Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars in 2012 (wow, has it been three years already?), the Expanded Universe was exiled to the realm of non-canon, leaving the timeline wide open for any number of new directions.
Our first major look at this fresh, new Star Wars universe comes in the form of an animated Disney XD series, Rebels, hitting Blu-ray this week. Instead of moving the story forward though, as Episode VII will in a few months, Rebels is set in between Episode III and IV, effectively connecting the two trilogies of films.
It’s a new era for Star Wars, and at least until The Force Awakens arrives in December, Rebels is more or less the face of it.
The show follows a group of freedom fighting mercenaries as they try and carve out a living for themselves, while also sticking it to the Empire whenever possible. So yeah, it’s basically Firefly with Jedi.
Is that a good thing?
Well, if you’re a fan of ragtag crews of space-adventurers, then yes, it most certainly is. If there’s one thing that Rebels isn’t lacking, it’s in the action department. The first season zips by at a pretty brisk pace, including plenty of starship battles and lightsaber fights, with most of it centering around a new planet, the Outer Rim world of Lothal.
The series opts for a serialized approach, and although some adventures are more or less standalone, the overall story continues to progress. Because of this, Season One manages to avoid the drag and filler you might expect from a more cynical children’s production, and I really couldn’t single out any episodes as being subpar or skippable.
More importantly though, Rebels (so far) sits pretty comfortably in the larger Star Wars universe, tying in familiar characters and story elements in organic ways, while also giving itself room to breathe. By the end of the first season, we’re only just beginning to see the formation of the Rebel Alliance, and there’s still years of pre-Episode IV history left to explore.
If nothing else, Rebels feels like a great proof-of-concept for Disney’s Story Group-driven approach. I can’t say with any certainty how well the show’s cast of new characters will integrate as we creep closer to that Original Trilogy era, but for now, it’s a good fit.
What do I need to have seen beforehand?
I highly recommend that you’re at least caught up with the prequel trilogy, as well as the Clone Wars animated series, before jumping into Rebels. There are definitely more ties to that earlier era than the original trilogy, at least in Season One, and you’ll miss some cool cameos if you watch Rebels first. Additionally, the end of the first season sets up a very big connection to the events of the Clone Wars, one that can’t be fully appreciated if you missed that earlier series.
Overall though, that recommendation feels a bit moot, as I’m not sure Rebels really stands on its own without the rest of the Star Wars saga behind it. While a younger crowd could probably jump into the series fresh, and still enjoy it as a simple, sci-fi adventure, I don’t think it holds up as well for adults without a larger context.
Don’t get me wrong, Rebels is undoubtedly an above average kid’s show by any measure, but it lacks a big enough dramatic oomph on its own, without knowing where the universe has been, and where it’s going.
Would you still say it’s essential canon?
Frankly, I wouldn’t consider it a must watch for the casual fan. I’m pretty dubious that we’ll ever see the cast of Rebels translated to live-action, so if you’re only into the core Star Wars movies, you can safely give this one a pass.
But… for the Star Wars canon junkie, I do think it’s absolutely essential. While the Rebels crew is probably not going to be making any theatrical appearances anytime soon, they are popping up left and right in the novels and comics. The series also introduces a ton of new concepts, not the least of which are the force sensitive Imperial Inquisitors, ones which I’m certain will be reused in other supplementary material to come.
Plus, it’s just a fun Star Wars story that provides some very solid connective tissue between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the start of A New Hope.
Is it must watch TV? Maybe not yet, but if you’re invested in the Star Wars universe, it’s worth getting into now.
One last question, does the Blu-ray include the bonus Darth Vader scene?
Yes! The extended version of the first episode, featuring Darth Vader, is the version that’s on the Blu-ray. So if you missed that rebroadcast on TV, now’s your chance!
Star Wars Rebels Season One is available now.