WARNING: This post contains spoilers for “Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion.”
Daddy issues were always at the center of the Star Wars universe, but you don’t have to be Force-sensitive to feel the presence of a new father figure overseeing the franchise in its latest entry. “Star Wars Rebels” has a lot to prove as Disney’s first foray into the saga, and perhaps more notably, as the first property set in a galaxy far, far away produced independently of George Lucas.
That’s not to say that the series lacks any traces of his vision; after all, creators Simon Kinberg, Greg Weisman and Dave Filoni intend for the show to recall the spirit of “Episode IV: A New Hope,” which the series predates by five years in terms of internal chronology.
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The parallels are apparent right from the start, where we’re introduced to Ezra Bridger, a teenage “streetrat” (the show’s words, not mine) who lives on the planet of Lothal by stealing from others and only looking out for himself. His world is shaken up when he has an encounter with a group of criminals, led by a myserious figure named Kanan Jarrus. Joining the crew of the Ghost, Ezra is thrust into the middle of a struggle to resist the Galactic Empire.
Aside from story elements that bear more than a passing resemblance to A New Hope, Rebels borrows heavily from other sources, most obviously Disney’s own Aladdin and Fox’s shortlived sci-fi TV series Firefly. But it deftly meshes those influences together to distance itself from the grimness of the “Clone Wars” TV show and replicate the buoyant feel of the original trilogy. The 44-minute opener, “Spark of Rebellion,” zips along at a fast pace while still finding time to introduce us to Ezra and his newfound family.
Most of the crew isn’t fully sketched out yet; they’re only established in terms of their relationships with Ezra. There’s Hera, the Twi-lek pilot who acts as the rebels’ mother figure; Sabine, an explosives expert who ignites something in Ezra; and Chopper, a droid that doesn’t look like R2D2 but shares his manners. The best addition is Zeb, the crew’s wisecracking muscle. Based off of legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s early designs for Chewbacca, he has a heft and energy that make him feel like a character who’s spent some years in the Star Wars universe before we meet him.
If there’s one general criticism with Disney’s Star Wars debut, it’s that the traditional Star Wars tropes are a tractor beam that keeps “Rebels” from reaching the lightspeed that the original trilogy achieved. Filoni and company have set a noble goal of imitating the beloved first three films, but by sticking too close to them they limit their creation to a small corner of the universe that’s already been explored and mapped out a dozen times.
The most egregious manifestation of this problem is the character arc of Kanan. He starts out as a mysterious smuggler with ambiguous morals, and could be an intriguing father type for Ezra. But when it’s revealed that he’s a Jedi near the end of the episode, his midichlorian count saps him of any complexity.
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Besides the fact that Jedi continue to pop up even though most of them should have been Order Sixty-Sixed, we’ve already spent seven films, two TV shows and a plethora of other stories stripmining this once revered order of all its mysticism and glory. It’s time to put away the hokey religions and ancient weapons for a moment. I don’t care who shoots first, as long as they’re not wielding a lightsaber.
That suggestion doesn’t stop at characters either. The setting of Lothal feels a bit too derivative of Tatooine, and despite the fact that we’re shown a few tantalizing glimpses of the spice mines of Kessel, the action remains firmly placed on a generic landing platform.
Still, the look of the series is solid, although it’s not quite up to par of “Clone Wars.” I particularly liked the look of the explosions, and the character movement is OK if a bit jerky. The biggest misfire is the appearance of the Wookies, whose physical properties don’t translate well to animation. To quote Princess Leia and call them a “walking carpet” would be a compliment.
“Spark of Rebellion” does a lot to silence the uproar over Disney’s acquisition. It’s clear that the series has learned a lot from its prequel predecessor, yet is still seeking to forge its own path. I just hope it takes us to someplace new. It’s starting to feel like the Star Wars from a long time ago; let’s hope it takes us somewhere far, far away from where we’ve already been before.