Animated Shows Entertainment

‘Star Wars Rebels’ From a Geek Parent’s Point of View

A guest post by Judith Vogt (@JudithCVogt)

When Star Wars Rebels first aired two years ago, we watched it with the kids—or to say it differently: We watched it primarily because it’s a kid’s show and we wanted to watch a kid’s show with our kids. We got addicted pretty quickly. For us, it brought back the Star Wars feeling (and the Firefly vibes!) into our lives in a way the prequels, The Clone Wars and even the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer couldn’t. When we started telling other people about how great Star Wars Rebels is, they mostly said, “You watch that show with your kids, right?” as if they were looking for an excuse why we would be so hyped about 20 minutes of animation.

When I read reviews of season one here (in Germany, since season two is not yet complete—and the kids were really mad at us because we sent them to bed so we could watch the English version as soon as we could get the episodes on Thursday evening), I always stumble over things like “It’s a kid’s show, so it’s a bit shallow in character development, the good guys always win and the Stormtroopers can’t shoot.” Okay, you’re right with the last thing, but they can never shoot. Yeah, I know, you might say, “They wanted to let Luke and Leia escape from the Death Star!” But in Cloud City? On Endor? They’re always bad at shooting, and yeah, they are awfully bad at it in Rebels, but this just feels like Star Wars for me. The whole show feels like Star Wars, and sometimes, it’s even feeling more like Star Wars than A New Hope. Seriously, nothing should feel more like Star Wars than that!

Why? Because Rebels is deep. It is rich. It has so many facets. And it delves deeper and deeper in season two. They do things in that show that you only begin to realize at the very end, like deep ties and knots and entwinements. And I love that about Rebels. You can watch it as a kid’s show, or you can watch every episode twice (along with the Rebels Recon videos on YouTube) and you’ll discover that something very thoughtfully twisted is going on there.

I like The Force Awakens. It brought Star Wars back for the general audience. But for me, as a 80s/90s kid? It’s Rebels that brought me back not only to my favourite time, the time of the Rebellion, but to the depths of Star Wars. That is what The Force Awakens lacks—it doesn’t bother to take a general audience into the depths of the Star Wars galaxy. If you know nothing about Star Wars, you’ll be perfectly happy with that movie, and I think that’s its job. It does a great job! But if you want to “learn the ways of the Force”, even more subtle, more ambivalent, more ambiguous than in the movies, you have to watch Rebels.

Star Wars has always been about mysticism, about good and evil, about the Force, the Jedi, and the Sith. About falling to the dark side and about redemption. About fear, anger, hate, courage, and accepting that there’s something greater than your own life. And these themes of Star Wars are explored in Star Wars Rebels. You can watch it as a show about a bunch of rebels that include Space Aladdin, who learns to be a Jedi, and some recurring Clone Wars characters. Until you learn that it’s not.

What was the deepest lesson Luke learned from confronting Vader and the Emperor? It was the knowledge of when not to fight. He doesn’t win. He throws away his lightsaber. He doesn’t follow Obi-Wan’s advice to kill his father. He doesn’t heed old knowledge or a Jedi Council. He follows his own instincts that tell him that pacifism is the true way of the Jedi (there’s a reason why the Jedi are extinct—war mongering has never been a good idea and they paid the price). He knew when to let go and that was his true wise moment, the moment of his victory, when he listened to the Force instead of the voices of advisors.

Rebels doesn’t work with multi-episode arcs because it works with smaller spotlights on a whole story with a distinct theme. The first season’s theme was revelation. Everything was about stepping into the light. Some characters have to learn that they wield a greater power and have the responsibility to hone it for the sake of the Rebellion they fight for. Others acknowledge that secrecy should be replaced by honesty (and in comes Ahsoka Tano). Even the dark side has its revelations, like the Inquisitors who step out of hiding, servants of Darth Vader who want to capture or destroy all Force wielders.

