For many fans of the original Star Wars movies, the prequels were a huge let-down. But in recent years, the property has been revived by high-quality animated fare such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While we, once again, wait with a mix of fear and hopefulness for Episode 7, Star Wars Rebels is currently combining the best of the animated world and the old films.
After the first episode — an hour-long TV Movie Star Wars: Spark of Rebellion — aired a few times over the last week (its premiere brought in 2.7 million viewers in the U.S. and 6.5 million worldwide), the series settles into its regular slot Mondays at 9 p.m. on Disney XD tonight. Here are five mildly spoilery things that should either convince you to see Rebels, if you loved Star Wars but haven't visited the universe in a while, or remind you of what you liked if you have seen it.
1. The music
For some, John Williams's original score is more stirring than the national anthem, and composer Kevin Kiner is doing everything to bring us "back to that time and sense of adventure" of the original films.
He also did the music for The Clone Wars, which incorporated more rock elements, but he promises that the Rebels music will be "closer to A New Hope."
2. What's old is new
Everything from the Ghost — which is an earlier cousin of the Millennium Falcon — to Sabine's Mandalorian armor to the speeder bike chase — reminiscent of the chase on Endor, only with oncoming traffic instead of trees — to that first shot overshadowed by an enormous Star Destroyer is meant to remind you of the early days of Star Wars.
The 1977 movie was about a plucky band of upstarts fighting an oppressive regime, something that was lost in subsequent iterations. Even many of the better Star Wars offshoots lacked that swashbuckling, antiauthoritarian dynamic. They're called the Rebel Alliance, for crying out loud!
More than anything else, what Rebels gets right is that sense of excitement and danger that Han Solo brought to the franchise — doing bad to do good.
3. The villains
It's hard to be a high-quality baddie in the Star Wars universe, considering it's the home of one of the greatest of all time, Darth Vader. But it looks like Rebels has two worthy contenders.
Ordinary human villains are often underrated in Star Wars; they tend to be button pressers or self-important blowhards just waiting to be force-choked by Vader. Agent Kallus of the Imperial Security Bureau is something like an animated version of Christoph Waltz's character in Inglourious Basterds, hunting down enemies of the empire.
And then there's the Inquisitor. No, he's not a Sith, but he's got a face like Death and a double-bladed lightsaber, and he's there to raise the stakes. "This isn't like cartoons that I grew up with in the '80s where you have the villain lose every week," says Pablo Hidalgo, who works in the Lucasfilm Story Group. "When the Inquisitor shows up, it means something that's significant."
4. The laughs
There's a great moment in the hour-long first episode, Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, where they try to pass off Zeb, the crew's muscle, as "a rare, hairless Wookie." His half-hearted yowl is a great tension-releasing laugh in the middle of the prison break. And the show has plenty of those moments, which is particularly surprising for a pilot.
The laugh in that scene comes from our knowledge of the character. Zeb is a gruff guy who doesn't like to stick his neck out but feels honor bound to do so. He's prideful, so he doesn't like the indignity of the ruse. Even so, he chokes out a Wookie grunt but quickly defaults to using his fists, finally back in his comfort zone.
The expressiveness of the animation and voice work makes the joke effective both as character-based humor and as character-building humor — we're learning about Zeb as we laugh. Executive producer Dave Filoni has been in this game a long time, and his mastery is evident throughout.
5. That moment
Every good episode should have a moment that makes you stand up and cheer — like the first time the Death Star gets blown up — or gasp in shock — like when Vader tells Luke that he's his father.
The moment when Kanan Jarrus says, "Kid, I'm about to let everyone in on the secret," combines the best of two moments. The first is when the petty thief reveals himself to be a hero. Han Solo coming in to save the day at the end of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope — the individualist who decides to fight for a larger cause — is central to the Rebels storyline.
The second is the moment when you realize, awestruck, that the Jedi can do honest-to-goodness magic, as when Yoda lifts Luke's X-Wing on Dagobah. When Kallus says, "All troopers! Focus your fire on the Jedi!" you get an idea of the genuine sense of fear that an Imperial soldier must experience when he sees that he's face to face with a near-legendary creature.
Upcoming episodes feature an appearance by Master Luminara from Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, and The Clone Wars. We'll get to see the Inquisitor's double-bladed lightsaber in action (spoiler: You know the helicopter thing you always wished Darth Maul's sword would do? Yep, it does that). There are more prison breaks and Jedi training scenes. Basically, it's everything you could want while you wait for Episode 7, when, in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "a new hope will emerge."
Star Wars Rebels premieres Monday, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. on Disney XD.