Rebel Scum: How 'Star Wars: Rebels' Failed
“Star Wars: Rebels” has come to an end. For some, it is an emotional farewell to beloved characters. To others, (including this fanboy) it is a sigh of relief that we’re no longer compelled to tune to an emotionless, childish and infuriating show. ‘Rebels’ had some stand-out moments, but they were marred by the numerous, inherent problems of the show.
I am a fan of Star Wars and wanted to like the show, but the fact is, I’ve seen an excellent animated Star Wars show in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Sadly, “Rebels” doesn’t meet that standard. “Clone Wars” was a cinematic show that was aimed at kids but didn’t treat the audience like kids. It dealt with individuality, loyalty, trust and political intrigue, all to the backdrop of exciting action sequences and fun character interactions. It was the Prequels, but better. “Rebels” is not nearly as complex in its themes and characters and shifts drastically between dire situations and painful humour (Pufferpigs and Space Whales, anyone?).
“Rebels” biggest failing is the choice to make Ezra Bridger the central character. From the pilot episode, Ezra is annoying and infuriating, for the characters and the audience. He’s a street kid who goes against the grain but has a heart of gold, so of course the audience should like him (think Aladdin but with Force Abilities). He’s a flawed character that never develops to become a better character. He is stubborn and selfish initially, and by the end of the show he is still stubborn and selfish, just stronger with the Force. The most infuriating part of Ezra being the central character is that the show establishes a superior, complex and compelling character in Sabine Wren. The Mandalorian Warrior is capable of defending herself, has an artistic personality and emotional depth with her tragic relationship with her people.
The episode ‘Trails of the Dark Sabre’ is “Rebels” best because of the final confrontation between Kanan and Sabine. The vocal performance of Tiya Sircar, carries the emotional devastation of someone who has carried an awful truth about themselves for years. With Disney position strong, female characters front of center in their Star Wars media, it seemed strange they would pass on the opportunity to provided another female character for a younger audience to connect to (especially one who has a unique personality).
One of “Rebels” successes is the incorporation and utilisation of certain pre-existing characters, primarily those from “The Clone Wars”. This also undermines the show. By having the best elements come from that which is not created for the show, the failings of the show’s originals characters are highlighted. The surprise reveal of Ahsoka Tano at the end of Season 1 was a welcome surprise for fans of the characters and paved the way for some of the show’s emotional moments, including her reunion with Rex and her confrontation with her former master, Darth Vader. The reason I believe “Trials of the Dark Sabre” to be the best episode of “Rebels” is because it was a great episode for the “Rebels” characters, not a great episode involving the ‘Rebels’ characters.
The show’s best episode overall is the season 2 finale ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’. The name alone is brilliant in foreshadowing the (supposed) end of Ahsoka as Anakin’s Padawan, as well as Ezra’s possible (and eventually wasted) fall to the Dark Side. The reintroduction of Maul, his relationship with Ezra, the incorporation of Malacore into canon, Kanan’s loss of sight; and of course, the epic battle between Ahsoka and Vader are the stand-out moments of the episode. Having Anakin’s former Padawan fail to turn Vader back was an understated moment to demonstrate how far Anakin has fallen and how Luke’s triumph is impactful. ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’ also helped to give Darth Maul the conclusion he deserved.
His fight against Ben Kenobi in ‘Twin Suns’ is one of the most beautifully animated sequences put to celluloid (or digital screens, you get the phrase). Fans will whinge about how it wasn’t some 20 minutes, epic fight in the style of Anakin vs Obi-Wan in “Revenge of the Sith”. But those that do, miss the point of the fight. The slow shifting stance and circling of the fire pit is a deliberate call back to the Samurai fights that influenced the Jedi Knights.
Each movement of the character is representative of their progression: Obi-Wan demonstrates his progression as a Jedi Master as shifts in his stance between Qui-Gon’s, and his own in “A New Hope” and “Revenge of the Sith”; Maul is tense and ready to pounce and devour him, a rapid dog with its prey in its sight. Obi-Wan has developed has a Jedi, whereas Maul is still motivated by hate, and that is why he’ll lose.
In 3 moves, Obi-Wan defeats his greatest foe and in his final moments removes all hate he has for the man (alien-thing) who murdered his master and the woman he loved and held him as he died his arms. Again, “Rebels” best and emotional moments come from the things that have nothing to do with “Rebels”, speaking to how ‘Rebels’ lacked the emotion it needed.
Both “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” are intended for a younger audience, typically aged around 8-12 years old. However, “Clone Wars”, unlike “Rebels” didn’t treat its audience like children. It tackled themes and issues with respect (it even went far enough to have characters plead for their own death). Yet it remained child-friendly with droid-heavy, comedic episodes sprinkled in between the dense episodes, such as ‘The Mortis Saga’. It added context that the Prequels failed to do to The Clone Wars. “Rebels” struggles to balance the humour and emotion of the show, even through a singular episode.
