Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Impressions: Star Wars Rebels

It feels strange to admit that I have a large affection for the now defunct Clone Wars TV series. Strange because when it came out it really looked unlikely to ever be the sort of show I could care about, and make an effort to watch. Set between two of the Star Wars prequels - which I've never hated, but certainly never felt more than "sort of liked, with some pretty decent sections" - and featuring whiny Anakin Skywalker and his never-even-hinted-at bratty Apprentice, it doesn't sound promising and its pilot "movie" wasn't that great either. But Clone Wars really grew on me - it handled its characters fantasically, expanded it's horizons, and in the end was a better prequel to the Classic Trilogy than the official Prequel Movies. Oh, and Ahsoka became possibly the best female lead on kids TV that wasn't called Korra. And then it was cancelled, a victim of the Disney buy-out of Lucasfilm, and instead we got Star Wars Rebels. How's that working out?

It feels like Disney are quietly dissavowing the prequels in a lot of ways. All the preliminary excitement about the new movies they're releasing seem to play heavily on my generations nostalgia - X-Wings! The Millennium Falcon! Returning Geriatric Actors! - and yes, thats kind of cool, but there is a nagging fear that whilst the Prequels certainly dropped a lot of balls, at least they tried some to juggle some new ones. Rebels moves to the imagery of the Classic Trilogy, and in some cases the feel of it too as we start in the Outer Rim and a more rag-tag, flawed collection of heroes rather than the military and governmental backdrop for Clone Wars. Its a good move in a lot of ways, allowing the show to free of easy comparison, but also jettisons a lot of the complexity that Clone Wars spent 5 seasons building. 

In a lot of ways it's a very traditional setup for a kids show. We have our identification figure, in "Space Aladdin" Ezra, an urchin with a heart of gold and Force Sensitivity, and then a surrogate family with varying degrees of interest and character depth. In the early running it's ex-Jedi (or possibly just ex-Padawan) Kanan, but over the first four or five episodes the others start to get unpicked, although they struggle to get above broad type at the moment. I do like that Hera, the Captain of the Ghost and "Mom" of our growing family, has so managed to be a solid authority figure (it's definately her ship, rather than her simply being the pilot) without carrying the killjoy role that often comes with it. 

Early stories are also pretty traditional. The Empire is Evil, as you're expect, and it's small collection of villains represent different types of Imperial Villainy. Stormtroopers are relegated to cannon fodder; dangerous against non-heroes but not that effective overall, and explicitly different from the Clone Troopers of Clone Wars, which makes me wonder what happened to all those guys, and if that will be addressed at some point. So far we've had a lot of fairly thin plots that allow the characters to show off, so I don't expect much depth yet, although a few smaller appearances and hints of a wider, growing Rebellion does hold the promise of where the show would like to go. 

So really what we have so far is a lot of potential. The setting and characters have potential, the villains have potential, and the show, overall, has the backing of the network and therefore the time to see that potential fulfilled. It's actually got a hell of a lot more potential than those early episodes of Clone Wars with the cross-dressing Hutt and other such nonsense that is best forgotten. But at the moment, really, potential is mostly all that it's got because a lot of the actual episodes are fun but slight.