UPDATE #2: The Force is with “Star Wars Rebels”

Updated 3/3/15

When Disney bought LucasFilm for $4 billion in 2012, one of the first thing they did was expunge the STAR WARS canon of anything except the six feature films, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2014) and the upcoming Star Wars Rebels. And now that Rebels has completed its first season, its storyline has impacted the canon in somewhat significant ways.

Germain Lussier in Slash Film has a fascinating summary of the ways in which the STAR WARS that we know and love has been changed FOREVER. But don’t read this until after you’ve watched the first season of Rebels (which you could totally bang out on a Saturday afternoon, so stop stalling).

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Updated 3/2/15

The season 1 finale of Star Wars Rebels airs tonight at 9 p.m. on DisneyXD and, in honor of the occasion, the channel is airing the first thirteen episodes back-to-back beginning at 2 p.m. (Those of you with jobs can still binge all episodes for free – where available – on the Watch DisneyXD app or buy digital downloads on Amazon and iTunes).

Tonight’s finale is kind of a must-see for STAR WARS fans of all ages, because Fire Across the Galaxy features the first *official* vocal appearance of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in the series. (Jones’s voice was featured in a brief scene added to the first episode when it aired in primetime on ABC.)

And since I wrote about my affection for this show back in October, Rebels has also brought us the triumphant return of Billy Dee Williams (still working the sexy voice at age 77) as Lando Calrissian and Frank Oz as the ethereal voice of Yoda (not quite as sexy). Even Grand Moff Tarkin is in this show, though sadly not voiced by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.  So what are you waiting for?

 

Original piece – published 10/27/14

star-wars-rebels-event-posterI always enjoy getting mocked, particularly by people who are related to me

That’s exactly what happened at a family party last weekend when I suggested to five different relatives, ranging in age from 12 to 43, that they check out the new animated series Star Wars Rebels on the DisneyXD cable channel.

“Disney XD?” my 12-year-old niece exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Even I’m too old to watch Disney XD!”

One thing you need to understand: my family has always been a STAR WARS family. It all began when I saw the original film six times during the summer of 1977, and it continued as my cousins and I spent most of our shared youth playing with action figures, reading the newsletter of the Official STAR WARS Fan Club, and generally worshipping at the altar of George Lucas (at least until he betrayed us in 1999.)

And yet I got similar confused befuddlement from my 15-year-old niece, 19-year-old cousin, 41-year-old sister, and 43-year-old cousin, as if I had recommended we watch Dora the Explorer in our PJs while eating PB&J sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

BackClearly, my family has fallen under the influence of the Dark Side. Because Rebels feels more like the original STAR WARS trilogy in tone, design, and storytelling style than anything I’ve seen since the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983. Set five years before what is now known as STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE (1977), Rebels features a band of young mercenaries who taunt and evade the Galactic Empire and a ruthless villain called The Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) aboard a Millennium Falcon-esque starship called The Ghost.

The team is led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), a swashbuckling young Jedi Master who survived the destruction of the Jedi Knights in REVENGE OF THE SITH 14 years earlier. Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) is his somewhat whiney teenaged apprentice, an orphaned thief from Lothal, a planet in the Outer Rim Territories. Zeb Orrelios (Steven Blum) is a Lasan warrior, one of the last survivors of a culture nearly destroyed by the genocidal Empire. Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) is a 16-year-old Mandalorian weapons expert, graffiti artist, and object of Ezra’s affections. And Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) is a Twi’lek female rebel, and the owner and pilot of the Ghost. She’s also the mother figure for the crew.

StormAnd there’s even a droid: C1-10P, also known as Chopper – a character based on the original design for R2-D2. And that’s one of the things I love most about this series – it’s based on the vision of Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012), the conceptual artist who worked on many of the early designs for the first STAR WARS film. In fact, Zeb is McQuarrie’s original concept for Chewbacca, and has many of the Wookie’s martial skills and general ass-kicking attitude.

Star Wars Rebels isn’t perfect. The CGI animation can be a bit video-gamey, and may be hard to take for some older viewers. And Taylor Gray’s vocal portrayal of Ezra is sometimes closer to the annoyingly mopey Anakin than the charmingly emo Luke. But the setting, design, and spirit feels very much like the STAR WARS of my youth – plus we’ve already gotten cameo appearances from Sen. Organa (Leia’s adoptive father), R2-D2, C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) and, in a special scene added for a rebroadcast of the hour-long pilot film on ABC, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader.

This is Disney’s first major STAR WARS project following their acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, and it gives me, ahem, a new hope for the upcoming feature films. If you love the original trilogy, you owe it to yourself to check out Star Wars Rebels. The Force is with it.

New episodes of Star Wars Rebels air Monday nights at 9 p.m. on DisneyXD. And the series is streaming on the DisneyXD app, which is also available for Roku and Apple TV. It’s also available as a digital download on iTunes and Amazon

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About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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3 Responses to UPDATE #2: The Force is with “Star Wars Rebels”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I will have to check it out when it becomes available on streaming or DVD!

  2. Like Jennifer, I will look for it when it’s available via streaming.

    I like that you used the word “befuddlement”. I’m going to copy you and start using it in everyday conversation.

  3. Dan Day Jr. says:

    As an original 1977 Star Wars fan, I can honestly say this series merits my approval.

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