The Return of Rebels Was … So Artistically Done

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Quick note: Not a full review. Here, much like Sherlock Holmes, we like to take a closer look at one or two things. At which point we adduce that the Noghri did it. As always, SPOILERS from here on out.

Welcome back one and all! Star Wars Rebels has returned – and with it these reviews! I know which one you’re more excited about. It is me, right? Please say it’s me. I survive on ego massages. Foot massages would do in a pinch.

Okay, okay, I know it’s Rebels you truly love. I accept this. I love it too! We can be … friends? We could have ice cream and talk about the altogether refreshing addition to the crew? Oh yes: it’s new, it’s blue, it’s Ezra’s new ‘do! On with the review!

Design Blender

From the very beginning of the show, the art department has sought to meld the designs favoured by the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars TV series with that of the original trilogy of films. This makes sense given the time frame, but also from a narrative perspective. Without going too much into it, it visually explained the different tone of the eras and the differences in character and even the show’s mission statement. This was done obviously in this premiere episode with the above Y-Wings, but there were some different, somewhat more subtle changes: as you probably know, with each series, the characters get new looks. Sabine gets a new paint job on her armour, Zeb pulls out the (bo) gun show, Kanan gets a fancy helmet and Hera, well, she stays pretty much the same. Ezra, meanwhile, gets some interesting changes.

I should note that I did attend the recent Celebration held in London and, along with several others in the SWR family, saw this episode at the Rebels panel. If you were there or watched the live stream on youtube, some of this will be old information, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here. Please forgive me the repitition. During the talk, Dave Filoni and Tiya Sircar, who plays Sabine, noted her new hair. Specifically, she recounted how Filoni, at the end of the first series, asked her what changes she’d like; she responded by asking for a specific hair colour. Well, that didn’t happen last year, but that specific change was implemented this year! On the face of it, that seems a little tardy, but keep in mind that animation is planned out fairly well in advance. Thrawn, for example, has been in the design stage for roughly two years. As such, the delay seems reasonable.

I don’t really know what Zeb’s new look is about. Indeed, I don’t quite grasp the meaning of Sabine’s or Zeb’s looks, aside from telling us that one is artistic and the other is marshally minded. Beyond that, I don’t know – though I have a feeling that the owl on Sabine’s shoulder may mean something. As for Kanan, Filoni had in mind that the backstory being that Sabine or someone found it at Malachor – though this is far from being official. The eyes serve two purposes: to aid in animation; having a visual mark to let them know where he’s looking helps keep their animation accurate. And: to demonstrate, via the Jaig eyes, Kanan’s deepening relationship with Rex. I notice they didn’t put Twi’lek eyes on there. Even though technically they’re almost the same as human eyes and thus not quite so interesting. But still: Take that, Kanan/Hera shippers!

Speaking of Hera, it’s interesting that, beside the new military ranks and insignia, she is pretty much the same. It’s a strong visual cue to demonstrate that Hera is the unyielding rock upon which the crew can rely. Also: overalls are just cool.

Even while vacant they're still cool.
Even while vacant they’re still cool.

This leaves Ezra – and I don’t mean just the hair. Though to answer that: it’s likely done because of the negative feedback of his magically immovable hair. I’m just surprised no one thought of hair gel as an answer.

Instead, I note Ezra’s new weapons, his blaster and his lightsaber. It’s difficult to make out, and there aren’t any reference photos that I’ve found, but the blaster seems reminiscent, and a blend, of Kanan’s and Han Solo’s. If accurate, it’s interesting because it may be a way to show Ezra’s maturing outlook. Gone is the non-lethal slingshot, gone is his link to his childhood. Here now is this lethal weapon demonstrating how hard the times are and, if the similarity to Han’s blaster holds up, it may reflect a similar, Han-like devil-may-care attitude.

Something similar may be happening with his lightsaber. As a brief aside, as far as I know, it wasn’t explained how he got his new crystal. Which is odd given that such a big deal was made out of the last crystal. My personal theory (much as I loathe personal canon) is that it was also picked up from the aftermath of the battle of Malachor. In Legends it was established that blue crystals demonstrated a warrior-like mentality in the Jedi who wielded such a lightsaber. Green, however, demonstrated a more philosophical and Force focus to the Jedi. It could be that the same rules are being applied here, what with Ezra’s deeper exploration of the Force, thanks to that holocron.

In terms of design, however, I thought it was rather reminiscent of Obi Wan Kenobi’s second and Anakin Skywalker’s first lightsabers (in terms of the emitter and the pommel). It could be that the new design is emblematic of Anakin’s impetuosity and the difficult mentorship that Obi Wan had during that time. Or maybe the designers simply went to UltraSabers.com and picked a design that looked good.

Ye gods, that is it, isn’t it?

The Third Way

A: Knock knock. B: Who’s there? A: Doctor. B: …

This is a bit of a cop out, but I’m specifically not talking about the Bendu – even though this could be an article in its own right. This bullet point is here so that you don’t think I’m ignoring a pretty important thing. I have a few theories, but I want to see where they go with this next …

Ezra’s Destiny

So … Ezra’s leveled up his Force skills a bit, huh?

