Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Serenity (2005) (Movie Review)



    In my last post I reviewed the 2002 TV series “Firefly” and praised it as one of my absolute favorites. The one major down side is that it was canceled after only 14 episodes, which left a lot of things unresolved. However, in the years sense the shows cancellation, the fan base for the show had grown so much that the show’s creator Josh Whedon was actually given the rights to direct and produce one single theatrical movie to bring some much-needed finality to the series. Thus in 2005 we had the Sci-Fi hit “Serenity”, and the ending of the "Firefly" series. This was not a cash crab project for Universal Studios, as movies based on short lived TV shows are a rarity, but it’s all the more satisfying to see that the studios faith in Josh Whedon paid off. This was actually Josh Whedon’s very first time directing a theatrical movie, and it’s no wonder he was hired to direct “The Avengers” after this. The man really knows how to take goofy characters, give them snappy dialogue and still make them come off as both compelling and even a touch relatable. So, how does the “Firefly” swan song hold up, is it a perfect conclusion to a near flawless TV show, or is it a bit of a rocky trip, let’s find out ....  


     As our movie begins, we’re given a quick recap of the TV shows premise, that humans began terraforming on other planets due to Earths over population, the Alliance rules the galaxy with an iron fist and the crew of the ship Serenity have been a real thorn in their sides. The story soon picks up a little after where things ended in the series. Now back in the final episode it was revealed that the girl River had ESP, and has unwittingly gained damaging secrets against the all controlling evil Alliance. Thus, a new enemy called the Operative is sent in to kidnap River before the Alliance secrets can be exploited. Captain Reynolds, still lamenting from loosing a rebellion to his oppressors is now dead set on discovering this horrific secret. His journey proves very dangerous as their path is blocked by another threat, an army of in-human cannibals called the Reavers. Now in order to see their objective through to the end, our crew of Anti-hero’s need to push themselves harder then before and make some morally questionable decisions along the way.


     As stated in my last review, Captain Reynolds and River are my two favorite characters of the show, so thankfully they both take center stage in this film, and both are even better than they were in the series. Captain Reynolds went from being a stand out cool guy in the TV show, to one of my top three all-time favorite Anti-Hero’s in this film. He’s just so compelling as this man with a checkered moral code. He does horrible things, but it’s nothing he takes pleasure from and clearly just wants to be the good guy. Unfortunately, his situation keeps forcing him to make hard decisions. There are still those moments in which he demonstrates he has a heart of gold underneath his tough guy act, but he absolutely has some bad-ass anti-hero moments too. My favorite scene is when he meets the Operative for the first time. During a heated argument his enemy lets it slip that he’s unarmed, and then Reynolds doesn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot the guy. His foe was obviously waring body armor, but still it was awesome, and it’s a moment that puts Han Solo to shame. River really hasn’t changed much from her appeal in the show, we just get more of her in this film, and she’s a little fighter now. Like, she can kick some serious butt, as demonstrated in this film. No joke, if you were to put River in a room with the Predator, Alien and the Terminator … they’d be doomed. Both actors Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau are just on fire in their respected roles, and I don’t think either star has shined brighter then in this movie. Nathan Fillion in particular just lights up the screen and conveys this presence, like he’s a real Hollywood star, even though he hadn’t done that much prior.    


    The remaining cast from the show is likewise on their A-game, and it’s just a real joy to be with them one last time. Zoe proves once again to be a compelling female lead, Jane has some of the best remarks in the whole film, and it’s also really sweet to finally see Simon and Kaylee tie the knot. Although I’ll admit, their relationship needed to be built up more in the film, as it just comes out of nowhere. Now at the end of the show, Inara left for personal reasons, but returns in this movie, and the event didn’t seem to do anything meaningful for her character. She just left, returned and it felt like it didn’t impact our characters in the slightest. Of course, this was meant to be a story arc for a second season, but the writers only had one movie to wrap everything up. In other words, some loose threads just had to get knotted up fast. What I can’t excuse is the treatment of Shepherd Book, who was one of my absolute favorites in the TV series. For whatever reason, he’s not with the crew at the beginning of the film, he’s off somewhere else, only has two scenes in the film, and gets pointlessly killed off. Now his death scene in-of-itself is actually very good, and an important motivation for our crew to move forward, but still he deserved to be more involved in the movie then just two scenes. Wash also gets a random and pointless death that was almost worse then the previous hero death. While I liked Shepherd Book a lot more then Wash, the formers death at least had some meaning to it. Wash just seems to die solely for an emotional shock moment, and that bothered me.


