Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Star Wars Rebels (2014-17) (TV series Review)

       It was October of 2012 when Lucas Film and Lucas Arts got bought out by Disney, and with the new ownership came the promise of a new Star Wars, both in TV and the movies. No one knew what to expect, some were very optimistic of this change, while other fans were dreading it. At the time, I was a little upset because that meant cancelling “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, which was one of the favorite TV shows at the time, and was on its sixth season with episodes still in development. However, that show had to be dropped in order for Disney to begin production of a brand new TV series titled “Star Wars Rebels”, a series that would take place 15 years after the events of “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, and 5 years before the events of “Star Wars 4: A New Hope”. While I was definitely upset over the sudden cancellation of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, I was also interested in a series that takes place between a span of time in the Star Wars cannon that we fans have seen very little off. So, I decided to see what this new series has to offer, and to my surprise, this is turning out to be a great show. It proves that Star Wars has a lot more fresh ideas, and there’s no limit to the amount of fun space adventures it’ll have to offer. 

          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. The show also works great as a squeal series to Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, brings back many of the characters, and ties up several loose ends that it's predecessor couldn't before it's cancellation.

        Right off the bat, I loved the overall tone and feel of this show. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was an epic space opera with lots of grand scale wars, and intriguing character development, but it also had a really dark over tone, and could get very distasteful at times. “Star Wars Rebels” by contrast is much lighter, with simplistic story telling that can still be exiting and deep, but also really fun and light hearted. It’s the kind of show that mostly treats you like an adult, but it makes you feel like a little kid again while watching, and that’s when I know an animated TV series is doing something right. This show still has its dark moments, some violent action, and even some noticeable character deaths, but it’s not done in bad taste the same way other shows come off at times. The animation is spectacular, I love the overall design, and the color scheme is great. I also love the overall sound design, because every episode is chalk full of memorable sound effects from the classic series. Probably the best way to go about the show is to talk about each season individually, but before I do that, let’s first talk about the characters.  

        I have to say, it was a real breath of fresh air to get a completely original cast of Star Wars characters that we’ve never seen before. Some classic characters occasionally make appearances throughout the shows run, but for the most part where spending time with this colorful cast of terrific new hero’s, and new villains alike. The shows main protagonist is a young boy named Ezra, who starts off as an orphaned street rat, but soon discovers that he’s in fact a child of the force, and has the potential to become a Jedi of legend. He meets an outcast named Kanan who was once a Jedi, and survived the massacre of order 66, which killed off most of the other Jedi. Together, they build on each other’s strengths and form a powerful bond of master and apprentice. Both characters are very good, and supply just enough character depth to balance out their high spirited personalities. Freddie Prinze Jr. supplies the voice of Kanan, and while I’ve never been a big fan of the actor, I have to admit that he does a really good job in his respected role. Both hero’s give the series its conflict and substance, but it’s the supporting cast that I really love. 

        Steven Blum supplies the voice of a character named Zeb, who’s the muscle of the group, and has an alien design that’s based on the original concept art for Chewbacca. Strait to the point, this guy is made of awesome. He’s tough and takes charge whenever there’s a fight, but he’s also chalk full of personality, and comes off like the kind of guy I’d want to hang out with. 

Next is Sabine who’s the feisty weapons technician of the group, and has a talent for turning destruction into an art form. This is personally my favorite new character in the show. She's got a lot of personality, and just enough compelling humanity to balance out. Sabin also has one of the best rounded story arch's of the group. Her armor has a striking resemblance to the bounty hunter Boba Fett, just with a pink makeover, and it really helps give Sabine her own identity.    

       It’s also a real treat to finally have a tighter group of characters that all live together on one single ship called “the Ghost”, much like the crew of the Millennium Falcon from the original trilogy. As the characters hang out, and go on adventures together, they start to think of themselves as a family, and the titular mother of the group comes in the form on a green alien pilot named Hera. She’s the voice of reason, and it’s a real treat to finally have a Twi’lek alien as a main character. Star Wars fans recognize Twi’leks best from “Return of the Jedi” in which one of them was dumped in a monster pit by Jabba the Hutt. At last we have a little droid named Chopper, who’s the comedic relief of the group, and personally, I think he puts R2-D2 to absolute shame. Seriously, this little droid has a terrific personality that comes in the form of a cranky bedside manner, as he’s the one who always solves problems while no one is watching, and he just has so much more character on display then R2-D2 ever did. 

