Star Wars Rebels: Season 1 (2014)

 

Their greatest strength will be each other...

 

This is an exciting time to be a Star Wars geek. After George Lucas decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney back in 2011 (to the tune of $4.6 billion dollars no less) we all feared the worse. It was as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. We all feared something terrible had happened. Star Wars belonging to the House of Mouse? Surely that can’t be a good thing can it?

Well 4 years on and we can all relax. With a whole load of new films in the pipeline, including a new sequel trilogy plus many spin-off stories, the future of Star Wars has never looked brighter. And animated series Star Wars Rebels is proof of that. The good news is Rebels feels like Star Wars – the sense of fun and adventure that was sorely lacking from the prequel trilogy, that familiar banshee wail of TIE fighters coursing through space, and the sinister Nazi-like Imperial Officers are all present and correct.

The brain child of Star Wars Rebels is Dave Filoni, who also spearheaded The Clone Wars animated series. Both are similar in their execution regarding a younger target audience, but Rebels does feel altogether different. The first striking thing about Rebels that hits you is its unique visual style. Not as colourful as The Clone Wars, the hues are more ‘earthy’ and convey that signature Star Wars ‘lived in’ universe. Much of the landscape – and some of the characters, incidentally – are influenced straight from the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, the conceptual designer who was responsible for the look of the Original Trilogy. The background buildings for example, are rendered in such a way that they almost look McQuarrie’s original pencil lines.

So what’s it about? In a nutshell, it’s an origins story of sorts of the Rebel Alliance. Set five years before A New Hope, Rebels involves a renegade group of space scoundrels doing anything they can to upset the Empire (think Firefly meets A New Hope). The ragtag brigade consists of a cowboy Jedi called Kanan (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jnr – remember him?) who survived Order 66, Ezra who is a young orphan boy strong in the ways of the Force (sound familiar?), a young female Mandalorian warrior named Sabine who loves graffiti (she wears a colourful Mandalorian suit), ace pilot Hera the female Twi’lek who seems to have information about a larger rebellion, and Zeb, a wise-cracking tall purple beast-like hulk who is based on Ralph McQuarrie’s original designs for Chewbacca. They’re also accompanied by their cheeky little astromech droid C1-10P, or ‘Chopper’.

Hot on their trail is Imperial Officer Agent Kallus (voiced by David Oyelowo) and a mysterious Sith-like figure known as The Inquisitor (voiced by Jason Isaacs). Watch out for his uber-cool spinning lightsaber! Also making appearances are some familiar faces: Lando Calrissian (voiced by Billy Dee Williams himself), C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels once again), Grand Moff Tarkin (who was portrayed by Peter Cushing in A New Hope) and a certain Sith Lord voiced by a certain Mr James Earl Jones...

Rebels starts off with four three-minute shorts designed to introduce us to Chopper, Sabine, Zeb, and Ezra (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Disney’s Aladdin); followed by a 45-minute ‘movie’ that sets the series up. Then we’re launched into Season One’s thirteen 22-minute episodes (Season Two is due to air this autumn). The pacing is fantastic, and the dialogue style is faithful to the Original Trilogy. Even the score has nods to John Williams’ classic motifs.

The characters are all extremely likeable. No annoying Jar-Jar types here! Ezra is charming and has a real emotional depth to him as he is haunted by his past. Kanan is brash and Han Solo-esque, maintaining a cool mystery about him. Hera is the mother figure of the group, kindhearted and wise. Zeb is the comic relief, with a humourous bullyish attitutude (he sounds like a propa geezer!). Sabine is wild and artsy, taking relish in counjouring up explosions that look ‘beautiful’. Even Chopper the droid has a unique personality. He’s mischieveous, and doesn’t seem to like or care about anyone, a sort of opposite to Artoo Deetoo. Even the villains are interesting – The Inquisitor in particular lends the series a frightening menace, and you feel that anything can happen whenever he’s around.

The camera angles are almost static and far less dynamic than, say, The Clone Wars – this perfectly mimics the directing style of the Original Trilogy. The lightsaber effects are a joy to watch as they flicker and flatter, crackling whenever two blades meet. A character pulling out a lightsaber just seems special again, as opposed to being the norm thus creating ‘overkill’ such as in The Clone Wars – or even the Prequel Trilogy for that matter. Every single detail has been carefully considered and crafted to capture the feel of the Original Trilogy era.

I thoroughly recommend Star Wars Rebels to any fan. It has become all too easy to dismiss Lucasfilm’s animated output as too child-like, especially now that the Disney logo sits atop the ‘Star Wars’ heading. But Rebels really is great entertainment, getting the balance just right. It never becomes too childish for adult viewers or too graphic for very young viewers. And with the announcement from Disney that ALL of its side-projects and spin-offs WILL be considered as official canon, you can bet that Rebels will play an important part in the overall picture of this new Star Wars era. There are already rumours that next year’s Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One may possibly involve elements from Rebels such as story or characters. And Rebels ends with the reveal of yet another cross-over character. But you’ll just have to watch to find out the surprise...

VERDICT:

The Force is strong with this one. Thoroughly entertaining fare; funny, clever and intense at the right moments. Top-notch animation and cracking characters; overall captures the magical essence of Original Trilogy Star Wars. Rebels could even possibly set up the events for Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One so make sure you don’t miss out!