Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar, Taylor Gray, David Oyelowo, Jason Isaacs, Frank Oz, Brent Spiner, Sam Witwer, Ashely Eckstein
Supervising Director: Dave Filoni
Year of Release: 2015
A new era of Star Wars is upon us. The prequels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars opened the door for a new frontier of storytelling. A door that let us see what happened before Luke, Leia, and Han saved the galaxy. Yet, in this age when so much has been inspired by the legacy of Star Wars, are fans and their progeny ready for a slightly different take on Star Wars? That is what Star Wars Rebels sets out to accomplish. Cartoons have changed. Long gone are the days of soldiers battling terrorists and transforming robots fighting for control of the galaxy. Kids want something different, something light, and fun. Adventure Time and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon prove that. Thankfully, Star Wars Rebels melds the mythos, characters, and universe of the galaxy far far away with a modern approach to what kids like and what Star Wars fans want.
We are going to highlight over half of the season in this review. If you haven’t taken it upon yourself yet, we offer you some great insight as to why you should binge watch this before season 2 gets back underway (October 14th). May the Force be with you.
Spark of the Rebellion – Episode 1
“Spark of the Rebellion” is the first episode in Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Simon Kinberg’s (X-Men: Days of Future Past) Star Wars Rebels. In many ways it is an introduction to the Star Wars universe. The first episode takes nothing at face value. Baring in mind that many people, through natural osmosis, know what the Force and Jedi are. “Spark of the Rebellion” is shown/ seen through Ezra’s (Taylor Gray) eyes. He’s an orphan who lives on what he can steal on the planet Lothal, which is now under the control of the Empire. It is there that Ezra gets involved with the crew of The Ghost. Ezra discovers them about to commit a heist when he has a strange feeling about their leader, a feeling that he has never had before. We, of course, know this to be the Force. However, to Ezra, it is something he does not understand. The leader of this small band of thieves, Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr), also sensed Ezra, because he is a Jedi.
“Spark of the Rebellion”, with its 60 minute run time, allows us a quick and thorough introduction to the characters and this moment in the Star Wars Universe. Outside of several novels and character backstories, we know very little about the time between Episodes III and IV. Here, we learn that the Empire has Imperial Agents trained to notice patterns that may lead to bigger things. We also learn that when those Agents discover remaining Jedi, they report this information to The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs). But what about our heroes? It appears as if we will learn all we need to know about the crew of The Ghost, as I mentioned before, through Ezra. We will also learn what it means to be a Padawan trained by a Jedi who may have never finished his training, an interesting twist and a different turn from what we witnessed before. As for the rest of the crew, they are characters and races you have seen before in the Star Wars Universe, save one. Zeb Orrelios (Steven Blum) is our newest species, a Lasat. Though his role of the brute with the heart of gold should make all kids love him.
Droids in Distress – Episode 2
Disney XD and Lucasfilm have wasted no time in getting the crew of the Ghost into trouble. In being wanted criminals, I have a feeling trouble will probably find them every week. In what immediately reminded me of late great TV series Firefly, Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has to take on a job with the shady Vizago (Keith Szarabajka). Why? The crew of the Ghost has to eat and he needs keep their ship flying. This is an interesting twist on the Star Wars stories we have seen before. The Jedi had everything handed to them, ships, food, supplies, and now we will see one scrounge to stay alive and keep his crew safe. Already, the character has become completely enticing and hopefully this avenue of stories will be further explored.
The job on hand is to “acquire” a few weapons for Vizago and deliver them. What happens is a great character development piece for the whole crew. The weapons were banned by the Republic and thought destroyed. They are, in fact, the very same tools used to nearly eliminate Zeb’s race, the Lasat. When Kanan and Zeb (Steven Blum) realize what they have gotten themselves into, they know they can’t let the weapons fall into anyone’s hands.
The flip side to this tale is that a certain well known protocol droid and his counterpart are working in the service of Maketh Tua (Kath Soucie), who is trying to broker a deal for the very same weapons. Kanan and his crew catch up with these three on one ship I never thought I would see on any Star Wars property. Yes, they are flying on a Star Tours shuttle, a StarSpeeder 1000 to be precise. Kudos to Disney XD and Lucasfilm for embracing their heritage and even having the original voice actor, Paul Reubens, as RX-24 again.