After Kanan’s death, ‘DUME’ deals with Hera and Ezra’s emotions after losing an important person in their life. Meanwhile, Zeb and Sabine go on a wacky, Scooby-Doo-style chase with Rukh. That is Rebels emotion in a nutshell: emotional trauma offset by wacky hijinks in the same episode. There are certain episodes that hit strong emotional beats such as ‘The Honourable Ones’ which pits Zeb and Kallus (the man responsible for wiping out Zeb’s species) in a moral, survival tale. While it doesn’t deal with the elephant-in-the-room, it does deal with the opposing views of Rebels and Imperials. It also humanises an Imperial character and explains why they are the way they are.
Then “Rebels” will throw you a curve ball and have an episode where a Imperial Tactical Droid will starting singing in space while space butterfly/bat creatures fly around him. Cause, comedy?
Now, “The Clone Wars” did weird, droid-centric episodes, but nothing to the extent of “Rebels”. The reason why “Rebels” use of droid-centric episodes like ‘Double Agent Droid’ is more frustrating is because these episodes offer nothing to the overall narrative. “The Clone Wars” didn’t have filler episodes, simply because there was no season long stories, just the series’ over-arching story of The Clone Wars. Something “Rebels” succeeded at (like “The Clone Wars”) was the expansion of the Star Wars universe, for better or for worse.
Dave Filoni does a great job at expanding on the Star Wars lore, in particular, the understanding and depth of the Force. With story lines such as ‘The Mortis Saga’ and (the problematic) ‘The World Between Worlds’, or characters like the Bendu, Filoni gave physical manifestation to aspects of the Force audiences were introduced to in the Saga films. The Mortis Saga gave physical representation to the aspects of the Force, the necessity of balance and even foreshadows the rise of the Son (Dark Side) and fall of the Daughter (Light). ‘The World Between Worlds’ demonstrates how and where Force sensitive individuals are able to read their premonitions or Force Vision’s from, while also placing time travel as a possibility in the Star Wars Universe. No matter how difficult it is to use, the fact remains that any writer can come along and incorporate time travel into their narrative, simply because it exists and they can. It is the Chekov’s Smoking Gun of the Star Wars galaxy.
The expansion of the Star Wars Universe through “Rebels”, inevitably means that the pre-existing Star Wars Universe bleeds into ‘Rebels’. Not necessarily for the better. The inclusion of characters such as Lando and Leia feel ham-fisted and either result in one of “Rebel’s” classic, childish misadventures with Lando and Pufferpigs, or spends little time delving into Leia and the danger of her involvement with a Rebellious movement. The inclusion of Mon Mothma was a saving grace for the show and should have been utilised earlier in the series.
With Mon Mothma, audiences are introduced to the birth of the Rebellion as they unite from across the galaxy by her message in ‘Secret Cargo’. “Rebels” had the potential to delve deep into the shaky ground on which the Rebellion was built on and how a collection of disparate groups of Rebels may not see eye-to-eye (something demonstrated in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”). In a show called “Rebels”, the focus should have been on the Rebels; either focused on the planet of Lothal; or on the larger Rebellion. Instead, “Rebels” is stretched thin across the number of stories it wants to tell and never delivers the emotional impacts that it could if it focused its story-telling. “Star Wars: Rebels” can be put down as wasted potential, and nothing demonstrates this more than in the villains of the show.
“Star Wars: Rebels” has a great roster of villains, ranging from Agent Kallus, to the Grand Inquisitor, to the asthmatic himself, Darth Vader and fan-favourite Grand Admiral Thrawn. Each of these villains have awesome moments throughout the show, including (and not exclusive to); Inquisitor decapitating two Imperial officers at once; Vader surviving an AT-AT falling on him; Agent Kallus slowly defecting from the Empire and any moment when Thrawn used his intellect to solve a problem. However, each of these villains are never fully utilised to bring lasting presence in the show. It is cool to see the villains on screen, but when they aren’t you forget they are even a threat.
Each of the villains have great moment but the majority of them aren’t great characters; with the exception of Kallus and in a sense, Thrawn. One way to circumvent this is to have one central villain (let’s say, Thrawn) who is the head of Lothal, and beneath him is the underlings of the Inquisitor and Kallus. You can even include Vader and give Vader/Thrawn a similar relationship that Vader has with Tarkin. You still have the great Vader/Ahsoka moments, and Kallus’ turn but with the added bonus of a lingering, threatening, intelligent and fleshed-out villain with Thrawn. Basically, I’m just annoyed they didn’t utilise Thrawn more effectively.
“Star Wars: Rebels” (like most “Star Wars” content) isn’t going to please everyone. The hardest audience to please with “Star Wars” content is “Star Wars”. “Rebels” had the foundations of a great show that could have had a tragic Mandalorian as a main character, a menacing and calculating villain and delivered emotional pay-offs to the main characters, while delving into the formation of the Rebel Alliance. There was a spark of hope that was sadly snuffed out.
Images Courtesy of: Screencapped.net