Star Wars Rebels Ushers in the Disney Era

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A New Empire

Star Wars Rebels premiered on DisneyXD last week to an audience of 2.74 million viewers. This much-anticipated tie-in to the movie franchise is the first addition Disney has made to the Star Wars canon, and the first glimpse we have of what is to come on the silver screen. So Rebels is significant for Star Wars fans on its own and also as the first indication of what a galaxy far, far away will look like under this new regime.

When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for more than $4 billion in 2012, it left die-hard fans reeling. Although Lucas’ most recent contributions to the Star Wars universe (the Prequels Who Shall Not Be Named) weren’t exactly well-received, the thought of someone else playing in George’s sandbox just felt wrong. Most fans had resigned themselves long ago to never seeing another movie, and that that might be a good thing. With one shrewd business move, Disney flipped all of that on its ear. We were told that not only was Disney taking over, but there was plenty of Star Wars to come.

So, for those of us who still tremble and cross ourselves each time a piece of Episode VII news is mentioned, Rebels could be a harbinger of either good or terrible things to come. After viewing the first three episodes, I am happy to say that the Force is strong with this one.

Allusions of Grandeur

The first few episodes of Rebels make a giant effort to channel both the orignal trilogy and the prequels. A high-speed chase through the city streets of the planet Lothal is reminiscent of pod races and Endor speederbike pursuits. TIE fighters and stormtroopers have replaced the clones, and Imperial Star Destroyers loom large. The music is classic and stirring, and is a persistent reminder that you are watching a Star Wars production. The animated sets and scenery could have been taken right off the Death Star. One-liners like “Get in, you furball!” and “What secret mission?” are only some of the small ways this show alludes to its predecessors. Although it sometimes felt like they were trying a little too hard, I took it as a good sign that the creative team at Disney is letting the show stick with its roots–roots that we all love.

Unexpectedly, Rebels also channels other Disney tales. When we first meet them, the core cast of characters spend their days stealing goods from oppressive Imperial forces, and then giving them to poor farmers whose land has been taken away from them by Governor Tarkin. They are a bunch of scoundrels, to be sure, but scoundrels with hearts. Their small acts of rebellion are enough to capture the attention of the Imperial Security Bureau and Agent Kallus, who is the main antagonist of these early episodes. It is an obvious parallel with the plot of Robin Hood, which most viewers will easily recognize.

The main character, a fourteen year old street rat named Ezra, is also a classic Disney hero. He is an orphan who takes what he needs to survive, who outsmarts the Empire at every turn, and also has compassion for the other people who are being victimized by the Empire’s brutes. In true Disney form, he eventually finds a surrogate family among the Robin and his Merry Men–err, I mean Kanan and the crew of the Ghost.

Although these signposts made it easier to see where the story was going, I didn’t enjoy it any less. It felt like Star Wars, the plot kept up a fast pace, and each character was given a distinct and generally likeable personality. There are no Jar-Jars in this group.

There is Another

Although Yoda and Obi-Wan echoed many times in the original trilogy that Luke was the last of the Jedi, it turns out Order 66 wasn’t as thorough as they had thought. At least, not at first.

I began watching the “Spark of Rebellion” without much foreknowledge–I hadn’t really read any of the promotional material or watched any of the short films online. From the title and what little periphery information I had gleaned, I was under the impression that Rebels had a non-Jedi centric plot. I was glad to be wrong on that score. Would it really be Star Wars without a little lightsaber action?

I don’t want to spoil the “plot twist” (can you call it that when the hints are so obvious?) that is eventually revealed in a very cool scene, but you can rest easy knowing that the Great Jedi Purge let more than two Jedi slip through the net.

It’s (Not) a Trap!

Overall, there’s a lot to love about Rebels; too much to mention here. There are things I didn’t like, of course. Although Hera and Sabine–the two female heroines of the show–are strong and capable women, I felt like they were each relegated into a somewhat stereotypical box. I am nitpicking a little here, but I really wish they didn’t fall into either the category of “Mother Figure” or “Love Interest.” Can’t a woman just be there on her own merit, and not as a piece of the hero’s story? I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is. That subtext is subtle and does not diminish their badass characteristics at all. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

The best thing I can say about this show is that it left me wanting more. I will definitely continue to watch it, and I recommend that anyone on the fence gives it a shot. It’s not too late to catch up. Amazon is streaming the first episode online, and “Droids in Distress” is currently available for FREE in the iTunes store.

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