Before we know it, Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) has caught up with them and the fight begins. This series has really been holding back on the big baddie, The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs), despite teasing a lightsaber fight between him and Kanan in various social media posts. Nonetheless, we are given a spectacular duel between Zeb and Agent Kallus that is more than just action, but backstory on each of these two new characters.
The biggest drawback of the entire episode is that it is only 30 minutes long. “Spark of the Rebellion” was 60 minutes and really gave us some time with these characters. So yes, I am complaining that there are only two episodes and it is not enough. When Ezra (Taylor Gray) draws on the force like that and the episode ends, you cannot help but want more. Thankfully, there is still more to come.
Something to Look For:
My Favorite Ralph McQuarrie Moment: Seeing the original C-3PO and R2-D2 standing next to their movie counterparts.
Classic Star Wars Reference: Zeb saying a line that was once uttered by Jar Jar Binks.
Star Wars Figure We Cannot Wait to Own: Star Wars Rebels version of RX-24.
Fighter Flight – Episode 3
We had a bit of fun this week on Star Wars Rebels as Ezra (Taylor Gray) and Zeb (Steven Blum) get into hot water with Hera (Vanessa Marshall). After a petty squabble of who saved who’s life, Hera sends these two out to pick up some supplies. She throws in, at the last minute, that she would like a Meiloorun. A quick look is all that we need to know that it will be the one thing these two will not be able to find.
While searching for the exotic fruit, Ezra runs into an old friend of his parents, Morad Sumar (Liam O’Brien). He is a farmer on Lothal, and not ready to give in to the Empire. Believe it or not, Zeb and Ezra find Meilooruns. However, every last one has already been purchased by the Empire. Zeb is against going after them, but Ezra is quick to point out, “We’ve stolen from the Empire before”.
Before we know it, our two Rebels are off and running for their lives from Stormtroopers and a TIE Fighter. Where this particular episode of Star Wars Rebels excels is in its pairing of Zeb and Ezra. From “Spark of the Rebellion”, we could see that these two were going to be good friends. It is the classic twist that they can’t stand one another and have to go through something to become actual friends. Zeb is quick to taunt Ezra with using the Force to get the Meilooruns, prompting Ezra to try. This is another great twist on the Star Wars mythos and something we haven’t seen before. Luke Skywalker, as shown in the films, only used the Force to save himself, while Anakin used to it show off. In this instance, Ezra doesn’t even know his limits or capabilities yet and that journey is one we are all taking with him. So when Ezra has that funny feeling to turn or press the button he cannot reach, he has to believe in himself. In turn, we have to believe in him, too.
Our Rebels run into Morad Sumar again, only this time they have to save him from the Empire. Can these two work together to do the right thing? What happens next is that part of the story where adversaries learn what we already know. That these characters are great together.
Again, this is a fun episode where we see these two Rebels learn to like each other. Steven Blum is perfect as Zeb. A real character is starting to shine through those brilliant neon green eyes and that is all because of Blum. My only complaint is that we have spent a lot of time now with both Zeb and Ezra. The mystery of Kanan’s (Freddie Prinze Jr.) survival from Order 66 is still a big question mark for the series. This story will be told in a new Marvel Comic arriving in 2015, but will they address it in the series? I know we are only four episodes in, but we need to learn more about Kanan. As it always is with Star Wars, waiting is the hardest part. Thankfully, we are all Jedi Masters of it, now.
Something to Look For:
My Favorite Ralph McQuarrie Moment: The entire landscape of Lothal.
Classic Star Wars Reference: Your pick: The game of Dejarik being played or “this isn’t the TIE you’re looking for”.
Star Wars Vehicle We Cannot Wait to Own: Star Wars Rebels Version of the Imperial Troop Transport.
Rise of the Old Masters – Episode 4
A major issue with Star Wars Rebels is its 30 minute run time. There is so much character development that needs to happen, that at times it seems as though things get left undone. This week, in “Rise of the Old Masters”, this happened again, yet was intermixed with our characters finally meeting the The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs).
As foretold with last week’s episode, Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has begun Ezra’s (Taylor Gray) Jedi training. We witness two very similar training techniques in that Ezra must stand on one hand, upside down, and then later close his eyes and ward off an attack. Where Luke
Skywalker eventually understood these training exercises, Ezra does not. Plus,as the entire episode highlights, Kanan is not a very good teacher, which opens the door to wondering how far he made it in his own training. Kanan is just imitating what he was told to do, but the lessons are not learning experiences.
