March 5th is the anniversary of the finale of Star Wars Rebels. In celebration of that, I have a list of five superb qualities about this beloved show.
NOTE: “Twin Suns” will not be discussed in this list. This is not because “Twin Suns” is unworthy of making the list, but rather this is a boundary I must set for myself. Otherwise, I will talk of nothing else but “Twin Suns.”
If you would like to perhaps read a celebration of “Twin Suns,” be of good cheer, for this monstrosity exists.
So without further ado-
Seriously though “Twin Suns” is a frickin masterpiece
-this is #RebelsRemembered.
1. Our Space Family
This is one way that Rebels had a leg up on The Clone Wars, a show which I still love dearly, and this is not a knock against it. However, The Clone Wars worked as a bit of an anthology series. We would follow Anakin for an arc, Padme for another, join Bail for an episode, now Kit Fisto. How about a bunch of clones! Here’s a droid arc, a Dathomir arc, a mind-bending Force arc, etc. It was a cast of thousands. It made the galaxy feel appropriately massive.
But it also ended up limiting the character growth we got to see. Ahsoka Tano came out of the show as the absolute queen. It’s honestly her show, and she got the best deal in terms of arcs and development, but for the likes of Barriss Offee, who would play a critical role in Ahsoka’s life, they were left mostly in the background. We don’t get to spend time exploring their friendship and thus the depth of Barriss’ betrayal, because between the start of their friendship on Geonosis and the end of it on Coruscant, we’re off on Mon Calamari or following a team of droids through a desert.Again, there are benefits to these sorts of arcs – the scale of the galaxy, the variety of stories they were able to tell – but the cost was frequently character.
Rebels has a smaller focus. It’s not trying to capture the scale of a galactic war. It’s just trying to capture the lives of these six people.
A rebel pilot. A cocky Jedi. A disgraced captain. An untrusting cadet. A lost kid. A loyal jerk.
The cast of friends and foes alike built around them, but they were the core. They were our family, and we got to follow them on their journeys to reclaim who they were meant to be.
A born leader. A wise Knight. An honorable warrior. A uniter of clans. A Jedi. A loyal jerk.
Because our time was focused not on the galaxy, but on the Ghost crew, the stakes became more intimate, the threats more personal. And so do the losses. So do the victories. They may have took Lothal without the Rebellion, but they didn’t take it without us. We were there, cheering them every step of the way.
2. Planting and Pay-Off
Ah yes, the filler episodes. The wacky comedy of “Fighter Flight.” The weird space whales of “The Call.” The ship full of Ezras in “Iron Squadron.” It’s not like these are going to pay-off in any way, right?
I can’t wax quite as poetic about these as I did about the characters, but Rebels wasted no airtime. If they introduced it, they either had plans for it or found ways to reuse it in poignant ways. Season 1 is the best microcosm of this, the tightest writing and most economical use of plot lines, but Season 4 pulls out all the stops and demonstrates incredible finesse. Every plant gets a pay-off and a reason for the pay-off.
The brilliant thing about the humor in Rebels was where it originated. They weren’t pulling laughs out of physical slapstick (though they did use it). They weren’t pulling laughs out of snarky one-liners (thought they used that too). They weren’t pulling laughs out of subverting genre tropes and trends (though, again, they used that too). Heck, Rebels pretty much used every humor tool they had at their disposal.
Rebels used these various tools of humor to pull laughs out of character moments. All the beats of humor work – from Zeb and Ezra spending a whole episode chasing down fruit to Rex trying to shove himself into stormtrooper armor – because they are rooted in character.
There aren’t snarky one-liners for the sake of snarky one-liners, it’s Kanan putting on his “excited face,” it’s Sabine deflecting her emotions, it’s Hera using her Mom Voice. The laughs come from seeing our characters act consistently with their personalities in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Oh for this show to have played in my days of youth.
I was one of those animal kids. I didn’t really pick up any novels on my own for quite some time. Rather, I came out of libraries with non-fiction books about animals. My mother has a zoology degree, and my family gathered around every Sunday for the Wonderful World of Disney and PBS’ Nature. At the dinner table, we frequently played an animal-specific version of 20 questions. I made it a point to love spiders and mosquitos because nobody else would (I have since backtracked on the latter).
Point is, I would have gone nuts for the animals of Rebels. The purgill were weird, the pufferpigs silly, the Fyrnocks terrifying, Atollon’s crawlers close enough to spiders to have my affection, Lothcats adorable to the point of offense, and the Lothwolves indescribable. And, on top of that, to have one of Ezra’s key strengths to be the empathetic connection with them? Yes please and thank you!
Additionally, Rebels hits the right balance of having our heroes work with the wildlife without acting like animal sidekicks. …Usually.
But I dare you to fault this scene in all its adorableness. …I will fight you on this. This scene is perfect.
What I like about Rebels is that it’s not trying to pander to adults by no goofy animal sidekicks ever, but it’s also trusting kids enough to give a nuanced portrayal of wildlife, especially the Lothwolves. They’re clearly intelligent, and they have the same goals as our heroes, but they are also dangerous animals that need to be respected.
5. “This is good. When it gets strange like this, it’s a good thing.”
Star Wars is weird. It fully embraces that it’s science fiction, that it’s fantasy, that it’s a fairytale, and is unafraid to go absolutely bonkers. Rebels drops some of the best this canon has to offer.
There’s the overt, obviously weird with the Jedi Temple, the World Between Times, and the Lothwolves. There’s the Bendu and the fact that he’s there, but we never get to really know much about him other than he’s “the one in the middle.” My favorite piece of StarWarsian weird, however, is something far simpler, yet equally mystical. In the episode “Gathering Forces,” we see a physical manifestation of forgiveness.
This episode and the one before it are centered around Ezra’s conflict with Tseebo, a Rodian who failed to protect him or his parents from the Empire. Ezra freely slings his bitterness at Tseebo, who is discombobulated and occasionally catatonic throughout both episodes. At first, it appears that Tseebo’s state is caused solely by his neural implants. Then, at a critical junction, as they are separated by entire systems of space, Ezra forgives Tseebo. Immediately, Tseebo becomes lucid, and Ezra unlocks an ability in the Force he was previously unable to access. An ability – his empathetic connection with other beings – that becomes his defining characteristic as a Jedi.
We have long been privy to the physical manifestations of vengefulness – Sith eyes to Spider-Maul – but for all the espousal of things like forgiveness, empathy, compassion, it’s rare that we see a direct tie of the concept to the physical in Star Wars. But Rebels does it, both subtly with its theme of transformative empathy and overtly with the moment Ezra forgives Tseebo.