Star Wars Rebels, Season 1 (2014–15) Review

After Disney acquired Lucasfilm, and rather abruptly canceled the fan favorite show The Clone Wars (a tumultuous act which was apparently due to licensing rights with Disney’s competitor Cartoon Network), in its wake, Disney/Lucasfilm greenlit a new sequel show led by legendary Clone Wars showrunner, Dave Filoni. Thus, Star Wars Rebels was born –a 3D animated family-friendly show with visually arresting scenery and loads of wonderful nods to the original trilogy. It takes place during the era of the budding rebellion, five years before the events of A New Hope (and fourteen years after the events of Revenge of the Sith). The show introduces a cohort of new characters aboard a small freighter ship called The Ghost –Ezra Bridger, a force-sensitive orphan boy who hails from the remote farming planet of Lothal (voiced by Taylor Gray); Kanan Jarrus, a rare Jedi who escaped from the Jedi Temple as padawan during “Order 66” (then known by the name “Caleb Dume”) though he watched the murder of his master Depa Billaba (Kanan is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.); Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek pilot whose mother Cham was a freedom fighter on Ryloth (voiced by Vanessa Marshall); Sabine Wren, a young Mandalorian warrior, artist, and former bounty hunter and Imperial fighter whom Ezra seems to fancy at first (voiced by Tiya Sircar); and Garazebb “Zeb” Orrelios, the Chewbacca-esque former Lasat honor guard warrior who seeks vengeance on the Empire for massacring his people (voiced by Steven Blum). Lastly, there is an amusing astromech droid unit named Chopper (voiced by none other than Dave Filoni, himself).  

As with The Clone Wars, there are also many classic Star Wars cameos in Rebels –James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Frank Oz as Yoda, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Lars Mikkelsen as Grand Admiral Thrawn, Dee Bradley Baker as Rex, Jim Cummings as Hondo Ohnaka, Katee Sackhoff as Bo-Katan, Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera… and many others. There is also a lot of unique lore explored in this first season –Imperial cadet training, Agents and Inquisitors, kyber crystals, and other fascinating ingredients.

In some ways, Rebels is a love letter to Ralph McQuarrie and his original concept artwork for Star Wars. The cinematic quality of this show is quite remarkable from hand-drawn lasers, to the shine on stormtrooper helmets, as well as sweeping vistas of far-away planetary topography. Prior to the show’s release, four Rebels short episodes aired. These fun little adventures follow the Ghost as it battles TIE fighters, stormtroopers, and in the fourth episode we are introduced to the show’s de fact protagonist, Ezra Bridger as he robs a crashed TIE fighter. Unlike The Clone Wars, which is not a chronological show, Rebels must be watched in order. In this way, we watch the characters learn and grow over time as they fit into the broader Star Wars universe (as well as the Filoni-verse, which is increasingly the only compelling area of Star Wars which is still being produced in the Disney era). While this is definitely more of a show for children than the dark undertones of The Cone Wars, I have to admit I thought Rebels was an all-around wonderful program. With striking cinematography, a powerful musical score, and a setting that corresponds to the rule of the Empire and the early birth of the rebellion (my favorite era of Star Wars), I was hooked from the very first “karabast!”  

Episodes 1-2 “Spark of Rebellion Parts I and II”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It is five years before the Battle of Yavin (ABY) and during the reign of the Galactic Empire. We open this series with an ominous injunction issued by Darth Vader to an Inquisitor: “The Jedi knights are all but destroyed, and yet your task is not complete, Inquisitor. The Emperor has foreseen a new threat rising against him –the children of the force. They must not become Jedi.” This becomes the overarching tension of the first season –the hunt for the “children of the force.” Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) of the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) is led by a Grand Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) who has been tasked by Darth Vader with hunting down the last of any remaining Jedi.

Next, we meet a young blue-haired, force-sensitive orphan boy named Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) living on a remote outer rim world called Lothal, a humble grain-filled planet populated with farmers and shopkeeps as well as an urban core known as “Capital City.” It is where we learn of “Tarkin Town” (inspired by historical Hoovervilles in the United States), and there is also a native species to the planet: Loth-Cats and Loth-Wolves.   

In the market one day, Ezra accidentally joins up with a ragtag band of rebels operating a spaceship called the “Ghost” which is led by a Jedi named Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a Twi’lek pilot named Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), a Mandalorian saboteur named Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), an astromech droid named Chopper (Dave Filoni), and a Lasat strongman named Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios (Steven Blum). They steal an Imperial crate filled with weapons and escape an Imperial cruiser along with its accompanying TIE fighters. Agent Kallus catches wind of the theft and decides to increase the Imperial footprint on Lothal.

