Star Wars Rebels is the midquel series focusing on the rising rebellion leading up to A New Hope. Its third season looms nearer and nearer. As such, Fandom Following has enlisted the help of us, Nick and Zach, to review the first two seasons and go on reviewing the third. It’s first season also has a lot to unpack, so let’s do this. Spoilers for the First Season.
Initially before watching the show I had looked down on Rebels for being a cheap Disney follow-up to the Clone Wars, with absolutely nothing but prejudice to judge by. However I started to hear more and more about how it was actually good. And with the premiere of its third season, I was called upon to write about it, and write about it I will; happily in fact.
Because Star Wars: Rebels cements itself as both a sequel to The Clone Wars and an integral aspect of the Star Wars canon. Where the Clone Wars was set between Star Wars Episode II and III, Rebels is set between Episodes III and IV. It’s the story of how the rebellion gained traction against the empire and the aftermath of Episode III.
Our main team of characters are as varied in character as they are in species. There is of course our main character Ezra Bridger, street rat orphan who finds out that he’s sensitive to the force. While initially bland, he character starts to develop. He’s sly because he needed to survive as an orphan. He has some anger at his parents for making a rebel radio broadcast that led to their deaths. He’s having trouble learning Jedi discipline; a discipline so different from the one he needed as an orphan. Fortunately he has a new family, the crew of The Ghost.
Kanan is the co-leader and unofficial of the group, along with Hera who we’ll discuss shortly. Kanan is a jedi who survived Order 66, an event where Clone Troopers turned on their Jedi commanders and slaughtered them. Depa Billaba, his Jedi master/teacher, sacrificed herself so Kanan could live. Now he has tinges of survivor’s guilt. Furthermore, Kanan has the Jedi training of a Padawan, and has to teach Ezra about the force.
Zeb is in a similar situation to Kanan in that he’s a survivor. Zeb is a Lasat, a species that the empire nearly eliminated. Now with a bitter and deserved grudge against the Empire, Zeb helps the rebels. He’s quick to anger, and easily annoyed, but he’s kind of like a teddy bear on the inside. It’s just that losing everything has really hurt him. He even still has dreams of the destruction of his planet.
Hera is the other co-leader and unofficial mom of the rebels and my favorite character. Her backstory is…mysterious. However, her character is very concrete. For those of you (Everyone on the site) who watch Steven Universe, she’s a lot like Garnet. She understands the emotions of her crew and how to help them grow. Her focus is on her rebel cause and making sure she succeeds in her mission. She’s focused and cautious at the same time.
Sabine is explosive artist, literally. She’s the de facto weapons expert of the crew, with a Banksy like side career of Street Graffiti. Her past is a bit mysterious, too. We do know she used to go to the imperial academy. She is also Mandalorian and has pride for her ancestor’s warrior history. She probably clings to this new identity to subvert her history at the academy.
Chopper, is well … a bit disturbing and violent. He’s an droid, like R2-D2. He’s also is nothing like R2. I think his violence is meant to be funny, but unlike Zeb, is feels a lot more sinister. It’s seems like Chopper enjoys hurting droids and causing trouble. On the brighter side Chopper has these hand things that can be especially charming.
Something that I’ve always found Star Wars to excels at, especially in later years, is species diversity. Rebels is no exception. Half of the team are either alien or droid. Background characters and supporting characters are more often than not completely different and visually unique. Unlike a lot of science fiction, which can suffer from “aliens are basically humans but with weird noses” syndrome, Aliens in Star Wars are vastly different from each other. We have a bartender with a flat face without a mouth, Vizago with his yellow skin and horns, Hera and her tendril head things. It truly feels like an alien world in comparison to Star Trek (cough cough, Alien that are basically humans with weird noses).
The first season really started to gain momentum when the Inquisitor first showed up to kill Ezra and Kanan. Before then, most of the rebels were a bit underdeveloped and the stakes never felt so huge. But the moment the Inquisitor shows up, and it’s revealed to be a trap for our team, the stakes are amped. The rebels are now being directly targeted.
What’s amazing is how organically the threats the crew faced began very small, Cumberlayne Aresko, and Myles Grint, the meager imperial leaders, to Darth Vader himself.
Speaking of Villains, the man who really stands out is the Grand Inquisitor. His speech is refined, his movements elegant, and his morality dark. He’s used sparingly enough that he still feels like a threat despite usually being defeated by the rebels. Up until he lets himself fall into the exploding spaceship power thing, he’s a credible and sly threat to the crew. All in all he was my favorite villain of the season.
The most obvious takeaway from season 1 is how much the show runners, who we’ll now call the Clone Crew, clearly love the Star Wars universe. It goes from obvious to from R2-D2 and C3PO’s cameo episode to more obscure like the aforementioned episode with Jedi Master Luminara Unduli. This explodes with the appearance of both Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano in the final episode’s final moments. It goes beyond fanservice into incorporating Clone Wars fully into the Star Wars universe.
