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Josh Reviews Star Wars Rebels Season One

The first twelve episodes of the first season of Star Wars Rebels were entertaining, good-not-great pieces of all-ages fun.  The thirteenth and final episode of the first season was terrific and really made me sit up and take notice, and I started to get excited for the potential of this animated series.

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Set five years before the events of the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, Star Wars Rebels is an animated series which tells the story of the exploits of the crew of the Ghost, a young, rag-tag group of privateers out to make a buck and, hopefully, thumb their noses at the Empire.   Over the course of the first season, the group transition from being mostly concerned with staying out of the Empire’s way to becoming more involved with active efforts to undermine the Empire.  In the finale (which I will discuss more in a moment), we see that the crew of the Ghost are but one group of players in the burgeoning Rebellion against the Empire.

Setting the show in the “dark times” between the prequels and the arrival on the scene of Luke Skywalker is a great idea, as this time period is ripe for some great untold stories.  The early episodes of this first season were a bit contradictory in that, on the one hand, the writers seemed to want to avoid telling grand, galaxy-in-peril stories (of the type that its animated predecessor, The Clone Wars, had gotten so good at doing), instead just focusing on the relatively small-scale adventures of this one little ship and crew.  On the other hand, they seemed to enjoy playing the prequel game and dropping in a surprisingly large number of familiar Star Wars faces.  I didn’t enjoy seeing C-3pO and R2-D2 so early in the show’s run, but damn if hearing Billy Dee Williams on again playing Lando (in this case, a young, even-more-roguish version of the smuggler and scoundrel) wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun.

At first I was dubious of the idea of Rebels.  I was still smarting from the abrupt cancellation of the Clone Wars animated series, a show that had blossomed into a wonderfully epic, complex, dark series.  I felt that the show was snatched away from us just as it was really getting good, and just as it was approaching the show’s whole reason-for-being, the moment in which the show’s characters and story-lines would catch up with Episode III.  I am still bummed that we’re never going to get to see that.  And so, at first, Rebels seemed like a poor substitute.  Even the title, Rebels, was annoying to me, as it seemed like a tease and that the show would be less about the Rebel Alliance and more about this crew of young, mostly teenaged characters.  This smacked of a Disneyfication of Star Wars that didn’t sit well of me.  I like my Star Wars a little more adult (Empire), as opposed to being too kiddy (Return of the Jedi).  Rebels felt, as I was initially reading about the show, to be too much of the latter.

And yet the one-hour premiere was solid (click here for my review of the first two episodes) and I decided to stick with the show to see how it went.  This first season wasn’t spectacular but it was good enough to keep me watching, with really just one or two clunkers in this first run of episodes.  The show’s weakness over-all was that it at first felt pretty episodic, with the individual adventures not having much dramatic weight.  I also thought it was pretty silly that, with the whole universe to play with, these rebels kept coming back to the same planet over and other again.  (I have read on-line that this was a cost-saving measure for the show, that it was cheaper to keep re-using that one setting as opposed to having to design and animate entirely new planets each week.  After the enormous scope of the Clone Wars show, this was a letdown and also a pretty big narrative hole for the show.)

But boy it was fun being back in the Star Wars universe.  The show looked and sounded pretty great, and the individual episodes were entertaining enough to keep me coming back.

The three-parter that closed out the season upped the show’s game.  The Inquisitor (an agent of Vader’s tasked with hunting down and destroying any surviving Jedi Knights) was proving to be an interesting and formidable villain.  I enjoyed the ways in which he seemed to so clearly outmatch Kanan, the Jedi on the Ghost’s crew.  And the return of Grand Moff Tarkin to the show was spectacular.  (It was fun getting to see a younger Tarkin periodically on the Clone Wars show, and I was thrilled to see him reprised here.)

But it was the season finale that really impressed me.  With Kanan captured by the Empire, the rest of the crew of the Ghost embark on a foolhardy, but very Star Wars-ian, attempt to rescue him.  The setting of the heist was spectacular — Kanan was being held on board Tarkin’s star destroyer, in orbit of Mustafar, and this led to some of the series’ most gorgeous animation so far.  (The setting was also a great example of the fun ways in which the show has been combining elements of the Prequels with the Original Trilogy.  Seeing a Star Destroyer in orbit of Mustafar was a great combination.)  Our heroes are in over their heads, though, and things quickly turn sour.  We are treated to a spectacular lightsaber fight between Kanan and the Inquisitor.  (It’s a little silly that the Inquisitor didn’t quickly kill Ezra, but I guess I can overlook that.)  But that wasn’t the best part of the episode.

Spoilers here, gang.

Seeing that group of Blockade Runners swoop out of hyperspace to rescue the crew of the Ghost was a spectacular moment, one that filled my heart with old-school Star Wars joy.  Here, at last, for the first time in the show, was our glimpse of the Rebel Alliance!  But that wasn’t the best part of the episode.

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After being teased in a special extended version of the pilot, Darth Vader entered the story, bringing with him the promise of coolness to come in season two.  But that wasn’t the best part of the episode.

Spoilers here, gang, I mean it.

No, the best part of the episode was when Ahsoka Tanno stepped down out of that hatchway, revealed as the Ghost crew’s contact with the Rebel Alliance.  I can’t believe how much this character — introduced as Anakin Skywalker’s young padawan apprentice in the premiere episode of The Clone Wars — has grown on me the way she has.  Not only did her introduction at the start of the Clone Wars show seem like a big wrinkle in continuity (there was no hint in the movies that Anakin, himself an apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi, had an apprentice of his own), but in the early going I found Ahsoka to be a very annoying, kiddie-oriented character.  It’s impressive how richly the character developed over the course of the five seasons of the Clone Wars.  As that show continued, fans began to worry more and more about Ahsoka’s fate, as she was not in Episode III, and Yoda was pretty clear to Luke in Empire that he was the last of the Jedi.  The show never answered that enormous question (although her final appearance, in the season five finale, gave us a strong hint at how Ahsoka might have been able to survive the Jedi Purge), but with the cancellation of the show it seemed that Ahsoka’s story would never be completed.

Her appearance here not only gives me great excitement that we will, to my surprise, get to follow the rest of her story, but it also repositioned Rebels in my mind.  At first the show felt like Disney’s attempts to push the prequels and the Clone Wars show under the rug, and to return the focus to the Original Trilogy.  (This is an admirable impulse in many ways, only frustrating to me in that I wanted the Clone Wars show to have been allowed to reach its planned conclusion.) But now in many ways Rebels begins to look as much as a sequel to the Clone Wars show as it does a prequel to the OT.  That’s exciting.

Further, the appearance in the same episode of both Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader leaves me thrilled to imagine these characters eventually crossing paths.  Does Ahsoka know Darth Vader’s true identity?  What will happen when she and her former master, now fallen into darkness, encounter one another?  That is a tantalizing tease, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see that.  The potential for that story is extraordinary.

At the end of season one it feels that, like Luke Skywalker, the show has taken its first step into a larger world.  I am excited for the potential.  I hope the show doesn’t fall back into simplistic, low-stakes episodic story-telling in season two, but rather embraces this newly hinted-at larger scope.  If this show truly becomes about the creation of the Rebel Alliance, that would be super-cool.  And, again, the idea of Ahsoka versus Vader is extraordinarily tantalizing.  Can’t wait for season two.  I hope I am not disappointed.

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