The Ghost crew travels to a remote spot on Lothal to distribute the stolen arms to a Devaronian crime lord named Cikatro Vizago (Keith Szarabajka), and he then sends them on a dangerous mission to rescue a pack of Wookies from an Imperial Star Destroyer. They Wookies have been sent to die in the spice mines on Kessel (spice mine K-76), however the whole scene turns out to be a set-up. Ezra is captured by the Empire after Zeb fatefully leaves him behind in a morally questionable moment while under fire. In prison, Ezra accidentally opens a holocron artifact he swiped from the Ghost which reveals a secret warning message to any surviving Jedi from Obi-Wan Kenobi regarding the fall of the Jedi:

“This is Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I regret to report that both our Jedi Order and the Republic have fallen with the dark shadow of the Empire rising to take their place. This message is a warning and a reminder for any surviving Jedi: Trust in the force. Do not return to the temple, that time has passed and our future is uncertain. We will leach be challenged –our trust, our faith, our friendships. But we must persevere and in time, a new hope will emerge. May the force be with you, always.”

In the end, Ezra is rescued and invited to join the crew of the Ghost where he will learn the ways of the force from Kanan Jarrus. It is a terrific introduction to the show, and a it presents a formula which will be mostly repeated through each episode.    

Episode 3 “Droids in Distress”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Ghost crew travels undercover on a transport ship headed for Garel to pose as arms dealers where R2 D2 and C-3PO suddenly appear as translators for Minister Tua of Lothal. The crew orchestrates a translator mix-up in order to disrupt an Aqualish arms dealer named Amda Wabo (Steve Blum) from completing his sale to the Empire. The droids are forced to the back of the ship in a ruse concocted by Ezra, and Sabine pretends to be studying for her “level five” exams at the Imperial Academy. While falsely directing Minister Tua to Bay 17, the crew head for Bay 7 to steal the valuable shipment of T-7 ion disruptors, weaponry which can disable a starship and which were also once used against Zeb’s people on his home-world of Lasan. Very few Lasats like Zeb survived the assault. During the heist, they learn that these T-7 ion disruptors were scheduled to be sent as prototypes to Lothal where they would be mass produced.

After escaping with the armaments, R2 D2 and C-3PO briefly join the crew of the Ghost and they return to Cikatro Vizago to deliver the crates of T-7’s. However, C-3PO clumsily issues a distress call back to the Empire hoping for his own rescue. A battle then ensues. Zeb fights with Agent Kallus who brandishes a Bo-rifle, knowing that only the guardsmen of Lasan may carry such a weapon. In the end, Ezra accidentally uses the force and rescues Zeb and the Ghost returns the droids, R2 D2 and C-3PO, to their mystery owner, Senator Bail Organa (Phil LaMarr). The episode ends as a future friendship is foreshadowed between Bail Organa and the Ghost crew.

Episode 4 “Fighter Flight”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ezra and Zeb are sent on a supply run together into the Lothal marketplace in order to find food for the ship. However, they have trouble locating some meiloorun fruit (a type of melon which does not grow naturally on Lothal). They discover that the Empire has been harassing local farmers and stealing their land. One of the farmers, Mr. Sumar, is familiar to Ezra, and he is being pressured to hand his farm over to the Empire. Things escalate when the farmers are arrested. Despite constantly squabbling, Zeb hijacks a TIE fighter and they free some of the wrongly imprisoned farmers while recovering meiloorun fruit for the Ghost. Admittedly, this is a more whimsically playful episode, but it still offers a bit of fun filler and it allows for the relationship between Ezra and Zeb to grow.

Note: Meiloorun was first mentioned in the second X-Wing Expanded Universe novel Wedge’s Gamble

Episode 5 “Rise of the Old Masters”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Ezra is being trained by Kanan, who is growing impatient with his young trainee. Meanwhile, Ezra and Zeb’s stolen TIE fighter stunt from the previous episode is broadcast on the Imperial holonet as a warning to all rebels –but the broadcast is quickly interrupted by Senator-in-Exile Gall Trayvis (Brent Spiner, who also played Data in Star Trek TNG). He is “the only member of the Imperial Senate with the courage to speak out against the Empire.” The encrypted message declares that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli is still alive –she survived Order 66 as well as the Clone Wars—and she has been imprisoned in the Stygeon system inside “The Spire,” a heavily fortified Imperial prison. However, it turns out to be a trap set by the Inquisitor. The Ghost crew invades the Spire to rescue Master Unduli and Kanan hopes to hand Ezra over to Master Unduli for Jedi training, but the Inquisitor arrives and engages in a lightsaber duel with Kanan. As it turns out, Luminara Unduli is actually deceased and the whole plan was a ruse. During the battle, the Inquisitor’s spinning lightsaber reveals that Kanan was trained by Jedi Master Depa Billaba. In an amusing twist, while the crew has been busy with the failed rescue mission, several large dragon-esque creatures known as “Tibidees” (their name was based on the placeholder title of “TBD”) have been attempting to mate with the Phantom ship piloted by Hera (the Phantom is the short-range shuttlecraft of the Ghost) –and they all wind up saving the crew together. After the attempt to hand Ezra over to Master Unduli fails, Kanan pledges to train Ezra himself and he issues a message to any other surviving Jedi that Master Unduli is dead.

