated to start airing in Fall 2014, and I’m curious to see what my fellow fans think of the series.
What do you think? Leave a comment.