    The sinister Operative makes for a very compelling villain, as he’s fully aware of what kind of monster he is, but always tires to play it off with good manners. I love villains that act kind while still being very ruthless and intimidating. For me, seeing Captain Reynolds interact with the Operative is the highlight of the film, as one is a hero with a shady moral code, and the other is a monster who hides his actions under a surface layer of class and dignity. It was also a treat to finally see the Reavers in all their monstrous glory. The TV show built them up big as very savage and frightening creatures, but aside from occasionally being chased by their ships or stumbling on the aftermath of their attacks, we never actually saw the Reavers physically present. That’s not the case for this movie, and they make for very intimidating foes that live up to their savage reputation. Their basically in-human cannibals that to me always resembled the “Mad Max” villains if they were zombies. While they make for very exciting villains for our heroes to battle, they also rob the film of it’s simple Wild West charm.   


     This brings me to a slight issue with the film, and that’s the tone. While the “Firefly” TV series had it’s share of dark elements and occasional violent content, it was mostly still a light hearted and fun Wild West series in space. “Serenity” buy contrast is much darker in both tone and narrative. The action sequences are more violent, there’s some disturbing imagery, we have dark backstories and secrets explored, there isn’t as much of a “fun” factor and even the characters are far less cheery and are in more of a grey area throughout the film. This movie still tries to have some lighthearted moments, as well as some enjoyably goofy lines, but it doesn’t always go in hand with the more serious elements of the film. The violence on display actually gets quite brutal for a PG-13 movie, and almost pushes for an R rating. I will say that the action in general is handled very well, as the increased budget and added CGI never overshadow the in-camera fighting and set designs. There’s just a perfect display of practical action merged with special effects that hold up very well today, and it’s something that I feel current Blockbusters should take note of.  


     The overall look and design of the film is gorgeous, and it’s a real treat for us fans to explore the universe of “Firefly” on a larger scale. The lighting especially is fantastic in this film as it’s both visually absorbing, but select scenes are also very crafty with how their lit. I must confess, I could have used a bit more orange lighting and filters as that was the look and style that characterized the TV show and gave it a Western flavor. Truthfully, unlike the TV show, this film always felt less like a “Wild, Wild West” in space and came off more like a strait forward Sci-Fi-action adventure. Even the story doesn’t feel that “Western” at heart, despite some occasional old-west imagery. Having said all that, the filming on display is nothing short of brilliant. The opening scene in-particular is one of my favorite examples of a crafty filmmaker at work. From the opening logo, every scene lasting till the end of the opening credits are all linked together in a way that’s very artistic, and it gives the opening an unbroken flow and narrative. There’s an incredible tracking shot that looks like it was all done in one take as we follow Captain Reynolds as he walks throughout the ship and interacts with every member of his crew. Not only does it look great, but it also gives us a full tour of the ship and re-introduces us to the whole cast. 

 
    Speaking of individual highlights, it’s time to gush over the films thrilling climax. Once our team learns the truth, that the Alliance are in fact responsible for the creation of the Reavers and are equally responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent lives on a planet, they mount a plan to broadcast this news and expose their horrible secret to the galaxy. However, they need to get to a massive transmission station on a planet that’s blocked by a fleet of angry Alliance ships. Not very good odds when your just one tinny ship with absolutely no guns mounted. So, what do they do, they piss off their other enemies the Reavers and lead their fleet of ships into a battle with the Alliance. It’s so great, as we follow our daring ship through two enemy fleets battling one another, and our piolet is just trying to keep his Zen the whole time. My favorite line of the movie by the way is when Wash says … “I’m a Leafe on the Wind, watch how I soar”. There’s also some unique visuals that aren’t common for space battles, like seeing ships lasso each-other while in flight. Once our crew gets to ground zero, all hell breaks loose, and things get really intense. There’s brutal fire fights in hallways, River just goes all-out-warrior mode while battling a room full of Reavers and Captain Reynolds gets into a nail biting showdown with the Operative. There’s a relentless amount of urgency on display as our hero’s all get brutally injured and spend most of the battle exhausted, and on the ground. Now Captain Reynolds journey through the film has been about what he believes in, and we see how his belief in “truth” both wins the day, and even changes our main villain. The Operative doesn’t completely reform, nor is he beaten, the Captain just puts him in a grey area where he just has no reason to fight the Serenity crew anymore, and that’s a great twist. 


       When I first saw this movie, I had the misfortune of knowing absolutely nothing about the initial “Firefly” TV series. Because of this, my first viewing of “Serenity” wasn’t too positive. At the time, I was deeply in love with Science Fiction Cinema, and the positive feed back from the movie enticed me to see it. After my first viewing I was ready to write “Serenity” off as average and forgettable Sci-Fi fodder. Then I discovered “Firefly”, and once I became a fan of the series, as well as form a connection to the characters, I decided to give “Serenity” a second chance. Needless to say, this film has only gotten better with every viewing, because it was something special to me now. It brought closure to one of my favorite TV shows that was taken away well before it’s time, and I’m so glad I have that closure. I’m also glad the writers didn’t turn this into a launching pad for a potential film series, it was just one good movie and that’s all we needed. Truthfully, I think this movies appeal all depends on how you feel about the “Firefly” TV series. I do still have some issues reserved for the film, like how some of the characters are killed off, and how some of the shows Wild West appeal doesn’t completely carry over. Regardless, I’ve grown attached to this film over the years, and now I view it as one of the best Science Fiction films of the early 2000’s. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out, but make sure you watch “Firefly” first … believe me, it’s worth it. 
   

