I share my thoughts on the first season of the animated Disney XD series Star Wars Rebels, created by Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Carrie Beck, with voices from Freddie Prinze Jr, Tyia Sircar, Steven Blum, Vanessa Marshall and Taylor Grey.
Imperial Forces are in command of the Galaxy at large, with the Jedi all but crushed and the Rebels scattered across the galaxy, not yet fully formed or organized. The Emperor rules like an Iron Fist, hunting down oppressors left right and centre. The show, set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, follows a new crew of heroes on the run from the Imperials, facing new villains and a wide variety of adversaries. 14 year old con-artist Ezra Bridger (Taylor Grey), who has the ability to use the Force, ends up joining with these new heroes on the spaceship called The Ghost, making new allies with one of the few Jedi to survive Order 66, Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.), now living undercover and afraid of using his lightsaber lest he risk detection, ace pilot Hera (Vanessa Marshall), Sabine (Tiya Sircar), a Mandalorian Graffiti Artist with an expert knowledge of weapons, and Zeb (Steven Blum), who’s effectively the group’s muscle.
Star Wars Rebels initially starts off with a lighter tone as we first get to know the characters, but eventually starts to evolve into something greater over the course of the season. Standalone episodes are exchanged for longer, multi-episode story arcs that often adopt a darker tone, particularly towards the end of the season. At thirteen episodes around half an hour long, we get to spend plenty of time with the Crew of the Ghost as we get to follow their adventures through the Star Wars Universe. The show’s approach to the animation style is 3D and looks and feels different from that of The Clone Wars, which may take some getting used to at first. It is however accessible to newcomers and doesn’t act as a direct continuation from that of the show, even if a familiar face does crop up in the season finale.
The characters that we spend time with are entirely new (aside from the guest cast like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who has shown up for one particularly exciting episode) and therefore that element of unpredictability is always there as, unlike The Clone Wars, we don’t know what will happen to them next, even if so far, in these early stages, we do know that they will make it through plenty of episodes, because they are the main characters and they presumably won’t be killed off just as we’re starting to know them. Whilst the characters take a while to get used to, with Ezra still feeling like an annoying teenager in places, the rest of the cast are thankfully a bit more likable and even Ezra starts to grow on you as you go on. Ezra, being the main character, gets the most attention as we discover his Force abilities and his progress to becoming a Jedi (although it’s still, even at the end of Season 1, very early stages) but the episodes where the character focus shifts away from him are often among the stronger, with Out of Darkness putting Hera and Sabine on a solo mission together to be handled pretty well. That’s not to say that some of the Ezra-focused episodes aren’t fun, though. With the previous episode, Breaking Ranks, focusing on him infiltrating an Imperial Stormtrooper training facility and a later episode, Path of the Jedi, featuring the voice of Master Yoda himself, is excellent and one of the higher points of the series.
The show makes good use of its new, mysterious villain, The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs). The Sith Lord packs an intimidating presence and whilst he’s not Darth Vader, it’s great to watch him go head to head against Kanan as the season progresses. He certainly makes a worthy antagonist for the group and one of the strongest scenes in the whole season comes when he goes head to head against Kanan and Ezra in a scene that throws back to the Qui-Gon and Kenobi fight against Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, which was easily the strongest part about that film.
Naturally, as one would expect, Star Wars Rebels being on Disney XD does have some more kid-friendly elements and it can often feel light hearted, but it is aware that some viewers are older fans and manages to appeal successfully to both young and older fans of the franchise. There are some great cinematic moments as well and with the inclusion of the original John Williams score also helps make this show feel very much part of the Star Wars Universe even if the 3D Animation design may take a while to get used to. Thankfully, there are no Jar-Jar Binks-esque characters in Star Wars Rebels to get annoyed about and for the most part the cast, as mentioned above, is likable particularly as we get to watch them grow over the course of the season.
If you can stick with Star Wars Rebels until the Season finale, then you’ll end up quite liking it. It’s by no means a perfect show, but the finale, which is easily the best episodes of the show so far, shows that this is only the beginning of greater things to come and the scope looks set to get bigger in scale as the story progresses, hopefully in the second season switching to more multi-episode based arcs rather than mission of the week stories. There’s no unwatchable episodes in the whole season, even if some may be a bit more exciting than others. It’s also worth noting that the cast for Season 2 is shaping up to be pretty impressive, with Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy!) already announced as an as of yet unknown character. So it will be great to see what things have in store for us going further down the line.