This is a wonderful time to be a Star Wars fan. Why? Because Disney owns Star Wars, and they’re going to make damn sure that they inundate us with as much Star Wars content as they can.
For those who look at that last statement and immediately feel either ill or afraid, calm thyself. Disney is not what it used to be, it is much better. If you need any proof of this sort, just realize that Disney is currently responsible for most Marvel franchises. So let me list the amount of film awesomeness that has been created under the Marvel banner under Disney’s distribution: Marvel’s: The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ve written about at least three of those movies, just so you know, and the decision not to write about X-Men: Days of Future Past was very hard but ultimately purposeful. Oh, and this is the amount of awesome that they’ve greenlit that would otherwise never be greenlit: Ant Man, a proper Deadpool movie, X-Men Apocolypse, Doctor Strange, The Sinister (freaking) Six, not to mention the continued sequels of some of the best Marvel franchises to grace the silver screen.
And that’s just movies. They continue to fund great comics, games, TV shows, etc. But let’s talk about Star Wars. I was probably one of the only people on planet Earth that jumped up and down when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas. Because as much as I love Lucas for the vision he created with his universe, he stopped giving a shit about Star Wars a long time ago, and I totally understand that. But the only people who have created content for this universe outside of the major 6 movies are either those who are terrible at it (ahem Lucasarts ahem) or dedicated writers that are probably given a little too much free will by a George Lucas who stopped giving a shit a long time ago (The Yhuzhon Vong conflict should never have happened). I mean, believe me, reading the works Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, A. C. Crispin, Michael A. Stackpole, and James Luceno were some of the fondest memories of my childhood that I have. But under the direction of Disney, we’re going to be getting at least 4 books, a dozen or so comics, multiple games, and 1 or 2 movies per year. Like I said, it’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.
But there’s one other thing that has me super excited, and that is the wonderful cartoon series under the name Star Wars: Rebels. I know it’s a little premature to call an entire show “good,” especially after only 4 episodes (technically 3, but I count the 44 minute “movie” as episode 1) but so far this series has done nothing but show incredible promise.
Great Stories in a New Sandbox
This show takes place between Episode 3 and Episode 4. Those of you who know the EU know that this is actually one of the least explored time periods in all of Star Wars history. How exactly did the transition from Republic to Empire go? How did the people feel about it? What inspired the Rebellion? How did the Rebellion rise up without the Empire noticing? These are all questions that have never really been explored to my satisfaction. Sure, there’s been some attempts, but nothing like this.
However, while the last Star Wars cartoon series that this team put out, The Clone Wars, was quite excellent, it faltered under the weight of big ideas like this and most importantly, big characters. It tried really hard to answer the deep and dark questions about the Clone Wars by tossing you from Obi-Wan to Anakin to Mace Windu to Palpatine to Dooku. These were all big characters in a big universe with big galaxy-wide decisions riding on their shoulders. Because we saw the Clone Wars from such a macro point of view, it was hard to identify with the characters and really feel for them. Part of this was by design as the Clone Wars were just a manifestation of Palpatine and therefore irrelevant. But the problem was that we knew what was going to happen with these characters. Ahsoka was the only one we truly fell in love with, because she was brand new. But in the end, she ended up betrayed by the storyline, and maybe we were too.
Rebels is completely different. In this series, we get new heroes, new villians, and new locations. Instead of asking us to feel bad for an incompetent and lazy Republic getting destroyed from within, we are now asked to root for a small group of troublemakers taking on a galactic empire.
But Dave Filoni’s not stupid. This story was always going to be different than Clone Wars. The Rebellion is not created with big characters like Leia, Mon Mothma, or Bail Organa. The Rebellion is created when normal people experience the tyranny of the Empire. You can imagine that after Episode 3, the Outer Rim worlds couldn’t tell you the difference between The Old Republic and the Galactic Empire. Somebody that far out from the Core Worlds might not have even known that a coup took place.
With Rebels, we are seeing smaller and more local stories. It’s not about big galactic battles or taking on the big baddies in the Empire. It’s about deciding whether to make money by running guns to the empire or taking a stand against it. It’s about helping a family who’s farm just got blown up by some jerk Imperial Officer who had a bad day. It’s about making a supply run and fighting off a squad of troopers in order to live the next day. Dave Filoni and crew are telling the stories of the common man. We can see frustration brewing, but we can also see a fight for survival.
But most of that is all in the background. This series is all about fun and adventure because these guys aren’t Rebels because they think it’s right. They’re rebels because they have a problem with authority. Most of the episodes so far have a distinctly Firefly feel to them. By that, I mean that these guys are living day to day, trying to get paid, but screwing with people because it’s fun. Ezra and Zeb steal a TIE Fighter, fight stormtroopers, and derail a prison transport, all in order to steal fruit, for eff sake.
The first character you run into is the series’ protagonist, Ezra. He’s an orphaned street rat (yes the Aladdin comparisons have been made) who’s managed to find ingenious ways of protecting himself and surviving. He’s great at hacking locked doors, he has some sort of energy-based slingshot, and he steals for survival. He doesn’t care about the Empire, he cares about where he’s getting his food tomorrow.
And that immediately makes him more interesting to me because he is literally a blank slate. He’s a street rat but he doesn’t care for any authority, Imperial or no. He’s force sensitive, but barely knows what a Jedi even is. He’s smart, clever, and quick, but tends to point everywhere but north. Yes, yes, we’ve seen Vader and Palpatine and we know how evil the empire can be. But if we’re going to truly be taught to care about the fight against the Empire, we’re going to need to follow a character we can learn with and struggle with without any sense of his future.