At first I thought the second season was about finding allies, and partly, I’m right. The rebels struggle to find a secret base and in almost every episode there are new ways, new allies, new support as well as some backlashes. But there is one other theme in season two and I call it “when not to fight”. This theme recurs so often, I couldn’t even believe that it slipped past my grasp for so long. (Thanks to Sal, Johnamarie and Johna’s mum for pointing it out to me in their great podcast!) The show is so much about fighting that I didn’t really get that it’s also about not fighting, but on another level. And there we go, deeper into the mysticisms of the Force than The Force Awakens showed us.

Star Wars Rebels, "The Protector of Concord Dawn" Sabine Wren
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

For example, (and now it gets spoiler heavy, so be warned) there’s the episode “The Protector of Concord Dawn”, where Hera tried to accomplish a mission peacefully, was shot down and nearly killed, and Sabine wanted revenge and dueled with the enemy leader Fenn Rau. She disarmed him not because it’s a kid’s show, but because she recognized that this is what Hera wanted and what Kanan taught her. “You sound more like a Jedi than like a Mandalorian,” Hera tells Sabine on her sickbed, and Sabine glances at Kanan and says, “I guess I’ve just been raised right.”

Raising is another big theme. Not only do fans refer to Kanan and Hera as “Space-Dad” and “Space-Mum”, but the Ghost crew refers to itself as a family. Kanan and Hera both come from broken families—dysfunctional families you see so often depicted in Star Wars. Hera’s strict and distant father never really seemed to understand her and her needs, and her mother died when she was young. Kanan grew up without parents as a Jedi Padawan, lost his maternal figure (Depa Billaba) when he was about 14/15 years of age due to Order 66 and struggled a lot with survivor’s guilt, maybe even alcoholism and certainly a big amount of PTSD. (Yeah, in a kid’s show.) Together the two of them managed to raise two “adoptive” children, a traumatized veteran and a murderous droid-pet. Somehow, they manage to be the only whole and functional family within the wide Star Wars galaxy. Although this family consists of broken people, they raise and change each other.

Back to the “not fighting” theme, there are several episodes that show that the rebels know when not to fight. They fight a good deal. Lots of ships blow up and lots of troopers are shot—this isn’t at all a pacifistic show. But at the right moments, it shows when not to fight. Ketsu decides it’s not the right way to kill Sabine. Sabine decides it’s not the right way to kill Fenn Rau. Zeb decides that he can come to terms with his nemesis, the Imperial Agent Kallus, and it’s shown very clearly that every conflict has two sides and every side has its human facets. Star Wars has always been about black and white with a little bit of grey in between, but Rebels leans heavily on that grey.

(Photo: Lucasfilm)

I want to talk now about the episode “Shroud of Darkness”, where Kanan is knighted. I was really touched by that not only because I never saw a knighting in Star Wars (and it was one of the finest Star Wars moments I can recall), but the vision of a Jedi Temple Guard tells Kanan that if he keeps on fighting, the Rebellion will fail, he will die (and Kanan doesn’t seem to care about these two foreshadowing statements), and that his apprentice will fall to the dark side. Only as the Sentinel says this latter part that Kanan draws his lightsaber and tells his opponent that he will not let that happen. They fight, and it needs three temple guards to keep Kanan’s protective paternal instincts at bay. On his knees with three lightsabers to his throat, he gives up. He tells the Sentinel that he trained Ezra the best he could, that he has to be willing to trust the boy, and that he has to let go and to stop fighting. And by doing so, he overcomes his personal trial and is knighted.

What I’m trying to say with that is Star Wars Rebels, other than the Star Wars movies, isn’t only a coming-of-age-story of a young orphan. It’s also about the struggle of being a good parent, despite all the self-doubts and lack of capabilities. What touches me very much is that it acknowledges parents as characters in fiction and that it is about a parent’s struggle to let go and to trust. And this, I think, is one of the most important lessons I ever saw in pop culture.

In the season finale, the theme of letting go and defending instead of attacking even culminates when Darth Maul tries to take Ezra as his apprentice. He sees Kanan as a rival, slices through his eyes with a lightsaber, and blinds Kanan.