The crew of The Ghost learns that that a renowned Jedi Master, Luminara, is still alive and being transferred to a new holding facility controlled by the Empire. Kanan knows that, if rescued, she
will make a better teacher for Ezra than he could ever hope to be. There mission is simple, rescue the Jedi.
“Rise of the Old Masters” allows us great insight into Kanan’s possible failings as a teacher and the lack of faith he has in himself. Again, this takes us on different journey than what has come before. With the reiteration of “Do or do not. There is no try”, the story plays out that Kanan is the one that has to ‘DO” something (train Ezra). Where things fall short, character wise, is Ezra’s
disappointment in Kanan’s wanting a different teacher for him. All these emotions seem very rushed and make the episode’s final moments unrewarding.
The story excels is in the introduction of The Inquisitor. With numerous villains scattered throughout the Star Wars mythos, fans have to wonder who could be more vile than Darth Maul or Darth Vader. The Inquisitor comes off as a cold, calculating swordsmen who is more a master of the Force than Kanan. This establishes that yes, our heroes may be in over their heads when they tangle with him. In having such a villain, we now know that there is more at stake and that Kanan has to succeed in training Ezra. If he fails, all hope is lost.
Not my favorite episode thus far, but this week was still packed with lot to talk about and consider. Who is this Gall Trayvis (Brent Spiner)? Was his message deliberately planted to lure our Rebels out of hiding? Does he work for the Empire? What is the recruitment criteria for the Stormtroopers? When will we see more of Hera (Vanessa Marshall) and Kanan’s relationship?
Empire Day – Episode 7
Ezra (Taylor Gray) is continuing with his Jedi training. However, today he is distracted, for today is “Empire Day”. As one can easily guess, in this episode of Star Wars Rebels, “Empire Day” is the day celebrated by the Galactic Empire as the day Palpatine ended The Clone Wars and established the Empire. Fear not, as the crew of the Ghost is going to participate, too, in their own special way.
“Empire Day” flushes a lot of backstory out into the open for Star Wars Rebels and its characters. The Empire is looking for a Rodian named Tseebo (Peter MacNicol), whom Ezra knows. It turns out that Tseebo worked the resistance on Lothal, where Ezra’s parents ran an underground radio before they were taken away. “Empire Day” also marks that anniversary and Ezra’s birthday. Reason enough for anyone to be distracted.
When the Rebels kick their plan into action, they are cut off from their escape route. Ezra leads the crew of the Ghost to his parents’ old home. There, he discovers Tseebo hiding, yet he is different somehow. Tseebo has become a slave of the Empire and has been fitted with cybernetic headgear. Sabine (Tiya Sircar) is able to crack the encryption and the Rebels learn all that Tseebo has buried in his subconscious. It turns out that the Empire has a five year plan for Lothal and the entire outer rim territories. In discovering this, Kanan knows he has to get Tseebo off world and spread the word.
The inevitable chase ensues and it is the perfect blend of characters, story and action. To this point, my biggest complaint about Star Wars Rebels is the amount of time each episode is given. A mere 30 minutes is not enough. The universe in which the characters are set in is extremely rich and layered. We are given mere snippets of information about each one. Are you aware that Kanan and Hera (Vanessa Marshall) have a romantic relationship? If you are, you have either read “A New Dawn” by Jackson Miller or watched every episode more than twice. It really hasn’t been dealt with. “Empire Day” flushes out some key elements for Ezra which is the first time since “Droids in Distress” that we have been given a lot of backstory on one character. This episode may have been only 30 minutes, but when “to be continued” appeared on the screen, I know what happens next will be worth it.
Another refreshing turn of events was just how the entire cast showed up for this story. The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) and Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) were both present and in full force. It added a sense of dread that for the first time on the series, the crew of the Ghost may have finally gotten in over their heads.
Something to Look For:
Classic Star Wars Reference: Use of John Williams’ “Imperial March”, only here it is cheery, in “Empire Day’s” events.
Star Wars Figure We Cannot Wait to Own: Hera and Sabine, the only two cast members not released yet.
Did You Catch: The Clone Helmet on the bar and the Republic Gunship Bar facade outside of the bar?
Gathering Forces – Episode 8
We pick up, literally, where we left off in “Empire Day”. The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs) and a squadron of TIE Fighters are in pursuit of the Ghost. Why? Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his band of Rebels are trying to get Tseebo (Peter MacNicol) away from Lothal. Tseebo has Imperial secret plans filed away in his memory and that information could help tip the scales for the Rebellion.
