Star Wars: Rebels premiered on Disney XD back in 2014 and has since run its course, ending in 2018 after four seasons and several tie-in comics and novels, including the new Thrawn trilogy written by Timothy Zahn. Set in the Dark Times when the Galactic Empire is at the height of its power, the animated spinoff to Clone Wars follows a found family of lost souls fighting for a semblance of hope in a galaxy besieged by tyranny. I was reluctant to jump into Rebels during its original run, held back by what I perceived as a kids show with inferior animation to the series that came before, and none of the emotional heart that made the Clone Wars so enthralling. Boy, was I wrong.
Over the years, I monitored the hype around the series and slowly felt my interest peak just before the Season 2 finale of The Mandalorian when rumors circulated that Ezra Bridger would make his live-action debut and train Grogu. This didn’t end up happening, but with the recent reveal that Ahoksa Tano would be getting her own series for Disney Plus, the prospect of seeing the Ghost crew in live-action became even more of a reality. The little voice in the back of my mind (although I kind of think it was the Force) kept whispering to me, “Watch the show, Mack.”
It was finally my partner who suggested we watch Rebels, and we binged the first season in a few days. The entire time I kept thinking, “Wow, I misjudged this show.” The animation is stellar. The characters are all captivating and charming. The series stands on its own from the vast array of Star Wars properties (although I did choke up when a few legacy characters made cameos along the way). All in all, it was everything I loved about Star Wars and then some.
The Animation is Gorgeous
From the sprawling shots of Lothal’s industrial cities and the beautiful medley of bright, colorful explosions to each character’s intricate designs (the patterns of Hera’s lekku and Sabine’s multicolored hair come to mind), Rebels is a gorgeously animated show. The TV promos and commercials don’t do the series justice. Sure, the lightsabers are a little thin, but it’s something I can overlook based on how much the lightsabers themselves light up the screen. Each character feels unique and alive, and while the Rebels are a colorful batch of heroes, the Imperials are gaunt and hollow, and the Grand Inquisitor is terrifying whenever his yellow eyes burn through the screen. Did I mention how beautiful the explosions are?
The Characters Are Compelling, and Their Undeniable Chemistry Makes Rebels Great
I was woefully unprepared for how much I’d love the chemistry between the characters. They bicker, they banter, they disagree with one another. They’re unsure of themselves sometimes, but they rely on one another and value each other in a way I found heartwarming. The Ghost crew is a found family, and while a lot of series describe their core cast of characters as a strong unit, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes it feels like we are being told about their bond but never get to experience it. Rebels goes out of its way to show the crew’s familial bond, from their facial expressions when they’re reunited with each other or think that one of their own is hurt, to the playful energy they emote when all the cast is together.
While the bond between the entire cast is strong, it’s the personal bond between each individual that also shines. Zeb and Sabine are the older siblings Ezra never had, and their playful pranks and crazy escapades help bring him out of his shell. Kanan and Hera are obviously in love, but it’s not corny or cringey; their love is one that’s born from a mutual respect and understanding of one another. Sabine looks up to Hera while also desiring more leadership, and Hera respects Sabine but wants to keep her—and everyone— safe. She’s torn between fighting for the hapless souls of the galaxy and keeping her family out of danger, but these both make her a strong and effective leader of the group. Chopper is….well, Chopper is Chopper, and the little droid has so much personality that he steals practically every scene he’s in.
Meanwhile, Ezra explores his blossoming abilities in the Force and his enthusiasm for becoming a Jedi. He’s also angry at the Empire for stripping him of his childhood and killing his parents, and he must learn that the Force isn’t a toy to be used in a personal quest for vengeance. It’s a lesson that Kanan, a survivor of the Clone Wars and Order 66, tries to impart to his young Padawan learner while also dealing with his own doubts and traumatic experiences after the war. Kanan has his work cut out for him because there’s a little bit of Anakin Skywalker in Ezra. The boy has lived a tough life, and he’s more willing to use the Force aggressively to complete a mission and bend the ideals of the now destroyed Jedi Order. He’s got a lot of anger, but he’s also young and enthusiastic. When the season begins, Ezra is focused on how he can survive, but by the end of the season, he’s ready to be the voice of the Rebellion and inspire the galaxy to rise up against the cruelty of the Empire.
The Ghost crew all suffered under the thumb of the Empire and each bears their own trauma, but their little family bands together to light the spark of Rebellion. It’s one of the best parts of the show.
It’s So Much More Than A Kids Show
Rebels may be a kid’s show, but it’s so much more, and I don’t know why this is always something that holds me back. It took me way too long to get into Clone Wars, but I found that it was nothing like I expected once I did, and I loved the darker undertones and adult themes that existed in the series. Obviously Rebels isn’t as dark as Clone Wars, and some pivotal moments of violence occur offscreen, but the implication is clear. Rebels is still Star Wars, and it’s not playing around. This is a violent and turbulent galaxy, with enemies like the Grand Inquisitor stalking the shadows and hunting the Jedi to extinction.
At its core, Rebels is about doing more than just the bare minimum to survive. It’s about rising above taking care of only yourself, and fighting for the good of everyone. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic and the turbulent four years we just survived, but I found the message to be so relevant. Rebels near-perfectly captures what happens when lonely and sad people in a galaxy full of suffering come together to take a stand.
I’m looking forward to finishing the show, and I’ll post reviews of each season, as well as additional posts about specific characters or events from the series.
Let me know what you think about the show in the comments and if there’s anything you want me to cover specifically. Check out my website for all things Star Wars and pop culture, and stay nerdy!