This weekend marked the return to a galaxy far, far away with the premiere of Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD. Animated in a style similar to Cartoon Network’s Star Wars The Clone Wars, it is the first outting we get as the lightsaber is passed from Lucasfilm and into the hands of Disney.
This review addresses elements of the events of the pilot but has made every effort to be spoiler-free. Images and implications of the review may contain minor spoilers, depending on how you define the term.
While the exact year in which Star Wars Rebels takes place is never specified, it is clearly between the events of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, though it feels like it takes place no more than a few years before the events of the original film released in 1977. The Empire is in full swing. Imperial Star Destroyers, Storm Troopers, and TIE Fighters are all here to create a sense of when things are happening and to help the viewer connect the events of the series to the films.
Now, in spite of the fact that many full grown fans (myself included) are eager to see the show, its still a cartoon and has a traditional target audience of children. But that doesn’t make the show thin or vapid. It never talks down to the audience or waters down the Star Wars universe. Still, to that end, our central character is a human street rat and pickpocket named Ezra Bridger who lives on the planet of Lothal. Keeping with Star Wars tradition, Lothal is a planet domainated by a single terrian of vast golden grasslands. It’s also under the white armored boot of the Empire. The few cities of Lothal have every aspect of their lives is controlled by the Empire. But when Erza finds himself caught in the middle of a raid on a crate of Imperial weapons, he decides to rob the robbers and turn a profit for himself. But things go south for everyone involved and Ezra finds hismelf in a reluctant alliance with a rag-tag crew of thieves.
This motley crew is lead by the no nonsense human Kanan Jarus, who commands his men with discipline, honor and compassion. Less morally upright is Garazeb “Zeb” Orreilos, a Lasat warrior. In contrast to Zeb’s recklessness in battle and fearsome size is the sleak and deadly Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian pistoleer. The makes their way across the galaxy aboard the tramp freighter Ghost, which is piloted by passionate and idealistic Twi’lek pilot Hera and her curmudgeonly astromech droid Chopper.
Even though the show is called Star Wars Rebels, these characers never actively engage with agents of the Rebel Alliance in the pilot, they simlpy refuse to allow the Empire to march across the galaxy without putting up a fight. The central characters are, by their own words a kind of “family,” and there’s definitely a Firefly-esque relationship between them and the witty, back-handed affection of their quips as they trade blaster fire with storm troopers and cause trouble for the Empire whenever they can.
The biggest appeal of of Star Wars Rebels is that it geuinely feels like Star Wars – which is something that’s been absent from the franchise for a long, long time. From the pulpy personas of our brave heroes to the vile villains who vex them, like the original trilogy, you know immediately who the good guys are and who the bad guys are by the way they dress and the fanfares that play when they walk into frame. And while the characters do feel like they belong in the same universe as Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie, they’re not carbon copies. There are familiar elements of the canon characters that an observant viewer will find – but no one is clearly a rehash of a familiar hero.
In this vein, the show does an exceptional job of connecting itself to the greater canon without screaming “Look, we’re Star Wars too!” The show feels geniune in every way, a respectful expression of affection for its source material and an extension of the universe.
Star Wars Rebels is fun. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun in the Star Wars universe since my halcyon days, when I was playing the Star Wars Role-Playing Game published by West End Games back in 1987. Like its pulp origins, Star Wars Rebels is fast and free, unfettered by decades of canon – a fresh start. It’s a familiar breath of fresh air. I have to be honest, I didn’t think anything could top Star Wars The Clone Wars when it came to getting back to the roots of what makes this universe beloved to fans across the world.
I was wrong.
Star Wars is back and its beautiful. If Star Wars Rebels is any hint of what the future is going to be like for the franchise with Disney at the helm, well then they’ve already made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. I can say, without hyperbole that this is the best thing to happen to the franchise in over 25 years. I’m excited to be a Star Wars fan and for the first time since 1999, I’m proud of my fandom.
New episodes of Star Wars Rebels can be seen each week on Disney XD.