For those hoping that Star Wars: Rebels might serve as a sign that the creative fortunes of the Force franchise are heading for greener pastures – Good news! – all signs point to yes. National Fan Expo in Toronto featured a special presentation of the hour-ling first episode of Rebels to a theater of over 1,000 fans Friday, and if the cheers, laughs and applause are any indication, then that’s over a thousand people who will be tuning into the further adventures of this new, ragtag crew of freedom fighters once the series begins its first season run later this year.
The first episode packs a lot of action into its first 44 minutes, some of which you’ve probably already seen. The first three minutes, which feature the “street rat” Ezra (Taylor Gray) helping himself to an Imperial shipment that was in the middle of being stolen by rebel captain Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his crew, are the same three minutes that open the show. What happens afterward sees young Ezra forcibly stowed away on Kanan’s ship as they race to escape the Imperials chasing down their stolen cargo. When they escape, Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) of the Imperial Security Bureau arrives on the scene to assess if this is the “spark of rebellion” that he and his fellow agents have been waiting for.
Now I didn’t follow the Clone Wars animated series closely through its run, although I did watch episodes intermittently. Yes, I know a lot fans said it got better and managed to live down some of the prequels inherent silliness over the course of its six seasons, and I did see evidence of that in the few episodes I watched, but if Rebels has a hope of creating a place where fans and the franchise they love can start over, it’s because Rebels doesn’t carry any of that baggage. Rebels feels like something purely inspired by the original trilogy, and it makes good use of Star Wars archive of music and sound effects (not to mention the original designs for Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters, et al).
There’s also some fun Easter eggs, one involving a beloved character of both trilogies. Some of the secrets of the show are probably best discovered in the course of watching it, but if you saw that aforementioned three minute teaser than you can probably guess what one of the spoilers is going to be regarding the mysterious connection between both Ezra and Kanan.
The characters are all pretty well drawn. Prinze gives Kanan a good enough mix of authority and swagger, and he appears to have decent voice chemistry with Gray. Kallus, although he looks like Denis Leary with mutton chops, he’s got this Snidley Whiplash sort of sniveling villain drawl, and gets one of the episode’s best sight gags. The real breakout, I think, is going to Steve Blum as Zeb, the big purple bruiser of the crew whose look is based on early Ralph McQuarrie drawings for Chewbacca (which is reference in another excellent gag in the episode). Zeb is hilariously irascible and comes across as a being whose in the fight as much for the violence as he is for the cause. Zeb will surely be many kids new Star Wars hero.
All-in-all, Rebels is extremely watchable, and primed to be appealing to everyone across Star Wars fandom. Those that enjoyed Clone Wars will be able to connect to the series’ style and beats, but where Rebels clearly shines is the way it’s able to reach fans of the original trilogy, and take them somewhere that’s both new and familiar. Rebels is a proud series onto itself, but at the same time it lovingly embraces the franchises best tropes and traits. In other words, the Force is strong with this one.
Star Wars: Rebels premieres on Disney XD this coming October.