Star Wars: Rebels, or, Something Like an Ending in a Franchise That Will Never End

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Fixing to get jumped by some cats.

For the first time since, arguably, Return of the Jedi, there’s been a proper ending in a galaxy far, far away. After four seasons, Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: Rebels has come to a close, or at least a premeditated line of demarcation between it and the future of the animated Star Wars saga.

The Star Wars that Rebels leaves behind is vastly different than the Star Wars it entered into in 2014, more than a year before the premiere of The Force Awakens. Looking at what Star Wars was then and is now, and considering the now completed story of the Ghost crew in its entirety, we can already gleam some sense of the legacy the (admittedly fantastic) Band-Aid Disney slapped on their unjust, premature cancellation of The Clone Wars will leave behind.

Star Wars: Rebels was the debut of a new era of Star Wars, the post-Lucas, Disney era, and it proved to be a smart, capable and worthy successor, but also a very appropriate one. The end of the Lucas era, the end of Star Wars made by the maker, was The Clone Wars, so it’s fitting that that ending would dovetail into the beginnings of the Star Wars we have today. In many ways, notably the oversite of Lucas’ heir-apparent Supervising Director/Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Rebels was the strain of current-day Star Wars that best carried on Lucas’ adventurous, if divisive, storytelling sensibilities. The show doesn’t skimp on TIE Fighters, which are starting to feel like an incessant nostalgia bell Disney rings throughout its every Star Wars entry, but Rebels was never content to rest on the past glories of the Star Wars franchise. It continually blazed forward, broadening the canvas of what Star Wars can be right through to its finale. The show often engaged with and introduced ideas and concepts that felt jarring, or goofy, or even heretical, challenging the notions of what the Star Wars universe encompassed. Not the controversial character decisions or shocking identity revelations that haunt the theories and vitriol of fans, but big, grand ideas of cosmic and mythological scope. Ideas about what a Jedi is, about what the Force is. It went weird, real weird, and profound, and Star Wars as a whole is more nuanced because of it.

But Rebels was also distinctly effective because of its smaller scale. Where Clone Wars was something of an anthology series bouncing across a sprawling cast spread around the entire galaxy, Rebels stuck like glue to a regular cast of characters, largely on one planet.

While I personally got a little sick of Lothal and relished any chance to see more exotic locales, the show’s focus on one planet lends a viewpoint of the Empire and the Rebellion that Star Wars viewers previously haven’t been exposed to. We’ve always known the Empire were bad guys because they blew up a planet and because the good guys fought them. But Rebels showed us what the Empire looks like on a Monday. It showed us what the Empire looks like to a fruit vendor, to a neighborhood, to a local government. In Rebels we got the day-to-day Empire.

Similarly, we got a better understanding of the Rebel Alliance and its severe limitations. What does the existence of some rumored band of radicals mean to one person on one subjugated planet amongst many? What does that one person mean to the Rebel Alliance? Rebels provides thoughtful insight into the conflict the world was first introduced to in 1977. It isn’t information you need to know to understand the Star Wars films, but if you’re curious, the information is there and it’s been presented with the same amount of thought and care that goes into the films.

Rebels won’t hold the same place in my heart as The Clone Wars, which is very likely more a matter of timing than of either show’s inherent qualities, but as with its predecessor, Rebels has given me some of my favorite moments and characters in all of Star Wars. Where Clone Wars had the daunting task of carrying the torch for the entire Star Wars franchise in its day, Rebels carried the torch for something more fleeting, more specific, that adventurous, beyond-the-establishment spirit that ran through all of George Lucas’ Star Wars, that urge to move the conventions and mechanisms of storytelling forward.

Rebels has now also given viewers something Disney’s Star Wars has yet to confront: something like an ending. And what an ending it was. The finale of Rebels was so exciting and well executed that it heightened the show as a whole, highlighting just how complete a story the series had been all along. Much as you don’t need to see Rebels to enjoy Rogue One, you don’t need Revenge of the Sith or A New Hope to enjoy Rebels. It’s a story with its own beginning and ending, its own heroes, its own challenges, mysteries and revelations. Whatever Lucasfilm Animation does next, if the folks behind Rebels are involved it’ll be well worth watching.

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Goobers of Today, or, Legends of Tomorrow

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PEW PEW PEW!!!

Legends of Tomorrow is goofy as hell.

CW’s newest foray into televising the DC Comics universe, which follows a potpourri of B-list DC characters on a time-traveling adventure, is a serialized Hanna-Barbera soap opera. The action and the drama are in constant competition with one another to get both feet over the top first and as a spectator that competition is an absolute delight.

