Note: I’ve done my best to keep this as spoiler-free as I can while still actually giving you an idea of what the series is like, none of the surprises or twists are discussed. If you don’t want to know a thing about Rebels at all then just watch the damn thing, as it’s great! Otherwise you can read on for some thoughts without worrying that it’ll blow away something significant.
The announcement of Star Wars Rebels was met with mixed reactions. Some people were happy to see a new show on the way, others were frustrated that The Clone Wars had been assassinated to make room for it. Meanwhile some people just didn’t care. It’s just a show for kids to try and sell toys, it couldn’t possibly be any good, right? Well…
I will hold up my hand and admit I didn’t know what to expect from the early look at Rebels. The animation looked notably cheaper than Clone Wars and the main character was seemingly Ezra, a young teenage boy, with a slingshot no less. I was nervous this could end up being a fairly shallow show. Still, I remained optimistic and was excited to give it a go, aiming to judge it simply on what it was and not what I wanted it to be. Well I’m glad I did because the end result is phenomenal.
I’ve already typed Clone Wars more times than I want to in a review of a completely different Star Wars product, but let’s get it out of the way first: Rebels isn’t Clone Wars, at all. The behind the scenes talent has a lot of familiar faces and yes it’s obviously another Star Wars CG show, but they’re fundamentally different. At its core Rebels is about family. Not the nuclear kind but a family of mismatched multi-racial folk who don’t even always get along, but nevertheless care about each other and all live together.
The core cast consists of a mishmash of different people, I won’t spoil any details about them here but I did write up some theories and impressions of them prior to the show’s start a few months back, which you could check out if you’re extra curious. But beware I did spoil a couple early surprises there so proceed at your own risk!
Anyway, all you really need to know is that all of them are unique from one another and great fun to watch. There are no weak links here. At the same time, although the show does keep Ezra as the focus, nobody is pushed into the background. The story is about the whole team, not just one or two members of it.
Save for a duo of two-parter episodes, Rebels is a show that steadily progresses as it goes along but generally resolves one problem per episode. This isn’t Scooby-Doo, there may be a different task every episode but you can’t watch Rebels out of sequence. Characters reference earlier events, in sometimes subtle and sometimes very direct ways. By the last episode characters have grown and the status quo has changed. Events have consequences and there’s a growing sense of momentum that builds towards the incredibly tense finale.
A New Hope Will Emerge… Get It?
Rebels is a show that likes to remind you it’s got more in common with the original Star Wars trilogy than the prequels. Most of the time this means you can expect to see a lot of Stormtroopers getting shot and plenty of TIE Fighters being blown to bits. Sometimes it means cameos or musical cues and other times it’s some slightly clunky dialogue that tries a little too hard. These vocal references aren’t common, but they’re an awkward nudge that knocks you out of your immersion, it reminds you that you’re watching a manufactured television program engineered to tie-in to those successful Star Wars movies and sell lots of toys.
When Rebels is just getting on with its story its at its best. The new cast of characters are all incredibly likeable and surprisingly diverse. Ezra is there as a role model for the kids, sure, but he’s a lot more than that. He may be our eyes into the world but Rebels also ensures it spends time focusing on the other members of the cast too. Some episodes Ezra barely features at all, but when he does he’s entertaining and enjoyable to watch. I remember specifically having reservations about an early episode, when I heard it was about Ezra and Zeb, the alien “older-brother” of the family, on a little adventure. What I expected to be a cheesy episode of sibling-like bonding ended up being a genuinely funny story that left me liking both characters even more.
Rebels has a strong handle on what tone it wants to get across. Like the Star Wars movies, it can be funny at times but mostly it’s about action, engaging characters and funky looking science fantasy goodness. Only for one episode, around the middle of the season, did I feel like the tone was faltering slightly and resulting in some wonky and forced storytelling. Yet unsurprisingly that entire episode was worked entirely around a call back to the original movies. I’m left wondering why it bothered so hard, Rebels does Star Wars so well it doesn’t need these heavy handed references.
But that said, these moments of fan service are relatively rare overall and it doesn’t detract enough from the final quality of the show to really matter. They’re a little on the nose in the moment but Rebels is so enjoyable it’s easily forgivable.
The Bottom Line…
Overall Rebels is a fantastic and worthy piece of Star Wars TV. I cringe at using such a cliché but it really is “great for all-ages!” At 26 I thought the program was excellent exactly as it is. Honestly it’s almost wasted on a children’s network, where many will overlook it, as this would make a great piece of TV for anyone, especially families. If you skipped it as you assumed it was just for kids, then I implore you to give it another look. Star Wars Rebels is funny, it’s exciting and it’s incredibly enjoyable.