I wrote this in one shot with almost no editing or proofreading. Let me know if you find typos. Enjoy.
In lieu of any kind of substance today… a listicle! Five reasons you should shut up about the mystery of Snoke or whatever stupid Star Wars shit you’re on about, and watch Star Wars: Rebels instead.
Rebels is an animated series, currently airing its fourth and final season on Disney XD, set in the earliest days of the rebellion, five years before Rogue One. It follows the crew of Ghost, a tiny rebel cell all alone in their local fight against the Empire. As the show goes on, they join a larger rebel group, and finally the full Rebel Alliance when it starts to come together on Yavin.
It’s the best thing in Star Wars right now. It’s better than most of the movies. Here’s why.
More so even than the new trilogy of films, the characters on Rebels feel fresh and new for Star Wars, while still being familiar enough to fit the Star Wars universe. Dramatis personae:
Hera, a green-skinned Twi-lek woman, hotshot pilot, Clone Wars veteran. Captain and den mother to the crew.
Kanan, a teen Jedi apprentice at the time of the Jedi purge, now one of a handful of Jedi left alive. Unsure of himself as an adult Jedi, but training a young Force-sensitive boy.
Ezra, a young Force-sensitive orphan with no love for the the Empire. A spazzy 13-year-old with a unique Force connection with animals.
Sabine, a self-exiled young Mandalorian warrior, demolitions enthusiast, protest artist. It’s a lot of fun to have an artist character in Star Wars. She leaving spray-painted anti-Empire art wherever they go.
Zeb, one of the few survivors of the Imperial genocide of the Lasat species. He’s a big purple alien guy with a neat gun.
Chopper (C1-10P), a grumpy, elderly, off-brand R2 unit. Hera’s co-pilot in the Clone Wars. Considered an independent member of the crew.
There are also appearances (tasteful and restrained) by Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones!), Tarkin, Leia, Yoda, Obi-Wan and Lando (Billy Dee Williams!). And if you’re a fan of the Clone Wars animated series, there is some truly must-see shit with old man Rex and adult Ahsoka. There’s a terrific villian voiced by David Oyelowo. And Kanan, by the way, is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr of all people.
2. The Force is complicated.
Some people, myself included, really like how complicated and messy the Force was in The Last Jedi in comparison with previous films. This show (and the Clone Wars series before it) has spent a good deal of time complicating and deepening our understanding of the Force. If you were into that part of Last Jedi, Rebels is for you.
Cool things this show does with the Force:
The Ashla and the Bogan. In early scripts of Star Wars, Lucas referred to the Light and Dark sides of the Force as the Ashlan and Bogan, respectively. In Rebels, we encounter some religious specialists who also survived the genocide of Zeb’s people. They say that the Ashla will show them the way to a new promised land for their people. It’s a very different way to look at the Force, and one of many non-Jedi frames for the Force throughout the new canon.
The Bendu. Also in early scripts, Lucas called the Jedi the Jedi-Bendu. In Rebels, Kanan at one point encounters an immense creature called The Bendu in the wilderness of the planet Atollon. The Bendu is delightfully voiced by Tom Baker (yes, that Tom Baker). The Bendu doesn’t care about the rebels or the Empire or the Jedi or anyone else. He is a truly Daoist expression of the Force; at peace in the balance between light and dark. Is he a physical being? Or a Force spirit? It’s unclear. His recurring appearances were a highlight of the third season.
3. Ralph McQuarrie!
Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork is essential to Star Wars. I’ll write more about him at some point. Suffice it to say, most of the ships, character designs, locations, etc. that you see original trilogy issue forth from his mind all but fully formed. This show makes very heavy use of his unused designs (Zeb is basically an early sketch of Chewbacca). McQuarrie had a very particular sense of proportion and color and light that the show manages to mimic in some really stunning ways.
In the 90s, Timothy Zahn wrote what many considered for a long time to be the third trilogy. A primary antagonist was Grand Admiral Thrawn, a chilly Imperial officer with blue skin, red eyes, a talent for playing the long game, and a hobby of art criticism. And he is back in the new canon (the one established after Disney bought Lucasfilm and swept away the old Expanded Universe)! It’s exciting, if you were a Star Wars reader in the 90s.
5. Connections with Clone Wars and Rogue One
If you’re a fan of Clone Wars and/or Rogue One, there are some can’t miss connections.
Characters from Clone Wars whose fates are eventually revealed on Rebels: Captain Rex (the latest word from the officials at Lucasfilm is that he survives at least all the way to the Battle of Endor), Ahsoka (a teen in self-exile from the Jedi order when last we saw her, she is now a fully-realized Force-wielder, rebel organizer, and uses two fucking awesome white lightsabers; and, by the way, imagine the powerful narrative and character possibilities that come from having her an Vader in the same show), Saw Gerrera (much older than last we saw him, and somewhat younger and less crazytown than when we next see him in Rogue One.
And there are some killer Rebels references in Rogue One: Hera (“General Syndulla”) is paged over the intercom at the rebel base on Yavin; the Ghost appears parked outside the base and in combat at the Battle of Scarif; and Chopper can be seen rolling by in the background at the base in a fleeting shot.
SIX. I’M ADDING ONE.
Lightsabers, y’all. Lightsabers, lightsabers, lightsabers.
This show has a badass black Mandalorian lightsaber. It has more lightsaber training scenes than you knew you wanted (one of them is an episode-long character piece on Sabine, and it is uncommonly good television). It has Ezra’s unique little lightsaber (you’ll see).
And it has two of the three greatest lightsaber battles: the final confrontation between Ahsoka (Anakin’s apprentice during the Clone Wars) and Vader; and the final confrontation between Maul and Obi-Wan. The latter is sublime.
Both bring decades of storytelling and character-building together with gorgeous animation and cinematography in a manner that rivals anything in a Star Wars movie.
That’s all. Good night.