Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Review: Back to the Basics

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Disney’s buyout of Lucasfilm was almost two full years before an episode of Star Wars Rebels even premiered. It took two years for Disney to find the direction they wanted to go in and give it to viewers. What we got had, perhaps surprisingly, a very old feel.

Part of what made the original Star Wars films so lovable was their ruggedness. The films’ run down nature contributed to the story of a big, evil Empire fighting a group of Rebels living by the skin of their teeth. Then came the prequels, which leveled the playing field between good and evil and made everything all shiny and polished (with a heavy coat of CGI).

While the first cartoon series set in the universe to come from executive producer Dave Filoni certainly worked (there are arcs within The Clone Wars that rank among the best Star Wars stories ever told), it was a part of the prequel era so maligned by fans. Rebels is a fresh start, harkening back to the good ol’ days where the droids had a little more dirt on ’em.

We followed the crew of the Ghost on their journeys in the time just before the Galactic Civil War broke out. Set 14 years after Revenge of the Sith, any remaining Jedi are in hiding and the seeds of the future Rebel Alliance are scarce. This made Rebels‘ scope a little smaller than most Star Wars fans are used to. In this premiere season, there was time made for characters to just goof off and mess with the Stormtroopers. What made this series a success was that even the filler episodes had characters worth watching.

This show is all about its team and their dynamic. This misfit band is led by Kanan, a Jedi in hiding, and Hera, pilot of the Ghost. Joining them are Zeb, a Chewbacca stand-in; Sabine, a Mandalorian graffiti artist; Chopper, the token droid; and eventually Ezra, a young orphan with a strong connection to the Force. The interplay between the characters was almost always fun throughout the season, with Ezra having particularly fruitful dynamics with most of the crew. But none more so than Kanan, the master to his padawan. This made for a strong mix of the familiar with all these new characters. Rebels always felt like Star Wars, even if we weren’t always seeing beloved characters popping up.

Actually, in some cases, character cameos weren’t the show’s strongest moments. Lando’s episode in particular felt like a sell-out to get more viewers. Of course, the double-wammy of Ahsoka and Darth Vader in the finale was a real winner, but hopefully the second season will keep cameos to a minimum and actually use familiar characters in a more effective manner.

But while the show as always fun, it was never really consistent. Episodes varied in quality pretty widely throughout the season. Some were great, but some were kind of a bore. This is a problem that will hopefully get fixed due to the events of the finale that put the Ghost in cahoots with the larger Rebel Alliance. This first season just didn’t feel big enough until the very end.

So if Rebels can maintain that momentum going into season two and keep the characters just as likable, we’ll be looking at a very successful sophomore season. Hopefully season one will be remembered as the calm before the storm. But we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of legacy this series will have. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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