Cartoons generally fall into one of two categories: those for kids and those more appropriate for older audiences. Every so often, something will come along that kids and parents (or just older fans) can enjoy together all on the same level. “Star Wars Rebels” fills that niche and is yet another reason that this is a great time to be a Star Wars fan.
The first season of “Star Wars Rebels” had its growing pains, as all shows will in their first season, but by building on the storytelling success that was the hallmark of the later seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars“, it quickly found its groove. Merging the cobbled-together family dynamic of a show like “Firefly” and the larger Star Wars universe, it could tell stories set in a time period ripe for exploration. How did the Rebellion form? What was life like for the general population under the rule of the Empire?
“The Siege of Lothal“, the one-hour “movie” that opens the second season of “Rebels,” was screened in its entirety at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. Along with about 600 other people, I waited in line for over three hours to take part in that screening. When the lights came back up, and the voice cast was swiftly escorted out of the hall, the audience was buzzing. The season premiere featured fantastic action, exciting story beats, gorgeous animation, and the return of the face and voice of evil in the Star Wars universe – Darth Vader (voiced once again by James Earl Jones). I eagerly awaited a television release date so I could revisit it and see if in fact the episode really was that good, or if I was swept up in the hype of that weekend.
Even knowing what to expect, “The Siege of Lothal” still delivers in a big way. The world of the Ghost crew has expanded mightily, they have joined up with several other resistance factions, and they are coalescing into a larger rebellion. This doesn’t sit well with all of the members of the Ghost crew, specifically Jedi-in-hiding Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.). The tension that simmers on the team is an important aspect of their dynamic, as the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope are still a few years off and not everyone is ready to stage a large-scale military opposition against the mighty Empire.
The greatest strength of this second season premiere is in its handling of Darth Vader. The rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker is the central throughline of the Star Wars saga and Vader, especially in this time period, is a character that could have been challenging to do justice. “Rebels” shows Vader at a time when he is not the most feared figure in the universe. He sits at the right hand of the Emperor (voiced by Sam Witwer), but has yet to step out front and center to inspire fear in the populous.
In season one, an Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) was sent to hunt down the Jedi, as the job had not yet fallen to Vader. During the climactic lightsaber battle of the episode, Kanan, who was a padawan during the Clone Wars, doesn’t immediately realize that Vader is a Sith lord. After escaping the fight, Kanan and Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) reach out through the Force to try to understand what the masked menace may be. Ahsoka, Anakin’s former apprentice, had no idea the fate that befell her former master, but she can now start putting the pieces together, which should lead to a massive confrontation down the line.
Vader is smart and ruthless in his tactics. He can anticipate the moves the Ghost crew will make and goes so far as to burn down a refugee camp to draw them out of hiding. Having such a vicious, brutal opponent will force the reluctant ragtag band of heroes to form up into the Rebellion we all know is coming. What this means for our heroes and Ahsoka remains unclear; they have no part in any of the three films that take place after the series, which raises the stakes considerably. Kids can enjoy “Star Wars Rebels” for the stirring Star Wars style action and memorable characters. Adults can find enjoyment at the mature level of storytelling and nuance to be found. Both kids and adults should be happy their Star Wars universe is in very capable hands.