There’s nothing like watching new Star Wars, and it was hard not to feel giddy while watching the premiere of Star Wars Rebels for precisely that reason. The animated series kicked off tonight with a one hour movie titled “Spark of Rebellion,” and though the opener only took us to a few corners of the galaxy, it’s clear the Empire is up to no good. Rebels is set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and as you might guess from the name, it’s about the beginnings of the rebellion. It all starts with the ragtag crew of the Ghost. Ragtag crews are my favorite kind of crews.
The story begins on Lothal where the Empire has a formidable presence. They appear to be everywhere. We see Stormtroopers act like bullies immediately, and a retort by a fed-up citizen tells us a lot: “I remember what it was like before your ships showed up.” It was better. He indicates the Empire has ruined things. This is the world our rebels are fighting in.
Cue the entrance of Ezra (Taylor Gray). He’s like Aladdin scraping for survival on the streets of Agrabah, so much so that “One Jump Ahead” played over and over in my head. Fortunately, that doesn’t continue for long. The first few seconds with Ezra tell us quite a bit about him. He seems to be helping the Gotal vendor by distracting the Imperials, but really, he just wants to take some of the guy’s Jogan fruits. He’s looking out for himself, plain and simple. Well played, writers, well played.
Aladdin gif via Reddit
Ghost’s crew is brought into the picture in the next few seconds, and we meet Kanan (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Zeb (Steve Blum), and Sabine (Tiya Sircar). After a fast-paced action scene that involves the rebels stealing from the Empire and subtly hints at Ezra and Kanan having special skills, cough Force abilities cough, we’re on the Ghost and we meet Hera (Vanessa Marshall) and Chopper.
I found everyone to be likable, but slightly grumpy characters win me over first and I fell for Chopper and Zeb quickly. Zeb took me by surprise. His personality already hit chords I didn’t see coming, and I love how much he likes bashing in Stormtrooper helmets (“It’s just something about the feel of their helmets on my fists”).
Chopper is like R2-D2 in that he’s very expressive and doesn’t need words to communicate his feelings, but he’s more sassy. I want a Chopper! Hera and Sabine bring incredible talent and moxie to the group, and I’m impressed by both of them. Sabine doesn’t just work with explosives, she likes to make it artful. Hera can fly a ship and snark at Kanan while in the thick of battle, and she’s also nurturing.
I liked Kanan and Ezra too, and I wasn’t sure if I would. Ezra is a touch bratty, sure, but he’s not annoying. He’s on a path of discovery, and I’m guessing he’ll be how we see and learn about what the rebels are doing as the show progresses. With the description of “cowboy Jedi” I wasn’t feeling optimistic about Kanan, but he’s going to be one heck of a mentor. He isn’t Obi-Wan. He isn’t Qui-Gon. Besides the fact that his name isn’t hyphenated, he’s got to deal with hardships those guys didn’t. You can see the weight of the world pushing down on his shoulders – especially near the end when he’s listening to Obi-Wan’s message about the end of the Order.
Back to the story, Ezra’s spunk and lack of fear (and respect) means he gets entangled with the rebels as they deliver what they stole the Empire for money. Hey, they’ve got to keep the ship fueled and keep eating and if they can screw with the Empire while doing it… They act like Robin Hood and his Merry Men stealing from the Empire to give to those who have been raked over the coals by the new government. Tarkin is mentioned, and it sounds like he’s become a total jerk since we last saw him in The Clone Wars.
The experience opens Ezra’s eyes. He didn’t know anything outside of his slice of Lothal, and all the credit to the designers, artists, and animators here because you can see the realization fall across his face and even in his eyes. He’s sad but still trying to separate himself from the situation. Almost like he wants to pretend he didn’t see anything.
Not so fast though, kid. The sale of the guns leads to a tip about some enslaved Wookiees. The Ghost goes to investigate and falls into a trap laid by Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo). I call him Callous Kallus. His manner is intimidating, but man, the mutton chops take away from the bad guy factor. They make me giggle. Maybe he’ll fall into a sharp razor soon and get those taken care of. Putting the facial hair aside, Hera has a spectacular moment her, and she nudges Ezra into what she knows he’s capable of doing. She tells him, “If all you do is fight for your own life, then your life is worth nothing.” The girl can give one heck of a pep talk.
The rebels track down the Wookiees and prevent them from being put to work in the Spice Mines of Kessel, and the fight that happens is pretty chilling. The second Kanan pulls out his lightsaber – man, I got goose bumps. It was a bold and risky move because Agent Kallus was there and will bring in the Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs), and that isn’t good for anyone. The battle helps bring Ezra around to the side of the rebels plus Kallus sort of thinks Ezra is Kanan’s Padawan so it’s best for the boy to leave Lothal. Well, being on Ghost is at least marginally safer.
The Wookiees were the weakest part of the episode because the animation style used in Rebels just doesn’t work for creatures that furry. They looked too skinny by far (maybe they were starved by the Empire?), and the faces and hair looked out of place. The adorableness of the baby Wookiee helped, but overall, they reminded me of the plastic jumbo Chewbacca action figures. And not in a good way.
“Spark of Rebellion” definitely had the vibe of the A New Hope. Kanan and Hera’s banter felt very much like Han and Leia, and it was joyful to watch TIE Fighters scream across the screen. It was all comforting and captured that elusive Star Wars vibe that balances tragedy and humor, but they have to be cautious with the parallels. Lines like “It’s a trap” and “I like the sound of that” were used, and the John Williams music was heavy. I like nods, but there’s a line. My hunch is that the similarities might be laid on more for the initial episode in order to hook the original trilogy fans, and that Rebels will develop more of its own voice as it goes on.
Overall, I was moved and completely in. The voice actors kill it. A lot of personality is conveyed in the way lines are spoken and delivered, and they breathe life into the characters across the board. The story has heart, and I’m already behind this crew and ready to stand beside Zeb and punch Stormtroopers.
What did you think of “Spark of Rebellion?” Let us know in the comments.