Star Wars: The Clone Wars wrapped up its seventh season this spring. After that show concluded, I decided to check out the next animated show that The Clone Wars director Dave Filoni created, Star Wars Rebels. It is a show that premiered in 2014 and aired on Disney XD. While it was not as great as The Clone Wars, it was still a good show with some fantastic moments and was a decent addition to the Star Wars saga.
The first thing to establish is that Rebels differs from The Clone Wars for two reasons. First, the era is vastly different. The Clone Wars takes place during, well, The Clone Wars, while Rebels takes place 15 years after the founding of the Galactic Empire and four years before A New Hope. This means that while Rebels does focus on the Jedi, they are not as much of a focal point as they were in The Clone Wars. Also, Rebels is much more small scale as it focuses on the beginnings of the civil war and trying to take back the main planet, Lothal.
Also, The Clone Wars was more an anthology in a larger story. The show was divided into arcs which allowed different characters to have their own stories. Rebels is a continuous show that follows the same group of characters. With this, there are people with preferences toward both sides. While I prefer The Clone Wars, I still enjoyed Rebels.
Rebels follows a group of rebels based on the planet of Lothal, which is occupied by the Empire. The rebels, Mandalorian Sabine Wren, former Lasan captain Zeb, astromech droid Chopper, former Jedi Padawan Kanan Jarrus and pilot Hera Syndulla, find a con artist on Lothal named Ezra Bridger and discover he is force sensitive. Ezra joins the crew and is trained to be a Jedi by Kanan. Throughout the show, which is divided into four seasons, the crew fight against the Empire on Lothal and help unite various rebel cells to form what becomes the Rebel Alliance in the original trilogy.
The story of the show varies drastically at times in terms of quality. There are many episodes, especially in the first couple seasons, that feel predictable and repetitive. One would notice that many episodes in the show involve the crew disguising themselves in an Imperial facility. While it certainly isn’t bad, it gets repetitive and can drag on during throughout the first two seasons and parts of the final two seasons.
However, there are some fantastic episodes and moments that make this show entertaining overall. There are two episodes that standout in the big picture of the show, in part because it finishes off two excellent storylines from The Clone Wars. First is the season two finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Kanan, Ezra and former Jedi Ahsoka Tano head to a Sith temple to find a Sith Holocron. Darth Vader, formerly Ahsoka’s master Anakin Skywalker, heads there and confronts Ahsoka leading to a fantastic scene.
Also, “Twin Suns,” an episode in season three right before the two-part finale, is brilliant. Darth Maul tracks down his nemesis, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on Tatooine and their confrontation is breath-taking. It also ties into the original trilogy seamlessly. It wraps up the Maul-Kenobi rivalry in a satisfying manner.
The main characters introduced in the show also vary in quality. Kanan Jarrus is fantastic as he is a swash-buckling Jedi, something not seen before in Star Wars. His character progresses in a satisfying way and he is the most entertaining of the main characters.
Kanan’s padawan, Ezra Bridger, is given the main protagonist status and the show, in my opinion, wastes it. Besides the beginning of season three and the series finale, Ezra is not an interesting character. He is mostly the same throughout the entire show and his character rarely gets moments to shine. He can come across as a burden to the other characters and experiences little growth despite being the main protagonist. However, he is awesome in the two-part series finale and I wish we saw more of that Ezra presented in those two episodes.
The other members of the Ghost crew grow in a satisfying way but are not on the same level as Kanan. They are given their fair share of development and that allows the events of the later seasons to feel more impactful. For example, there are entire episodes in seasons three and four dedicated to the situation on Mandalore, making Sabine a more likable character than she was at the start the show. One aspect that helps improve the grind of the growth of the characters is Chopper. He is hilarious and provides many comedic moments throughout the show. Additionally, Rebels builds on “The Siege of Mandalore,” the final arc of The Clone Wars, by continuing Ahsoka, Captain Rex and Darth Maul’s stories.
Lastly, I want to focus on two of my favorite characters in the show, Agent Kallus and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Kallus is an Imperial commander that continuously hunts the crew throughout the first couple seasons. However, after an episode where he and Zeb are stranded on a moon, he questions the Empire’s actions and forms an interesting relationship with Zeb. It is very satisfying and that also makes Zeb a very good character. While I wish we saw more of Kallus later in the show, his role in the series finale makes his story complete.
Grand Admiral Thrawn is easily the best villain and character in the show and one of the best villains of all-time in my opinion. He was first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn book trilogy and made canon in Rebels. Thrawn is a Chiss Imperial grand admiral and is extremely intelligent and methodical. He is cool and collected in everything he does, and due to his expertise in strategy, he is a terrifying villain. He isn’t an evil maniac that just wants to have glory. He studies his enemies and tries to understand them before taking them out, making him even scarier.
The art style of Rebels is based on the original Star Wars concept art by Ralph McQuarrie. I love the look of Thrawn, Lothal and its creatures and the main characters. However, where it fails is the tone. The tone is a lot lighter and that can contradict some of the show’s darker themes. It feels in some ways like a Saturday morning cartoon, and while it works for most of the show, it can lessen the impact of the scenes, such as the two-part episode where we learn the Geonosian population was wiped out by the Empire.
The voice cast, while having some mediocre portrayals such as Taylor Gray as Ezra and Tiya Sircar as Sabine, there are some stellar castings that are not just reprisals from The Clone Wars. These include Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan, Steve Blum as Zeb and Lars Mikkelsen as Thrawn. Prinze Jr. is terrific, giving Kanan a swagger that is entertaining to watch. He complements that with genuine emotion to make his character one of the show’s standouts. Blum has an iconic voice that anyone familiar with anime English dubs are familiar with and he shines in this show. While Zeb isn’t always the most interesting character, Blum’s acting elevates the character. Mikkelsen is tremendous, adding to the cool and collected nature of Thrawn. Just from his voice, one can tell Thrawn is a genius and that is a testament to Mikkelsen’s performance.
Overall, Star Wars Rebels is a fun show with some fantastic moments. While the main cast isn’t as stellar as other Star Wars material, there are characters that viewers can get behind and enjoy watching. If anyone is looking for a fun show to watch and one that adds to the Star Wars saga, then Rebels is a show I would recommend. Rebels reminds me of The Legend of Korra, as it is a show that is attempting to follow up a masterpiece (Korra is the show that follows Avatar: The Last Airbender). While they both have their moments, they are not as good as their predecessors. However, they are both still shows I would recommend.