Star Wars Resistance Episodes 1 and 2 Review: The Recruit

Star Wars Resistance zooms into action with a whole new story and heroes. Here's our review of the series premiere!

This Star Wars Resistance review contains spoilers. 

Star Wars Resistance Episodes 1 and 2

Star Wars is back! The animated TV version, that is. After the end of Star Wars Rebels–a show that struggled with tonal issues for several seasons but stuck the landing with an exceptionally good final season and a remarkable final episode–Dave Filoni returns with Star Wars Resistance, a new animated expedition within the venerable Star Wars saga.

This series, with its CGI, cel-shaded, video game-esque animation style, takes place about six months before The Force Awakens, charting the rise of the infamous First Order through the eyes of newcomer Kazuda Xiono. I use the “video game-esque” descriptor on purpose. It not only refers to the visual style–which to be clear, is pretty effective and allows for bright, engaging colors, sharp aerial sequences, and a host of solid facial expressions–but also to the overall pacing as well. “The Recruit” functions almost like a LucasArts game, particularly in the second half (which I will get to in a bit), but even beyond that, this first outing leaves me a bit skeptical about where things are heading.

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Such a sentiment is par for the course when it comes to a Star Wars show, though. Both The Clone Wars and Rebels had pretty notable tonal issues as well: when everything came together, the episodes could be great, but when they were off, they could be… really, really bad. With The Clone Wars, a bad premise forced you to stick with three or four episodes of an interminable arc. Rebels forced you to sit through just a bad episode. Resistance, at least this two-part pilot episode, is weirdly inconsistent all the way through, bouncing between aerial action sequences, forced comedic bits, flat character introductions, bizarre fetch quests, and other odd narrative beats and rhythms. The second part, in particular, feels like watching someone play an odd RPG game after a lengthy opening sequence that comprises the first part.

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As the player–excuse me, as Kazuda–flies a mission for the New Republic, protecting his squadmates as they hyperjump to secure some intel, you can almost imagine the scene as an introductory action sequence in a game like Rogue Squadron: placed here just so you can get used to the controls, but purposely failing up until the point that Poe Dameron appears. Yes, Oscar Issac arrives to voice his animated counterpart, and he’s as charming here as he is on film (not a lot of actors can pull the verbal-only panache for animation, but Issac does well enough). But what throws things off is Kazuda himself, who first comes off as a noble, self-sacrificing pilot during that introduction, but then becomes a clumsy, excitable kid the second he meets Poe (is Poe even that “famous” prior to the new trilogy? This feels like a misguided stretch). Kazuda constantly shifts as a character throughout this two-parter, which makes it impossible to connect with him in any real way.

For reasons that are really unclear, Poe recruits Kazuda as a spy to gather intel on the First Order. Since this is before The Force Awakens, it’s difficult to tell exactly where things stand politically, and “The Recruit” doesn’t really clear things up. But anyway, after a very fraught conversation with his father, Kazuda agrees to join the Resistance, and he’s whisked away to the planet of Castellon for his mission, something that he’s not even remotely ready for or capable of.

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The destination is the Colossus, a supertanker fuel depot “from the old days” that kind of appears to be a knockoff of Mass Effect’s Citadel. It’s a massive, sprawling base with a thriving class of speed junkies, reprobates, and a top-tier class of pilots that live at the top. I do wonder if the show will get into the weird class structure that’s set up here, or even the full extent of the various people and places that live within the Colossus.

As of now though, we meet Jarek Yeager, a character who wants nothing to do with Poe, Kazuda, or the Resistance, but you know will be involved regardless. How he gets involved, though, is uncomfortably contrived. An errant statement by Kazuda quickly spreads throughout the base, and somehow everyone now thinks he’s a great, hotshot pilot. The perpetuation of the rumor speaks to the speed with which news and information can spread on the Colossus, but the key perpetuator of the rumor is Neeku Vozo.

Neeku may have a comic talking style but it doesn’t mask that he’s ultimately gunning for a spot among the top pilots and a spot in their lofty tower. It’s a pretty messed up thing for him to do, to use Kazuda like this, but the episode doesn’t seem to acknowledge this. Jarek has a more realistic perspective on Kazuda, who wants nothing to do with him or any mission, but he does take him under his wing (despite the kid not-so-directly starting a bar fight) and provides him a plane and advice for the race that he somehow ropes himself into.

Again, how he gets roped into this race is pretty contrived too, but beyond that, it’s sort of unclear why Kazuda suddenly believes his own hype and actually thinks himself a hotshot pilot. The writers try to justify it with a quick aside on how he always dreamed about it as a kid, and through a sad monologue about how he’s been spoiled by his father. But since we don’t really know who Kazuda is, or how, specifically, he trained towards his aerial dreams, or how his father treated him (or anything about that relationship really), it’s a beat that doesn’t quite track, and a character shift that doesn’t make sense.

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Related Article: How Star Wars: The Clone Wars Can Be a Better Show

Before the race, there is what feels like a pretty awkward fetch quest, and this is where the video game aspects really come through. Parts are needed for the Fireball, so Kazuda and Neeku visit the acquisitions store (the intro shot of the shopkeepers, Orka and Flix, is framed exactly like something out of a Zelda game). Then they go to the market to trade for another item, which they then talk through for second hard parts. Beyond the gaming feel of this, it comes off like a weird tangent that does little to explore the characters OR expand what we know about the overall base itself. It can’t help but feel like wheel-spinning.

But then there’s the race! This, admittedly, is a small but exciting final act, and not necessarily because of the race itself, which is the most gaming-centric moment of the entire pilot (they have to fly through a set of rings, for goodness sake). It’s exciting because it provides hints of real, burgeoning conflicts. There’s the beginning of (some kind of) a relationship between Kazuda and Torra Doza, one of the “Aces” (the absolute best pilots on the Colossus) who has a quirky, optimistic approach to fiery crashes and is also the daughter of the commander of the base. There’s also the interpersonal conflict where Kazuda will have to maintain his composure and accomplish his actual mission versus giving into his (sudden) desire to be the best pilot. And there’s just surviving in a new environment where anything can happen. With Jarek as his guide and Neeku and Tam Ryvora (the mechanic) as something akin to frenemies (who no doubt will become true friends as the series goes along), Star Wars Resistance is all about whether Kazuda can get the job done.

At least… that’s where the real meat of the show should be. Resistance has all the hallmarks of a potentially-rich show that can work to bridge that gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, to explore where and how the First Order came about, to show the entire new saga from an outsider perspective, through the eyes of Kazuda himself. But what we may get is a new Star Wars RPG/racing game masquerading as a TV show, with vague, shifting, one-note personalities based solely on plot needs, focusing too much on high-octane, need for speed thrills. If Filoni and his team can balance that with real stakes, that would be something, but it’s too hard to tell at this point. There’s no need to resist this show yet, but brace yourself.

Kevin Johnson is a writer who loves cartoons and animation. He has written for The AVClub and Topless Robot, and has more content at his own blog here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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3 out of 5