When tossing around ideas for a blog, one of the first things I wanted to be able to do was write reviews for Star Wars Rebels. I always love seeing what everyone has to say right after each episode airs, and it’s interesting to watch the opinions and theories develop right alongside the characters as Rebels plays out. Sadly I missed the boat on reviewing many of those episodes, but since the new episode debuts today, I thought it would be a good time to sum up my feelings on the series so far. So before delving into “Path of the Jedi”, here’s my Midseason Rebels Review.
Heads up, Rebels spoilers to follow.
Before this show even aired, I was already on board. Based on concept alone, this show was going to be everything I ever wanted. It’s set in my favorite era, it’s got my favorite archetype (cowboy Jedi was basically what I’ve played in every Star Wars tabletop since I was a kid), and it was my perfect premise, which of course was Firefly set in the Star Wars Universe. I was actually a little nervous going into “Spark of Rebellion” because I wasn’t sure anything was going to be able to live up to my expectations. Luckily my fears were largely unjustified.
The most important thing I can say about Rebels is that it feels like Star Wars. The world has the same gritty and used feel of the original trilogy, and the whole tone of the show is set by the gorgeous matte-painting-like backdrops. The music by Keven Kiner (of The Clone Wars) is right alongside cues from John Williams’ original score, and from the moment I turn it on, the whole thing makes me feel like a kid again. I must admit I was a bit hesitant when I learned the first true episode of the show would be centered on R2-D2 and C-3PO. While nothing says “Star Wars” like our dynamic droid duo, I was nervous the show would be relying too heavily on fan service. “Droids in Distress” fortunately turned out to be a wonderful story interwoven with easily recognizable figures. The droids were chosen to draw in audiences whose only exposure to Star Wars had been the original movies. Probably one of the coolest responses I’ve seen to Rebels is the amount of parents watching alongside their children with smiles just as big.
One of the largest fears amongst fans from the time that we learned of the Disney buyout was that the new content would be aimed exclusively at children. “This isn’t all for kids,” says Shelly Shapiro, Editor at Large at Del Rey, “Just because it’s Disney, don’t get that idea.” She may have been talking books when responding to this concern at the Star Wars Books panel at NYCC, but her answer was pretty universal. Immediately after that panel, I rushed over to the Star Wars Rebels panel, where the public debut of “Rise of the Old Masters” backed up her sentiment entirely. This show was going to bring some dark stuff.
One of the things I like most about Rebels is the emphasis on found family. Each crew member of the Ghost came to the team from a different background, but all have lost much to the Empire. Kanan was raised in the Jedi Order, and following the events of the Clone Wars lost everything he ever knew. Zeb is a Lasat, whose people were decimated by the Empire. Ezra lost his parents. Hera and Sabine, at the time this article is being written, haven’t had too much backstory shown, but it was revealed at Comic Con that Hera is the niece of Cham Syndulla, leader of the Twi’lek freedom fighters during the Clone Wars. Presumably his revolutionary acts may have led her on her current path. Interestingly enough, Sabine is the character we know least about, and yet it is she who talks about her crew as a family. In “Spark of Rebellion”, when asked what happened to her family, Sabine simply responds “The Empire”. What could have happened to her while she was at the Imperial Academy? Only time will tell.
This family dynamic is a much different approach to storytelling than, for instance, The Clone Wars. Where TCW was focused more on events at the galactic scale, Rebels feels much more personal. Watching Ezra and Zeb slowly transition from rivals to brothers or seeing how Hera mothers her crew really brings this space opera down to earth. This is very much in the spirit of the original Star Wars. My personal favorite relationship is the dynamic between Kanan and Ezra as reluctant master and student. At first it felt a little strange to hear Kanan quoting Obi-Wan’s exact definition of the Force, or telling Ezra to “do or do not, there is no try”, but it became clear very quickly that this was a man who had spent the last 14 or so years forgetting that he was a Jedi so that he could survive. Not that there was much to forget, as he was still quite young when the Jedi Order fell. “There is no try” is probably one of the few actual bits of information he was able to retain, and even he didn’t fully understand its meaning until he himself was tested.
The one criticism I have for Rebels seems to be echoed by reviewers across the board. The show has these wonderfully complicated and uniquely crafted female characters, and so far neither has really had much screen time when compared to the others. This problem is compounded by the fact that of all of the Rebels merchandise, there is almost none depicting either Hera or Sabine, but that’s an article in and of itself. We did get one episode almost entirely devoted to these characters, “Out of Darkness”, and many fans hold it to some of the highest standards of the show.
In this episode, we really get to delve into the trust issues Sabine has with Hera. It’s revealed that Sabine has had nightmarish experiences at the Imperial Academy on Mandalore, and is afraid that she’s just traded one set of blind orders for another. She just wants Hera and Kanan to know that they can trust her. Hera, in return, tells Sabine that she needs to have faith that the secrets they keep are for their own good. If her expression says anything, it’s that she truly believes this. Hera is trying her hardest to do what’s best for Sabine, and for the rest of the crew. This is a TON of character building fit into a single episode, but it does seem that many of the other episodes lean away from the other characters in favor of Ezra. In fact, with the exception of “Out of Darkness”, almost all other character development has been through Ezra’s interactions with the crew. While it’s pretty clear Ezra is supposed to be the relatable focal point of the show, it tends to conflict at times with the family dynamic Rebels has so perfectly created.
Overall, I am deeply impressed by this show. Even with the limited amount of episodes, Rebels is immensely character driven. It had a much better start, in my opinion, than The Clone Wars did, as we were never under the impression that “Spark of Rebellion” was a standalone movie. In addition to that, the stage was set with John Jackson Miller’s prequel novel, “A New Dawn” which gives large amounts of insight into Kanan’s character and his relationship with Hera (though once again, I would love to learn more about Hera’s past). These characters feel like real people with real struggles, and even though we know the Rebel Alliance does eventually form, the stakes still feel really high. I’m really excited to see where the rest of this season takes us, and since Rebels has already been approved for a second season, I’m confident it’s going to be sufficiently epic.
“Path of the Jedi” airs today on the Watch Disney XD app, and on January 5th everywhere else. While it promises to be another Ezra heavy episode, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Kanan delves into his past knowledge to try to better train his padawan in the present. Personally, I’m going to wait to watch the episode until New Year’s Eve, since some friends and I are having a Star Wars party that evening. Don’t let that stop you, though!
So happy new year, everyone. And may the Force be with you.