With “Rebels” is in holiday hibernation until January, I figured now is as good a time as any to gauge the first season thus far.
Overall, “Rebels” still labors in the shadow of “Clone Wars.” Had “Rebels” been the first animated program Lucasfilm produced since “Droids” and “Ewoks” from the mid ‘80s, it would’ve knocked people over with its animation, its scripts, and its detailed use of the universe introduced in the films. Had “Clone Wars” come afterwards, it would’ve made people’s heads explode. The thing with “Rebels” is, the heads already exploded and the impact of this show therefore won’t be the same.
It isn’t to say though that “Rebels” isn’t making a valiant effort to be, as I said in my initial review, a good cartoon. It seems like the show’s animators are doing the best they can with what’s clearly a smaller budget (I think the show focuses on its central cast largely to avoid coming up with a whole new cast of animation models all of the time) and some episodes have shown a little bit more ambition in terms of story, setting, and voice acting. “Empire Day” probably rates as the single best episode so far. We find out a little bit about Ezra’s past. He had to have been born just days before Luke and Leia and like the far more famous twins, was separated from his family at an early age. We can see some of the Empire’s nastiness in action, where on Empire Day the troops bust in and make sure everybody celebrates, whether they want to or not. What I particularly liked was that the episode felt like it took advantage of the full saga rather than pretend it exists in an OT-only vacuum. There was a clone trooper’s helmet on a shelf and videos of Palpatine declaring himself Emperor to celebrate Empire Day, for example. Also, throughout this episode and others, there’s a master-padawan relationship building between Kanan and Ezra. I also quite enjoyed the episode where Ezra sneaks into the stormtrooper training school and finds a kid who starts questioning the whole thing based on what’s revealed during the episode. The McQuarrie concept helmets were cool and the training is reminiscent of the clone training seen on Clone Wars. I’m pretty sure we’ll see Ezra’s old “classmate” again. There’s the introduction of a shadowy agent Fulcrum, which has viewers speculating on that individual’s identity. Kevin Kiner’s been allowed to do more original work, balancing out the re-use of John Williams’s leitmotifs. The OT callbacks have become more subdued.
Of course there are still some kinks to work out. If the show is going to focus on a group of five characters and a droid, I think it needs to spend even more time than it does on character development. After all of these episodes, I don’t know very much about Hera, and I’ve read “A New Dawn.” Many of the show’s viewers probably haven’t. There was an episode where we find a little about how Sabine ends up opposing the Empire but it was in my humble opinion not a particularly intriguing reason that made her come off as someone who fights the Empire only out of some sense of teenage entitlement (“they kept too many secrets from meeee!”). Leia opposed the Empire out of her own sense of right and wrong and the evil excesses she likely saw/knew about while being a Senator. Han sort of fell in with these guys but he was already a criminal in the eyes of the Empire anyway, not to mention the Wookiee slavery stuff that may or may not be “legends” status. Luke? Well, they killed his family. It just makes Sabine’s reasons look small and petty. The show also reuses the same/same-looking locales as an obvious way to stay within budget, which can be a little distracting.
The Inquisitor and Kallus aren’t the meanest, baddest guys in town but they are adequate villains for this crew. There’s plenty of action and adventure to keep the pace going; the episodes go by fast. Ezra can be annoying at times but the show’s writers are taking care to demonstrate he can learn lessons and there is subtlety to his ongoing relationships with Zeb, which can be contentious at times, and with Sabine, obviously his crush.
This is a good, entertaining show that needs to be on a better time than 9 p.m. on a school night. I have noticed that they’ve been re-broadcasting “Rebels” on the widely-available Disney Channel, which is a smart idea.