'Star Wars Rebels': A New Nostalgia Strikes Back

A love letter to the animated series that bridges the gap between the Prequels and the Original Trilogy.

Star Wars Rebels Season Header

A love letter to the animated series that bridges the gap between the Prequels and the Original Trilogy.

Maybe you’ve been watching, but if you haven’t: Hey, check out this dope cartoon series! In April 2014, Disney relegated a huge portion of Star Wars canon to Legends status. It was a stressful time for those of us with shelves of “Star Wars” comics and books. Honestly, the Star Wars canon has always been very complicated. It’s fine, and we mostly got better.  Star Wars Rebels debuted in October 2014 as the first series produced in the Disney-era canon and is currently in its fourth and final season. At the beginning of the year, the showrunners said it would finish up before the premiere of The Last Jedi, but the show is currently on hiatus until after the holidays. It’s driving me bonkers because I need to know what happens. However, you, my friend, are in a great place. You’ve got plenty of time to binge Rebels.

The show assembles and follows the crew of the Ghost, a rebel ship Captained by Hera Syndulla. Amongst the crew are Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Zeb Orrelios (Steven Blum), Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), and my new favorite Star Wars droid, Chopper (Chopper). (FSR’s own Chris Coffel knows what I’m talking about).

Rebels takes place 14 years after Order 66 and the events of Revenge of the Sith. Kanan is a Jedi, but he hasn’t flashed his lightsaber in years. At the beginning of the series, they run into Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) who turns out to be Force-sensitive. The series follows their adventures as they work together to help foment the rebellion –they’re Rebels, baby. It features a terrifically captivating series arc and is approachable enough that it’s something I can easily share with my kids. In short, it’s totally radical.

Nostalgia Ain’t A Swear

Star Wars love is impossible to separate from nostalgia — that’s okay. Because of that, in large part, The Force Awakens made over two billion dollars worldwide. I don’t find nostalgia to be particularly perilous. I have a lot of fond memories tied up in my experience of the Star Wars universe over the years. On the other hand, I also remember going to see Episode I in the theaters with my friends and not being too sure what to say in the parking lot afterward. Regardless, it’s been something that I’ve experienced regularly in different mediums for most of my life.

Whether you’re on Team Anything But Those God Damn Skywalkers for future saga entries or you’ve totally bought into the whole mythos, that emotional involvement is present. We aren’t Jedis. It’s okay to get a little emotionally involved.

Hey, Tovarisch, remember to temper that emotion with an important fact: the world’s largest entertainment conglomerate is doing all of this to make billions off of you. There we go. I’m feeling sober as a judge.

In all honesty, I’m wearing a Yoda robe as I write this. Nerd. Chilly Nerd. Any road, when venturing out to write about something Star Wars in preparation for the release of The Last Jedi, I had a somewhat dismaying thought. I have thought all of my thoughts about Star Wars.

I’m not down on the new movies by any stretch. I enjoyed The Force Awakens. It’s an exciting story at a thrill ride’s pace. Rogue One was the suicide mission I didn’t know I needed to see. But, they are very much in the Star Wars vein. They didn’t change any of my notions about the Universe. I’ve been thinking about this for decades.

And then I remembered Star Wars Rebels was in the new canon.

Okay, But Why Is It So Great?

The story is simple. These rebels battle the Empire. Over the course of the series, they grow from a ragtag outfit to helping unite the Rebel Alliance. They’re heroes. However, the way the show rolls this story out piece by piece could not be more compelling.

These are totally new missions. While Rogue One is a genuinely underrated flick I enjoyed, it fundamentally told a story whose ending we’ve known since May 25, 1977. We don’t know how Rebels will end. We don’t know what their ultimate role in the Rebel Alliance will be. And we certainly don’t know where they wind up.

I never really bought the idea of a universe with Force-sensitive folks where Luke Skywalker was the last of their kind. The introduction of Kanan as a Jedi who survived Order 66 and Ezra as a Force-sensitive was engaging to me on that level. However, Kanan is not a Jedi Master. At the beginning of the series, he isn’t even a Jedi Knight. He’s emotional. Bitter. Frustrated. Perhaps in love. Kanan is everything a Jedi is not supposed to be.

He’s lost. As a result, Kanan is palpably daunted by the challenge of training Ezra.

