Last Friday, Disney XD premiered the third season of Lucasfilm’s universally lauded animated series Star Wars Rebels, and like seasons past, it promises to embrace the tone and excitement of the original trilogy while laying new ground in the Star Wars universe. Executive produced by Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni (who was recently promoted to oversee Lucasfilm Animation), Rebels may take place in the early years of the rebellion yet the ramifications of the original series has already begun to shape the future of the Star Wars universe.
Since the franchise was acquired by Disney in 2012, there’s been no shortage of derision and concern for the direction which Star Wars would progress. While nearly all of the beloved Extended Universe was deemed apocryphal and retitled as ‘Legends’, fans dwelled to the point of dread about The Mouse potentially defanging the supernatural space opera to better assimilate it into their wheelhouse. Seeing how The Clone Wars animated series remained canon, new novelizations and comics published by Marvel are selling well and The Force Awakens opened to generally good reviews and a ginormous box office, all signs point to a bright future for the franchise.
Though set before the events of Episode IV, Star Wars Rebels has everything fans has loved about the classic trilogy while peppering the established film history with wonderfully spun narratives carried on from The Clone Wars. Rebels follows the adventures of Ezra Bridger, a street urchin turned rebel commander and Jedi padawan. Together with his master Kanan Jarrus and the crew of the Ghost, they strive to create an alliance to restore the Republic while discovering more about their Jedi heritage. During their jaunts across the galaxy, the duo encounter not only the seemingly unstoppable Galactic Empire but a sect of Force-sensitive hunters known as Inquisitors that seek to finalize Order 66. Let’s not forget about the Mandalorians, Black Sun and every other person of ill repute.
The series retains the same excitement and vibrancy of The Clone Wars and improves upon it, filling in the gaps of the original trilogy with meticulously crafted, wide-spanning arcs and bracing visuals created by scores of impassioned animators. With each episode of Rebels, it’s easy to recognize every scene and frame is a source of pride among its creators and a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythology.
A refreshing aspect about Rebels is its unabashed confidence to venture between the veil of the Light and the Dark. While the grey area of The Force was mentioned by the subtlest of hints in the prequels, its existence was expanded upon greatly in the later seasons of The Clone Wars. It’s obvious that a universe flourishing with hundreds of thousands of species wouldn’t be so cut and dry. The painfully simple dichotomy of a Light and Dark side of the Force has always been a limiting structure, with most of the elaborations about the hokey religion and its ancient weapons written in the last 20 years now archived. Thankfully, this animated program has continued what Clone Wars started and then some.
Although the series revolves around the frequent adventures of the Ghost crew, Kinberg and Filoni in particular have painted Rebels with a broad stroke, providing key characters with the ability to grow beyond their prescribed roles. One such character is Imperial Security Bureau Agent Kallus, voiced by David Oyelowo. A dogged pursuer of Ezra’s rebel cell Phoenix Squadron, Kallus is always a hair behind from capturing his prey. Like many of Rebels’ characters, Kallus has evolved over time, revealing a complexity that grapples with the burdensome demands of high-ranking Imperial officials.
In “The Honorable Ones”, Kallus comes to terms with “Zeb” Orrelios, a member of the Ghost and a species that the ISB Agent abhors. Thanks to a botched mission, the two must trust one another to survive harsh conditions. Uncertain of their future, they open up about their motivations for choosing their particular side, and share dark moments from their past that have shaped them into the men they are now. Ultimately the two develop a mutual respect though inevitably return to the staunch doctrines that make them fervent enemies. The entanglement of good and evil is but one of many prolific themes Rebels has aired in its brief run. It has provided a breath of new life into Star Wars as a windfall of impressive material has been created across the timeline.
As the third season premiered last week, Ezra and Kanan began their singular paths to better understand the nuances of The Force. The Dark Side became a great burden to both Jedi in the final episodes of season two, resulting in significant changes to Bridger and Jarrus’ friendship (among other spoilery things) and the rebels’ overall mission. Coupled with the reemergence of Darth Maul and the identity of “Fulcrum” revealed, Rebels’ latest outing promises to bear greater influence on the history of the Alliance. Best of all, Filoni has re-canonized one of Star Wars’ most popular villains – Grand Admiral Thrawn – assuring his place in the new order.
Considering how a character from The Clone Wars has become a crucial figure in Lucasfilm’s inaugural anthology, the lofty notion of literary and animated figures breaking through to live-action adaptations has finally become reality. The Disney-Lucasfilm purchase hasn’t been a Faustian deal signed on Mustafar but a boon to all fans who’ve craved a mythology that honors its past while moving forward with compelling tales led by fresh faces. Star Wars has and will always thrive, in all forms of media. It’s only a matter of time before every fan is no longer sleeping on the significance of its latest animated series.