Ever heard of blind trust?

After being blinded, Kanan puts on a mask, the same mask the Sentinel wore when he knighted Kanan. He defeats Maul within 6 seconds just by defending himself, and while Ezra is almost seduced by a Sith holocron, Kanan gets to him, led by loyal murder-droid Chopper, and helps him to do the right thing. And even as Darth Vader enters the scene and tries to pull Ezra and the Sith holocron over to him, Kanan grasps Ezra and says, “I got you.” This show is about support , unconditional love, and “blind” trust despite the doubts, and for me, it delves so much deeper than, say, the prequels and the adolescence and coming of age of Anakin Skywalker.

And it even acknowledges that parents want to have stories about parents who go on space adventures! It is as if this show was made for me! One of its quintessence moments is “You think you can lay out your kids’ future? You cannot. But you prepared them, and they will decide which way to take, and you can be at ease with that. Rise, for you are now what I once was: A Knight of the Jedi Order.”

And now, back to the depths of Star Wars‘ mysticism, only for a short last note. Back to black, white and grey. Back to Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka, who left the Jedi Order, didn’t cease to be a good person, a caring person and someone who fought for the right thing just because she gave up living in the exact structure that propagated to stand for those things. She doesn’t need to rely on a Council, on the Jedi or her master to know which way to take. When she says, “I am no Jedi,” she has her true Éowyn moment and reveals us that the Force is just what it is called: A force of nature. Something that drives beings to be what lies inside of them.

With the Lasats’ Ashla, the Inquisitors and Ahsoka, we explore older, different and ambivalent sides of the Force, and the show unfolds to angles I always wanted to see in Star Wars.


Make sure to follow Judith on Twitter and share in friendly Star Wars Rebels discussion!

(Photos: Lucasfilm)

20 comments on “‘Star Wars Rebels’ From a Geek Parent’s Point of View

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  3. Storm Windoo

    Well said, Judith!
    Rebels very much brought us, the audience, back to the Han Solo-level of the Star Wars universe. Or street-level, so to say. It presents truely lovable and down to earth characters with every day struggles and realistic weaknesses. This certainly sets it appart from Clone Wars and the prequels. I felt the same again wih Han Solo, Leia and with Rey in FA, despite the otherwise “heroic plot”.
    And because of that – the possibily to look into the lifes of “ordinary people” in Star Wars – I’m very much looking forward to Rogue One. Up to now it seems to give us the most detailed look into street-level life of the Episode IV era we ever had. And by that the spin-offs might do more for the Star Wars universe than any movie ever has so far.

  4. Pingback: J C Vogt

  5. Our whole family have been thourougly enjoying this season. There are not a lot of shows where the whole family can enjoy it on their own level. But all of us (aged 4 – late 40s) were on pins and needles in the last episode, and all gasped at the very last shot of Ezra! We can’t wait for more!

    – Anette,

    • We are watching the dubbed version with the kids as it airs on German television at the moment. The kids know the first season episodes almost by heart, as they keep re-watching the bluray, but the second season is so new to them and so exciting and they keep bouncing up and down and ask a hundred questions, and I LOVE how much they love that show. ;)

  6. I still hope that Kanan will regain his sight after learning to trust in the Force more. I believe that Kanan getting blinded and Ezra appearing to embrace the Dark Side of the Force are connected. Both have to journey through darkness to get to the light. For Kanan, it will be regaining his sight somehow (Force healing, cornea surgery to cybernetic eyes – Sabine would make sure the irises match Kanan’s original eye color), and for Ezra, it would be his rejection of the Dark Side and destroying the Sith Holocron in a way that will trick Darth Vader into thinking that Maul destroyed it before the Emperor could get his hands on it. Ezra would just need to escape and would not have to do anything to Maul as Darth Vader would eliminate him.

    • I don’t want to see your hopes shattered, you know …. (*whispers*: But I think he’ll stay blind.)

