Expanded Galaxy: Star Wars Rebels

Welcome back to another installment of Expanded Galaxy, a closer look and overview of a non-movies part of the Star Wars universe. Last time, I highlighted my personal favorite bit of Star Wars canon, The Clone Wars animated series, so now I will cover it’s slightly awkward cousin, Star Wars Rebels.

I wanted to wait until Rebels ended to post this, so we’ll have a better view of the series as a whole, but I won’t be discussing any big series-ending spoilers in this post. (Comments, with spoiler tags, though are probably gonna happen)

Anyway, Star Wars Rebels! I’m going to try not to constantly compare it to The Clone Wars, but it’s gonna be hard.

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Rebels takes place starting 5 years before the events of A New Hope and follows a found family of fledgling rebels trying to make their way in the universe while also sticking it to the Empire when they can. Whereas The Clone Wars jumped around to tell lots of different stories about war, Rebels sticks to its main crew of 6 and their small place in a bigger galaxy.

The characters:

Ezra Bridger

If the show has a main character, it’s Ezra. Found by the rest of the group in the first episode, he’s basically space Aladdin, an orphan boy stealing from the Empire just to get by. But, twist! He’s also Force-sensitive. Much of the early seasons are about Ezra struggling to learn about the Force and what being a Jedi means when there are no other Jedi around. He’s also kind of an impulsive brat because he’s 14 when the show begins. (for context, he’s the same age as Luke and Leia). He’s voiced by Taylor Gray.

Kanan Jarrus

Kanan was the Jedi padawan of Depa Billaba who died in Order 66 but was able to buy him just enough time to escape. (There’s an entire comic series about this, Kanan: The Last Padawan that’s actually pretty good). He’s the “dad” of our group, serious and responsible, while also hiding a lot of grief and regret about being one of the surviving Jedi (and not feeling like he really is a Jedi in the first place, since he was still a padawan when shit went down) and how he should mentor Ezra. He’s voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.

Hera Syndulla

Hera has a direct connection to The Clone Wars: her dad, Cham Syndulla, was a leader on Ryloth and was a big part of those storylines (baby Hera makes an appearance on his shoulders in one episode, if I recall correctly). Hera is the show’s badass pilot and fellow “parent” character of the group, along with Kanan (they have a romantic relationship as well). Hera is also the most clear-cut “rebel”, as well. She is the reason this group ends up a part of the proper Rebellion and she’s often considered the moral backbone of the group. Vanessa Marshall is her voice actress.

Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios

Zeb is one of the last surviving Lasat warriors. He hates the Empire because they destroyed his home, Lasan, and is kind of the grumpy older brother/uncle of the group. He’s rash and takes a long time to warm up to others, but he’s a very effective fighter and is loyal. Zeb doesn’t get as many big episodes as his teammates but his spotlight episodes are among the best in the series. He’s voiced by Steve Blum.

(oh and if he looks familiar, it’s because his character design is based on Ralph McQuarrie’s original design for Chewbacca!)

Sabine Wren

Sabine is the show’s resident Mandalorian, artist, and explosives expert. She was in the Imperial Academy before eventually quitting/escaping. Her insider knowledge comes in handy many times, and the story of her Mandalorian family and heritage has been really great in these later seasons. She is voiced by Tiya Sircar. (Vicky from The Good Place)

Chopper

Chopper is Hera’s loyal astromech and is a high chaos murder droid that often drives me crazy.(high chaos characters stress me out) But Chopper is an important part of the crew and he definitely has a distinct personality, so he’s got that going for him.

As far as supporting characters go, many Clone Wars and other big Star Wars characters make appearances: Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex (and two other clones that avoided Order 66), Wedge Antilles, Bail Organa, Leia, Honda Ohnaka, Tarkin, Obi-Wan, Maul, Bo-Katan Kryze, Mon Mothma, Yoda, Darth Vader, Palpatine, Lando, and Saw Gerrara (among others I’m sure I forgot).

Some are only for an episode or two and others are recurring characters, it depends. But even the big ones (like Ahsoka or Maul) never take focus from the main Rebels crew because, well, it’s their show.

Rebels has also had a rotating cast of villains, mostly agents of the Empire. The first two seasons saw them squaring off against Inquisitors, Force-users that Darth Vader commanded and sent out to deal with any Force-sensitive people left in the galaxy. The Inquisitors have cool designs but didn’t do much, for me, as effective villains. (but they are a good reminder of how undertrained Kanan and Ezra are compared to someone like Ahsoka)

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The last two seasons saw them go up against one of the most famous and popular EU characters, Grand Admiral Thrawn. I never read the Zahn novels he’s from so I can’t comment on the authenticity, but I think he’s pretty great and a welcome change of pace for Imperial leaders. Plus Lars Mikkelsen does his voice and it’s pretty effective.

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One of the other big villains is Agent Kallus (whose first name I just found out is Alexsandr and just…I love Star Wars), a lower-level Imperial agent who goes toe-to-toe with our Rebels often. But Kallus ends up having a really cool arc throughout the show and I give a lot of credit for that to his voice actor, David Oyelowo, who brings a lot to the role.

Now, with the characters explained, let’s get into the stories of Rebels itself. Because they are….a mixed bag, to say the least. When Rebels is good, it’s great, some of the best stories Star Wars has to offer, but when it’s bad. Oof. It’s bad.

There are lots of filler episodes in this series, which isn’t normally a bad thing, but since most of the Rebels crew worked on The Clone Wars, you can sometimes feel them rushing through the plot at breakneck speed because they were used to getting 2-4 episodes for their arcs, where in Rebels, they get one (maybe two). And when you go from a finding out mysterious things about Sabine’s past in one episode to “Hey let’s spend 20 minutes with a bunch of new annoying teen rebels that have nothing to do with the bigger plot” it’s frustrating to say the least.

And this might seem weird to complain about, but Kevin Johnson at the mothership brought it up a few times as well, and it’s the single most annoying thing about this show for me: the morality in Rebels is so inconsistent that it drags down the quality of the show.

Here’s an example of what I mean, vague spoilers for season 4 episode 2:

Sabine has the opportunity to kill an Imperial agent but is talked down, being told that she’s better than that and that killing him makes her just as bad as the Empire. Sabine stands down and instead destroys the weapon she was going to kill the guy with, and the Rebels escape as the destruction of the weapon destroys the ship behind them, effectively killing everyone inside. You’re still killing them even if you don’t actually see them die!

These kinds of situations happen so often that I wonder if Disney is behind the idea that this show has to have a “moral lesson” every episode, even if it doesn’t make sense. Regardless, it’s distracting, and just let them kill Stormtroopers. Everyone else does.

But like I said, when Rebels is good, it’s great. The season two finale is one of the best bits of Star Wars I’ve ever seen, with Maul making a magnificent return and bonding with Ezra, while the Rebels experience life-changing consequences and Ahsoka goes to battle with Darth Vader. It’s intense and gorgeous and absolutely worth watching. And the recent end of the series has been, possibly, even stronger. Lots of exciting & groundbreaking Force-lore, great action sequences, the return of many recurring characters, IAN MCDIARMID AS PALPATINE, a couple genuinely tear-jerking moments, and a very satisfying conclusion for our Rebels gang.

Other things of note about Rebels:
  • While the series starts 5 years before A New Hope, it does some time-jumps and ends approximately 2 years  less than a year before it. (Hence some of the hairstyle changes in the cast)
  • The “General Syndulla” that is paged in Rogue One on the Rebel base is, in fact, Hera. Chopper also makes a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo.
  • If you just want your Vader fix, he’s in season 2 (and the pilot episode). And yes, he’s voiced by James Earl Jones.
  • One of Cham Syndulla’s best fighters, Numa, is in fact the little girl clone troopers Waxer and Boil rescue in The Clone Wars episode “Innocents of Ryloth”. She honors them with her armor:
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  • The animation in Rebels is not bad but it is not quite as detailed and non-stop gorgeous as The Clone Wars was. There are some goofy character designs (lord have mercy the Wookies do not fare well) and an obviously scaled back budget (let’s only design one low-level Imperial officer and cover his eyes with a hat so we can just copy and paste him), but it’s still pretty dang good looking and it got much better as the series went on.
  • Rebels isn’t streaming on Netflix like The Clone Wars, so the easiest ways to watch it are by watching/DVRing it on DisneyXD or buying the episodes from Amazon or iTunes. All the current available options can be found here.

Overall, I recommend Rebels to any Star Wars fan. It’s definitely more of a straight-up kids show that Clone Wars was (which was, to be fair, so devastating sometimes that lightening the mood was pretty necessary), so if that kind of humor is not your thing, the show may not be for you. But the highs outweigh the lows, in my opinion, so if you’re interested, give it a shot.

PS: please anyone feel free to use this Expanded Galaxy tag to talk about non-movie Star Wars stuff you love! Whether it’s the KOTOR games, EU novels, toys, comics, whatever, go for it! I am hoping to write about the rebooted Marvel Star Wars comic line next, but it will probably be awhile before I get there.

PPS: also please feel free to talk to me about the Rebels finale in the comments with spoiler tags! Like this: <spoiler>Chopper was the name of the sled.</spoiler>