Star Wars Rebels – Season One

Rebels is a good show, but I hope it doesn’t set the tone for future Star Wars content.

I am ever so slowly coming to terms with the fact that the old Star Wars Expanded Universe is dead, the slate wiped clean of the galaxy’s checkered 25,000 year history. Rebels is among the first of a hopefully long stream of new content, designed to rebuild the Star Wars universe into a coherent and unified whole.

As an animated show targeted at a young audience, Rebels isn’t a bad show. Set in the early Empire era, it depicts the adventures of a ragtag bunch of freedom fighters, led by one Kanan, a Jedi survivor of Order 66, as they thwart Imperial ambitions on the world of Lothal. The protagonist of the show is the rather prosaically-named Ezra Bridger, a young scavenger who joins the crew and discovers that he has Force sensitivity. Like many shows aimed at younger audiences, Ezra seems to fulfill the role of a kind of ‘moral compass’ that kids can aspire toward – his bildungsroman journey to Jedi-hood is the underlying thread that underpins the entire first season.

As a piece of Star Wars content, the first season of Rebels is a deliberate return to the more intimate feel of the OT. It centers on one Rebel cell resisting the Imperial presence on one Outer Rim world, and there is barely a hint of a larger galaxy-spanning Rebel Alliance. As mentioned, the series also features Ezra’s training under Kanan, which echoes Luke’s own training in the OT, complete with a Dagobah-cave analogue scene. Many have seized upon this particular attribute of the show – its attempt to recapture the feel of the Original Trilogy – and proclaimed the show a step in the right direction for the franchise. I’m less confident, however.

For me, the appeal of Star Wars has always been its multi-platform, transmedia nature. The Star Wars galaxy was, until very recently, a rich, mostly coherent, many-layered creature. Sure, it had its weird parts and inconsistencies, but those were minor in the larger face of the complexity of the universe – a kind of variegated messiness and creative chaos that served to simulate the sheer complexity of a giant galaxy. Now that Star Wars has been pared down to its essential properties, it has, for the moment, lost much of that rich texture.

It’s not a bad thing for Rebels to be a YA show that echoes the OT. But it does so almost ritualistically. In the course of the first season, our crew encounter such old OT favorites as Threepio, Artoo and Lando, even when the odds that such chance encounters could take place are remote at best. Fanservice should not win out over verisimilitude. The Imperials in the show are almost always presented as fist-shaking and ineffectual cartoon villains. Stormtroopers always miss the heroes. These tropes, while hallmarks of the OT, are not tropes that Star Wars should uncritically incorporate as part of its texture in future iterations. I guess what I’m really saying, at this point, is that Rebels, while a good show, hasn’t managed to acquire the verisimilitude that had characterized the vast tangled web of Star Wars properties pre-Disney acquisition. It’s too simple, too small, and too fanservice-laden. Maybe the latter seasons will up the ante and increase the complexity of the galaxy. But I think the bulk of the universe will need to be filled in by all the traditional media – books, graphic novels, and roleplaying resource books. We will see how the Star Wars  universe turns when The Force Awakens  and the Aftermath books come out.

Specific things I liked about the series: 

– Master Luminara’s macabre fate

– Intimations of the larger galactic conflict

– Sith Inquisitors have been re-incorporated into the new canon

Specific things I disliked about the series:

– Imperial buffoonery contrasted against the near-superhuman feats expected of Stormtroopers-in-training, as depicted in “Breaking Ranks”

– Fanservice appearances by old characters

– General dumbing down of the lore (e.g. lightsaber crystals are now only one type of crystal)

Unanswered Questions

– How does Empire Day work, exactly? Do all worlds have a specific date, or is it galaxy-wide?

I give this show: 3 out of 5 meiloorun fruits

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