One the best examples of this was Grand Moff Tarkin. His intervention towards the end of the season was one of the best parts of the season. He’s both a major part of the first Star Wars movie and has a minor role in the Clone Wars. His character is worthy of being so high ranking in the empire. The moment where he has the Inquisitor slay Cumberlayne Aresko and Myles Grint, to his torture of Kanin for information on the rebels. Rebels takes what we know about him and adds to it. It retroactively makes A New Hope all the more intense and clear.
In this sense, Rebels does something a prequel series can do well, develop characters and setting so that prior media is retroactively better. We know the Rebels win, but not how. Nor do we fully realize what victory means until watching this show. There is a definite imperial presence, and all the more meaningful knowing what will happen.
When I heard that Star Wars: The Clone Wars had been cancelled, I flew into a frothy rage, cursing that wicked mouse and his anthropomorphic accomplices for taking that wondrous show away from me.
Then I heard that the same team had been hired to do a show set during The Dark Times, and my fury was soothed. I had faith enough in the team to know that they could not completely screw it up, but I was afraid that we would not get the same, mature story arcs that I was accustomed to. So, did Star Wars: Rebels deliver?
It did, but not in the way I expected. Many people have said that Rebels is not as good as TCW because it is not as dark and there is more humor. The color scheme is brighter, the 3D models are smoother, for lack of a better word, the whole thing is Disneyfied.
Here’s the thing, there is nothing wrong with that.
We here at FandomFollowing are big fans of mature story telling, but as Steven Universe continues to show bright colors do not inhibit mature stories. Star Wars: Rebels is a perfect example of this too. While the characters are comedic and fill various stereotypes, they all come from diverse, often mysterious, backgrounds, and they are all fully developed and nuanced characters.
Foremost among these is Kanan Jarrus. He was a Padawan during the height of the Clone Wars, and though he never finished his training he is as close to a Jedi as the show gets, and serves as the teacher to one of the other characters Ezra Bridger. Kanan is a sharp departure from typical Jedi teachers that Star Wars has shown us before, not only because he has not completed his training, but because he is riddled with self doubt. Since he cannot wear his lightsaber publicly he constantly feels that he is failing both his master and the Jedi as a whole. He deals with constant survivor’s guilt, since he survived the fall of the Republic but his Master did not. In many ways, he seems to be what Obi-Wan Kenobi was supposed to be in the prequels: a young man forced into a leadership position that he is not ready for.
As Kanan represents Obi-Wan, Ezra Bridger represents Anakin Skywalker. Separated from his family and living extreme poverty, Kanan takes Ezra as a pupil even though, by all rights, he is too old to begin the training. We begin to see Ezra begin down the path to the dark side as well. He desires power, but only for the sake of protecting those that he loves, and he fully taps into the Dark Side of the Force when he summons a giant monster in the middle of a fight. Ezra is still young, and he can act immaturely, but he always strives to be better.
In contrast to all of this is Hera, the Twilek captain of the ship that all the crew inhabits. She is a constant force of strength and stability for the crew, as well as the only member of the team who has an idea of the bigger picture. While the rest of the crew is content to disrupt local Imperial activities, Hera has her eyes on the prize and seeks to aid in the larger galactic Rebellion. She is ambitious, and for once this is not punished by the narrative. More often than not, people are told that good leaders are people who do not want to lead. Hera fully accepts her role as the leader, and always wants to advance her interests.
I do not have as much to say about the other characters. They are entertaining enough, although Chopper verges onto plain frustrating than endearingly annoying. More than anything, the series continues the creative team’s subtle shade at George Lucas and how he royally waffled the characters in the prequels. Now that the setting is in the classic Star Wars time, the respect that the team shows for the source material is always refreshing.
As Nick said, the villains upgrade in the last few episodes of the series. While the Grand Inquisitor, played by Jason Isaacs of Lucius Malfoy fame, is terrifying his efforts to catch the rebels only extend so far as to find Kanan and remind the viewer that the Dark Side of the Force and Darth Vader are the true power behind the Empire. So while any time the Inquisitor appears is terrifying, the knowledge that he is only after the Jedi is a small comfort to the other rebels.
Then everything goes sideways when Grand Moff Tarkin to intervene, and he starts things by killing the two local Imperial magistrates. While he ultimately fails and the rebels score their first real win against the Empire, his appearance shows the stakes that the rebels are actually facing, and his “alternative solution” was enough of a hook to have me fully devoted to the show and ready for Season 2.
All in all, Zach and I liked this first season and are excited to review season 2 next week.