      • THAT would be an interesting move on Disney’s part if he stays blind. They can’t even kill off Darth Maul…so why would they keep him blind? But I’d be all for it, I think the show would get even more interesting.

        • I have read comments from other fans on YouTube and other websites who hate the fact that Kanan was blinded. There are even those who are saying the creators of Star Wars Rebels are copying the “Rahm Kota” story line. Disney has a record of having the heroes go though trials (Kanan being blind for a time and Ezra falling to the Dark Side of the Force) before coming to their happy ending (Kanan gets his sight back – Force healing, cornea surgery or cybernetic eyes – Sabine would make sure the irises matched Kanan’s original eye color to Ezra coming back into the Light Side of the Force) for children. There are many who like the happy endings for stories. It was gives people hope in the crazy world that we live in.

          • Oh they are definitely most likely playing that storyline because… Well… Because they’re Disney. And sometimes I like that. But for SWR I think it would be more interesting if he doesn’t get his sight back. You could teach children that yes, bad things happen sometimes but that doesn’t mean the world has ended and you can figure out how to change your attitude to make the best of the situation. That, to me, would be a lot stronger in this situation

            • It is probably what they are going to have Kanan go through. But still, I am hoping for Kanan to eventually get his sight back (happy ending).

              • I watched several interviews (Collider Jedi Council on YouTube f.e.) and listened to several podcasts with Freddie Prinze jr. and he knew already in season 1 that Kanan would be blinded. He said he will struggle a lot in season 3 but it will eventually take him to a point where he will have a stronger connection to the Force. I noticed that on YouTube, people are hating the blind!Kanan-thing, whereas the tumblr and AO3-folks are loving it. ;)) I think it’s a different way to show the high stakes: Of course you can kill off characters to show “Hey, everything can happen!” but how much more fun is it to let a character go through hell instead?
                Rahm Kota is inspired by the Japanese movie and TV series “Zatoichi”. The Kanan-twist draws from the same “blind swordsman” trope, without copying Rahm Kota, I think.
                You know, many people tend to think of Rebels and Star Wars in general as “being a Disney thing now”. I don’t think that’s true. The stories and the storytellers are Lucasfilm people, and Disney makes sure they don’t show the ragged bloody clothing of spider-eaten Lt. Dicer for example – but the ways the stories are told are not “disneyfied”. “Rebels” is a very mature story behind a kids-friendly facade.

                • The question remains is will Kanan be permanently blinded or regain his sight depends on how many Star Wars Rebels fans want that story line to go.

      • The problem with Kanan remaining blind is that many will say they are copying the Rahm Kota story line because they are running out of ideas. By having Kanan regain his sight, it will put a stop to it.

        • So they should cut off the umpteenth limp instead? There was one blind Jedi before, yeah. So. There have been blind swordsman, earth benders or fighters before in TV and movie history. It’s still an awesome trope and I prefer it to see the umpteenth limp cut. ;)

          • correction (can’t find how to edit): … I prefer that to seeing the umpteenth limp cut … Sorry. That changed the sense of the sentence. I’m not a native speaker … ;)

          • They have. It is the remaining blind part of the story is up to change.

        • I don’t think that’s a problem. Lucasfilm seems keen to decanonize “The Force Unleashed” completely, though, by cherrypicking TFU’s essential plot points (not whole stories) and adapting it elsewhere, reducing TFU step by step into an irrelevant piece of Legends with so many conflicts with New Canon.

          Besides, Rahm and Kanan only had some superficial similarities, but SO MANY differences.

          Rahm went alone and became an alcoholic. Kanan was surrounded by family. Rahm recovered as he took “the apprentice” under his tutelage. Kanan already had a Padawan. Rahm cut himself off from the Force when he got blinded. Kanan attached himself fully to the Force when he got blinded.

          If people can’t see the differences in the storyline… nothing will ever satisfy them. I’d say, let them wallow in their blindness, and move on with the New Canon.

          One cannot make everyone happy, and one shouldn’t anyways.

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