        As the show went on, we’d see several familiar faces, and hear even more familiar voices. Frank Oz returned to supply the voice of Yoda, and Billy Dee Williams returned to supply the voice of Lando Calrissian ... need I say any more, it’s Billy Dee Williams back in the role of Lando Calrissian, that’s awesome! In the episode “Droids in Distress” our hero’s team up with C-3PO and R2-D2, which was a great cross over, and it’s always a treat to hear Anthony Daniels as the voice of C-3PO. Obi-Wan Kenobi makes select appearances, and is voiced once again by James Arnold Taylor who previously supplied the voice in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Speaking of “The Clone Wars”, Anakin Skywalkers former apprentice known to fans as Ahsoka Tano becomes a regular reoccurring hero throughout the show, which is great because she was one of my favorite characters from “The Clone Wars” series. Plus, her character disappeared for a long time during that show, so it was a real treat to catch up on her story. Her new design is fantastic, and she’s the very first character to have pure white light sabers with no color. That’s because she doesn’t belong to either Jedi or Sith, but she still maintains her force capabilities.

     The best returning character by far is none other than Darth Vader, who’s voiced once again by the distinctive James Earl Jones. 
Not only was this a return of Vader, this was the return of bad ass Darth Vader, the one who ruled the galaxy with an iron fist, and stole every scene with ease. The show was very smart not to over utilize Darth Vader, that way it always felt special whenever he appears in an episode, and it’s just a real treat hearing James Earl Jones do the voice again. Another note worthy villain is Agent Kallus, who’s an imperial officer that’s taken it upon himself to bring our hero’s to justice. 

It’s cool to have an officer get this involved in the action, and it’s even more cool that the character is voiced by David Oyelowo, who’s a very respectable actor, and has starred in big Oscar winning films like “Lincoln” and “Selma”. Kallus would get the most character development of any villain over the course of the show, and make a full reformation by the end. It’s also a real treat to have the Empire as the villains again. Seeing the storm troopers, Ti-Fighters, Star Destroyers and Walkers in this show just take me back to the good old days when I was first introduced to the franchise. That just about takes care of the characters, so let’s move onto the individual seasons.  

                                  Season 1 

The show started with 4 short little episodes that had a run time of 3 minutes. These shorts helped give us an idea of what the individual characters would be like before the pilot episode premiered. It became a tradition with every season that the two part pilot episodes would be edited together as a direct to TV movie. Each of these films would be given limited theatrical screenings and their own separate DVD’s from the rest of the season. The first of these pilot movies was titled “Spark of Rebellion”, and this was a promising first episode. It chronicles a series of events in which Ezra joins our team of hero’s aboard their ship, and he aids them on a mission to rescue a group of Wookies that were turned into slaves by the empire. The story was simplistic but engaging and the action was fairly good. The final scene in which Ezra decides to become one with the crew is a great moment, and got me really excited to see where things were going to go from there. This short 40 minuet TV movie actually did a better job kicking off this series then “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” did with their theatrical movie, which was a disaster. There was an extended cut of this pilot movie that aired on ABC, featuring our first glimpse of Darth Vader, and a little tease to who the new main villain of the season one was going to be.   

      Every season features its own distinct main villain, and for season 1 it came in the form of a mysterious Jedi assassin only known as The Grand Inquisitor. He's armed with his own double bladed light saber, that’s equipped with far more capabilities then Darth Mauls ever did. The Grand Inquisitor is a really cool villain, and every time he confronts our hero’s, it usually leads to some great action. He has a great design, a sinister voice, and best of all is that his voice is supplied by the talented Jason Isaacs, who’s one of my favorite villain actors of all time. He’s been the bad guy in movies like “The Patriot”, “Peter Pan” and he’s probably best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series. As you’d expect, his vocal talents transcend The Grand Inquisitor from a generic one-note bad guy, into a villain with a captivating screen presence, and a very menacing overtone. Another note worthy villain to make an appearance in this season was Governor Tarkin, who was originally played by the late Peter Cushing in the classic first Star Wars movie. In this show he’s voiced by Stephen Stanton, who previously did the voice on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and he is outstanding in the role. In many respects, it feels like Peter Cushing himself has come back from the dead to play the character once again.

        After the pilot movie, this season had a total of 13 episodes, and despite being a relatively small collection of episodes, they sure packed a big bunch. The episode titled “Out of Darkness” was like a direct tribute to the 2000 Sci-Fi movie “Pitch Black”, as it revolves around our hero’s stranded on a planet that’s populated by savage monsters that can only come out in darkness. 