I give “Serenity” 4 stars out of 5.


Firefly (2002) (TV Series Review)



     Science Fiction and Westerns are to genera’s that are about as polar opposite as they get, yet frequently go together hand in hand. The 1998 Anime series “Cowboy Bebop” merged elements from both genera’s to create a unique vision of the future, as well as a memorable series. You could go back even further to the original 1977 “Star Wars”, which also fused elements of the Western genera in it’s outer space setting. There’s even current shows like “West World” which artfully combine the old west with futuristic Sci-Fi. Of course, there was that hilarious joining of the two in the 2011 movie “Cowboys and Aliens”, which had fun idea for a concept, but really wasn’t executed all to well. More to the point for today’s topic, the short lived 2002 TV series “Firefly” is my absolute favorite blending of the old West and outer space adventures. It was a series that captured the magic of both genera’s, and only improved on the merits of both by merging them together seamlessly. Unfortunately, this was a series taken before it’s time, with only one season to its name, and a total of just 14 episodes. Yet still to this day, it has a devoted fan base, and it’s still personally one of my absolute favorites. Despite it’s cult status, I’d still like to share my feelings on the show, just as a means to spread the word to those not familiar.    


     Between 2002 and 2003, “Firefly” ran on Fox station and was created by “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. Our series begins with the two-part pilot titled “Serenity”, which effectively setts the ground work for the series, and fills us in on the back story. Set 500 years in the future, earth has become over populated, and man kind has moved on to colonize on other planets. With different factions spreading, a new alliance beings to take shape and becomes the all controlling force among the stars. An organized band of rebels tries to fight back, but loose during a decisive battle at Serenity valley. Years later, the fallen rebel leader named Malcolm Reynolds has become the captain of a small band of mercenaries and pirates, who do what they can to make some coin, and stick it to the Alliance at any chance they get. His ship, loving named Serenity (after the fall of Serenity valley), is part of a Firefly class, as it resembles the very insect when it zips into light-speed. During the premier, we see most of his crew already assembled, but two new passengers arrive on the ship, and set the stage for the shows main direction. The former being a young doctor who just rescued his little sister from a secret Alliance lab, where she went through a series of mysterious experiments. The two are branded as fugitives and become important members of Captain Reynolds rebellious crew.      


    Despite being set in space, nothing feels like traditional Science Fiction. It still maintains the feel and soul of a Western, with an orange color scheme, outback-desert locations, and a music track that feels lifted from a spaghetti Western. Actually, one of the shows many appeals is the opening theme song, which personally one of my all-time favorite Themes songs from a TV series. I love the overall look of the show, as even the interior design of the ship looks like a dingy western shack. The weapons featured on the show are mostly powder based, and not too many laser guns are seen. All these different Western traits in a space setting are what give “Firefly” it’s unique, yet infectious atmosphere. Truthfully, it’s also the most realistically grounded show set in space that I can think of. Heck, this show goes out of its way to make sure that no sounds are heard in space, which is very accurate. Granted, we all love those awesome sound designs of the Star Wars movies, but sense this show is more grounded in reality, it only makes sense that they depict space travel with as much scientific accuracy as possible. Also, there aren’t any aliens featured in the show, we do have space ships, and other forms of classic outer-space excitement, but we only ever see the humans that have colonized on other worlds. The closest we ever get to having aliens on the show is a band of outcasted in-humans called Reavers, who are basically savage creatures that lost their humanity do to mysterious reasons and are the deadliest foes our hero’s ever face. Thankfully, they’re used sparingly, and aren’t even seen on screen, at least not until the movie reveals what they look like.  



     The cast in this show is amazing, and I don’t say this lightly, but this is easily one of my all time favorite ensemble groups from any TV series I’ve ever seen. There’s this warm and infectious feel that comes from this crew all coming together, to the point where I don’t even see actors at all … I see a family. It really goes to show the talent on display, because despite the shows limited run, all the characters feel real, their chemistry with each other feels real, and each has their distinct charm.



Captain Malcolm Reynolds played by Nathan Fillion

    Our main lead Captain Malcolm Reynolds was the perfect hook for this show, and in my opinion is right on par with Han Solo himself. The character as written has a lot of pathos, he once was a man of faith, but lost his belief in God when he lost the war. Now the only thing he lives for is the next mission, and collecting a profit. Sounds like an empty vessel of a man, but the actor Nathan Fillion brings so much charm, warmth and charisma to the role, that he just comes off as the most lovable scoundrel in the galaxy. He’s even got some legit bad-ass moments where he proves himself large and in charge.


