I admit it: the first time I watched the Rebels double-episode debut “Spark of Rebellion”, I was… underwhelmed. The animation looked sparse and rough, the dialogue felt forced (no pun intended) and the Imperials were more brutes than a coldly efficient machine.
None of that changed upon my second viewing, but the lyricism and whimsy became more apparent.
Here’s the thing: this is an entirely different beast to The Clone Wars. While that show almost seemed to be a Saturday morning adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, Rebels really is a return to the space western of Star Wars: A New Hope, where good guys are good, bad guys are bad and there’s adventures to be had if you know where to look.
And that’s more of a shock than it should be. I first saw the original Star Wars in the early ’80s during one of its theatrical re-releases, and deep in the back of my mind it still sets the tone for what Star Wars is “meant to be”. And yet Empire tweaked that understanding, and Jedi tweaked it further. But the prequels really turned things on their head, and we’ve been living in that reality for the last 15 years. It takes some effort to recall the magic that the first film offered.
But that’s what Rebels is attempting to do. The main character, Ezra Bridger, is a bit of Luke and a bit of Han, scaled down to a 14 year old. He seems content to live his life on the streets and by his wits, but the Force has other ideas, and soon he finds himself being part of an adventure he never saw coming.
Elements of the story recall moments from A New Hope, but nothing has been lifted outright. Shots pay homage to that cinematic classic, but more importantly, it’s the thematic elements that give it its true connective tissue to the original film. When Ezra realises that being part of something larger than himself is what truly makes life important, that’s when you realise the old Star Wars is back.
The first episode proper, titled “Droids in Distress” is where we first get to see Rebels in its regular format. Again, the opening shot is classic Star Wars, and it only gets better from there. Dave Filoni has pointed to the Disney feature Tangled as an animation reference point, and it’s in this episode that you can really see it: while Tangled used 3D animation to mimic a hand-drawn classic Disney aesthetic, Rebels mimics the art of classic Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, and it’s in this episode that it really becomes apparent. In particular, the planet of Garel is pure, classic McQuarrie and a wonder to behold.
If, like me, you used to wonder what other stories existed in the Star Wars of our youth—if you dreamt of having an adventure like Luke and maybe, just maybe, one day wielding a lightsaber, then Rebels is a gift to you. It might not be as adult or as complex as The Clone Wars, but it’s something different. It’s not for adults, but for the child in all of us.