Though I never saw the Original Trilogy in their original form in theaters, it was my older brother who introduced me to them. I don’t specifically remember things from when I saw the movies during a marathon one lazy afternoon with my brother by my side, such as my reaction to who Darth Vader was in relation to Luke and Leia professing her love to Han. Given my likes at the time, I’m sure I adored the Ewoks, but even that is a guess and not a clear memory.
What I do remember most in the years that followed that viewing was the feel of the movie and its music. When the movies were re-released in the mid 90’s, my brother again was at my side, though this time we were at the theater, and he was able to re-experience the movies that he had seen as a child on the big screen once more.
Yesterday, I watched Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, a double episode promoted as a movie that was recently released on the WATCH Disney XD app. Despite having tried not to, I went in expecting a fair bit. From the clips and videos that have been released, it was clear from the get-go that this series was not going to be a copy of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in any way. Something with which I am personally okay, even though others didn’t seem to share the sentiment.
What I did find after watching these two episodes was that I didn’t do something at the end of them that I normally end up doing a lot of the time for a new series. I locate a few good points and end up wondering how it’ll ultimately go or potentially think that it was a bit rocky, but I end up promising myself that I’ll stick with it to see if it finds its legs.
Instead, I was left feeling as if I had just experienced a slice from a fully realized world filled with fully realized characters–and not just because of the extra promotional content seen recently. Though, I wholly want to give appreciation to Disney and Lucasfilm for the number of shorts that they have released as well as HoloNet News for the small 30-second segments that have only expanded the world. Combining all that with Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, the novel that introduced Hera and Kanan, someone could feel as if they were watching characters they already knew, but still wanted to learn more.
Ezra, specifically, is someone I want to touch upon. Far too often is the “new kid” character obnoxious, and you really wish they’d just go away. Instead, Ezra is a smart boy, and even if he initially isn’t a team player, he doesn’t hold onto that aspect of himself for dear life. He grows during the course of the two episodes, and I find that it is a very natural progression. You get the sense that he grew up as a good boy at heart and that he always wanted to do the right thing, but for far too long, he wasn’t rewarded for such behaviour. He shielded himself from being that way because he was alone and had to fend for himself. The boy he actually is finally has a chance to shine through, and you’re happy when it does.
Along with the characterizations, the voice work in Rebels is impressive. Everyone presented clear and strong performances, and every actor in this show has such nuance. It’s not often that a brand new North American series has a cast of characters that come off as sounding whole in the very first episodes. For most television programs, even in The Clone Wars, you’ll find that if you watch the first few episodes as well as the final ones that their voices fair a bit differently. Voice actors have to learn their characters and adjust their voice over time. None of the characters in Rebels sound as if that’s something that will happen or that it’s necessary for it to happen. The final product gives the impression as if they’ve been voicing these characters for a long time, and given that some of characters have known each other for a good length of time, it’s really quite impressive.
One minor scene, in particular, that I favored was that of a shamed Trooper trying to explain himself to Agent Kallus. The tone of his voice as well as the tone carried by Kallus both seemed perfect to me.
Shifting gears and now focusing on Kallus, the “Cackling Villain” is a popular stereotype, especially in programming that is accessible to a younger audience. I am impressed and extremely happy to find that none of the villains seem to fill that role. Looking at him, I expected him to be a different sort of character. Realizing that he’s not the trope I was expecting him to be is refreshing, and I think it’s important to show an antagonist who is level and patient under certain conditions. Given what I have seen of him, I am wholly excited to see how this man can potentially be pushed and what the consequences would be if that happens.
The animation is also a treat to watch. There are, at most, a handful of moments where you can potentially tell that the animation isn’t on par with what else has been shown, but that is to be expected. For one, this is the pilot episodes of a series, but it is also a series with rigs that are still being learned by the animation team. Unlike The Clone Wars, Rebels has bouncier and more fluid movements. As an animation student, I fully enjoy seeing those aspects in the series. The style gives Rebels a very unique look all its own, especially in comparison with past Star Wars related content.
During the course of my multiple viewings, Zeb is a character that I found intriguing to watch. Anyone familiar with executive producer Greg Weisman’s relationship with Disney should be familiar with his work on the television series Gargoyles. Zeb reminds me very much of a tail and wingless Goliath. Though they share no personality traits, his body structure, pointy ears, and purple colouring contribute to the comparison. Despite the similarities, Zeb is his own character and one of which has impressed me the most. Having expected him to be portrayed differently, his humor and his brash personality combine incredibly well, and his actions are beautifully animated. You can see the glee in his eyes when he’s doing or speaking about something he enjoys, especially when it comes to him beating up Stormtroopers.
For those who are worried about this series having a Y7 rating, I really don’t think you need to harbor any of those sentiments. More than once, I was caught off guard by what was blatantly shown in just these two episodes alone and that leads us to something that makes Rebels completely different from The Clone Wars: fodder. That used to include Separatist battle droids and the heavily inorganic masses. Now, it includes Stormtroopers–living and breathing bodies. Every TIE Fighter has a human pilot as does every Imperial vehicle. With every explosion, you can almost guarantee that someone just lost their life, and it is a very shocking thing to see. Fans of The Clone Wars are most likely already used to seeing clone troopers fall victim to waves of fire from droids, but due to the smaller scale that’s being worked with in Rebels, the deaths feel more personal. No longer are they happening in the background or off to the side, these are deaths happening right in front of us and being caused by the main characters directly. It gives them a far more upfront feel, and it is something I hope can be narratively touched upon in some way in the future.
From the setting to the music and from the main cast to the British accented Imperials, I felt as if I were being enveloped by all the things I loved about A New Hope and Star Wars as a whole. The characters are incredibly individual and I equally couldn’t get enough of any of them. It has been a long time since I’ve sat in a theater with my brother, and even longer since I’ve done it over something Star Wars related. Watching Star Wars Rebels gave me back that feeling, and it’s one that left this fan grinning from ear to ear.