Zoe played by Gina Torres


     The second in command is Zoe played by Gina Torres. She fought with Malcom back during the war and has been his trusted right hand ever sense. She’s tough as nails and could have also carried the show herself. Gina Torres has also proven herself a great talent, one who I'd like to see more of. While her TV filmography is massive, I'd really like to see her in more movies. 



Wash played by Alan Tudyk


       Next is the ships pilot Wash, played by Alan Tudyk. He’s married to Zoe and is the equivalent of a child that aged but never actually grew up. Wash adds some levity as the comedic relief character, but I’ll admit of all the characters, he was the one I loved the least. He was certainly a likable presence, but I just never found his character that interesting. 





Shepherd Book played by Ron Glass

     The complete opposite of that is one Shepherd Book, a former priest who found his way on the ship and has sense been the moral compass figure to our crew of anti-hero’s. Having said that, he was also a very mysterious person who always seemed to have a bigger story. In fact, through the present-day course of the show it’s suggested that he may even be a mole for the evil Alliance. If the show had continued past season one, they probably would have explored his character further. Shepherd is also played by Ron Glass, and he too has a captivating screen presence. He’s just so cool and laid back, like a man with moral strengths, yet won’t hesitate to get in on the action when needed. 

Inara played by Morena Baccarin


    
    Now lets finally talk about Inara, played by Morena Baccarin. Oh boy, I know this isn’t a very original opinion, but when I was first introduced to this show … I had some serious hots for her. She’s a companion and if the ship were ever sized by Alliance patrol, she could pose as a credible ambassador. She also serves as the forbidden love interest for Captain Reynolds. There’s clearly both chemistry and friction between the two, as they share mutual feelings, but do to their individual faults can never commit to a relation. It’s certainly one of the more interesting dynamics on the show, which again had a lot of potential to grow if there were more seasons.  

Jayne played by Adam Baldwin   


    

    Next up is weapons technician Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin. This guy is mostly a poser, someone who deludes himself into thinking he’s a real tough guy, when in reality he’s kind of pathetic. He’s also the wild card of the group, as all his loyalty depends on who’s paying him the most. He’s a very simple character to say the least but has layers of depth underneath the surface.



Kaylee played by Jewel Staite


      

    Then there’s Kaylee, played by Jewel Staite. She’s the Mechanical technician of the crew and the one who holds the ship together. She’s also irresistibly cute and brimming with personality. From an engineering level, she’s the smartest person on the ship, but a little clueless when it comes to everything else, and I’ve always loved the duality of her nature. It adds a layer of innocents to the character, and I love that she’s both literally and figuratively the beating heart of the ship.


Simon Tam played by Sean Maher


      The ships doctor Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher is the guy responsible for setting all the big events in motion. Ever sense he smuggled his sister on board in the piolet episode, the ship and its crew became a big target for their enemies. He’s also more of a straight guy that offsets the high personalities of the other crew members. There’s a relation that ensues between he and Kaylee, which is cute in-of-itself, but never seems to amount to anything in the long run. 

River Tam played by Summer Glau

     At last rounding up the cast is River Tam, played by Summer Glau. Without a doubt, this was the shows big breakout character, and has become an icon among certain Sci-Fi fan circles. She was an enigma, very mysterious, always spoke in riddles, was subjected to several cruel experiments, and has a special kind of mind power that’s all her own. River is basically a fish out of water, trying to find her place in a vast universe, while also trying to understand herself. Half the time this series revolves around exploring the mysteries of her character, what happened to her, how did she come to be this way, and will she ever be a normal girl again. Summer Glau kills it in the role and gives her this aura of fascination and wonder. In general, this cast was outstanding, and one of the shows many great strengths. 

     Now let’s talk about the highlights of the show, but I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll keep it simple. Here are my personal top 5 favorite episodes of “Firefly” …  

#5 (Episode 13) - “Heart of Gold” 


    One of the many merits about this show is how it incorporates classic Western formulas into it’s episode. Perhaps my favorite of all is the metaphorical “Magnificent Seven” formula. This is when a small group of defenseless people are being terrorized by a large team of bad guys with big guns, thus a call for help goes out to a small band of people that come together to fight in a big shoot’em-up showdown. It’s classic Western 101, and I was thrilled that “Firefly” had an episode based around this kind of premise. While I personally didn’t care for the setting of this episode, or even some of the interplay, this is still the classic Western formula, executed very well here. It also delivers with the pay off, as the final shoot-out of the episode out is easily my favorite battle of the whole show. Finally, this episode delivers a nail-biting to our hero’s, as one gets their heart broken and leaves the group. It’s exciting, the music is chilling, the cinematography is top notch, it’s action packed and makes for a worthy outing.    