I enjoy watching Legends of Tomorrow as a grown ass man, but boy oh boy what I wouldn’t give to watch Legends of Tomorrow as a ten-year-old. I imagine it would occupy the same space that Dragonball Z did in my actual youth: that first exposure to serialized storytelling, where characters are still big and bombastic and cartoonish, but suddenly their actions carry reverberating consequences.

Legends of Tomorrow is this perfect little stepping stone somewhere between Adventure Time and Game of Thrones. Sometimes it puts in a bit too much of one and not enough of the other with silly or melodramatic results, but more often than not, particularly in the back half of its first season, Legends of Tomorrow perfectly blends cartoonish fun with, you know, grown up stuff like talking and kissing.

One particularly well done episode set in 1958 features both werebird monsters from a spooky mental asylum and the directly stated sentiment that the 50’s were only really Happy Days if you were a straight, white man.

If you haven’t seen Legends of Tomorrow its greatest weakness is its premise, because on paper it sounds so, so dumb. But Legends doesn’t try to dodge its own inherent ridiculousness, it leans so far into it that it might as well be laying down on top of it. Legends of Tomorrow is so very genuine. It knows exactly what it is. It never tries to be Adventure Time and it never tries to be Game of Thrones, it just sets out to be the best time-traveling Avengers soap opera it can be. And it can be a pretty damn good one.

I Know You Didn’t Think Disney and I Buried the Hatchet Just ’cause BB-8, or, Star Wars: Rebels Season Two

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[Insert PM5K’s “When Worlds Collide” Here]

Though I may not speak of it often and openly it’s important you understand that I haven’t simply abandoned the blood feud between Disney and myself that began with the unceremonious cancellation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Years from now my descendants and the Disneys will probably be hiring bounty hunters to drag each other over state lines to stand trial for their various crimes against one another. That’s just their lot in life.

But between their deft handling of The Force Awakens, two spiffy Civil War trailers and Disney’s outspoken protest of proposed discriminatory legislation in Georgia my spite toward Walt’s lineage has cooled. As if sensing my softening sentiments Disney went in for the killing blow with last week’s conclusion to Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels with a finale that may not have apologized for Disney’s transgressions, but did effectively look me in the eye and shake my hand.

The worst part about the abrupt, unplanned ending of The Clone Wars was the dangling story threads of characters who were either introduced in or heightened by the series but were ultimately left without resolutions. It was something of a bitch slap to fans who’d become deeply invested in characters that, on paper, should have been little more than footnotes in some Star Wars encyclopedia in the bargain bin of Barnes and Noble, but over the course of five excellent seasons had become something much more.

Despite the undeniable quality and fun of Star Wars: Rebels, that slap still stung.

But the Star Wars M.O. of late is one of honoring the past. Much like The Force Awakens displays a reverence for the original Star Wars films and the new Rogue One trailer showcases a reverence for Fallout 3, Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels extends a true reverence to Clone Wars and, by extension, that series’ fan base.

In Tolkien terms The Clone Wars didn’t end before Return of the King even started, but based on what has been said in interviews with the cast and crew about what had been planned for the series, it definitely ended before the Battle of the Black Gate. And it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get to see that battle outside of some tie-in book or comic. But Season Two of Rebels serves as, still in Tolkien terms, something of the Appendices to Clone Wars.

Old characters appear, unseen past events are eluded to and a few lingering story threads are picked up in earnest. It’s exciting watching characters from The Clone Wars interact with the cast of Rebels. There was a time when the characters organic to the animated Star Wars universe were so easily overshadowed by even the briefest promise of an appearance of a minor “real” character from the films, but now those same characters that had to fight for sunlight underneath the shadows of Anakin Skywalker or Yoda cast imposing shadows of their own when they show up in Rebels. It’s a testament to just how much of an impression The Clone Wars left on the Star Wars universe. Between the prequels and The Force Awakens, The Clone Wars carried the torch for the Star Wars franchise and the flame wound up brighter for it. This past season of Star Wars: Rebels put a concerted effort into acknowledging that.

So while I’ll never forgive Disney for canceling The Clone Wars, their posthumous treatment of their untimely victim has at the very least turned our blood feud into more of a scab feud. At this rate, maybe one day my descendants and Disney’s descendants might even institute a “no-kill” rule in their post-apocalyptic, gladiatorial honor-bouts.