Monday, November 13, 2023

Star Wars Subjectivities: Of Rebels & Rebellions

Rebellions are build on Lothcats

 Star Wars - the title, the actual phrase - has always stood out to me. At this point, Star Wars - the franchise, the entity - is so ingrained in the fabric of society, that the words themselves don't mean a whole lot. That phrase grabs you, though, and evokes images of a broad, massive conflict on a scale we can barely imagine. And yet, for us Old People, who grew up with the Original Trilogy (and the Holiday Special, but we just pretended that never happened), we never actually saw that. Episode IV was a ragtag group of rebels overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, V saw a super-cool battle, on a ice planet far from civilization, and then finally VI saw a massive space battle above the moon of Endor. The Special Edition teased larger worlds after the second Death Star was destroyed. 

That's not to knock those movies, obviously I love them, but Star Wars tells its best stories away from the main action (more on this in another piece). Tight, character-focused stories in the margins of galactic conflict, about people whose influence will be felt by the entire galaxy - but whose names and faces are likely unknown to the world (galaxy?) at large. It also teases more - Us old folks spent countless hours wondering what came before - it started with IV, what are the first three?*

Rebels picks off, spiritually, where the Clone Wars ends. It fills in more margins, but unlike Clone Wars, pretty much lives there, but in a way where the actions of Our Heroes are felt across the OT and later works. It does so in a very effective way - in a way, it has the feel of what Star Trek is often praised for, being about The Crew, and also unlike Clone Wars, the lens never goes far from our hearty band of Rebels.

This is where I'm slightly conflicted - I really like Rebels, and I think it matures as it goes along - but the first few episodes feel very immature. The first time, I gave up a couple episodes in - not because it's terrible-terrible but it just felt very this is a kids show, which is fine, but, again, old guy. So maybe just not for me. I'm glad I pushed through, though, because it definitely grows up and lends a lot of personal stakes to people who were rebelling before the was a Rebel Alliance. 

The deeper problem with the characters - especially in the early seasons - is the characters feel very one dimensional and cliché. Ezra Bridger is a typical headstrong street urchin. Zeb is the big brute with a heart of gold. Hera Syndulla is a stubborn, skilled, loyal pilot. Sabine Wren is the biggest culprit in the early going - she's artistic and rebellious and super talented omgggggg. Again, as the show progresses, there is some depth layered in, but has the side effect of feeling forced instead of natural, as if the writers realized that after several episodes those characters should posses other qualities.

The counterpoint to this is Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi Padawan-in-hiding, and the Dad of the group, both in the sense of being the mature mentor to most of the misfits, and in having more depth to his character from the word go. His relationship with Hera, in particular, summarizes what makes Rebels (along with The Mandalorian, The Clone Wars, and Rogue One - Ahsoka [the series] is going down this road as well) really great - Star Wars, especially the Original Trilogy, is very black and white, good and evil. The Jedi have a code, and it's ostensibly good. So do the Sith, and it's cool evil. But now we're seeing that good and bad people exist on both sides of that line, and hard choices have to be made. Kanan is obviously "good" but the fact that he has a romantic relationship, and a crew he is absolutely loyal to, ultimately sacrificing himself for, goes against the code that he was brought up with (it's a stupid code). It makes me wonder - was it conscious? Did he try to keep that code, or did he shrug, say it doesn't exist anymore, so I can do whatever? His decision to train Ezra plays into that as well - it makes for a character needing to make choices about how he will train a Jedi, when the Jedi don't exist anymore (maybe the Sequel Trilogy should have leaned into this even a little bit) - does he follow the code? Does he teach him to use the force, and hope he doesn't turn evil?

Agent Kallus is a solid character who splits all of this somewhere down the middle - Fairly generic Imperial Antagonist to start, yet eventually has a redemption arc that gives him and Zeb a ton more development than they had earlier in the show. 

I think Rebels came out at a weird time for Star Wars (the franchise) - the media it existed in was now more than movies, and The Clone Wars had softened the blow for us Old People who were disappointed in the prequels, and the new generation of people who grew up with those films being formative to their childhood were at an age to embrace a show like this. It didn't revolutionize Star Wars; but it didn't need or try to. It needed to set the table for the things that would, and fill in more of the margins of that universe. It's a little odd to rewatch now, and see it completely integrated into that universe, when at the time it felt like it stood alone. It still does, and stands up as a fantastic story, but it's even cooler to see what it's become.

*Prequel apologists, see yourselves out 


Dean Smith-Richard is the author of 3204AD, loves to cook, play baseball, and is way too much of a craft beer nerd. He lives in the Pacific Northwest, and likes the rain, thank you very much.