For several years, my love and enjoyment of Star Wars began to wane, for a number of reasons (those numbers were namely 1, 2, and 3) but in the last few years, the spark has started to come back. I’d say at this point, with The Force Awakens firmly in sight, the excitement about the saga at large is back up to “I’m 12-years-old!” levels.
A lot of that started when I watched the excellent Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, which ran on Cartoon Network from 2008 until 2013. That series, I thought, was what the prequels should have been, and made me actually care about Anakin Skywalker and clone troopers.
But as great as The Clone Wars was, it was also stale sometimes. With each of the seasons’ episode counts up in the 20s, it was easy for a several episodes or even whole storylines feeling a bit like wheel-spinning. This cannot be said for Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels, a continuation of sorts to The Clone Wars taking place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. At only 14 episodes, the first season flies by, to the point that now I’m going through withdrawals after watching the Blu-ray for review.
For the uninitiated, Star Wars Rebels is set on a planet called Lothal in the outer rim of the galaxy fourteen years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is trying to expand its dominance over every system it can and Lothal, a planet with large cities as well as vast deserts, is being occupied. A teenage orphan named Ezra Bridger has been living off the land and off of stealing things since his parents disappeared when he was 6. One day, Ezra runs into a group of people also attempting to steal a shipment from the Empire and, through happenstance, he ends up aboard their ship.
The crew of the ship, called The Ghost, consists of Kanan Jarrus, the brash leader; Hera Syndulla, the Twi’lek pilot and second in command; Sabine Wren, a 16-year-old Mandalorian graffiti artist and weapons expert; Zeb Orrelios, the last of the Lasat race, which was destroyed by the Empire, who also serves as the crew’s muscle; and C1-10P, or “Chopper,” a feisty astromech droid of the oldest variety whom Hera rebuilt.
They get into scrapes with the Empire on and off of Lothal in an attempt to smuggle things to other worlds or to the people suffering because of the occupation (and to just generally be a thorn in the side of the Emperor and his minions). Eventually, Ezra joins up and Kanan, a Jedi in hiding, senses the force within him and begins to train the boy, but not well.
The thing I love about this show more than anything is this core group of heroes. Unlike The Clone Wars, which was about a vast military campaign across hundreds of planets with dozens of characters, Rebels begins very small and grows as it goes on. These are six good guys who are seemingly on their own trying to take on a massive and well-funded dictatorship. They’re the underdogs. And like any family, they don’t get along all the time, but they need each other. It’s got a very definite Firefly feel to a lot of it, in the best way.
In the relationship between Kanan and Ezra, we see a very flawed Jedi, who does not keep to the same code as before (it’s strongly implied he and Hera are an item), but one who knows that Ezra should be trained. In lieu of anyone else, it’s got to be him. Neither of them takes their roles as master and apprentice very well at first, and both doubt themselves greatly, but one of the major themes of this season is working together to become an actual duo, traveling to find ancient Jedi temples and artifacts as needed. While I was a little Jedi’d out from Clone Wars, this has the kind of Obi-Wan/Luke relationship that I loved from A New Hope, with a more Han Solo-type as the Jedi master.
But it’s not all good times for our heroes. The Empire has sent not only Agent Kallus (voiced by David Oyelowo) to oversee the occupation of Lothal and put down insurgency, Lord Vader himself has sent the Inquisitor (voiced by Jason Isaacs), an operative strong in the Dark Side, to find Kanan (Jedi are still outlawed, you see). On top of that, dozens and dozens of stormtroopers stand in the Ghost crew’s way every step.
This is one of the most insanely binge-able series I’ve watched in a long time. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a shorter season and the episodes are only 22 minutes, but it’s also because it’s just easy and fun to watch. The storytelling is complex enough for older fans, but it maintains the level of fun that the Disney XD kid audience calls for. I was worried this was going to feel too juvenile and it absolutely doesn’t. It also looks gorgeous, with a slightly different animation style than The Clone Wars — the physical edges are little bit more rounded, but it’s not too “kiddie” or cutesy.
And if you’re a fan of the original trilogy, you’ll be excited when familiar faces show up, and by the fact that TIE Fighters feature in just about every episode. In short, if you’re not watching this show, you really should start now.
The season one Blu-ray release is probably the best way to do it since the transfer of audio and video are stellar. Extras include Rebels Recon, 13 short segments about the making of each episode; Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide, a 22-minute recap of the whole season narrated by Kanan Jarrus (a/k/a Freddie Prinze Jr.); a look ahead at season two, which begins airing in October; and a Blu-ray exclusive featuring coverage of the show at Star Wars Celebration a few months back.
This is a great addition to your collection. I’m probably gonna start watching it again already.
IMAGES: Lucasfilm, Disney
Kyle Anderson is the weekend editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!