The gap between Star Wars’ Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope is about twenty years. Now granted I’m ball parking it, it’s probably about 17 years but in some sources it about 23, so I’ll go with 20. That’s a lot of time to cover and a lot of time to give the Empire a means to tighten its grip across the universe. The group of story tellers at Lucasfilm has given fans of the franchise plenty of source material, especially since as of 2014 most of the various novels, video games, and other media was declared non-cannon. For a more mainstream audience you have the movie Rouge One, a film that should’ve been a war film but was tone down in reshoots. For the reader there are plenty of novels including Lords of the Sith and A New Dawn, as well as comic books. But perhaps the more family friendly choice (and by family I mean fans who grew up with Star Wars and are now introducing it to their children) is the TV animated show Star Wars: Rebels.
I’ll admit it; I wanted to hate this show much like I wanted to hate Clone Wars. There was so much hype around it. It’s going to be on Disney XD tonight! Now it’s premiering on ABC with extra footage of Darth Vader! (Disney owns both ABC and Lucasfilms) The marketing was almost in the face for the week leading up to the premiere. But when it did air on Disney XD first, it began to generate good buzz. So I yielded and watched the ABC rebroadcast. I was still watching it half an hour later. By the end, I decided it was somewhere between good and okay. The idea of secret hidden Jedi and Sith Jedi hunters was something that could spark some much needed imagination to the now striped franchised.
I didn’t watch it again for another three years. I had been sent to Okinawa for a tour of duty and my TV viewing was limited to what I could get on online for free. As more positive reviews came out and more speculative buzz was generated with the release of the Force Awakens, I was always drawn back but not enough to go out and by the season set and watch it. Sometime over the summer I caught word that Rebels would end after its fourth season. It was a move that made sense; that time gap I mentioned earlier was starting to get shorter but more on that later. I reasoned it was about time I finally sat down and watched it. Fortunately, all three seasons were available in On Demand with my Spectrum subscription (which is saying something since Spectrum is often delayed or missing episodes).
It should go without saying that this is still strictly a kid’s show that just also happens to be Star Wars. It’s also on Disney XD so when it comes to pushing the edge of television like some other cable shows are starting to go, don’t expect that here. The first season is really mellow; a teenager joins a crew of so-called Rebels that have decided to take a stand against the tyranny of the empire. Their base of operations is on the planet of Lothal, which was seized about eight years prior and is now serving as a weapons manufacturer for the Empire. The crew consists of Erza Bridger, a fifteen-year old orphan who is force sensitive; Kanan Jarrus, a gunslinger and former Jedi padawan who managed to escape from Order 66; Hera Syndulla, pilot of the ship the Ghost and from the alien race of the Twi’lek; Zeb, a Lasat and ex-guardsmen who can easily be angered; Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian full of tech knowledge, expressive with her art décor, and loves to blow things up; and Chopper, a rude astrotech droid who puts in his two cents for nearly everything. It feels like a setting for a heist movie; Erza is the kid, Kanan the ringleader, Hera the getaway driver, Zeb the muscle, Sabine the explosives expert, and Chopper the mechanic. And the show more or less runs with it. The crew works mostly on odd jobs, delivering supplies to the impoverished of Lothal and running weapons to pay for their expenses, to rescuing a group of Wookies and dealing with the like of Lando Calrissian. But when word reaches the Empire that there are Jedi still among them that’s when the Grand Inquisitor is dispatched. The main focus of the story still relies heavily on Ezra, who not only has to deal with his Jedi training but his new role with the rebellion.
As I noted before, the first season of Rebels is pretty PG rated. Everyone else I heard praised the series and speculated heavily on what was to come: would Ezra go dark? Who would die? When will it end? It made me questioned if I had the right show. That all changes with the beginning of the second season.
The Lothal rebels join the more supplied and seasoned cell of Rebels led by Commander Sato and agent Fulcrum, aka Ashoka Tano, the former apprentice of Anakin Skywalker from the Clone War era. There’s some animosity towards working with the newcomers but all hands are needed when the menacing Darth Vader himself shows up to show whose boss. His appearance doesn’t last for long but his malice is felt in the form of his other Inquisitors who serve as this season’s primary antagonists. Now there are some real consequences as the Ghost is forced from Lothal after a botched mission, hiding out in various ports, until they land on the isolated planet of Atollon. Other characters are given more story and time to develop: Hera begins to lead Phoenix Squadron and secure faster ships for the fleet; Sabine meets up with an old comrade and is tested against other Mandalorians and Zeb must survive with Agent Kallus of the IBS (Imperial Security Bureau) on an ice planet. There are other surprises that add to the mythos and canon of the Star Wars Universe but I won’t spoil them here. The finale seems to tip a balance in no one’s favor at the site of a Sith temple, but leaves repercussions that are felt going forward into the next season.
Like Harry Potter, the series becomes more and more dark. It’s hard to believe that at this point most episodes are given a Y7 rating. Each mistake brings more costly consequences and they are more very real in the third season’s first episode. A more mature Ezra is seen leading a raid against a weapons factory. In a move that shows how powerful and angry he’s become, he sends a walker over the end, killing its occupants and worrying his comrades. Kanan must also come to terms with an injury he sustained in the previous season and Sabine must face a dreaded homecoming which will not only affect her family but perhaps her entire home world. Fulcrum has been passed onto another Rebel spy. Commander Sato’s fleet has steadily been growing and is hoping to wage full scale assaults against the Imperials but there are enemies all around. Admiral Thrawn a carryover from the old canon arrives to scheme a season long chess game against the rebels. Fans of the old canon point out that Thrawn is one of the most respected military leaders in the Empire and he proves it (the fans also point out that his position is an anomaly as the Empire is pretty racist against other alien species). Lurking about is Darth Maul, who is hunting down Obi-Wan Kenobi (for how he survived after Episode One, watch the Clone Wars series) and tormenting Ezra in the process. Death is very common in this season; not just off camera, fiery explosion death scenes that we’re used to but somewhat personal. For example, Hera outright sends a long distant power surge to an Imperial Intelligence Center, killing everyone in the station. It’s clear this show isn’t for kids anymore. The season ends a little bit hopeful but a little apprehensive rolling on into the fourth and final season.
The main problem I have with this series is that unless the viewer is familiar with the huge swath of canon in the Star Wars series, not just the movies, he or she can easily become confused with some of the characters popping up. Anakin Skywalker had an apprentice? Didn’t Darth Maul die? Who is this Hando pirate guy? It’s quite a handful to grasp. Another issue is Disney knows that adults are watching as well but at the core, this show is meant for a pre-teen audience, which is why it’s on Disney XD vise the Disney Channel. While they push the series to set the darker themes and pushing to the time slot to a later time, why are some of these episodes still getting a Y7 rating?
There is also the time frame, which is rapidly beginning to run out. At this point Luke and Leia are teenagers and there are mentions of Project Stardust, the top secret name given for the Deathstar in Rouge One. There are many questions in the series left unanswered as it gears into its last run. The storywriters will also have to explain why the core characters are never mentioned in the original saga and the Force Awakens. And they have to tie up the story itself as well. That’s a lot to handle but I have faith in the series.
The series is a must for a Star Wars fan and is good enough for the occasional fan. There are some scary elements, so for younger kids it’s best to watch together. Here’s hoping to a grand finale. May the force be with you.