Note: The Spire was initially set to appear in The Clone Wars but the episodes were never completed.

Episode 6 “Breaking Ranks”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ezra sneaks into Imperial cadet Squad LRC-077, an Imperial stormtrooper training academy squad for cadets, posing undercover as “Dev Morgan.” The purpose of his mission is to acquire a decoder which will help prevent an Imperial shipment of kyber crystals. Ezra delivers the decoder to the Ghost crew via the droid Chopper but the Inquisitor arrives to test the top tier cadets so Ezra decides to help his young cadet friends, Jai Kell and Zare Leonis, escape from the Empire. In the end, Zare Leonis decides to remain in the academy to help free his sister who has tragically been swallowed up into the Empire somewhere.

Episode 7 “Out of Darkness”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sabine and Hera run a risky supply mission at an abandoned Republic base (“Fort Anaxes”) thanks to an anonymous insider source called “Fulcrum,” however antics between Ezra, Zeb, and the droid Chopper fail to fully complete a diagnostics test on the Phantom ship and it causes a fuel leak. Sabine and Hera are then attacked by dangerous Fyrnock creatures who fight under the shroud of darkness. When an asteroid passes over the nearest star, their lives are suddenly in danger. Hera and Sabine strategically place barrels of ridonia around the loading dock set to explode and kill the Fyrnock. Meanwhile, the Ghost races against time to rescue Sabine and Hera, and in the end Sabine, a former cadet at the Imperial Academy on Mandalore, grows to trust Hera and the burgeoning rebellion in a much deeper way.

Episode 8-9 “Empire Day” and “Gathering Forces”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kanan continues teaching Ezra about the force –“The point is that you are not alone. You are connected to every other living being in the universe. But to discover that, you have to let your guard down. You have to be willing to attach to others.” However, Ezra is distracted. It is the fifteenth anniversary of “Empire Day,” a holiday created to celebrate Emperor Palpatine, an emotional day for Ezra since he was born on the very first “Empire Day.” Several TIE fighters visit a remote region of Lothal in search of a Rodian named Tseebo whom Ezra knows. An Empire Day broadcast is interrupted by Senator-in-Exile Gall Trayvis who urges everyone to boycott the festivities. While the rest of the Ghost crew disrupts the Empire Day parade and then sabotages the unveiling of a new TIE fighter (the “Sienar System’s Advanced TIE Starfighter”), the Inquisitor and Agent Kallus chase them across Capital City and Ezra leads them to a secret location where he finds Tseebo, an old friend of his parents. Tseebo has implanted Imperial data in his brain which reveals a treasure trove of information, including a five-year plan for the planet of Lothal as well as every other planet in the region. With the Inquisitor and Agent Kallus in hot pursuit, The Ghost crew steals an Imperial troop transport and escape.

In a continuation, the Ghost is wildly fleeing Imperial forces led by the Inquisitor while Ezra learns secret information from Tseebo that his parents were taken away by the Empire. Tseebo apologizes to Ezra, and as it turns out, the Empire has planted a tracker aboard the Phantom on the Ghost and is now following the ship (via the XX-23 S-thread tracker by Sienar Systems which can track ships through hyperspace). The crew decides to make a dangerous detachment through hyperspace, but Ezra and Kanan are tracked by the Inquisitor to a remote facility where Ezra learns a dark but valuable lesson about himself –he conquers his fear of the truth, forgives Tseebo for allowing his parents to be captured, even if Ezra is tempted by the dark side of the force to summon a huge Fyrnock against the Inquisitor which allows both he and Kanan to escape.

In the end, Sabine wishes Ezra a happy birthday by presenting him with a cleaned-up holodisk from his house which features an image of Ezra as a baby alongside his parents. 

Episode 10 “Path of the Jedi”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After Ezra’s accidental use of the dark side of the force in the previous episode, Kanan decides to test Ezra’s willpower a la Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. Ezra is led to a giant temple on Lothal where he faces his darkest fears. He passes the tests led by a Jedi guide –none other than the voice of Master Yoda. In the course of events, Ezra earns his kyber crystals for his own unique unconventional lightsaber, a weapon which doubles as both a gun and a saber.

