Watched the first two episodes bound together as an hour-long “premiere” last night although several people had already seen it through other sources before its official debut.
No matter what, everyone is going to compare “Rebels” to The Clone Wars. There’s just no getting around that. Of course, TCW had several years on the air and it was unceremoniously canceled while there was still plenty of creative gas left in its tank. “Rebels” was put together in a short period of time and just got out of the gate.
“Rebels” clearly has a different aesthetic and that’s fine to distinguish itself from its predecessor. Some of it is obviously meant to recall Eps IV-VI: stormtroopers move like guys in hard-to-move-around-in fiberglass/plastic suits instead of the smoother movements of the clone troopers, the ships move much more slowly, and there’s a lot of inspiration from Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art (one location ought to be called McQuarrietown). When the characters are shooting TIE fighters in space, the TIE fighters look flatter than ships you’d see in the PT or in Clone Wars. The explosions look like the ‘splosions seen in ANH or TESB. But I also have to wonder if some of it is also meant to save time and money in the animation. The detailing and modeling of the various characters are better than what I’ve seen on most of what my nieces watch on Disney Junior, but not as rich as what was done for Clone Wars. Ditto for the decision for show composer Kevin Kiner to basically recycle John Williams’s motifs, sometimes at sonic boom levels, instead of composing new material as he did on That Other Show.
Occasionally the callbacks to Eps IV-VI are a little too on-the-nose. The characters’ main ride has an interior that looks like the Millennium Falcon, right down to having the same lounge and chess table. Did the Empire mandate every ship have the same aesthetic and design?
It is true the stormtroopers come off as dumb clucks and I thought the decision to rescue a small number of Wookiees from the spice mines of Kessel was a little spontaneous.
Now, the show still has plenty of action and humor, and maintains just enough interest in the characters so you keep watching. The protagonist is a street kid who falls in with a tiny and apparently independent group of troublemakers, which just happens to include a surviving Jedi on the run. They do not seem to be part of the larger Rebel Alliance, though I guess eventually that could change. And it just so happens that said street kid has some abilities in the Force, which the Jedi guy tests without the kid knowing it. Oh look, here’s Obi-Wan in holographic form, which only reminds me of how much I miss That Other Show. The different characters react to the kid in different ways, with Zeb not being all of that trustworthy to the lad and Sabine being set up as a possible love interest.
They also manage to squeeze in some neat effects, like one scene in zero gravity and another scene where there’s a hole blown open into space.
Clone Wars had its quirks and bugs at the beginning: the frequent use of lines cribbed from the OT and every encounter with General Grievous ending with his running away, for example. “Rebels” already got renewed for a second season so it’ll have time to find its space legs.
But Clone Wars had greatness in its DNA. It was ambitious. Its stories were meaty; Clone Wars hired writers from some of the best t.v. dramas. Its animation was beautiful, especially after the first season. Lucas wanted half-hour cinema and animated art, and that’s what he got.
I’m not sure if that DNA exists in “Rebels.” Time will tell but to me this show consciously skews younger than Clone Wars and the level of ambition doesn’t seem to be quite the same. “Rebels” seems to aspire to be a good cartoon and on that level it might succeed.