#4 (Episode 9) - “Ariel” 


   While in orbit of a capital city, the doctor Simon hatches a plan to sneak into a state of the art hospital in order to run some critical tests on his sister River, who’s mental condition is becoming more serious. She’s actually becoming a danger to the crew as she slashes at Janes chest for seemingly no reason. The mission also provides our anti-heroes with a chance to steel some medical supplies to give to nearby planets struggling with poverty. The one wrinkle in their plan is that Jane sees this as an opportunity to turn both the doctor and his kooky sister over to the authorities. They’re plenty of exciting heist episodes in this show, but “Ariel” is my favorite by far. It combines the excitement of a dangerous heist with complex character motives that are clearly wrong, but very understandable. We sympathies with River and her mental condition, but we also acknowledge that she is in fact a real danger to the crew. Janes actions to turn them over are clearly bad, but the situation makes us relate to him on some understandable level. This episode also features my two favorite villains of the show … the two un-named blue-hands men in suits. These guys are about as frightening and as lethal as enemies get on the show. The episode then comes to a close with a riveting epilogue in which Captain Reynolds confronts Jane on betraying his crew members. With an exciting heist, menacing villains, darker character traits, and even featuring some of my favorite comedic moments, “Ariel” is a stand out episode that’s worth looking at.  


#3 (Episode 14) - “Objects in Space” 


   This marks the final episode of the show, and while it doesn’t work as a series finale, it’s at least the best possible episode to close things on. “Objects in Space” kicks off with my absolute favorite opening of the whole show. We see River walking though the ship, and we see everything playing out through her eyes. There’s a riveting moment where she picks up an object, which she sees as a tree branch, yet everyone else see’s it as a for what it really is … a loaded gun. It’s a frightening moment that illustrates just how twisted, and confused River is. With her mental condition getting worse, we also discover that she has ESP, which leads our crew into an intense debate what to do with her. While Rivers future is unclear, a mysterious bounty hunter has snuck on board the ship, and aims to kidnap River for the large reward on her head. River meanwhile is alert to the danger and begins her own plan of outsmarting her more lethal adversary. The Bounty Hunter in my opinion is one of the stand out guest characters on the show, as he too talks in riddles, but dose it more to show off and sound intelligent. The highlight of the episode is the back and forth talks between he and River, as the two try topping one another with their intellectual strengths as opposed to brut force. With that said, there’s still some excitement, some bare-knuckled fist fighting, and it’s also cool to say our crew face an ethical debate, like what to do with a potentially dangerous girl that they’ve all come to love. “Objects in Space” may not have worked as a series finale, but at least the show ended with a great episode.    
    

#2 (Episode 12) - “The Message” 


    This episode begins with another one of my favorite openings, as we see our crew enjoying a day at a market place, and it gives us a chance to see their personalities bounce off the bizarre things on display. There’s even a nice little moment where Jane gets a silly gift from his mother, but he still keeps it with him as a gift from his mother, even a silly one is still very special in some way. Things take a sudden dark turn with the arrival of a mysterious package containing the body of a dead solider, one whom both Captain Reynolds and Zoe fought alongside with during the war. The corps comes complete with a message that he’d like his former friends to return his body back home to his family, and for once we see our crew on a very selfless mission that doesn’t involve getting paid. However, there’s more to this corps then a simple message, as it’s drawing the attention of some lethal troops, and the body itself is hiding secrets within secrets. I’m deliberately being vaguer with this one as I don’t want to risk spoiling any of the episodes surprises. I will say that this episode has a little bit of everything I love in this show, it has mystery, pathos, hummer, moral debates, ethical debates, strong character moments, and some of the shows best action, including a very memorable dog fight through a snowy canyon.


#1 (Episode 8) - “Out of Gas” 


     As this episode begins, we see a dying Captain Reynolds aboard his currently abandoned ship, and is trying desperately to bring his vessel back to life. It turns out that hours earlier, a sudden mechanical failure has completely disabled the ship, which is now adrift in empty space. With heal support failing, the crew abandons ship, our heroic Captain stays behind, and other dangers in wild space soon make themselves known. This episode is told from three different perspectives, we have the present situation, the not too distant future and flashbacks relaying how every individual crew member came to be. To call this “a perfect episode”, wouldn’t be giving it enough credit, because in my opinion, this episode alone is a work of art that should be shown at film schools. It’s a half our peace of television that takes a simple disaster premise, as well as an origin story, and artistically weaves them into something brilliant. Everything on display is top notch, the writing, the performances, and it’s really a beauty of filmmaking. The way certain flashbacks are cut together with the present-day events are both artistically brilliant, but also have a great deal of substance, as this episode really explores its characters. In fact, of all the episodes, this is the one where the crew feels the most like one big family, right down to the opening scene with everyone having a good laugh at the dinner table and celebrating a birthday. Another one of my favorite touches is that the episode closes with a flashback of when the Captain first found his ship. It book ends the episode like poetry, as we close out on the ship abandoned, lifeless, but with our Captain eager to get it running, which is exactly what the episode started with. The transitions, the music, the lighting, the texture, and it’s all just a real testament to the creative forces behind this series, and in my opinion, it’s almost too good for television alone.   