So much of the stories in this series have to do with authentic characters slowly overcoming deeply held problems. There’s a depth to the storytelling that harkens back to what some of the classic westerns did to the mythos of the American cowboy. Kanan is described as the cowboy Jedi. I think of him as Shane. In a 1953 New York Times review, Bosley Crowther wrote the following about Shane:

“For ‘Shane’ contains something more than beauty and the grandeur of the mountains and plains, drenched by the brilliant Western sunshine and the violent, torrential, black-browed rains. It contains a tremendous comprehension of the bitterness and passion of the feuds that existed between the new homesteaders and the cattlemen on the open range. It contains a disturbing revelation of the savagery that prevailed in the hearts of the old gun-fighters, who were simply legal killers under the frontier code. And it also contains a very wonderful understanding of the spirit of a little boy amid all the tensions and excitements and adventures of a frontier home.”

This applies in every way to my read on Star Wars Rebels. In Star Wars, after the destruction of Alderaan, we know the Empire isn’t fooling around. They killed a fucking planet. We don’t spend any time dwelling on that because, well, it isn’t that kind of movie. Fine. Okay. Rebels digs into this. The Empire’s casual disregard for life constantly looms more prominently than the Death Star.

The series profoundly searches out the bitterness and passion and savagery that must be deeply held by every member of the Rebel Alliance. It gives it to you in twenty-minute chunks, season after season, on Disney’s XD. For kids.

Amazing, right? I’ll give you a minute to put your brain back together.

My kids are 100% on board. Not only do they look forward to the next episode, but they are taking away some complex lessons about character motivations without even realizing it. This deeply personal story of broken characters looking for a purpose is completely consumable by children.

My goodness do they have characters. My girls have responded more to Sabine or Hera than they have Leia or Amidala. The first trilogy featured Leia, Princess-in-distress as much as a suffer-no-fools-badass. The second trilogy gave us her mom, Amidala — who literally dies of heartbreak.

Rebels gives us both Sabine and Hera, genuine ass-kickers. They aren’t only ass-kickers, though. They have weaknesses, feelings, character flaws, and deep history. In fact, I feel like we know more about who they are as people than we do Ezra and Kanan.

They introduce terrific secondary characters. Bendu, a Force-sensitive entity who fights for neither the Light or the Dark. Bendu describes himself:

“Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and the Bogan. The Light and the Dark. I’m the one in the middle. The Bendu.”

I like the idea that this bit of canon might play a significant role in explaining the title of Episode VIIIThe Last Jedi. The Jedi’s infamous knuckle-headed arrogance makes it easy to dig on Bendu’s Oh-You-Think-Your-So-Clever jibes.

In the third season, they re-introduce Grand Admiral Thrawn into the Star Wars canon. Like many Star Wars fans, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy of novels are my favorites. While I understand why Disney excised so much from canon, and especially the Thrawn trilogy, it always bummed me out. Thrawn is exactly the kind of character who belongs in a complex series like Rebels. Thrawn has sufficient space in Rebels to be menacing. His nuance, cunning, and patience are ideally suited for a drawn out, multi-seasonal arc.

What’s Next?

First, watch this series! Star Wars Rebels ranks right below the original trilogy. Second, they’re tying Rebels into the literature. In April, Timothy Zahn revisited his character in the novel “Thrawn.” I haven’t read it yet, but I assure you, it’s in the queue. Kanan has a 12-issue run on Marvel comics. In fact, all the “Star Wars” comics are crushing it. If you haven’t, get yourself a Marvel Unlimited subscription and browse through all the issues at your leisure.

Rebels has been a major part of my kids’ investment into the new Star Wars universe. They’ve seen the movies. They enjoyed them, but they didn’t totally get into them. They regularly ask me when the next episode of Rebels is going to drop. That’s been a traditional part of life around our house for a couple of years now.

Things are currently coming to a head for the crew of the Ghost. A confrontation with Thrawn is inevitable. Their lives are in jeopardy. The fate of Ezra’s home planet Lothal is unknown. Shit has gotten real!

I love Rian Johnson’s films. I’m thrilled they’re going to give him his own trilogy to work with. I am excited to see the return of Luke Skywalker. I have tickets for the first show, opening night. All that said, I know I might be the only one, but I’m sweating the series finale of Rebels more than I am Luke’s fate in Episode VII.

Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.