There’s an obvious reason geeks should watch new animated series Star Wars: Rebels, which is this: it’s Star Wars.
It has the look, the feel, and (perhaps most importantly) the music that we know and love… What’s more it also has some nascent signs of the character interplay and humour that made watching the OT cast aboard the Millenium Falcon such good fun – but if that isn’t enough for you, then read on…
No, really, it’s Star Wars
While Rebels hasn’t yet shown the oft-sadistic streak and darker tone of The Clone Wars (and is unlikely to – I doubt you’ll see troopers gleefully releasing people to die in the vacuum of space while making jokes about it, as that show depicted droids doing) and the original trilogy movies, it’s far from being a show that’s just for kids. It’s actually walking a nice line between keeping the stories simple, while allowing underlying themes to be explored by those who seek to look a little bit more deeply into what’s going on.
Rebels is officially Star Wars canon. In Disney’s eyes it stands alongside the OT, Prequel Trilogy (PT), and The Clone Wars series as officially part of its vision for an integrated Star Wars universe. They’re not messing around here, people. Pay attention, there may well be a test later on.
The Inquisitor is pure Star Wars, for better and worse
The antagonist of the first eight-episode run, the Inquisitor is a distillation of many things we love about the Empire in Star Wars. Dark, menacing, powerful, an exponent of Force powers, user of advanced weaponry and, well… a bit too self-confident and not all that clever. He has already shown a very Vader-esque tendency to not quite get the job done and to let his quarry get away at the last moment – while never apparently doubting that he’ll get them next time, and constantly asserting to them that they’re much weaker than him. Let’s just say that self-reflection is not, it would seem, his thing. Still, if I had that spinning lightsaber and badass costume, I’d back myself too.
What you have to really love the Inquistor for, though, is that he’s the reason that the choir starts to sing those low harmonies, the ‘sabers get lit and we get to see some Jedi-on-Sith swordplay. Talk about a crowd pleaser.
“The future… The past. Old friends long gone.”
An addendum to the first Rebels episode, “Spark Of Rebellion,” gave us a holographic Darth Vader (and James Earl Jones’ voice). New episodes yet to air in the UK will bring us no less than Frank Oz as Yoda, and a young Lando Calrissian (Billy-Dee Williams is on board for this, too). One gets the impression, though, that this isn’t just fan service (though it is great fan service, I’ll grant you) but rather an attempt to firmly weave the Rebels narrative into the run-up to the OT. It’s a lot of trouble to go to, so one would suspect there’s a very, very good reason for it beyond the odd one-off boost to the ratings – though that can’t hurt, one suspects that Rebels is significantly cheaper to make than The Clone Wars was, and thus massive ratings are not such an issue.
If Han Solo turns up further down the line, I suspect someone will have to shut down the internet for a while.
The path of the Jedi
Rebels offers us the tantalizing prospect of seeing exactly what it takes to become a Jedi from the ground up. Save for a few PT shots of younglings doing youngling stuff, and the precious time spent on Dagobah in the OT, Star Wars has left the day-to-day training and trials of a Jedi largely down to our imaginations in the now-canonical stories. Ahsoka’s training in The Clone Wars took place during a time of war, and thus probably can’t be seen a typical – and, in the same way the early years of training we criminally left out of the PT by Lucas, her story is a rather knockabout collection of escapades.
Rather than insight, both offered constant reminders that Padawans should simply remember their training, without illuminating greatly of what that actually means. Rebels has already shown us a little of this workaday learning (as well as insight into the cutthroat world of Stormtrooper school), so through Ezra and Kanan, we may well get to see a bit more of what Jedi training actually means… Unless…
Kanan’s got problems
The timeline of Rebels has already established that Kanan would have been a teenager (according to details of A New Dawn novel, he was 14) at the time of the Order 66 purge on the Jedi. This makes it likely that his training was incomplete at the time, and that it was pure chance he avoided the genocide perpetrated by Palpatine’s clones. On more than one occasion it’s also been hinted (and openly expressed by the Inquisitor) that Kanan has less than absolute confidence in his abilities, certainly to teach Ezra, and that he fears the powers his young Padawan may come to possess. There have also been veiled references to the idea that the adolescent Kanan may not have been the best pupil the Jedi Order ever had anyway. Combine a powerful apprentice with a less-than-confident master, and you have a recipe for trouble.
It’s gotta get darker
It’s going to be interesting to see how the wider story arc of Star Wars: Rebels manages to align with the tenor that needs to be struck for it to fit in on Disney XD. While young adult fiction aimed at the kind of ages targeted by XD often explores darker themes, it’s going to be hard to strike a balance between the knockabout nature of the early Rebels episodes with what it appears must happen during the complete run of the show. Save for a large retcon of the Star Wars mythology (which, personally, I don’t think will happen), bad things have to happen to Ezra and Kanan before the events of Empire Strikes Back, when it’s established that the Skywalker line is the last hope of the Jedi. Indeed, if Empire-backed Inquisitors were still pursuing Jedi by the events of A New Hope, it’s unlikely Tarkin would comment that Vader was all that remained of the Jedi way.
If Ezra turns out to be anywhere near as powerful as the first run of eight episodes hints that he will become, he surely would have figured in Yoda’s thinking alongside the troubled (older, and less well-trained) Luke, was he around. Kanan, also would have still been a relatively young man by the events of A New Hope, certainly young enough to have been involved in the Battle of Yavin IV in some capacity. If I can work this out, you can bet Dave Filoni and those behind Rebels have a interesting way of taking its two stars out of the picture by that point – either through their fall, or their demise. At the moment it’s hard to see a way out that’s good for either of them… Which brings us nicely to…
Simon Kinberg and the Gareth Edwards Star Wars spin-off
Following the departure of Gary Whitta from scriptwriting duties on the first Star Wars spin-off movie, due late in 2016, it’s been widely reported that Simon Kinberg will be working on the script to get it ready for production to begin. Kinberg is currently an exec producer on Rebels and thus well-versed and involved in shaping its story arc – indeed, Leeland Chee (the man known as Keeper of The Holocron, and a Lucasfilm staffer charged with ensuring continuity in galaxy far, far away) has seen fit to point out that he currently has fingers in all the Star Wars pies currently cooking – so, if rumours that the story of Edwards’ movie concerns the theft of the Death Star plan turn out to be even half true, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Kanan, Ezra and the (by then well-established) characters of Rebels would play at least a small part in that significant narrative.
While a second season of Rebels is already locked and loaded, rumours circulated at the end of last year that its lifespan may be limited, with a new The Force Awakens-centric series already lined up to replace it. These rumors hinted at three or four series of the show, which could potentially allow it to line up with Edward’s film in some way, and allow it to serve as closure to the Rebels storylines.
Like the idea of Gareth Edwards’ style of filmmaking getting to play a part in the Star Wars universe, that’s certainly an interesting prospect.