    In the end, I’ve been a fan of this show for years, and it’s one of my absolute favorites that’s worth repeat viewings. I love the setting, tone, feel and I really love the cast as a whole. In my opinion, it’s one of those near flawless shows that had all the right talent involved and just the right amount of fresh originality. It’s only real fault comes from being in-complete, and that is something of an issue. Thankfully there was a theatrical movie in 2005 titled “Serenity” that gave the series some closure, but I’ll talk about that in my next review. If you were one of the many people who missed this show when it first premiered, I couldn’t blame you, but I’d highly recommend hunting down the episodes in any way you can and give “Firefly” a watch, it’s worth it. 


I give the TV series “Firefly”, a strong 4 ½ stars out of 5.



Friday, May 4, 2018

Star Wars Rebels – My Top 10 Favorite Episodes



Happy May the 4th, and to celebrate, lets take a look back at the most recent animated Star Wars TV series … “Star Wars Rebels”. This show had a total of four seasons, ran from 2014-2018, and was the first Star Wars program to air on Disney channel after Lucas Film was bought out by the aforementioned studio. At this point in the Star Wars cannon, the empire has taken control over the whole galaxy, and there’s no galactic civil war of any sort yet. However, a small band of mercenaries decide to stick it to the Empire, and aide those in need wherever they can. 

Think of it as the Star Wars equivalent of the 2002 TV series “Firefly”, which I’m also a huge fan of. Actually, this series really ignited my nostalgia for both Star Wars and “Firefly” equally. As the show progresses, our small group of hero’s spark rebellion across various planets, the galactic rebel alliance is born, and their struggle with the empire has only just begun. It was a show with highs, lows and speaking personally I loved every second of it. However, I can imagine there's other fans who only want to stick with either the movies or games as opposed to a lengthy animated TV show. I can respect that, but to them, I’d at least recommend checking out some of the best of what the show has to offer. So, to make this simple, here are my top 10 personal favorite episodes of “Star Wars: Rebels”, that I’d highly recommend for any Star Wars fan to check out.  


#10 Visions and Voices (Season 3)


Following after the events of Season 2’s finale, Darth Maul became a regular villain throughout the shows third run, and had his sights on making the shows main hero Ezra his wicked apprentice. My favorite of Darth Mauls appearances comes during season three's Mid-Season outing. Our young hero Ezra is plagued by frightening visions of Darth Mual, which get so intense he even begins attacking fellow soldiers, confusing them for his enemy. Frustrated, he leaves his allies to find Maul and venture with him to his home world of Dathomir to undo their mysterious connection. Mual however has a much darker plan, to extract knowledge from Ezra, and leave the bodies of his friends open as vessels for the ghostly spirits of his descendants, the night sisters of Dathomir. This is one of the shows darkest episodes, with possessions, demonic spirits and one of the franchises greatest villains acting at his deadliest. This episode has great call backs to it’s predecessor series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and sets things in motion for future episodes. This is easily my favorite mid-season venture of the series, and the one that got me most excited for things to come.   
  

#9 "The Lost Commanders" & "Relics of the Old Republic" (Season 2)


Speaking of following up on things from the previous “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” TV series, season 2 was when Rebels went all out in bringing back classic characters from its predecessor... and it’s sweet! As our hero’s look for aid against their battle with the Empire, their path leads them to Captain Rex and the last surviving Clone Troopers. I couldn’t even describe in words how happy I was to see Captain Rex return in this show. Dee Bradley Baker still kills it in the role, and the character of Captain Rex has only gotten better in this series. He still has authority, but he’s also gotten older, wiser and has a lot of charm. It’s great to see him interact with the new characters, and the Jedi Kannan has his own compelling arc where he learns to trust his fellow soldiers. It all builds to a thrilling battle in which our hero’s ride their old Republic tank into a sand storm to battle the new imperial walkers. It’s great stuff, and one of my favorite action sequences of the show. Then finally, a stand out moment for me is at the very end of the episode when Captain Rex reunited with Jedi Knight Ahsoka, who was my other favorite character from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. This reunion really got me in the "feels", as it was like seeing the old family come back together after so many years.


#8 Shroud of Darkness (Season 2)


Leading up to the events of Season two’s finale is a stand out episode titled "Shroud of Darkness". Ahsoka and our two Jedi hero’s Ezra and Kannan seek guidance to deal with Darth Vader and his faithful servants. Their quest leads them back to an abandoned Jedi temple previously discovered back in season one. The three go their separate ways and have individual force quests. Ezra consults with Yoda in a vision and debate the morals of fighting and how they choose to fight. Kannan battles the force ghost of his late enemy The Grand Inquisitor and finds the courage to make a decisive sacrifice which will determine the next level of his Jedi status. Finally, in the most emotional journey of all, Ahsoka must come to terms with the horrible truth that her former master Anakin Skywalker is now their greatest enemy Darth Vader. This episode further dives into the mythos of the Jedi, developed our hero’s further and set the stage for the exciting action finale to come. It also features some of my favorite guest appearance all in one episode, we have the only on-screen appearance of Yoda in the series, Darth Vader is always an exciting presence, it was great to see the Grand Inquisitor one last time, and best of all was how this episode brought back Anakin Skywalker and effectively continued his story with Ahsoka.


