starwars-RebelsPoster

Having premiered on Disney Channel with the one-hour launch, “Spark of Rebellion”, Disney’s first major Star Wars output since its acquisition of George Lucas’s empire represents the opening statement in this ‘new dawn’ of Star Wars. So is Star Wars: Rebels something to be excited about?

I have genuinely tried to be excited about it, but haven’t quite managed to get to the level many others have. Although I did think the official promotional posters and Amy Beth Christenson images sent out earlier this year were pretty cool (one or two are on this page, if you’ve not seen them before). Speaking as a lifelong Star Wars fan (from about the age of seven; which means I’ve been a card-carrying Mandalorian Moisture-Farming Jedi Ewok Nerf-Herder for about 25 years), my attitude is, at best, neutral at this point. Though the general tone and feel of what I’ve seen so far seems fun. An alternative title for this post could be, “Man, I wish I was eight years-old again, so I could really get into this…”

Personally I’m still not even sure about the imminent Star Wars cinematic releases, let-alone a preceding animation series that is clearly aimed at a target audience I’m not a part of. That said, I’ve often wished I could be a child again so that I could experience some of these things through an innocent, child-like lens; I felt that way about Clone Wars too.

Fans of the Clone Wars series were miffed at the cancellation of that show when Disney acquired Star Wars and announced its own replacement show; the current Star Wars: Rebels. Whether Clone Wars fans will consider the new show a worthy replacement remains to be seen. I more or less liked what I saw of the Clone Wars series; I didn’t see all of it, but was able to enjoy what I did see in that sort of lazy, Saturday morning vibe. And the Clone Wars provided a rich arena for stories and for the kind of escapist, exotic cartoon storytelling that most of us secretly (or openly) long for in our lives (and hey, Ashoka was cute). But I was never 100 percent sold on the style of animation in that series.

The original Clone Wars series from 2004/5 with its more traditional, albeit quirky, animation techniques was genuinely more pleasing to the eye; and set between Episodes II and III it told a broadly more relevant story and was probably a better show overall (I’ve been perfectly happy to watch that entire series at least twice).

The animation style of Star Wars: Rebels seems even less appealing. That very modern-Disney/Pixar style of generic and somewhat spiritless CG animation doesn’t seem right for Star Wars. Aesthetically it links the show much more to other modern Disney properties and animations than it does to the Star Wars universe and that’s the sense I get from looking at the footage.

I get that this show is targeted at the kids and a new generation and not at established Star Wars fans; so maybe this is what’s genuinely going to hold the attention of the younglings. But it does make it difficult for someone over the age of 12 to properly get into it (or maybe I’m wrong; maybe it’s just me). I generally would prefer something in the animation style even of the Droids series from the eighties.

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The (relatively) recent Thundercats reboot from a few years ago may have had a mixed reception – I personally liked it – but the animation itself was superb. It was detailed, beautifully textured and a pleasure to watch on a visual level. That style of animation would work beautifully for Star Wars and a show in that style of animation would be much likelier to draw me in; something that aesthetically feels more grown-up, but at the same time can easily appeal to younger viewers. There’s something immediately off-putting about that now-common style of very non-lifelike animation that fails to evoke suspension-of-disbelief due to its unrealistic motion and texture (there’s a broader point there too; look at classic Disney films from the forties, fifties and sixties for example and how breathtakingly beautiful the animation is, then compare that to most of the modern output).

To be fair, this was also an issue with Clone Wars and not just a problem with Rebels. And though I was able to enjoy much of Clone Wars on the story level, I did have problems connecting it with it aesthetically. It might be more a broader complaint about animation trends in general these days, but it’s difficult to viscerally connect with something that looks like a computer game on screen. That’s what it feels like – like you’re watching someone playing a video game; it lacks that human, emotive touch.

At the same time, I’m perfectly conscious of the fact that people like me may sound like moany old-timers when we express haughtiness towards new interpretations and re-imaginings of the Star Wars world.

If the kids genuinely love it and it increases their investment in the lead-in to the new Star Wars film trilogy, then there’s no point in people like me standing about in translucent, blue-tinted Obi-Wan ghost form prattling on about how things were in ‘the old days’.

However, Uncle George’s statements when announcing Disney’s assimilation of Lucasfilm centered around the view that Star Wars needed to “continue” for future generations; and I guess that also means adopting the styles and trends to appeal to those present and future generations.

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Getting away from the issue of animation style, the series’ basic premise – a story set between the time of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, centering on the origins of the Rebel Alliance and featuring all-new characters – is a very promising one on paper.

The series follows a motley group of rebels on the starship Ghost and their struggles against the Galactic Empire. The Ghost‘s crew consists of Twi’lek pilot Hera Syndulla, alien enforcer Zeb Orrelios, the Mandalorian Sabine Wren, astromech droid Chopper, former Jedi Kanan Jarrus, and teenage con-artist Ezra Bridger. The action takes place amid a backdrop as rich as that of the Clone Wars; the rise of the Empire, the beginnings of the Rebellion (but will it reference the already-established beginnings of the Rebel Alliance – with Padme Amidala, Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and co in ROTS?) and a generally interesting period in the SW universe’s fictional timeline that has never been explored on screen before now.

There’s also the promise of various scattered sweeteners; rumours for example of Lando Calrissian, possibly even with Billy Dee Williams voicing. There are also of course plenty of established characters that could make cameos, from Wedge Antilles and Palpatine and Vader to the Fettster and other bounty hunters. Artoo and Threepio have already featured in the third episode, along with Bail Organa (not Jimmy Smits), and James Earl Jones is reported to be voicing Darth Vader in a later episode. There are persistent rumours too that Clone Wars Ashoka will feature also. So despite having a new primary cast of characters, there’s clearly continuity and consistency with other parts of the Star Wars screen canon.

All sounds good; all sounds like friendly, Saturday morning fun. And that’s probably how it should be viewed; and not as any major, galaxy-changing entry into the Star Wars canon. As I said, I’ve tried to be excited but, as with all the rumours and build-up to the new movies, my interest remains more academic than passionate at this point. It’s possible that all my excitement/anticipation got used up on Revenge of the Sith in 2005 (and somewhat including the original Clone Wars cartoon series building up to it), somehow depleting my lifetime excitability quota.

Either that or this just isn’t that exciting. It does look like fun though.

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