Disney XD’s Star Wars: Rebels is the first big production in the Star Wars franchise released after Disney acquired Lucasfilm a couple years ago. Set 14 years after the terrible events of Revenge of the Sith and just 5 years before A New Hope, it follows a group of do-good mercenaries as they rock it out with the Empire again and again. With (relatively) recent news that Disney has basically kicked out all previous Star Wars Expanded Universe canon in favour of a new canon centered around the six movies and The Clone Wars, it is an uncertain future at best for the franchise, and how Rebels performs in the coming weeks is going to be a big indicator of that uncertain future.
Disney kicked off the show with four shorts focused on the various characters, and then an hour-long special a little over two weeks ago. Titled “Spark of Rebellion“, it introduces the characters to the audiences and gets them all together after the (somewhat) scattered adventures of the shorts. It is a decent series opener, as such things go, with the characters being interesting all of them, though some of the hallmarks of Disney are prominently visible character-wise. And as for the animation, well, it is certainly problematic in many ways and nowhere near the smoothness of The Clone Wars.
The special starts off with the teen character Ezra Bridger, who lives on a world called Lothal and is quite a loner, living by himself in a what amounts to a dump some ways from the planet’s main city. Imperial forces arrive on the world for unknown reasons and that excites Ezra in that he senses opportunity and profit. He heads into the city and soon comes upon a bunch of Imperial officers and Stormtroopers harassing a local trader. Ezra saves the trader, but soon gets involved in a heist by Kanan Jarrus and his crew, as they attempt to relieve the Imperials of certain supplies. This kicks off Ezra Bridger’s great adventure, and soon we are knee deep in the story as we learn about the different characters and see what makes them tick.
In Greg Weisman, Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni, Star Wars: Rebels boosts a great resume of producers and showrunners who’ve, between them, produced some of the best movies and animated shows in the last decade or so. They bring all of that expertise to the show and it is easy to see from this hour-long feature that they’ve aimed to get the typical Star Wars vibe and feel down from the get go. There’s a pretty typical outlay to the story, in how the various characters behave and their dialogue and the visuals and everything, something that makes you really hopeful for what the show can do, what it is doing, and what it will do.
And that’s important since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm was something I was really apprehensive about as a fan of the franchise. Some of my worst fears were realized when it was announced that the company was creating its own canon for the franchise, the previous canon built up over decades and across many different media be damned. Or when it was announced that Disney had cancelled Dark Horse Comics’ license for the comics and that it would be Marvel Comics that would publish new comics material. In all of this, if there was one shining light, it was Star Wars: Rebels, a project that I’ve been very excited about since day one, and one that I really want to see succeed.
But there are lots of hurdles that the show has to cross, if this hour-long special, “Spark of Rebellion“, is any indication.
For one, I really don’t like Ezra all that much. He smacks too much of Aladdin in this special and he is a cliche of “reluctant hero waiting for a call to heroism and badassery”. This kind of thing is very typical of Disney, especially since Ezra is being setup as a Padawan to Kanan Jarrus’ Jedi Knight, with all the complications and promise that entails. The special does a decent enough job of getting Ezra to join Kanan’s crew, but I think that it could have been handled with a bit better execution and also less dumb moments for the various characters, or even less cliche dialogue that smacks more of weekend morning cartoons than a Monday evening animated series.
Kanan however, is quite a good character. Some of his animations make him come across as rather uncoordinated, or rather, more like the Toy Story style of animation than something we’ve seen in The Clone Wars, but story-wise, he kicks ass. We know from the trailers and the info released by Disney in the leadup that Kanan is a Jedi and in this special we often get to see the man behind the rough exterior of a bounty hunter/mercenary. He is a solid character in almost all respects, and I can’t wait to see what the show does next with him.
Hera and Sabine are the two female leads on the show and they too rock as much as Kanan does, if not more. Hera is the pilot of the Ghost while Sabine is a Mandalorian who has joined up with Kanan and the others since the Empire did its usual thing with her family and she wants revenge for what it did, one little step at a time. The short The Machine In The Ghost does much to introduce Hera to the audience, and I loved her in it. Spark of Rebellion stays true to her character, as a sort of moral center of the Ghost‘s crew, and I liked her in pretty much every scene she was in.
Sabine on the other hand, she gets to do far more action scenes than Hera does and while none of it involves direct battles the likes of which Mandalorians are famed for, the special does show her off as a great demolitions expert and also a capable starship gunner. It is still early days yet for her of course, as they are for all the other characters, but where she is concerned, I think the show has gotten off to a good start.
Zeb is the other lead of the show, living breathing lead that is, and where he is concerned, the “dumb” moments certainly come to the fore. Such as the scene where he pushes Ezra back when they are all trying to get on the Ghost, and the kid ends up getting captured by the Empire. It is a big dumb moment and I can’t believe that the writers are making him out to be such a grand jerk and a douche as well. His arguments for this action are completely unrealistic and even insulting for me as an audience. But I suppose he does fill a niche for the show’s cast, and I don’ begrudge him that, not really. I just wish that he was better written.
As I’ve said before, the animation style is often quite stiff and uninspiring. This is especially the case when a bunch of Wookies enter the picture, and that’s when I got really disheartened since their character design is absolutely rubbish. There’s no… texture to their skin, that is, if you are asked to reach out and touch them, you’ll feel a smooth fabric rather than irregular fur. Something like that. This extends to the rest of the characters as well, though to a smaller degree, what with the designs being rather simple and so on. The space battles particularly are uninspiring, consisting mostly of the same trick that George Lucas pulled off with A New Hope or pretty much any fight scene with the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope. Long tracking scenes with TIEs exploding instantly.
Rebels doesn’t really have a strong visual concept behind it, but yeah, early days and all that. Hopefully it can improve in the coming weeks. One episode is already out and the second comes out tomorrow, so we shall see how it all pans out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed since I really want this show to succeed.