Star Wars Rebels premiere raises questions, lays foundation for the new universe

Star Wars Rebels scene

Review by C.J. Bunce

Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, the premiere one-hour movie for the coming animated series, aired last night on DisneyXD.  If the first hour is any indication, Star Wars Rebels will likely appeal to the entire demographic of anyone under 13 years old.  To that end, the premiere hour could be considered a success.  But as the first visual incarnation of Star Wars in the hands of Disney, is it enough for the generations of loyal Star Wars adult fans?

Star Wars Rebels is targeted at kids primarily through its focus on Ezra, a teenage thief solely defined by his own survival.  The unfortunately franchise-defining, stilted Star Wars dialogue and loud voice readings could only appeal to the younger set of “whiz-bang” aficionados.  It’s “very Disney” with its constantly fart-sound emitting R5-D4-inspired droid named Chop–Disney just can’t get away from a goofy little fringe character in any of its films.  The good part is that Ezra is a ringer for Disney’s Aladdin, and if you liked Aladdin there may be hope for this character for you.

We previewed the first novel in the New Universe under Disney here at a few weeks ago, Star Wars: A New Dawn.  It featured an interesting, well-written story and was a good introduction of two key characters in the new animated series, a Jedi named Kanan Jarrus (voiced in the series by Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and his partner Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall), a green Twi’lek woman.  The difference is the novel had none of the goofy-for-kids elements.

Star Wars Ghost crew

Star Wars Rebels defines the challenges that stories of the New Universe will face.  What are the essential elements that make something Star Wars?  More importantly, what are the minimal elements required so this is not just another science fiction story with a Star Wars label?  The first hour of the animated universe bombards us with references back to people, places, ships, uniforms, and artifacts of the first two trilogies.  Can’t something new be done and yet remain completely of the Star Wars world?  Some of the camaraderie on the rebel vessel approached that of Firefly, particularly with the gruff Jayne-like character, Zeb (voiced by Steve Blum), the couple Kana and Hera a bit like Zoe and Wash, and young bomb expert Sabine (voiced by Tiya Sircar) is a bit of a combination of the engineering skill of Kaylee and the borderline sociopath River.  Have all the good sci-fi ideas been used up?

One of the complaints about the Star Trek reboot was that the actors and creators of the Star Trek New Universe somehow hadn’t “earned” it.  An example with Star Wars Rebels of this is the use of familiar Star Wars sound effects and musical queues.  Is it enough to call something Star Wars because it’s supported by John Williams’s award-winning score?  This has two sides–all the creators of the last Indiana Jones movie would have seemed to have earned the right to use the familiar triumphant musical queues–yet it came off like a crutch, like chefs throwing bacon into their dishes on Iron Chef.  Star Wars Rebels in its first episode is more successful than that.

You can, of course, avoid the nit-picking and sit back and enjoy the show.  That will be easy for some, hard for others.  As with the reboot of Star Trek, these new creators are dabbling with some sacred ground here for genre fans of Star Wars, so it’s understandable we cannot just sit idly by.  It’s what makes it so baffling that Star Trek reboot creator J.J. Abrams will have the reins with the live action Star Wars reboot.  The business decision-makers must have seen Star Trek as a huge success to take this kind of risk.  But that is a later discussion for a movie coming years from now.

Imperial bikers Spark of Rebellion Star Wars Rebels

Parts of Star Wars Rebels are spot-on.  Zeb, with a voice like Jason Statham, is a great character to look forward to, even looking like a hairless Wookiee.  The entire Ghost crew work well together.  And the animation, particularly with the Empire, is perfectly rendered.

For now, round one of Star Wars Rebels easily surpassed our admittedly low expectations.  That’s enough to get us to come back when the series begins in full force October 13, 2014.

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