In the episode titled “Vision of Hope”, we meet a senator that’s supposed to be a voice of influence in dark times, but he reveals himself as a double agent working for the empire. The best thing about this character is that he’s voiced by Brent Spiner, the same talent who played Data back in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. In the two part mid-season finally that began with the episode “Empire Day”, we learn some important new things involving Ezra, including his missing parents, and the fact that he was born on the day the empire was created. It’s a great mid-season package, filled with terrific action, and character growth. One of my favorite episodes is titled “Path of a Jedi”, in which Ezra and Kanan visit an abandoned Jedi temple in which both master and apprentice face their fears, and their acts of faith are rewarded when Ezra receives a light saber of his own. This episode has all the good stuff, top notch animation, character bonding, and a deeper look into the mythos and lore of the Star Wars universe. 
The season final titled “Fire Across the Galaxy” is outstanding, and ends the first season 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, and the return of characters like Asoka and Darth Vader. 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 really 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.


                                                                Season 2 

Season 2 kicks things off with one heck of a bang! The pilot episode titled “Siege of Lothal” is spectacular, and it’s a far stronger premier episode then what had come the previous year. In this season premier, 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 hero's 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”. It also features the very first light-saber dual between Darth Vader and our new hero's, which doesn't disappoint. At the end, both Darth Vader and the Emperor learn that Asoka survived the clone wars, and it really builds on your anticipation for when the master and apprentice inevitably re-unite.  

      As the season continues we get to see even more returning characters from the previous “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” TV series ... and it’s sweet! First of all, I can’t even describe in words how happy I was to see Captain Rex return in this season. He was my favorite character from “The Clone Wars”, no one had any idea what happened to him between the events of that show and “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but now we know, and it does his character justice. Dee Bradley Baker still kills it in the role, and the character of Captain Rex has only gotten better in this series. He’s still has authority, but he’s also gotten older, wiser and has a lot of charm. Best of all is that he wasn’t just a one shot guest, he joins the cast as a main reoccurring character and it’s always a treat to see him. Another surprise treat was the return of the pirate “anti-hero” named Hondo, voiced again by Jim Cummings. He was really fun back in “The Clone Wars”, and he’s only gotten funnier in “Rebels”. Princess Leia even makes a special guest appearance in one episode titled “A Princess on Lothal”, and that was a very welcome addition.

     The action scenes got bigger in this season, with stand out light saber duals, and battles involving the classic imperial walkers. There were a lot more episodes this season, and the side characters were all appropriately developed further.
Sabine had a heated confrontation with her people she descended from, and they are of course the armored solders that we fans know as the Mandalorians. Zeb, who was under the impression that he was the last of his kind soon discovers that some are still alive, and that he needs to lead them to salvation. My favorite story arch of the season revolved around Ahsoka as she discovered that her former master Anakin has become the malevolent Darth Vader, and now she doesn’t know what kind of action should be taken against him. I’ve been watching “The Clone Wars” for over six years, and felt that I joined Ahsoka on a journey. It was so exciting, even emotional to see her in this situation. A stand out episode of the season was "Shroud of Darkness", as it dived further into the mythos of the Jedi, and featured ghostly appearances from characters like the Grand Inquisitor, as well as Anakin Skywalker himself, voiced y the same talent from “The Clone Wars” series.
I feel this season played more to the emotional sides of the characters, and had some genuinely touching scenes. A stand out moment for me was when Captain Rex reunited with Ahsoka, which really got me in the "feels". Of course the big story arch of the season revolves around our two Jedi hero's Kanan and Ezra. In the mid-season Ezra learns the tragic story of his parents ... they are in fact dead, and from that point a “darkness” starts to grow within him. Kanan comes full circle as a master, but he fears what may transpire with Ezra, and what may happen to him. This season also introduces us to several new Inquisitors who are on a mission from Darth Vader to hunt down our hero’s. These new villains are okay, they look cool and can put up a fight, but they just can’t fill the void left by the Grand Inquisitor from season 1.

     At last, the season 2 finale titled “Twilight of the Apprentice” is sensational, 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 Ezra 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 Ezra didn’t get converted to become Darth Mauls 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 final, Ahsoka comes face to face with her old master Darth Vader, and an epic confrontation ensues between them. This was haunting, dramatic and honestly quiet powerful to experience. There’s this incredible moment when Ahsoka destroys half of Vader’s helmet revealing a part of Anakins face underneath it. In the end, the fate of Ahsoka is unknown, both Darth Vader and Darth Maul are at large, and I’m pumped for Season 3.

