– By J.W. Fox and Paulie Spiceflow –
Warning: Season 2 Spoilers Follow…
As promised, we finished the first two seasons of Star Wars Rebels in preparation for the season 3 premiere on September 24th. Like Clone Wars, Rebels is designed to appeal to a younger audience, indoctrinating them in preparation for life long service to the franchise and the Disney empire. And, like its predecessor, Rebels succeeds in its evil mission.
Since Rebels is basically a Saturday morning cartoon, parts of the series did not appeal to us. We are grown men after all. For what it’s worth, we think it is an excellent cartoon show for the younglings. In fact, it is better for younger viewers than Clone Wars. The show is set fourteen years after Revenge of the Sith and a few years before A New Hope. The Jedi Order is nearly extinct after Order 66, and Darth Vader continues his hunt across the Galaxy for any survivors. The Galactic Empire is ruled by Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious with his apprentice Darth Vader as his right hand. Yet a growing number of systems have begun to resist Imperial rule. A group of rebels on a ship called the Ghost, undermine and steal from the Empire on the remote outer rim planet of Lothal. On this remote, sparsely populated world, a young orphan named Ezra Bridger, a typical street urchin, runs into the crew of the Ghost and joins them on their adventures.
Great stuff! If only this was made into a live action movie instead of a cartoon!
First, the premise is much more appealing than Clone Wars for kids and adults alike. Rather than having a war propaganda lead in, Rebels jumps right into the adventures of this motley crew. It isn’t battlefield tactics, weapons, and political intrigue (not exactly what the kids are into these days). It is deception and mischief. In addition, the animation is improved. The use of color and form is beautiful and the characters are expertly rendered. Their mannerisms are exaggerated, as you’d expect in an animated show. There are moments where they look like they have Parkinson’s Disease. Their facial expressions also gyrate rapidly, which screwed up some of their emoting. Sabine, in particular, seems incapable of expressing anything other than amusement and mischievous intent.
The crew of the Ghost do not operate with much discipline. Instead, they operate more as a family with Kanan and Hera as the parents. Sabine is the eldest sibling with Zeb being the youngest. When Ezra joins he acts as a sort of adopted son but his growing skills elevate him from youngest child to a unique status in this pseudo-family. One very cool character is the droid chopper. Unlike R2-D2 and BB-8, Chopper is not really the lovable, always useful droid. More often than not, he is a pain in the ass, and often the cause of the ship’s problems.
The New Brat
The creators realized that with an entirely new story line and set of characters, they would need an entry character just like Clone Wars. Ahsoka fulfilled the role beautifully for the previous series. Here, it is Ezra Bridger. Like Ahsoka, he is an obnoxious brat. While he wasn’t as annoying as Ahsoka was early on, Ezra definitely made us cringe at times. His chemistry with Zeb helps, giving him a mirror character while Kanan and Hera act as parental figures. Ahsoka never had such a mirror, unless you count Rex (and we don’t). Kanan’s decision to train him is a little baffling to say the least. Ezra is too old (a rule the Jedi break habitually) and filled with all sorts of abandonment issues, anger, and fear. Not exactly the makings of a great Jedi. He definitely has more of the makeup of a young Anakin Skywalker.
It is understandable why Kanan doesn’t see the danger. He never obtained the rank of Jedi knight and never met Anakin. In fact, in the show, nobody knows that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker. The problem is the other Jedi in the show also do not seem to see the dangers in training Ezra. They should know better. Especially Yoda.
Faces from the Past
Creators David Filoni and Simon Kinberg also recognized the importance of including legacy characters, not only from the movies but also Clone Wars. The first major reveal of the show in season one was the identity of the rebel operative Fulcrum as Ahsoka Tano. No longer with the Jedi Order, she is left without allegiance for years but her instincts pull her toward the rebels. Now around 30 years old, she is much more mature, letting go of all the obnoxious teen attitude. The writers did a tremendous job with her character and her appearance. Her role is to connect the events of the two series together and provide the basis of the dramatic climax of season 2.
The duel between Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano was inevitable from the moment we learned she was Fulcrum. The confrontation of apprentice and former master promised loads of drama and shook many who watched the finale. Watching her reaction to learning Darth Vader’s identity was truly something, albeit much too brief. The ending was a near perfect cliffhanger as well. Is she dead?
