By Jeremy Konrad
Starting this month, we are getting a weekly glimpse into life under the rule of the Empire, and if this first episode is any indication, we are in for a hell of a ride.
[*Spoilers for Star Wars Rebels Episode 1 below!]
The first episode introduces us to the crew of The Ghost, a rebel ship piloted by a Twi'lek named Hera Syndulla, and a group of rebels including Zeb Orrelios, a brute Lasat enforcer; Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian weapons expert (and graffiti artist); Chopper, the ornery astromech droid, and Kanan Jarrus who in the first episode is revealed to be a Jedi in hiding who survived Order 66. A young Lothal street kid named Ezra Bridger meets our crew as they are attempting to heist cargo from the Empire. Trying to hunt them down is Imperial Security Bureau Agent Kallus and many familiar agents of the Empire. Through meeting Jarrus, young Ezra learns that he too is connected to the Force. Yearning for a sense of purpose and a family to call his own, Ezra decides to join the crew of The Ghost and learn the ways of the Force from Kanan as the true spark of the Rebellion is ignited.
This show is like a warm blanket. Right from the get-go, we see a Star Destroyer flying overhead. Taking place about 5 years before the Battle of Yavin, the OT fingerprints are all over the place. From music queues to familiar ships and characters, this show hits all of the right classic Star Wars buttons. The design of the show takes many elements of Ralph Mcquarrie's original paintings, and the results are exquisite. And the soundtrack by Kevin Kiner is frankly pretty awesome. The way he weaves in classic sounds and sections of music from the original trilogy makes everything instantly feel familiar and gives everything gravitas. The score is exciting and moody at all the right spots; this is by far some of his best work.
As for the characters themselves, for only one 40 minute or so episode, we get a good sense of who they are. The crew bonds with Ezra pretty quickly (except for Zeb, which leads to some of the more humorous moments), with Hera being very protective of him right from the beginning. Hera is the mother of the group, and Vanessa Marshall does a great job voicing her as a strong, female leader in this group. Fans clamoring for strong female characters will get their wish here, because we also have Sabine (voiced by Tiya Sircar), the Mandalorian member of the group. While in this first episode she is a bit of a mystery, she mixes it up with the boys on the missions, has a strong presence in the group, and is also given a chance to show off a bit of a whimsical side when she inquires about how awesome her explosions look. I know some fans were turned off when she was described as a "graffiti artist", but I promise you it pays off in a cool, unexpected way in the episode.
Comedy is a big part of this opening 40 minutes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the interactions between Ezra and Zeb. Bantering back and forth while running both away from and into danger, I loved every second with these two. Zeb (Steve Blum, voice actor extraordinaire) in the beginning has no patience for our young hero, but by the end is more than willing to fight right by his side, and he also has some good one-liners about Wookies.
But in the end, the show will live and die with the two leads Kanan (Freddie Prince Jr.) and Ezra (Taylor Gray). They are our Jedi, after all. Ezra will be compared to Aladdin a lot. There are plenty of reasons for this (he is even referenced as a street rat), but for me they are unfair. The most affecting scenes for him in this first episode are quieter moments when he begins to feel the Force reaching out to him, whether from Kanan, or the Jedi holocron he steals from him. He has been so utterly alone for so long, it is nice to see him become animated and excited at the possibilities Kanan and his crew bring to his life. He is fearless right away, stealing from both the Imperials and the Ghost crew at the same time, and the look on his face when he realizes they stole not only blasters but food for the poor people in Tarkin town (heh), the look on his face is heartbreaking. He feels the call to arms, to make his life mean something. And he will find it with Kanan.
Kanan Jarrus is in some ways the most secretive and interesting character in the first episode. Being a Jedi that survived Order 66, questions are raised. Who was his master? Where was he during Order 66? How far into his training did he get? Some of these questions about his backstory (and Hera's as well) can be found in John Jackson Miller's great new novel, A New Dawn (also canon!), but I hope we get some of these answers quickly. FPJ brings authority and confidence to Kanan; you can tell right off the bat that he has been through a lot, and what he has had to do to find some sense of normalcy since Order 66. Let's not forget: he has been cut off and alone for a long time as well. I am very interested to see Ezra and Kanan train and learn from each other.
We don't spend a whole lot of time here with Agent Kallus and the Empire, some brief scenes here and there aboard a Star Destroyer—that's about it, but at the end he puts in a call to The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs), who hunts Jedi down for the Empire. I will say that again, in very limited screen time, Kallus is shown to be as cunning and ruthless as anyone we have seen before, and David Oyelowo measures his performance perfectly. The moment where Kanan reveals that he is, in fact, a Jedi to Kallus and his men is a big moment not only for Kanan, but Kallus himself. You can feel the gravity of the moment where he tells his men to focus their fire on the Jedi—the pause before he says that word gave me goosebumps.
And make no mistake—this world is ruled by the Empire with an iron fist. The opening scene shows Imperials harassing and attempting to arrest a man for selling fruit in the street. They casually mock him and bully him while he mumbles about life before the Empire ruining Lothal. When the Ghost passes out their stolen food, it is in what is known as Tarkin Town, named after our old friend Grand Moff Tarkin, who kicked these people off their farms when the Empire decided to take their land. Anyone who resisted was arrested. Oppression is a big theme here, as I am sure it will be for the length of the series. Our heroes are rebelling for a reason after all.
The episode closes with a familiar face offering a warning, along with a sliver of hope for the future, perfectly summing up not only what we just saw in the episode, but what is to come not only with this show, but Star Wars itself:
This is Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I regret to report that both our Jedi Order and the Republic have fallen, with the dark shadow of the Empire rising to take their place. This message is a warning and a reminder for any surviving Jedi: Trust in the Force. Do not return to the temple, that time has passed. And our future is uncertain. We will each be challenged. Our trust, our faith, our friendships. But we must perservere. And in time, a new hope will emerge. May the Force be with you. Always.
Always, indeed. Join me on this ride, won't you?
Star Wars Rebels premiers this Friday, October 3 on The Disney Channel at 9:00 PM EST. It is also available on DVD on October 14. If you have the right cable provider, you can watch it right now.
Jeremy Konrad is the Senior Star Wars correspondent for Bleeding Cool. He loves everything Star Wars. And he collects Star Wars everything. Yes everything. Talk Star Wars and Rebels with him on twitter @jeremyohio