                                                         Season 3       

As the third season kicked off, we see that all the characters have changed and the villains are raising the stakes. I’ll admit, the events of this season felt like a step down from before, but in the plus column, I think season 3 has the best character development and arches of the series thus far. With Kanan’s eye sight gone, he has to find new ways of “seeing without sight”, and becomes a far more humble, interesting and mature Jedi master in the process. Ezra is slowly being pulled by the dark side, with Darth Maul constantly pulling him away from his master. My favorite character arch this season by far comes in the form of Sabin, who’s trying to win back her family honor, and prevent a civil war between her people. This arch was compelling, character driven, and was very mature. The Sabin centered episode titled “Trials of the Darksaber” was like a classic samurai film and featured some of the shows most emotional highlights. Also, the hero’s aren’t the only ones getting developed, in fact Agent Kallus got some much needed dimension and goes through a full reformation arch. In the episode “Through Imperial Eyes”, we see both the conflicts and humanity of Kallus finally take shape. By the end of the season, it was a real treat to see him join our hero’s and fight for the rebellion.

      This season once again expanded on the Star Wars mythos and universe, with new worlds and new force based creatures. The most notable of all is the mysterious Bendu voiced by the great Tom Baker. This giant creature is one of the most unique to ever come from Star Wars, and is right on the line between good and evil. There are also some noteworthy Star Wars alumni characters that make appearances throughout the season. Most notable is Forest Whitaker reprising his role as Saw Gerrera from “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”. Captain Rex gets a very good episode titled “The Last Battle”, which brings some finality to “The Clone Wars” series. It involves Rex leading his new team on one last showdown against some surviving Battle Droids. At the end, the two sides make peace and we have the privilege of seeing the battle droids fight the empire, which is like the best of fan fiction come true. 

    Darth Mauls arch is the only one I have mixed feelings about. His individual episodes this season were great, as it built on our expectations for what was to come, but I don’t think they reached their full potential. It just feels that Maul came at went without leaving much of an impact. His relation with Ezra throughout the season is good, but nothing seems to change our hero that significantly. At the end the season, we get the episode “Twin Suns”, which was the most anticipated episode of the season by far. We see the return of the elder Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gets into one final dual with Darth Maul, and it’s great. This dose unfortunately lead to Darth Mauls death, but it’s handled very well, and is more character driven, rather than a flashy spectacle. It’s great to finally see elder Obi-Wan Kenobi again, and voice actor Stephen Stanton matches Alec Guinness from the first movie perfectly. We even get our first glimpse of Luke Skywalker, which was a nice touch.

      Of course the highlight of the season by far is the unveiling of the new villain Grand Admiral Thrawn. Now this was my introduction to Thrawn, even though he’s actually one of the most beloved characters from the expanded Star Wars universe. He was the main subject of several popular novels, video games, and having him take the rains as the shows new main antagonist was a big deal. Well, he definitely lived up to the hype, and quickly became one of my new favorite characters. Unlike other villains in the Star Wars universe, Thrawn has a certain respect for both his adversaries and peers. He loves art, he isn’t driven by his ego, and while he’s ruthless, his actions are very unique, yet devastating. This isn’t a villain who lashes out and attacks in full force, he’s more calculated, strategic, and his greatest weapon is his intelligence. I also like that he’s present throughout the whole season, and the show dose a good job building up to how devastating he can be. It’s admittedly a slow burn, but the payoff is more than satisfying. In the season finally titled “Zero Hour”, Thrawn launches a massive invasion on the Rebel base, leading into the largest battle the show has featured yet. This was like the “Helms Deep” of “Rebels” and further illustrated what of large scale threat Thrawn represents. In short, season 3 didn’t leave quiet the same impact as before, but the characters were developed further, the arches were all satisfying, and with Admiral Thrawn raising the stakes, things were getting very exciting.

     At this point, season 4 is on the horizon, so it’s too early to give the show any further review, but I will update this post with each new season. I will say that “Star Wars Rebels” has surpassed my expectations, and I really look forward to seeing what the show has to offer next. It’s a strong follow up to “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, it has a great cast of likable characters, and it manages to make me feel like a young kid again, while treating me like an adult, and that’s no small accomplishment. Most importantly, I feel like this show is expanding on the "Star Wars" universe in a way that I've never experienced before, and it's really been one heck of an adventure.  

                    To Be Updated ...

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