#7 Zero Hour (Season 3)


Season three was a turning point, in which our hero’s grew, new villains took the stage, and most anticipating of all was Grand Admiral Thrawn. This was his first appearance outside of the novels, and while it was a slow burn at first, we eventually got to see him shine. In the season 3 finale titled “Zero Hour”, Thrawn launches a massive invasion on our hero’s Rebel base, leading into the largest-scale battle of the whole series. This was like the “Helms Deep” of “Rebels” and further illustrated what kind of nuclear sized scale threat Thrawn represents. Not only was the action great, but every character arc of the season came into play during this final battle. We see Agent Kallus leave the Empire for good and join the Rebels. We have Sabine rally her fellow soldiers of Mandalore, which was a colorful way of showing her old family adding her new family. Finally, we see the mysterious Bendu creature unleash his mighty power and proves to be an even stronger Force sensitive beast then we realized. It was a power house finale, and it really highlighted Thrawn as the devastating foe he was built up to be.   


#6 Family Reunion – and Farewell (Season 4)


From one season finale to another, it’s the closing chapter of season four, and subsequently the final episode of the whole series. While “Zero Hour” was admittedly more epic in scale and war fare, this was a more emotional send off for our hero’s, and a fitting swan song for a show that I loved watching. In this series finale episode, Ezra leads the team, along with all his allies on one final mission to liberate his planet and banish the Empire from the system for good. It’s a very exciting final battle, with high stake action, some really good twists that I didn’t see coming, and it features appearances from almost every character established in the show. Even the Emperor makes a note worth appearance, and the face-off between he and our young hero is riveting. In the end, both Ezra and Admiral Thrawn engage in one final confrontation, and it’s an engaging internal battle of military intelligence versus one’s faith in spirituality, or more specifically his connection with his faith in the force. Ezra wins the day by making a similar sacrifice move inspired by his late master, and he’s launched into the farthest reaches of unknown space along with Grand Admiral Thrawn. 

Both their fates are unknown, but it opens the door for further things to explore in other Star Wars media. The series then comes to a close with a spectacular and very emotional epilogue set after the events of “Return of the Jedi”. We discover that both Hera and Captain Rex fought in the final battle of Endor, Zeb went back to his home world with his former nemeses turned best friend Agent Kallus and Sabine teams up with Ahsoka on a mission to find Ezra, where ever he may be. In short, this was a perfect way to close the series, and probably my second favorite season of the show behind the second season. It left the door open for further animated Star Wars shows, but it’s a perfect cap to the “Rebels” era.   


#5 The Siege of Lothal (Season 2)


One thing the show often struggled with was kicking the seasons off with a bang, as I found the majority of the primer episodes to be average good. That is with the one exception of the premier episode of season 2, which was both sensational and a perfect hook for what eventually became my favorite season of the show. In this premier titled “Siege of Lothal”, our hero’s secretly land on a planet called Lothal in hopes to rescue an imperial minister that’s defecting. Unfortunately, Darth Vader and Agent Kallus kill her before she can reveal any secrets, and worse yet, our heroes are framed for her death. Now with the planet turned against them, and Darth Vader hot on their tails, the Ghost crew have to work together to find a way off the planet, and warn their allies of a dangerous new threat. It's just a thrilling cat and mouse game with excellent action scenes, and it highlights Darth Vader in arguably his greatest appearance sense “The Empire Strikes Back”. After his tease at the end of season one, I was beyond hyped to see him in action, and this two-parter delivered. It featured the very first light-saber dual between Darth Vader and our new hero's, which was intense and riveting. This episode also makes great use of other Star Wars alumni like Lando and The Emperor in minor but significant roles. At the end, both Darth Vader and the Emperor learn that Ahsoka survived the clone wars, and it really builds on the anticipation for when the master and apprentice inevitably re-unite.


#4 Fire Across the Galaxy (Season1)


The first season of “Rebels” was perfectly serviceable at best, but then it won me over with a powerhouse closing arc. The last episode titled “Fire Across the Galaxy” left me breathless and closed season one with one hell of a high note. When Kanan is captured by the Grand Inquisitor, our hero’s mount a daring rescue, which leads into thrilling battles in space, powerful character moments and some of the best duals of the series. No joke, the final light saber dual between The Grand Inquisitor and Kanan is nothing short of epic. The music, the fighting choreography, the high stakes, it’s just a thrilling fight, and personally one of my favorite light saber duals in all of Star Wars history. It also took me by surprise that The Grand Inquisitor perished at the end, especially considering that he was marketed as this shows main antagonist. However, his death was earned, and proved the show wasn't afraid to take risks that paid off in the long run. The episode then closes with the triumphant return of Ahsoka, who I feared I’d never see again after the cancelation of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Then things only get more exciting when Darth Vader walks on the scene, effectively teasing that he’ll be the main threat in season 2.


