No one’s going to deny that the first season of Star Wars: Rebels brought the house down, even after getting off to a slow start. Showrunners Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman (who won’t be returning for Season 2) succeeded in capturing the look and feel of the original trilogy in setting up this universe while still honoring the foundations of the prequel trilogy and their own Clone Wars TV series.
But while the show’s aim was much better than a stormtrooper’s, there were still a few misfires here and there. Some of the series’ weaker elements improved in later episodes, but others still left something to be desired. With Season 2 kicking off tonight with the two-hour premiere of “The Siege of Lothal,” here are five things Rebels needs to focus on if it wants to avoid a sophomore slump.
1. Integrate established characters in a meaningful way.
The prequels and even the Clone Wars show to some extent got a bad rap for cramming their stories with familiar faces rather than brand-new roles. Rather than making the Star Wars universe feel more real and interconnected, it only made the galaxy look smaller, since we keep seeing the same people pop in and out of stories. Fans were right when they derided this as a cheap storytelling trick to cash in on nostalgia.
That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to bringing back favorites or forgotten characters. I’d be stoked to see the crew of the Ghost run into Watto while trying to steal some cargo, or happen upon a young Wedge Antilles in their dealings with the Rebel Alliance.
But you can’t just chuck these characters into the storylines, like the show did with C-3PO and R2D2 in its first episode, “Droids in Distress.” The established personalities of those characters didn’t really play into the episode’s plot or provide any enjoyable moments with the Ghost‘s crew. They could’ve been replaced with two random droids, and the plot would’ve remained the same.
I want to see more examples like I saw in “Idiot’s Array,” where the writers employed Lando Calrissian’s suave persona and duplicitous tactics to full extent. Of course it’s always great to see old friends, but I’d like their every appearance to leave a lasting memory rather than fade away immediately after like a hologram was shut off.
2. Delve into the supporting characters’ backstories.
We got plenty of detail and insight into the forces driving Kanan and Ezra this past season, as we should, since they’re the protagonists of the series. But there was a disappointing amount of attention allotted to the other supporting characters of the show.
To be fair, Filoni and crew didn’t completely ignore Zeb, Hera or Sabine. We got a glimpse into Zeb’s backstory early on when he fought Agent Kallus, who revealed that he helped wipe out Zeb’s species on his homeworld. And we also were treated to a standalone episode pairing up Sabine and Hera, letting the two play off of each other and grow.
But there wasn’t much else to chew on as the show went into hiatus. Hopefully, with more episodes this season, the creators will have more time to delve into the backstories of these characters, and Filoni and Kinberg have promised as much. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind learning a bit more about Chopper, if it makes him slightly less annoying.
But if we’re going to explore these characters’ pasts, that means we might have to…
3. Explore other worlds.
This was the most frustrating aspect of Rebels‘ first season, and it didn’t much improve by show’s end. For some reason (probably budgetary constraints), the show’s action was confined almost exclusively to Lothal, which in itself wasn’t that interesting of a planet. It bore a few too many similarities to Tatooine, and even when we did venture offworld, like to Kessel in the premiere, we only ever glimpsed the same-old drab spaceports and docking bays.
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Even in its earlier seasons, The Clone Wars took us to exotic worlds and environments and gave us a sense of a galaxy teeming with diverse forms of life and cultures. Rebels‘ decision to stick on Lothal may have functioned as a convenient story mechanic to keep the heroes and villains in close vicinity, but it didn’t make much sense and it got boring pretty quickly.
The show even has an advantage on Clone Wars because of its unique placement in the Star Wars chronology: It has the chance to return previously explored worlds that are now under the dominion of the Empire and explore how that has changed them in the years since we last visited. That opens up some tantalizing possibilities, but it also means that the writers must…
4. Illustrate the Empire’s presence throughout the galaxy and its consequences.
If Rebels is going to pull an Empire Strikes Back and start to cast some shadows over its story, this has to be high on its list of priorities. We got snippets here and there this season of a galaxy living under a totalitarian regime, most notably in the depiction of Tarkintown in the season opener, but it really didn’t sell the impression of an oppressive galactic order.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous item, and correspondingly, Clone Wars also did this better. On that show, practically every new species or world was affected by the war in some way, and it influenced how the characters and their opposing forces interacted with each other.
To its credit, “The Siege of Lothal” confronts this issue head-on and does a superb job of establishing the stakes of this new season right from the get-go. Hopefully, the following episodes will build on and expand this concept, but let’s hope that they also…
5. Embrace more than the Dark Side.
It’s all well and fine for Filoni and crew to take Rebels in a dark direction. But as the characters transition from their lighthearted beginnings to the trappings of the Dark Side, let’s hope the writers don’t forget about the many shades in between.
For the most part, Rebels was a show of extremes, with most characters staying firmly put on one side of the morality line. This is acceptable for the main cast, but there weren’t enough supporting characters who occupied that ambiguous middle ground. Lando Calrissian was an exception, as were the black market dealers Cikatro Vizago and Azmorigan.
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But I found myself missing the sleaziness of the original trilogy, the people and aliens who had deceptive looks and ulterior motives. Characters like Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and even Yoda lent the franchise an aura of mystery because we couldn’t quite figure them out at first. They also made the universe seem more alive and unpredictable, showing that characters could strike out on their own, and not everybody has to align with one of two factions, at least not right away.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Season 2 opener addresses several of these issues, although it remains to be seen whether the show will continue to tackle them in the fall. None of these problems could ever threaten to completely derail the series, but fixing them ensures that the story of Rebels takes place in a much larger, more wondrous universe.