Episode 11 “Idiot’s Array”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While gambling over a game of sabacc, Zeb loses a bet to Lando Calrissian (reprised by Billy Dee Williams) and so the Ghost crew must help him in a smuggling operation. Even though Zeb played a “sabacc” hand, Lando had an “Idiot’s Array” and for his victory he requires a faster ship and the droid Chopper. Lando leads them into a deal that goes sideways with a nasty crime lord named Azmorigan (James Hong). In a surprise twist, Lando hands over Hera in exchange for a puffer pig and when Hera escapes, Azmorigan attempts to take over the Ghost but the droid Chopper saves the day. Lando brings his puffer pig to Lothal and the episode ends as he promises to see Chopper again. This episode was a bit silly but I cannot hate a Lando cameo!

Note: the game sabacc first appeared in the Lando Calrissian novels in the Expanded Universe novel-verse. Also the design of Azmorigan was based on Ralph McQuarrie’s original artwork of Jabba the Hutt.

Episode 12 “Vision of Hope”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

While undergoing lightsaber training, Ezra has a vision of exiled rebel Senator Gall Trayviss who apparently knew Ezra’s parents. Then a coded message is sent by Trayvis –he will be visiting the Freedom mural inside the Old Republic Senate building. Ezra runs into Zare Leonis and they try to arrange an undercover meeting with Trayvis, but it is infiltrated by Agent Kallus and his troops. However, while they escape through the sewers, Senator Trayvis betrays the Ghost crew in a shocking twist. It is also revealed that Ezra’s parents were the ones who issued the “Bridger Transmissions,” however they are now apparently gone.

Episodes 13-15 “Call to Action,” “Rebel Resolve,” and “Fire Across the Galaxy”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Grand Moff Tarkin visits Lothal and chides the Inquisitor as well as Agent Kallus for failing to quell the recent rebel activity. He instructs the Inquisitor to finally capture the lone Jedi and to deal with the rampant acts of terrorism. In the scuffle, Kanan is captured and taken to Tarkin while Ezra and the others escape and deliver a message to the people of Lothal.

Ezra and the Ghost crew struggle to locate where Kanan is being held on Lothal by the Empire. They battle Imperial walkers, and Hera’s covert contact codenamed “Fulcrum” instructs her to end the search for Kanan while he is imprisoned by the Empire. Ezra cannot accept Hera’s decision to abandon the search, so Ezra, Sabine, Zeb and the droid Chopper disobey Hera and secretly return to the arms dealer Vizago to jointly hatch a plan to find Kanan. An irate Hera rejoins them, and because Kanan has proved capable of withstanding various forms of torture, he is threatened with a transfer from Lothal to a new secret location –“one that never fails to extract a confession.” The droid Chopper steals covert Imperial communications which show that Kanan is aboard Tarkin’s Destroyer “The Sovereign” which is still over Lothal but scheduled to head for Mustafar, “where Jedi go to die.”

In the final episode of Season One, The Ghost crew invades an Imperial base and steals schematics of Tarkin’s ship. Next, they re-animate an old TIE Fighter they stole earlier in the season which has been sitting in the desert of Lothal even though it has now been colorfully painted by Sabine. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor tortures and interrogates Kanan, reminding him of his master Depa Billaba and demanding to know the identity of the person codenamed “Fulcrum.” However, the rest of the Ghost crew arrives on the Star Destroyer in orbit over Mustafar and releases a pulse detonation which shuts down power across the Destroyer. They sneak through the ship –Ezra rescues Kanan, and together, they engage in a lightsaber duel with the Inquisitor. During the fight Ezra falls from a high elevated platform, however he survives by landing on a platform beneath him, and Kanan defeats the Inquisitor who is left dangling over a fiery pit as the ship has been irretrievably damaged. The Inquisitor warns that Kanan has no “idea what he has unleashed today” and that there “’are some things worse than death.” He then smiles and releases himself into the fire presumably to his own demise. While the crew attempts to flee from the Empire, Chopper receives communication from “Fulcrum” and suddenly a small army of Blockade runners arrives to rescue the Ghost crew. They all jump to hyperspace and receive a transmission from Senator Bail Organa who reveals his role in the rebellion and then the true identity of “Fulcrum” is shockingly revealed –it is none other than Ahsoka Tano! And the episode concludes as Grand Moff Tarkin tells Agent Kallus that the Emperor has sent an “alternative solution” to the problem of a growing rebellion as we see Darth Vader emerge from a nearby ship.

Return to my survey of the Star Wars series

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