The creators also included several other characters from Clone Wars, notably the gregarious Hondo Onaka. Of all the bounty hunters and scoundrels of Clone Wars, Hondo is by far the best choice to add to Rebels. He is naturally funny, with a great laugh, and very clever. Now much older and without a crew, Hondo seems lonely and is starting to feel an emptiness to his chosen life. In one episode, he is desperate to get Ezra to become part of his new crew, going out of his way to help him.
Communing with the Spirits
The episodes with the Jedi Temple and vision quests were a little problematic. Jediism is a recognized religion derived from Buddhism and Daoism. In Clone Wars, it was sometimes portrayed in silly, oversimplified ways. A kids’ cartoon is the wrong platform to explore issues of religion and philosophy anyway. The show tried to stick to the aesthetics of a monastic order, spiritual quests, and other non-denominational imagery but it doesn’t always work. The show should be careful going forward, and perhaps consult with George Lucas and others involved in developing the ideals and principles of the Jedi Order, or simply minimize the religious scenes.
What Went Wrong
As for criticisms, Rebels suffers from some of the same problems as Clone Wars. Turning something as dramatic and painful as war into a Saturday morning cartoon is not easy, especially one with story line that comes from such an epic franchise. Both series often depict combat and warfare as merely a fun game with no consequences. When the show shifts from kiddie action to dramatic adult content, the transition is seldom smooth. We felt short-changed by dramatic scenes being shrunk down to size to fit the 21-minute cartoon format. It is not easy to watch such iconic characters be thrust into a kids’ cartoon. The creators were smart to create and include as many new characters as possible rather than try to depict too many characters from the movies.
It is hard to take anything seriously when the storm troopers cannot hit shit. Ezra dodged blaster fire from point blank range! Even kids are probably taking the gunfights as a joke by now.
Darth Maul should be DEAD!!! Stop resurrecting and including him in these fucking shows! This may be the most ridiculous part of all these cartoons. Why is he alive and loitering around a Sith Temple? Why would Yoda send them to a Sith Temple to be ambushed by Inquisitors and meet Mr. Maul? What was Ezra supposed to find in all this? Was it all a test?
I guess season 3 will clarify some of these outstanding questions. Still, the sooner Darth Maul is killed for realz, the better.
What it Means for the Saga
The show is canon, which presents a few problems going forward. While we know there were Jedi that survived Order 66, none survive to reach Return of the Jedi. Yoda says Luke is the last Jedi. This means all Jedi will be dead within ten years of Rebels. Kanan is a Jedi knight and so we must presume that he will die. Ezra is not Jedi yet so we could see his story arc go in a different direction, perhaps a turn to the dark side, or maybe he abandons the Jedi path as Kanan and Ahsoka did and becomes just another rebel. Some fans have referenced alternate force wielding groups like the gray Jedi. That is not anywhere in the canon but Disney may decide to develop this third path.
Or we could see a connection between Rebels and Rogue One, which premieres in a few months, right around the mid-season finale of season 3. According to IMDB, there doesn’t seem to be any character overlap other than Vader and Bail Organa. Of course, we could meet the connective characters here in season 3 right on the heels of the movie premiere. The movie and TV series are so close in the timeline and are produced by the same company. That would be some masterful promotional work for the franchise!
Another outside possibility is a connection between Rebels and Episode VIII. The two works are separated by at least 40 years, so it would be the descendants of former impacting the latter. What if Rey is a descendant of either Kanan or Ezra? What if Snoke is introduced in Rebels? A former inquisitor perhaps? Or a former apprentice of Vader’s…
Sadly, we know the series will end on a tragic note, just like Clone Wars. The arc between Episodes III and IV is one of tragic decline, leading us to the new hope. While the rebellion grows during this period, victory is about ten years away and does not involve this group of characters. Unless, they were at the battle of Endor…
There is no doubt Star Wars Rebels is a thriving success and is definitely helping to cultivate a new generation of Star Wars fans. As an action cartoon it is pretty exciting and visually impressive. For fans, there are definitely some issues and the broader problem that it must end in tragedy. Can younger viewers handle what is coming? There are also plenty of cringe-worthy episodes and moments. Taking serious issues and themes, plus iconic characters and putting them in a kiddie cartoon leads to frustration for older fans. Overall though, the show moves past these low points quickly, getting to the good stuff by the end of season 1 and gives plenty of great episodes in season 2. While it isn’t at the top of our list of favorite shows, we will continue to watch and look forward to season 3.
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.