Last night at a special Comic-Con screening, Lucasfilm and Disney screened the pilot episode of the long-awaited new animated series Star Wars: Rebels, which is set to debut this fall on Disney XD. Although we were assured by executive producer Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg that the footage in the pilot episode was unfinished, only the biggest stickler for details would ever even notice. At the screening I saw, the animation looks at the very least 99% done. I’d say this was pretty close to what fans will get to see on television this coming October.
Without going into too much details about the episode, I can say it was a lot more engaging as a first episode that the Clone Wars had, although that series eventually became amazing as we all know, giving Rebels a lot to eventually live up to. Set fourteen years after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (and about five or six years prior to Episode IV: A New Hope) Rebels is centered on the crew of the starship Ghost, a sort of pirate ship with a crew of scoundrels in the Han Solo mold. We’ve got Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a former Jedi whose last his master and his whole way of life when Order 66 happened and the Jedi were almost entirely wiped out. His crew is comprised of Twilek pilot Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), the Mandalorian Sabine (Tiya Sircair), Chopper the astromech droid, Zeb (Steve Blum) the big alien bruiser in the Chewie tradition, and Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), a young street rat in the Aladdin mold who just might feel a little bit of the force.
So, once again without getting into spoiler territory too much, I can promise that fans of the classic trilogy are in for a treat. Everything about this show looks and feels a lot more like the world created by George Lucas and original concept artist Ralph McQuarrie nearly forty years ago (in fact, many, many abandoned McQuarrie designs were used in the creation of the show) than anything we’ve seen since Return of the Jedi. All the characters spring to life and are well-rounded almost immediately- who they are and what they’re all about is instantly evident, which is, again, different from Clone Wars where it took a couple of seasons for the characters to really come alive.
Rebels hits all the right nostalgia buttons; if you grew up with the original Star Wars, it is almost impossible to hear TIE Fighter noises or see the classic starship designs and not have them work on you in some way. In this sense, the show has a leg up on Clone Wars simply by being more tied into the original triolgy, which fans have long been clamoring for. Interestingly, if Rebels owes anything to any other franchise, it would be Firefly, a show that clearly was an inspiration to the creators. But in so many ways, Star Wars begat Firefly, so it makes sense for Firefly in turn to inspire a new Star Wars.
The action sequences are also really well done, and again, very evocative of the action in the classic trilogy. The animation is a bit weaker than Clone Wars, but still light years better than most CGI animation done for television. Disney is clearly holding the purse strings a little tighter than Uncle George did for Clone Wars so one can’t judge too harshly. And most importantly, Rebels has another element from the classic trilogy sorely missing from the prequels-it’s funny. If Rebels is indicative of the direction that Star Wars is going under the guiding hand of Disney, then fans can breathe a sigh of relief-the franchise is in good hands. And Mickey Mouse doesn’t even show up once.