Monday 6 October 2014

Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion

Spark of Rebellion ignites Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD and John Rivers discovers if the force is still strong...

Guest post by John Rivers

Pay attention, rebel scum, this review contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens in the pilot episode of Lucasfilm and Disney’s new joint venture ‘Star Wars Rebels’ then I suggest you close your blast shield and move along. If, however you've seen the episode then this is the review you’re looking for.

The Disney alliance with Lucasfilm has spawned its first franchise. ‘Star Wars Rebels’ is a new animated series from the creative team behind ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’. Set between ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’, the show concentrates on a fledgling Rebel cell, half acting as a resistance to the Empire, half as mercenaries.

It begins on a backwater planet called Lothal when a young street rat named Ezra (voiced by Taylor Gray, looks borrowed from Disney’s ‘Aladdin’) interrupts an attempt by Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to hijack a shipment of Imperial blasters. Kanan’s backed up by his team: Zeb, the group’s tank, a lumbering Lasat warrior; Sabine, a lithe Mandalorian with a penchant for explosives (looking like a Knight Sabre from ‘Bubblegum Crisis’); Hera, the group’s Twi’lek pilot and Chopper, an Astromech droid who basically acts like R2D2’s grumpier younger brother.

The action picks up quickly, the hijack attempt turns into a speeder bike chase that naturally echoes ‘Return Of The Jedi’, except this time taking place on the busy streets of Lothal’s capital city. Ezra manages to escape the Imperial troops and is rescued by Kanan who is startled to see him perform a super-human jump. It is clear the Force is strong with him.

As Ezra is introduced to the group, we also meet one of the Empire’s chief Rebel hunters, Inspector Kallus of the Imperial Security Bureau. Voiced with authoritative menace by ‘[Spooks]‘ actor David Oyelowo, Kallus has been charged with finding Rebels and eradicating them. Using false information, he lures Kanan’s team and their ship, the Ghost, into a trap and Ezra is forced to work alongside the rest of the team.

‘Star Wars Rebels’ is certainly closer in tone and look to the original trilogy rather than the prequels. With Disney maintaining a weather-eye over production away from the ever-tinkering perfectionist George Lucas, the animation style seems to have been a little simplified, but not overly so. The angular look of ‘The Clone Wars’ series, chosen to reflect the puppet series of Gerry Anderson, has been retained, if softened. Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers are all present. The Ghost, Kanan’s ship, looks rather snub by comparison and its capabilities are only really hinted at. Only a young-looking hologram of Obi-Wan Kenobi once again voiced by ‘The Clone Wars’ James Arnold Taylor links the new series to the prequel trilogy and TV series. The music borrows heavily from the Original Trilogy, too.

Once again, David Filoni and his team have successfully found a balance between appealing to children and providing an action-packed show. Kanan’s introduction, sliding from a speeder bike and shooting a Stormtrooper in the face demonstrates that the show isn’t willing to pull its punches for the Disney XD audience. The appearance of the Inquisitor, at the show’s conclusion, gives chills. It’s clear that he is not simply interested in Rebels but is instead looking for Jedi that may have escaped Order 66. He is voiced by Lucius Malfoy himself voiced by Jason Isaacs.

‘Spark Of Rebellion’ is therefore a highly enjoyable new entry into the ‘Star Wars’ universe. It introduces new characters well and, if the promises are to be believed, should deliver on a few unexplored areas of the saga. For example, what happened to the Clone Troopers, the missing Jedi and how did the Rebel Alliance begin? I’ll freely admit, when Kanan and Ezra are pinned down by Stormtrooper fire and Kanan reaches for his lightsabre and says, ‘Kid, I’m about to let everyone in on the secret’, the hairs on the back of the neck of this old ‘Star Wars’ fan stood up. While ‘The Clone Wars’ was a non-linear show consisting of three or four part stories, utilising a vast array of characters, it will be interesting to see how ‘Rebels’ focuses on a much smaller cast, but retains the depth of storytelling. I’m making sure I access the Holonet for episode 2, the week after next.

‘Star Wars Rebels’ is currently airing in the UK on Disney XD.

© John Rivers 2014

This review originally appeared on SF crowsnest.

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