As the second act of this two part story begins, we are inundated with an incredible mix of John Williams’ themes and Kevin Kiner’s music. It keeps the pace going and we know that the Rebels of the Ghost are in serious trouble. The Inquisitor, who has never been more threatening or better than in this episode, launches a homing beacon and nails the Ghost’s Phantom. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as Kanan knows that the Inquisitor can now track both him and Ezra (Taylor Gray) via the Force. Kanan has to get Tseebo to safety and face the Inquisitor at Fort Anaxes, the old Clone Base that is now inhabited by Fyrnocks (from “Out of Darkness”).
Not since the premiere have we had this much time with the crew of the Ghost. Episodes like this, multiple story arcs and two-parters, were standard fare with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It allowed us the breathing room to know these characters, both good and evil, and give us some great action, too. “Empire Day” and “Gathering Force” are more of what this fan wants from the series.
When the Rebels deliver Tseebo to Fulcrum (a character that we have only heard mentioned, but now we know he flies a CR90 Corvette), we are left with wanting to know who Fulcrum is even more. Is it Bail Organa? Perhaps it is Senator-in-exile Gall Trayvis? The long shot, but favorite, is that Fulcrum is Ahsoka Tano. Fulcrum isn’t important, yet. What is, for the characters and the development of Ezra’s character, is that Tseebo shares with Hera (Vanessa Marshall) what has happened to the Bridgers, Ezra’s parents.
Where “Gathering Forces” really propels Star Wars Rebels forward is in its confrontation between the Inquisitor, Kanan and Ezra. Kanan’s teaching abilities are incredibly rough. He knows that Ezra only learns when he needs to survive, as mentioned in “Empire Day”. Now to face the Inquisitor, Ezra must let go of his fear and connect with the Fyrnocks. It is only after that moment that Ezra becomes one with the Force.
The confrontation does not go as expected. Kanan and Ezra are able to thwart off of the Stormtroopers, but the Inquisitor is more than a match for this Jedi with little training. Is it just me, or is Jason Issacs the bad guy you love to hate? His Inquisitor fights Kanan, one-handed, disarms the Jedi of his blaster, and then knocks him out. Ezra, using the force, holds off the Inquisitor for all of about a second. What happens next is a place the original trilogy only treaded on lightly. After some serious taunting from the Inquisitor, Ezra, using his anger and fear, calls upon the dark side of the Force to stop his enmy. This brings Kanan to and he witnesses his Padawan fall prey to the dark side. Steward Lee and Dave Filoni bring this moment to a head in the best possible way, fully realizing it for all the kiddies at home.
After Kana and Ezra escape, we learn that Ezra feels cold. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) mentions this before he enters the cave on Dagobah, but never again. Now he embraced the dark side, on multiple occasions, but to fully know it and experience what that was like, well, we get all that from Ezra. Just when I thought I couldn’t learn anything else about this 37 year old property, we are given this! By far, “Gathering Forces” and “Empire Day”, are the best episodes this season.
Path of the Jedi – Episode 9
Frank Oz returned to his iconic role of Yoda this week on Star Wars Rebels. It would be unfair to call this stunt casting as the series has already welcomed back the original voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones. In fact, both actors returning to their roles were completely organic. The surprise for this Star Wars fan was that director Dave Filoni approached Oz for the role instead of using Tom Kane, the voice of Yoda on The Clone Wars. Nonetheless Yoda returned, albeit as a disembodied voice.
Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is concerned about Ezra (Taylor Gray) last encounter with the Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs). Ezra, as you will recall, called upon the dark side of the force to protect his master. This revealed to Kanan that Ezra’s powers are developing faster than he can train him. With no one else to help guide his Padawan’s training, Kanan turns to the Jedi Holocron for answers.
Ezra is ready for the test to determine whether or not be will be a Jedi. In many ways this is like Luke Skywalker’s test on Dagobah, which he failed. Ezra will walk into a recently discovered Jedi Temple to find the answer. What he is exactly looking for neither he nor Kanan knows. He’ll just know it when he sees it. The test reveals all of Ezra’s fears, hates, hopes, and dreams. When he realizes that if he loses Kanan, nothing really happens to him, he finds the inner strength to go on journey alone. This is when Yoda appears to guide him the rest of the way and bestows upon an essential gift in being a Jedi.
