Star Wars Rebels has been out there for quite some time, in fact, its second season is heading towards the finale. For those who haven’t been following it, but consider themselves Star Wars fans, maybe the unfamiliar story raises questions. What is it, what can I expect from it, and is it worth my time? Maybe you are in the same situation I was before I started watching. I will try to answer these questions now.
To Expand the Star Wars Universe
If you are already a Star Wars fan looking to delve deep into the universe, there are some ways Rebels might help you. It is probably not the first direction I would take, because in terms of species, planets and other interesting stuff, Rebels does not introduce much new, or rather: it does not elaborate on it. There may be new things, but they just are. If you are the type who spends hours poring over maps and descriptions of alien species with strange names, get a Star Wars encyclopedia first, or one of the books for the Expanded Universe. Rebels also operates with many characters and things which appeared earlier, mostly in the Clone Wars animated series, although they are not necessary for watching the show. But if you are into slowly discovering background of different characters, planetary cultures, events and so on, maybe you should save the Rebels after the other available options. Rebels is a fast-paced adventure with not much time for long, winding descriptions of worlds and their histories.
Background For The Rebellion
Rebels was presented (and that was probably the reason many started watching it in the first place) as something that finally sheds the light on the thus far omitted and avoided period before A New Hope (there had been only a few exceptions, mostly falling into the genre of computer games). The “old” Expanded Universe avoided it for a long time for understandable reasons: Episodes I-III (and III the longest) were still expected to happen, but nobody knew what would the Galaxy exactly look like after the end of the prequel trilogy. The new canon, on the contrary, seems to have tackled that period extensively, also inside the books such as Tarkin, A New Dawn or the Lords of the Sith. Now, finally, there is something that shows us the humble beginnings of the Rebellion and the daily life within the Empire before the open conflict broke out.
I think the series manages to do this very well. It fleshes out the generic idea we all have somewhere inside our minds, of the few groups of dissenters who eventually became connected and formed the entity we know from the original old trilogy. It does not give names and dates and the large-scale picture though: it focuses on a “model case”, if you will, showing the reasons why something like the Rebellion would form in the first place.
I would say that Rebels is a story about a group: not about the Galaxy, not even about the Rebel movement as a whole. It is also not about an individual, which might be a mistake one could make after watching an episode or two. Ezra Bridger is the central character (on first sight, the repulsively stereotypical orphan with special powers), but the story is not really just about him, especially the further we get. Rebels is the story of a “family” – because that is what the crew of the Ghost are. A small, closely-knit group, against the background of other events which shape the universe and which they are a part of – but only up to a point. The Rebellion does not stand and fall with these Rebels. They fly around, steal Imperial cargo, free prisoners, but they don’t do anything anybody else couldn’t do. But they make their own enemies, and the story is not about whether the Rebellion survives, but whether they survive, and if so, how, and how will they change. (This is a painful question, especially taking into account that there are people with Jedi abilities present in the group, and we are not aware of any other Jedi by the time Luke Skywalker began his journey.)
The themes of the Rebellion are very much present, though: the struggle for freedom, the terror of the totalitarian regime and the atrocities it is capable of committing, the call to stand up for those who cannot fight for themselves. This is the main theme of the whole series.
A Children’s Show
I feel obliged to include this part here because I consider it important. For many a viewer, Star Wars Rebels seems like a “show for kids”, at least on first sight. And it would not be incorrect – as if something that is “suitable for children” would be a bad thing for an adult. Perhaps it should be phrased the way that it is a show also for children. Depending on their age, some small things may escape them, but hey, kids should always be given something beyond their reach so they can grow, right? If you or your friends have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, younger siblings of school-age and so on, and are looking for something the kids would enjoy but that would at the same time have some inherent quality, I daresay Rebels is a recommendable choice. It provides story, adventure, amusement, as well as it emphasises the values of friendship, empathy, bravery, honesty and mutual trust.
It is also notable that (at least so far) Rebels has subverted some stereotypes, which is exactly the thing I did not expect when I started watching. Because on first sight, the show seems just like a bunch of stereotypes. But that is one more reason for this article – to let you know that you should not give in to the first impression. One example for all: as soon as young Ezra Bridger, the main hero, joins the crew of the Ghost, he has his eyes on the tomboyish Sabine Wren. How many times have we seen that trope. This happens in the very first episode. But that is also where it ends. I mean, of course occasionally (although somewhat less and less all the time), this theme resurfaces (but then, since Ezra obviously fancied Sabine at one point, it would be strange if it just disappeared without trace). But what you don’t see is Ezra drooling after the girl in every episode and throwing some wannabe-funny lines at her. Sabine is portrayed as a person with characterization and story of her own, and Rebels shows that a boy and girl of the same age can be friends just like that.
As a sidenote, if we are talking gender representation (and thinking about your little nieces looking for role models), all the female characters in Rebels are fully fleshed-out and are taken seriously and not only as mere sidekicks or damsels in distress. Nothing could be further away from Sabine, Hera and, heck, even the Imperial Minister Maketh Tua (and more characters in the second season).
If You Like Family Drama On A Ship…
I already mentioned that the Rebels are a lot like family. And after the struggle for freedom and the adventures, characters and their relationships and their emotional state are probably the third most emphasised thing in the series. As with everything, this rises dramatically especially in the second season. In the beginning, some of the emotional states the heroes go through feel a bit supeficial, Disney-style. But slowly, it starts to feel real. Do not expect deep existential crises and break-ups, though. It is more like a portrait of a nice, (generally) happy family and the story how they are there for each other whenever one of them needs it. But that is handled very well and these are the moments when you feel that the characters are real.
To Wrap It Up…
Star Wars Rebels is a show worth watching if you are just new into Star Wars and are happy for anything that comes your way. It is definitely for you if you are into lighthearted lightsaber-slashing adventure. If you want something more serious in the Star Wars universe, or if you have grown up on the older EU novels, it may feel a bit too happy-go-lucky for you. It is more like Episode VII than like the old trilogy, but also than like the prequels. It is exactly the “something” in between that seems to characterize the new approach to canon (also judging from the new books I have read this far). It is probably worth watching if you watched and liked the Clone Wars, but then why are you even reading this, I assume you must be watching it already. It is absolutely the right choice if you are looking for a show to watch and are just too busy for anything long (because every episode has some twenty minutes). It is a great choice if you are looking for something to watch with your family or with a couple of friends. And it is the best choice ever if you feel like having a break from too brutal or pessimistic shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead.
Star Wars Rebels is worth watching if you can bear to get through the somewhat stereotypically boring first season. (Fortunately, with the length of the episodes and because the first season was much shorter, you can just skim through it during one lazy afternoon.) The payoff in the second season are some really nice moments, characterization and quite emotional scenes. Already the last few episodes of the first season are pretty good and you can feel the rising pace.
But it is not for everyone. If you are looking for deep philosophical thoughts, don’t waste your time. If you are looking for obscure galactic lore, don’t. If you are looking for unique plots, don’t. But if you suspect that any of the positives mentioned above may outweigh these shortcomings, you may just as well give Rebels a try. Otherwise, just pick up some of the books or a Star Wars game with a good story.