The critical acclaim of fan-favourite The Emperor Strikes Back and the cult following of Knights of the Old Republic suggest that fans of Star Wars gravitate towards darker, more mature stories. With the cancellation of a gritty Boba Fett game, the emergence of phenomenal standalone comics and novels (such as Tarkin and Marvel’s Darth Vader), and the hype generated by Episode 7, the announcement of the TV series Rebels could not have arrived at a more ideal time.
Then, Disney X D happened.
… As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”
Since the acquisition of LucasFilms by Disney in 2012, Star Wars Rebels seemed like the culmination of every Star Wars fan’s worst nightmare – a juvenile, cheapened side story aired between awful Disney sitcoms. Furthering the heartbreak, Rebels assumed the airtime of The Clone Wars (2008), which had just begun coming into its own as George Lucas’s prequel redemption and the gritty depiction of the Clone Wars that fans deserved. Ironically, Lucas’s dedication to the series ended up being its downfall, as the ridiculous budget that he personally sunk into the show’s amazing CGI reportedly lead to its cancellation. While the Clone Wars tackled mature-ish wartime themes such as mutiny, absolute power, and pacifism, Disney X D aimed to entertain a much younger demographic with Rebels. As such, the release of Rebels was met with cynicism and disdain, yet with humble expectations to just not suck.
Catch Star Wars Rebels every Thursday night between quality programs like So Random and Dog with a Blog!”
Rebels takes place approximately fifteen years following Revenge of the Sith with the fall of the Jedi Order and the rise of the insidious Galactic Empire. The Rebel Alliance has yet to form, and the show instead follows the ragtag group of freedom fighters that birthed the Rebellion. These freedom fighters are led by Kanan Jarrus, a padawan at the time of Order 66, and Hera Syndulla, a gifted Twi’lek pilot. The two act as parental figures for their rowdy and adolescent crew, which includes a teenage Mandalorian with a passion for graffiti, a gruff, beast-like “Lasat”, and a mischievous astromech droid. Additionally, the crew is introduced through the eyes of protagonist Ezra Bridger, a 15 year-old, force-sensitive street rat. Characters in Rebels, while underdeveloped throughout the first season, will feel familiar to fans of both the prequels (hah) and the original trilogy. For example, Kanan fulfils the Obi-Wan archetype of “wise mentor” to Ezra, though with the snarkiness and confidence of a certain charismatic smuggler. On the other hand, the Lasat is very much a Chewbacca clone, which the show represents as subtly as his penchant to growl and bash stormtroopers’ heads together
Due to the unoriginality of the main cast, Ezra is undoubtedly the most interesting and complex character in Rebels. Similar to Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, Ezra can be seen as a tongue-in-cheek revisal of Hayden Christensen’s maligned performance as Anakin Skywalker. Vulnerable, volatile, and brash, Ezra is initially torn between his selfish survival instincts as an orphan and the desire to help his newfound family. More importantly, despite being bound by the training and discipline of a Jedi, Ezra craves the power to protect himself and his friends. After every instance of powerlessness that Ezra experiences while fighting the Sith, he finds himself evoking strength from anger and past feelings of betrayal. Consequently, one of the most fascinating aspects of Rebels involves Ezra’s conflict with his inner darkness.
Anakin Ezra Bridger, a.k.a Edgemaster 9000
Interestingly, Ezra will supposedly be playing an important role in Episodes 8 and 9. While the prospect of following Ezra’s character progression provides a strong incentive for watching Rebels, the show’s lacklustre and jarring side-plots prevent me from giving a whole-hearted recommendation. For example, the second season of Rebels begins by introducing Darth Vader and a small faction of Clone defectors, only to be bogged down by a half dozen filler episodes revolving around retrieving ship supplies. Viewers will likely find themselves watching a dozen episodes of filler between enthralling season premieres and finales – a shortcoming that will hopefully be resolved with the appearance of interesting villains like Grand Admiral Thrawn in season 3.
One of the show’s biggest limitations is its complete lack of a sense of danger for the protagonists. The ongoing joke that Stormtroopers can’t hit squat was originally noticed as a plot hole in episodes IV to VI. However, none of the ludicrous theories for the Stormtrooper’s aim, be it poorly designed helmets or Vader’s secret plan to capture and train Luke, can justify how extremely (and laughably) Stormtroopers in Rebels are portrayed as fodder. In particular, the earlier action sequences in Rebels largely involve a) Stormtroopers refusing to fire at the protagonists while they are vulnerable, or b) Stormtroopers shooting wildly into the air as the protagonists charge at them point-blank and unarmed. Moreover, an episode that reveals the rigorous training and weapon proficiency of young Stormtrooper cadets makes their incompetency in the field appear even more dubious. Unfortunately, viewers should be reminded that the show is airing in a children’s network, and violence or harm will only be depicted if it is against poor, faceless, and dehumanized Stormtroopers.
Ultimately, the first and second seasons of Rebels fails to fill the animated Star Wars void left by The Clone Wars. Aside from the fate of Ezra and the nostalgic cameos of characters like Lando, Vader, and Darth Maul, Rebels doesn’t add anything substantial to the Star Wars canon. Regardless, feel free to check it out if you are looking for a somewhat light-hearted show to watch between the upcoming Star Wars films.