Star Wars Rebels got off to something of a rocky start with me. It wasn’t that there was anything particularly wrong with it; it wasn’t tapping into anything compelling. On its face, it was a great concept to tell the story of a small band of heroes lost in the developing Empire and struggling to do something in their own way to strike back at oppression. But nothing they did felt impactful; there was no sense that these characters belonged to the galaxy at large.
In a sense, it’s what made the book Aftermath such a disappointment: here’s a team in the midst of a story that has obsessed countless fans, and I didn’t understand why I should give a hoot. When certain stunt-casting appeared early on, like Threepio and Artoo taking a jarring cameo adventure, it felt like they were going to rely on fan compulsion to keep the show going.
Turning the Ship Around
After the midway point of the season, though, things started to turn around. There were still the “stunt appearances” by characters like Lando Calrissian, but they seemed to serve a better purpose by tying them into the story in logical ways and serving as further world-building moments. Things began to tie together and feel like more of a cohesive whole.
Then there was the special extended episode, The Siege of Lothal, between seasons that brought Vader into the mix (voiced by James Earl Jones himself!), and his first near-encounter with his old apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. There was a sudden weight and importance added to the series in that moment that made me nervous as to whether they could deliver on the new promise.
All indications in the first episode of Season 2, The Lost Commanders, are that they are ready to deliver. Though the story is fairly straight set-up for a longer arc (as any first episode of a season is nowadays), the fun and impact are there. In bringing back Captain Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor, they are taking the opportunity to weave Rebels into the main Star Wars narrative. They also have an opportunity to address further how the Empire evolved into what we know it to be at the time of the Original Trilogy, by showing how everyone we know from the Clone Wars was forced to deal with those changes.
The episode itself is great fun. There’s real humor sprinkled through, and Dee Bradley Baker once again amazes by playing the voices of the three clones just differently enough that they sound similar but recognizable.
Seeing the clones so old is important. You’re reminded immediately of the growth acceleration with which they were bred, mentioned in Attack of the Clones, and has turned them into old-timers before getting their fair share of time.
There’s a Jaws scene reference as they “fish” for an underground monstrosity that can feed the clones for a year. Though they use Zeb as bait, it’s a wonderfully silly gag that helps establish his connection to the clones’ esprit de corps. This is especially nice as Zeb finally gets someone to whom he can relate; the character has been great comic relief, but this grounds him in a way they’ve not managed before.
I’d be remiss not to address the biggest sin they’ve repented between seasons, the music. Instead of relying on repurposed cues lifted directly from the films, the score is now original. Sure, the themes are sprinkled in there still, but the show finally has its own sound. This was something that drove me up the wall in the first season. I’m overjoyed they addressed it. Overjoyed.
Naturally, my impulse is not to go into too much detail about plot points as on-demand and DVR viewing have made it tricky in terms of spoilers. I want to get my review out, but I want to preserve the sweeter moments in the story for the readers’ own discovery. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of moments that will bring a big smile to fan faces, and some exposition that is plainly enough stated to make it accessible to the newer viewer.
The Lost Commanders is a prime example of why shows should be given a season or two to develop. Kudos to Lucasfilm and Disney for allowing course-corrections to the story and flow of the shows.
Will Rebels become more like a sequel series to The Clone Wars? I don’t know. It seems like it based on this episode, and honestly that’s just fine. It gives the core characters a chance to grow in a thematic structure designed to foster solid character development, and anchors their story in the grander saga that is Star Wars.