The flip side to the story is that this is just as much Kanan’s test as it is Ezra’s. We still don’t know how far Kanan got in his training, outside of this test to b sure. He has to be honest with himself and accept the role of “master” to go and train Ezra. As he sits among the Jedi who failed, he too finds the strength to go his journey.
Star Wars Rebels is not the story of one Jedi or one Padawan. It is the journey of these two characters fighting against every odd possible to be a light in the darkness. Since Kanan started to train Ezra, something changed. This change allowed Master Yoda to find him and guide him through the Force. Neither one of these characters will be alone now as they both find solace in the Force.
One thing haunts me about Ezra’s vision in cave. The Inquisitor kept taking everyone who was now precious to him. Is this a foreshadowing, like look seeing his own face under Vader’s helmet, of things to come? Will Ezra remember his teachings when he is alone against the Inquisitor again? This might seem deep for a kid’s cartoon on Disney XD, yet with out great stories and lessons such as these, they might as well run 30-minute toy commercials. Such a thing, Star Wars Rebels is not.
Idiot’s Array – Episode 10
After Zeb (Steve Blum) loses Chopper in a game of Sabacc, Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is forced to cut a deal with a smuggler named Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to get him back.
This week’s episode of Star Wars Rebels, titled “Idiots Array”, is a down shift from Ezra (Taylor Gray) and Kanan’s struggles with the Force. In actuality, this might be the most lighthearted episode of the series, thus far. Not a bad way to spend thirty minutes in the Star Wars universe, but a departure nonetheless.
Lando Calrissian is a shrewd smuggler that is able to manipulate the crew of the Ghost with ease. Hera (Vanessa Marshall) is immune to Lando’s smooth talking, but to get Chopper back, she plays along. Lando is fair in his dealings with our heroes and promises to pay them and return Chopper if they help him out. Lando needs some specialized mining equipment brought in and the Imperial blockade is keeping him from it.
The crew of the Ghost delivers Lando to Azmorigan (voiced by Big Trouble in Little China’s James Hong). There, the crew of the Ghost learns to what lengths Lando is willing to go to see his ends met. Hera is traded for the mining equipment and Kanan is helpless to stop the transaction.
The fun part of the episode was witnessing Billy Dee Williams slip right back into his role of Lando Calrissian. He hasn’t voiced the character in 13 years (in a video game) and it has been 32 years since Return of the Jedi, but Billy Dee and Lando are clearly one and the same. Outside of that, it is almost frustrating to see our heroes so easily manipulated. In many ways, it made them look like a bunch bungling kids. In fact, this episode reminded me a lot of Scooby-Doo more than Star Wars. We even had a Fred present, Freddie Prinze Jr., who played Fred in the Scooby- Do live action movies.
Please don’t get me wrong. I like a bit of humor mixed in with my Star Wars. “Bombad Jedi” was one of my favorite episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with my all time least favorite character. This was a great introduction to Lando Calrissian at this point in the Star Wars saga.
Next time, however, I just want to see our new heroes be able to outsmart their nemesis, instead of looking like a bunch of fools. This didn’t feel like the same team who saved the Wookies in “Spark of the rebellion” or destroyed a prototype TIE fighter in “Empire Day”. More or less, this episode seemed like it was made by kids who brought out in old toy and used it with some of their new ones to tell a story.
I don’t want to spoiler the first season too much. The next four episodes are utterly spectral. To all the older Star Wars fans that have not taken to the new series based on the clips, previews, and shorts, Star Wars Rebels is Star Wars. I have been a fan since that Star Destroyer first filled the screen back in 1977. Again, Dave Filoni has come in and set things right in what we know and love about Star Wars. There is one moment in particular where Ezra asks “What’s the Force?”. Kanan’s answer is one that we can all recite word for word. It is not a clunky scientific answer. It is one that instills hope, faith, and the knowledge that we are all a part of something bigger. That moment mattered all the more to this fan when both Ezra and Kanan knew that they couldn’t hide in the shadows any longer. That they both had to embrace their destiny.
Yes, this is Star Wars.
- Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (Exclusive to Blu-ray)
- Season One shorts: “The Machine in the Ghost,” “Art Attack,” “Entanglement,” “Property of Ezra Bridger”
- All DVD Bonus (see below)
- Rebels Recon: 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes
- Star Wars Rebels – The Ultimate Guide
- Star Wars Rebels Season 2 – A Look Ahead
The critically-acclaimed animated series “Star Wars Rebels” is set to debut new episodes starting WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14 (9:30 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD.