What follows contains spoilers for season 1 of Star Wars Rebels.
I’ll admit it–I got awfully nervous when, just a minute into the episode “Droids in Distress,” R2-D2 and C-3PO rolled onto the scene. My brain immediately ramped up with cynical questions, like “How, in a giant galaxy such as this one, do the same two droids appear everywhere?” I was worried that, like some of the earlier material in the newly-minted Star Wars canon, Star Wars Rebels was going to be prone to cameos and other forced sorts of storytelling practices and get in the way of developing other interesting characters and situations in the galaxy.
I was worried that “Kid, I’m about to let everyone in on the secret” was going to be as good as Rebels got, which was believable, because that was an outstanding moment, especially considering how early in the story that it came.
It wasn’t long before I’d dismissed my cynicism. The great moments that the first season of Star Wars Rebels offered were plenty:
- The Inquisitor’s sprung-trap monologue after breaking our hearts, and assuring us that Master Luminara was, tragically, well and truly dead;
- Sabine and Hera’s standoff at the fuel depot against the frynocks;
- the construction of Ezra’s lightsaber;
- Yoda, but not Yoda;
- the lightsaber duel and dialogue between Kanan and the Inquistor in “Fire Across the Galaxy”.
These moments weren’t just great show moments; they were great Star Wars moments, moments in which good triumphed over evil, in which the will to survive drove heroes onward, in which masters and students traded knowledge and experience to seek better ends. It had the texture of an older Star Wars story, and with its Firefly-like cast makeup and carefully regimented cameos, the whole thing felt at least as true to the source material as anything released since the 1980’s.
BRIDGING A [31-YEAR?] GAP
But when Ahsoka Tano descended the ladder of the Ghost and revealed herself as Fulcrum at the conclusion of “Fire Across the Galaxy”, something that had never happened before in the saga’s history occurred.
It was hard for me to find the words to describe that something until after I’d watched the episode a few times. That first time, I had the same reaction that most viewers who have followed the franchise almost certainly had when they realized it was her: part joy, part surprise-that’s-not-surprise (the best kind), part “I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE TO WAIT FOR MORE OF THIS STORY!” It’s probably not quite the feeling my mother described upon watching The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, but it’s as close to it as a 33-year old like me is going to get, for now.
What makes the appearance of Ahsoka Tano different from other cliffhangers in the history of Star Wars is that it is the first moment in which the context of both the classic trilogy and that of the prequel trilogy felt like they were well and truly part of the same wonderful narrative. The tone of Star Wars Rebels is unquestionably closer to that of the classic trilogy, from the show’s title, to its use of never-before-depicted-except-as-a-toy vehicles, to its soundtrack, to its cameos. That probably gets some of us past the cynicism about Star Wars that has become more prevalent in recent years, but I think there’s more to it than that.
The varied responses with which most Star Wars media has been met since May of 1999 fall into a few basic camps:
- too much explanation;
- silly allegorical moralizing;
- shoddy writing;
- lack of adventure;
- poorly-conceived characters;
- shoddy writing.
Regardless of those criticisms, the Clone Wars-era stories had some great moments, as well, and some great characters. While they’ll not be universally adored like the classic trilogy, the prequel trilogy and its television show, The Clone Wars, are part of the new canon and, like it or not, have shaped where Disney and the Lucasfilm Story Group can and will take the franchise into the future.
They certainly seem to be up to the task. Filoni, Kinberg, Weisman, and Beck seem to be in control of where Rebels comes from, as well as where it’s going. It provides the longsuffering with some closure on Ahsoka’s fate, as well as lays the foundation of how the crew of the Ghost will factor into the Rebel Alliance that first appeared on screen 38 years ago. The turmoil of the Clone Wars and the furtive hope of the Rebellion co-exist within Star Wars Rebels to fully represent, and expand upon, both eras.
After wrapping up the plots from season 1, the last five minutes of “Fire Across the Galaxy” cemented and reaffirmed all of that. Bail Organa’s blockade runners appeared to save the day, he confirmed the existence of other Rebel “cells” (in desperate need of “alliance”), Ahsoka returned from her exile gloriously, and then, as if all that wasn’t enough, the Dark Lord of the Sith made a steely, wordless descent from a shuttle ramp to do what he does best. We’ve never seen that synthesis before with Star Wars, and maybe not in any imaginative universe on a scale as large as this.
Star Wars Rebels is thus a new application the best type of storytelling: measured, exceptionally well populated and written, and with a tone that somehow indicates all of the strengths of the franchise, and none of its shortcomings. The blend of the old and new Star Wars into a cohesive, whole myth respects its past and reinvigorates our long-established love of its future as we head toward December, towards season 2, and the future of Disney’s patronage over the galaxy far, far away.
WHERE WE’RE HEADED?
I’m not one to speculate much, but there are a few things that I’d be over the moon to see in season 2:
The reunion of Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. One would recognize the other. One wouldn’t. The dramatic irony would probably cause me to explode.
- More about Hera’s history. She makes a small appearance in The Clone Wars, as well. She’s the small child that appears in the episode “Supply Lines” that focuses on her father, the revolutionary Cham Syndulla, and his relationship with the Republic and the Jedi Council. To see that aspect of her character developed further would be and outstanding use of an episode or two.
- Ezra’s development as a Jedi Padawan. Because their fire has gone out of the galaxy.
- Kanan’s rise to Jedi Master. From “Spark of Rebellion” to “Fire Across the Galaxy,” his character has become more familiar a Jedi figure than many, longer-established characters. After the release of six or seven issues of Star Wars: Kanan from Marvel comics, that part of the story should get even more interesting.
- The construction of the Death Star. This gets alluded to more in the tie-in novel A New Dawn, so there’s a chance its construction could affect the fates of our Rebels.
There’s so much to look forward to in the Star Wars universe in 2015, and nothing more so than the release of The Force Awakens. But Rebels is Star Wars to its marrow, and its unique marriage of the old and new has done the improbable: it has merged the two eras with its terrific characters, balanced storytelling, outstanding cast, and superb tone, and season 2 will be a welcome prelude and counterpart to the new film in no small way.