And that applies to the other characters as well. They’re all new. None of them are in the original trilogy. That doesn’t mean they die, but it means their histories are not written yet. And that’s exciting. After living in the prequels for so many years, it’s about time we got something new to wonder about and get worried about.
I will admit that at first glance, this crew will seem very…well Millenium Falcon-ish. You’ve got the strong-willed and sarcastic pilot Hera. You’ve got the brawny Wookie-ish Zeb. You’ve got a Jedi in hiding in Kanan Jarrus. You’ve even got a pain in the ass astromech droid named Chopper.
But these characters are sooo much different from their OT counterparts.
Zeb is nothing like Chewbacca, because 1. He actually talks, 2. He actually seems a lot more intelligent than Chewbacca, and 3. He has a very emotional hatred of the Empire fueled by the Empire’s destruction of his people. Out of all the characters on the ship, interestingly enough, it is the Chewbacca character that cares most about destroying the Empire. The rest could really give a crud. I find that incredibly fascinating because I think Zeb has the potential to drives the story forward, not Hera or Kanan or Ezra.
Second, I don’t think qualifying Hera as a Han Solo type really makes sense. Han Solo is a very one-dimensional character, but Hera is complex enough to be authoritative, strong-willed, and feisty at one moment, and then later be show compassion and worry at another. She’s been described as the “mom” of the group, with Kanan as the “dad,” but even that’s too weak of a comparison. Yes, she’s compassionate and tends to be the parental figure for Ezra, Sabine, and Zeb, as shown best when she sends the bickering Ezra and Zeb off on a wild goose chase knowing that they’ll probably end up bonding over a few crushed stormtroopers. However, she’s also clever enough to turn getting ship-humped by flying manta rays into leading the rays into an Imperial Navy to help the rest of her crew escape a prison. But even still, we haven’t see a lot of her character, as she’s normally behind the helm of the ship. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her, because she’s quickly becoming my favorite.
As for Kanan, he is so far from being an Obi-Wan Kenobi that it’s ridiculous. Kanan wants nothing to do with the Jedi Order, he is absolutely not a Jedi Master and barely even a Knight, and he’s very emotionally distant. I find it very interesting that he keeps his lightsaber disassembled, requiring him to pull out multiple parts and assemble it in the field when he needs to use it. The lightsaber and his force powers for him are a last resort. The reason is of course because he’s not some old as crap former Jedi Master like Obi-Wan was. He’s a young former Jedi Apprentice who happened to escape Order 66 and is just trying to live another day. For these reasons, he’s a very complex character and a character that we really haven’t seen before. I’d say that his closest analogue in the EU was Corran Horn, but even Corran accepted his duty before Kanan does.
What I find intriguing about Kanan is that he’s actually going to be training Ezra. He’s been hesitating for the last few episodes, probably because he’s insecure about his own abilities as a master, but that only makes him more interesting. We’ve never seen a reluctant Jedi before. Just like Hera, Kanan’s been a bit underdeveloped within the show because he’s had an entire novel worth of material written about him already. But with the last episode, Return of the Old Masters, we finally delve a bit more into Kanan and we finally see a face off between him and an Imperial Inquisitor. And yes, it’s as good as you’d expect it to be.
I would also dare you to say that R2D2 and Chopper are the same. R2D2 is a hero who cares about justice. Hell, let’s just say he’s Batman. Chopper would be like the Joker, the guy who wants to see the world burn. Chopper screws with people just for the fun of it, where R2D2 does things for a reason. Because of this, he immediately joined HK-47 from KOTOR in my list of the best droids in the Star Wars Universe. This droid’s kind of a jerk, and it’s amazing. Also, his “beep” voice literally sounds like fail buzzer. He’s responsible for the moment when I literally lol’d the hardest while watching this series.
I know it’s silly, but it’s the kind of silly humor I love from Star Wars. Between Ezra’s face and the fact that you see him keep poking him in the background throughout the entire StarTours journey (yes, that’s StarTours from Disney World, hilariously enough), and then it escalating to him straight up fighting the droid in the aisle of the ship, and then getting electrocuted by the damn droid, this sequence brought joy into my life.
And what about Sabine? She’s friggin awesome, but she has no parallel in OT. I don’t know how she managed to get Mandalorean armor, but I don’t doubt that she got it. She an incredible fighter, and for that matter, Dave Filoni and crew seem to have taken the whole “she’s a colorful character” thing to an extreme. She’s a graffiti artist, and she’s even grafitti’d her armor, her hair, and later everyone’s cabins. She’s just the kind of person who would create a Rebellion. She wouldn’t do it because it’s right, but because it’s fun.
Watch It. You’ll Thank Me.
In any case, if you haven’t been watching this series, you should. The shows are still repeating on various channels right now, including an upcoming re-release of the Spark of the Rebellion movie/1st episode on ABC on October 26th. I’ll be watching this one again not only because the episode was really good, but also because there will apparently be a Darth Vader cameo added to the episode with the one the only James Earl Jones voicing it.
The other episodes will most likely be rotated again as well, but if you have a TV subscription that carries the channel, you can currently stream them over Disney XD, either over the web or via their apps on Windows Phone, iOS, or Android.
You can also currently buy the episodes that have aired via Amazon. Also, don’t miss John Jackson Miller’s EXCELLENT prequel book to this series which is all about how Kanan and Hera run into each other.