When Disney bought Lucasfilm, there was a strange mixture of worry and excitement. The sale meant another trilogy, finally continuing the stories of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, but a corporate acquisition almost never spells good things for fans, right? Could "Star Wars" still be "Star Wars" in the hands of Disney?
Well, after watching about an hour and a half of "Star Wars Rebels," the first major product of Disney-owned Lucasfilm, I can report that the galaxy far, far away has changed - and it's for the better.
Since Disney bought Lucasfilm, there's been a common thread through what people in the know have said about the future of the franchise. Over and over, filmmakers, producers and animators have talked about making new "Star Wars" more like the original trilogy, which is a nicer way of saying "less like the prequels."
One of the first moves Disney made toward this effort was to abruptly bring an end to Lucasfilm Animation and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," which upset that show's devoted fanbase. But having seen some of the show that replaced "Clone Wars," I think that unpopular decision was a necessary one, and a big step toward building a better "Star Wars."
That's because "Rebels" immediately feels essential and new.
Right off the bat, fans of the universe can feel the impact of Lucasfilm's new "everything is canon starting now" policy, which gives new characters weight and places them in the very same space that Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader occupy, something the Expanded Universe books, comics and game never fully achieved.
Something like canon distinction couldn't sound more unimportant, but the implications are huge and make "Rebels" required viewing. Ezra, Kanan, Hera, Sabine and Zeb are layered and interesting characters, and even if most of the show's elements are boiled down and simplified for the sake of kid-friendliness, there's something about "Rebels" that feels undeniably "Star Wars."
Capturing the spirit of the original trilogy for "Rebels" starts on the most basic surface levels. The Empire is at full power for the first time in the official canon since "Return of the Jedi," and with that regime comes some familiar imagery of stormtroopers and AT-ST-like walkers. What brings back old memories isn't just the white plastic uniforms, though. It's how everything is shot and what things sound like.
Like canon, sound effects and camera angles aren't what come to mind when you think of what you want from "Star Wars." But when you hear an AT-ST stomp by with that same clatter or follow the virtual camera into the cockpit of a tie fighter to see that familiar upward angle on the pilot, you'll believe.
The authentic "Star Wars" window dressing is nice, but it wouldn't be worthwhile without a decent story at the heart of it. For the first time in a long time, this is an entirely new cast of characters for a core "Star Wars" story in an entirely untouched era, and the freshness of the rebellious group is key to the shows appeal.
Kanan and Ezra offer a familiar story of Jedi and apprentice, but the flaws and insecurities of both men keep it interesting. Beyond those two, there's Zeb, a brute of a creature modeled off of Ralph McQuarrie's early Chewbacca sketches, Sabine, a Boba Fett-inspired graffiti enthusiast, and Hera, the ace pilot.
While Zeb's good for comic relief, Sabine and Hera are the two most exciting supporting characters because of how they bring "Star Wars," a traditionally dude-heavy franchise, closer to gender equality. It's a move that the series has needed for years and is hopefully a sign of things to come for the feature films.
"Star Wars: Rebels" is an easy show to recommend for fans of lightsabers, galactic empires and Wookies, but more importantly, I'd challenge those who have become disenchanted with the series to give it a shot. This may be the new hope you've been waiting for.
"Star Wars Rebels" kicks off with a one-hour special, "Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion," on October 3 on Disney XD.