As the release of The Force Awakens approaches, I’ve been reviewing various entries in the vast Star Wars Expanded Universe. Today I’m looking at a recent piece of Star Wars lore, the first season of the animated TV series Rebels, originally broadcast between October 2014 and March 2015. I picked up the season one DVD last month.
Set a decade and a half after the events of the prequels, Rebels chronicles the exploits of a small cell of the Rebel Alliance operating out of a freighter starship known as the Ghost in the vicinity of the planet Lothal:
Ezra Bridges – The fifteen year old is the figure through whom the audience is introduced to the crew of the Ghost. Ezra’s parents conducted underground anti-Imperial broadcasts on Lothal. They were arrested when Ezra was only eight years old. Spending the next several years as a homeless thief, Ezra comes to the attention of the Ghost crew when he makes off with a supply shipment which they themselves had only just stolen from the Empire. At first motivated solely by survival and self-interest, Ezra joins the Rebels after they risk their lives to rescue him from the Empire.
Kanan Jarrus – The leader of the Ghost crew is a former Jedi Padawan who survived the destruction of the Jedi Order during Order 66. Spending the next 15 years in hiding, he became a smuggler and guerilla fighter, keeping his Jedi abilities hidden. Kanan finally unsheathes his lightsaber in a battle to liberate Wookies who have been captured by Imperial slavers. After years of running from his past, Kanan reluctantly re-embraces his Jedi heritage when he realizes that Ezra is a Force sensitive, and he takes on the boy as his apprentice.
Hera Syndulla – The Twi’lek owner of the Ghost and an extremely skilled pilot, Hera is the den mother of the group. She has a close friendship with Kanan, and it’s implied that there is a mutual attraction between the two. The level-headed Hera serves as the link between the Rebel cell and the larger Alliance, communicating with a mysterious contact known only as “Fulcrum.”
Sabine Wren – A sarcastic teenage explosive expert and graffiti artist, Sabine is from the planet Mandalore. She was previously enrolled in the Imperial Academy, until an experience there completely embittered her towards the Empire. As a result she developed an aversion to blindly following orders. Kanan has a crush on Sabine, but she has declined to acknowledge it, preferring to remain friends.
Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios – The large, hairy Zeb is one of the last of the Lasat, an alien race who were brutally invaded by the Empire. Seeking to avenge his people, Zeb became involved in the Rebellion. Something of a grumpy hothead, Zeb is less than enthusiastic about Ezra joining the crew, although they eventually develop a grudging mutual respect.
Chopper – A beat-up old astromech droid, C1-10P aka Chopper helps keep the Ghost running. Possessing an irritable, mischievous personality, the droid expresses himself through grunts and beeps.
Over the course of the first season, the writers do a good job introducing the main characters, spotlighting each of them throughout the 15 episodes. By the time I was finished watching the DVD set, I really did not have a favorite, having grown to like all of them.
Probably the best character development was in the deep friendship that grows between Ezra and Kanan. They become not just student and teacher, but also a surrogate family, with Kanan becoming a father figure and role model for the reckless orphan. Teaching Ezra to use the Force and become a Jedi is just as much a learning experience for the teenager as it is for Kanan. Both of them need to discover patience and understanding. It is a different relationship than that of Luke and Yoda, as can be seen by this amusing exchange from “Rise of the Old Masters”…
Kanan: Enough jokes. Focus!
Ezra: I’m trying!
Kanan: Do, or no not. There is no try.
Ezra: What does that even mean? How can I do something if I don’t try to do it?
Kanan: Well, see… Actually, that one always confused me, too. But Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot.
That was one of my favorite bits from the first season!
Rebels appears to be geared to a slightly younger audience than the Star Wars movies. There is more of an emphasis on comedy and slapstick, although at times it can also be pretty intense and serious.
Some of the humor derives from the fact that the Empire comes across as pretty damn incompetent. Yes, there’s that old joke that Imperial Stormtroopers cannot shoot straight. But if you actually watch the movies, most of the time they are incredibly dangerous adversaries who mow down their enemies left and right. It’s only when they encounter major characters such as Han, Luke or Leia that they are utterly incapable of hitting the broad side of a Jawa sandcrawler. And such is the case with Rebels, where the Ghost crew constantly runs circles around the Empire. You almost get the impression that it’s only sheer force of numbers that’s allowing the Emperor to maintain control of the galaxy!
There are exceptions, such as Agent Kallus of the Imperial Security Bureau, who is dangerously competent, but who is constantly frustrated by the bumbling antics of his troops. Likewise the utterly ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin arrives on Lothal late in the season to take charge of operations, and he seems to spend half the time uttering exclamations of exasperation at the people serving under him.
The closest thing to a “big bad” for season one is the Imperial Inquisitor, a Force-adept disciple of Darth Vader who utilizes a double bladed lightsaber capable of whirling like a propeller. The arrogant, mocking Inquisitor spends much of the season in pursuit of Kanan and Ezra. The design and personality of the Inquisitor is somewhere between Vader and his Sith predecessor Darth Maul. He is definitely a formidable adversary.
Several actors from the movies reprise their roles. As always, Anthony Daniels is on hand to voice C-3PO. James Earl Jones returns for his iconic vocalization of Darth Vader, as do Frank Oz as Yoda and Billy Dee Williams as Lando Callrissian.
Lando appears in the episode “Idiot’s Array.” Zeb loses Chopper to Lando in a game of Sabacc, much to the droid’s indignation. To get Chopper back, the Ghost crew agrees to help Lando smuggle cargo through the Imperial blockade of Lothal. And, no, the cargo is not a case of Colt 45 (which was my first guess) but so-called “mining equipment,” namely a very odd animal that is a cross between a pig and a puffer fish. This is a few years before Lando became the semi-respectable administrator of Cloud City, back when he was still a smooth-talking gambler and con artist. Williams does a good job recreating the part.
“Idiot’s Array” is one of the most offbeat and comedic installments of the entire season. Actually, it’s a great episode, genuinely funny and entertaining. And it actually works out well, coming right before the final four episode arc of the season, a very intense and serious storyline.
Season one draws to a dramatic conclusion with “Fire Across the Galaxy.” The crew infiltrates Tarkin’s star destroyer to rescue Kanan. This leads to a final, riveting showdown between Kanan and the Inquisitor.
“Fire Across the Galaxy” also reveals the identity of Fulcrum; she is none other than Ahsoka Tano, former Jedi and fan favorite from The Clone Wars animated series. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Ahsoka survived the Jedi Purge and was working alongside Senator Bail Organa to organize the Rebel Alliance.
As “Fire Across the Galaxy” came to a close, I found myself very much looking forward to season two. The first year had done a great job at developing the main characters, and I am interested in seeing Ahsoka becoming a regular. Also, with the arrival of Darth Vader on Lothal in the final scene, the possibility of Ahsoka encountering her former master and learning of his turn to the Dark Side appears to be in the cards.
By the way, in watching Rebels season one, I came to realize just how crucial the visual designs of Ralph McQuarrie, the music of John Williams and the sound designs of Ben Burtt all are in recapturing the feel, the atmosphere of the Star Wars universe in an animated series. All of these have been utilized by the makers of Rebels, and it just would not be the same in the absence of any of them.
I cancelled cable TV service a while back, but I can always get Rebels season two through iTunes. It’s definitely something I’d rather not have to wait for the DVD release. It’s an entertaining, well-written series that does a great job of exploring the period between the prequels and the original trilogy.