I mean, Jesus, Ezra, that was some pretty dark mojo you worked in the beginning. Who wants to take a bet that he goes dark? Look, I realise I’m not a big fan of Ezra. He is a bit self-centred and cannot take a hint from Sabine, so I realise I’m rather biased in wanting him to suffer, but I think he’s going to go dark. I know that others, too, have lamented that idea as being too reminiscent of Vader. With respect to those people, I don’t see it that way. It’s true that it would be reminiscent of Vader, but at the same time, wouldn’t the opposite be true? By that I mean, a TV show about a young padawan, who (some*) people don’t like in the beginning, only to have them grow on you and become a strong force for good? Sound familiar?

ahsoka
*Full disclosure, I didn’t like Ahsoka in the beginning either. That changed in series 3 of TCW. Specifically with the utterance of: ‘I’m not’.

Which is not to knock the concept of imitation as a bad thing, I merely point out that it can be taken either way. But yes, I do want him to go dark – and I think it could be interesting and done well. It would be a redemption of his previously shown bad qualities. It would also be heartbreaking to watch.

To revisit Celebration, after we watched the episode I brought up a point about how Ezra disobeyed orders – and that this was a point in favour of his turning. Riley, who is a member of the ROTC, disagreed. The scene in question was where Ezra turned a recon operation into a full retrieval mission, going against his orders in doing so. Riley brought up a good point where, in the real world, he would have been well within his power to do so – and would have been in the right. I’m simplifying the point somewhat (in my defence I’m not a military man), but it does hold true. But it occurs to me (several months too late for it to be useful. Thanks, brain) that Filoni isn’t a military man either. We’re both writers. One … somewhat more successful than the other, sure, but at least I have better hair*. It does make sense, in the narrative, that Ezra would get into trouble for disobeying orders and would be reprimanded – which is what we see in the show. It could be a formative moment for Ezra, one of the small steps that lead to his fall.

*That’s a lie. I have hat hair despite never wearing a hat!

This may be a key moment because I can reasonably see this as Ezra’s path: as the rebellion evolves into a legitimate fighting force, utilising structure and command, Ezra does not, or will not let go of his free-wheeling, shoot from the hip rebellious ways. Even though he succeeds, he is taken to task for it time and again. Eventually growing frustrated by the lack of appreciation, he, like Crixus before him, turns away from the Rebellion to fight the way he desires, on his own terms. So, of course, Maul is there to aid him. This inevitably will not go well.

It may be overly cruel, what I have in mind to happen next, but in broad strokes: at some point it becomes necessary to confront his old crew. They do so – and Ezra acts, not in anger or impulse, but through calm, cool malice, strikes down his erstwhile friends. And then, too late to help, he realises the enormity of his actions, the callousness and the pain he has inflicted – and he feels it all too keenly. And he must live with this pain forever.

If this comes to cross, I promise I won’t cackle.

Much.

Well, that it’s for this week! Come back next week and – hang on a moment. I’m forgetting something.

OH RIGHT, THE THRAWN THING

He may not have ‘the best words’, but he’ll certainly have the last.

Like I could forget.

What can I say? Indeed, even after all this time I’m still at a loss for words. Here goes: one of the things that I loved most about the introduction of Thrawn, aside from it being THRAWN, is that his inclusion truly doesn’t feel like it comes from a place of fan service or a cynical ploy to win over fans or a money grab. Truly, I don’t believe so. Watch the Ahsoka panel or the Rebels panel, Filoni, Pablo Hidalgo, and the crew – and even the cast – feel like such fans of Star Wars, old and new, that it feels like something they wanted so much to do – for themselves. Because it would be cool to them. (And, professionals as they are, they do it for the service of the show, too; but more on that in a moment.) It seems almost wishy washy to say this, but this is a large part of what makes the show good for me – a love of the material. It’s not just a pay cheque to them, it’s a labour of love.

Okay. Fan goggles off. Critical goggles on.

Swanky critical goggles.
Swanky critical goggles.

As noted in this episode’s Rebels Recon, his inclusion simply wouldn’t have been possible in the first series – because he’s a Big Deal. Technically before Finn made it cool. The universe, back then, was simply too small to include him. They needed to expand it and widen their perspective to be able to successfully incorporate Thrawn. His very inclusion demonstrates, in a way that is perhaps unique to Thrawn, just how serious the stakes are, just how much the level of danger has escalated. It works, too, as a reflection of our Spectres. They are becoming such a big threat that they, the Empire, need to call in the big guns. It’s in a way a compliment to the Rebels. A very deathy compliment.

Next time, Filoni, maybe just send flowers?

Michael Dare

P.S. I couldn’t fit it into the article proper but I can’t help but divulge another personal theory: Agent Kallus is the new Fulcrum. Not only that but in this he serves as the Noghri replacement, you know, the one that causes Thrawn to utter his iconic line.

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