#3 "Trials of the Darksaber" & "Legacy of Mandalore" (Season 3)


While the Jedi Kanan and Ezra were the shows two main characters, it was clear from the start that the crew’s feisty weapons technician Sabine would be the break out character that stole the show. She was a warrior who adorned Mandalorian armor, had a checkered past, and in my opinion had the most well-rounded journey of any of the Rebels characters. Her stand out arc comes in season 3 with this pairing of episodes. At this point in the show, Sabine tries to win back her family honor, and prevent a civil war from igniting between her people. Her first challenge in “Trials of the Darksaber” is learning to wield a mighty Dark-saber, while subsequently facing her faults, regrets and personal demons. In the companion episode “Legacy of Mandalore”, we see our young heroine really step up and reunites with the corrupt family she left behind years ago. It all builds to a powerhouse climax, and for the first time ever we see two non-force wielders in a lightsaber dual. It’s hard to explain but there’s something very mature about these two episodes. They feel less like formulaic Star Wars and more like classic Samurai films. Nothing feels like it’s being aimed at its target audience, and the writers are clearly putting more focus on the human emotion rather than spectacle. I love the passing of these episodes, as it’s slow but allowing for a lot of atmosphere and emotional highlights to shine through.


#2 "Wolves and a Door" & "A World Between Worlds" (Season 4)


After our heroes have some time to grieve the loss of their fallen friend, things take a shocking turn as the Emperor himself arrives on the scene, and is voiced once again by none other than Ian McDiarmid from the movies. As expected, he shines in the role again, but the character is given a new layer of menace, as he reveals a secret plan to excavate an abandoned Jedi temple and unearth a hidden secret that will give him the power to firmly secure his control of the galaxy. Ezra goes in to investigate and discovers a portal leading him to a mysterious world between worlds, where time has no meaning, and the user of this realm can alter or change any event in the Star Wars time line. It may sound a little too extreme to have time travel in Star Wars, but it’s actually handled very well, and the setting of this world between worlds is one of the most fascinating that the saga has ever explored. The design is cool, and audio clips from just about every movie can be herd echoing throughout this dimension, which gives it both a unique atmosphere and makes it a fascinating expansion on Star Wars lore. We also get some much-needed answers as to what happened to Ahsoka, and how she escaped Darth Vader from back at the end of season 2. In short, these two episodes highlight what this show can do when it steps out of the familiar and explores uncharted territory in the Star Wars universe.  


There’s obviously more episodes I love in this show, so before I reveal my favorite, her are some Honorable Mentions … 


Jedi Night (Season 4)

Twin Suns (Season 3)

The Last Battle (Season 3)

Path of the Jedi (Season 1)

The Future of the Force (Season 2)


#1 Twilight of the Apprentice (Season 2)


At last, the season 2 finale titled “Twilight of the Apprentice” is sensational, and to call it my favorite episode of the series is an understatement. Honestly, this episode alone is my second favorite thing under the “Star Wars” name behind “Return of the Jedi”. Holly cow, what an awesome ending, and what a great set up for the next season. In this epic conclusion of the second season, Ezra, Kanan and Ahsoka arrive at a Sith temple looking for knowledge on how to fight against Darth Vader and his Empire. However, Ezra is separated from the group and is encountered by a shadowy figure, who’s taking advantage of our young hero, and is building on his connection to the dark side. Soon, this shadowy villain is revealed to be none other than Darth Maul. Yes, Darth Maul is back, and he steals every scene he’s in. He’s sinister, he’s witty, he’s manipulative and we see him go back and forth between helping our hero’s and betraying them. While Darth Mauls doesn’t succeed in converting Ezra to become his evil apprentice, he leaves a sting on the group that will be hard for them to recover from. In short, Kanan loses his sight and the dark side dose build up within Ezra. 

At the end of this finale, Ahsoka comes face to face with her old master Darth Vader, and an epic confrontation ensues between them. This was haunting, dramatic and honestly quite powerful to experience. Without a doubt, this battle between Vader and Ahsoka is my single favorite moment from any animated Star Wars production. There’s this incredible moment when Ahsoka destroys half of Vader’s helmet revealing a part of Anakins face underneath it, and things tie together so perfectly from where their relation left off back in "The Clone Wars". In the end, our heroes are changed by the experience, all the other Inquisitors meet their demise, the fate of Ahsoka is unknown, both Darth Vader and Darth Maul are at large, and I was pumped for the Seasons to come. For all it’s up’s and downs, highs and lows, I loved “Star Wars Rebels”, and found it a worthy entry in the ever-expanding Star Wars saga. If you’re a general Star Wars fan with no real interest in the animated programs, I still highly recommend checking out some episodes and maybe my list will give you a good place to start.


And the Journey continues …