Back in late 2014 Season 1 of Star Wars Rebels introduced us to a small, rag tag band of freedom fighters battling to save the backwater, beleaguered planet of Lothal from the hands of the Empire and the Sienar ship building factories that threatened their liberty and freedom. As we worked our way through those episodes, we came to know and root for our heroes and their plight, meeting allies, villains and familiar saga faces including R2-D2, C-3PO, Yoda and Lando Calrissian and the reveal of their mysterious contact Fulcrum being Anakin Skywalkers apprentice Ahsoka Tano. Merging many of the the sensibilities of the prequel era with the down and dirty adventurous spirit of the original trilogy, it was a resounding success.
That said, more of the same could quickly grow old so I’m happy to report with a big cheesy grin that the opening of season 2 drastically switches up gears. There’s no denying, this is top tier, main event Star Wars.
Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers Revelant To Siege Of Lothal
As Siege of Lothal kicks off we’re thrown right into the middle of a classic Star Wars dogfight, replete with familiar The Empire Strikes Back-inspired asteroid chase music and the now required and very welcome Hera/Kanan banter. They are on a supply mission, one interupted by Imperial interference that they manage to evade – barely. We’re rejoining our crew as mostly willing members of a nascent rebellion, working alongside the military arm and working well. While Kanan seems less than sure, Hera is deeply insistent that this is the best and only way to move the larger fight against the Empire to the next level. As established in season 1, our crew aren’t always on the same page and this makes for refreshing interplay between the characters. Conflict is a big component of the show – refreshing for what is ostensibly a kids show – and drives the characters personally and now professionally as members of this early alliance.
It was a wise move to bookend Darth Vader at the start and end of season one. His introduction, added at the very beginning of Spark of Rebellion after its premier on the suggestion of George Lucas himself, was a very smart move as it gave the character of the Inquisitor a purpose and validity. Here was our season 1 villain, working on the instruction of Lord Vader himself. With the Inquisitor gone season 2 brings out cinema’s biggest big bad to do the dirty work himself as Vader, Tarkin and their Emperor clearly see this growing rebellion as a threat that needs to be swiftly stamped out. Lothal’s duplicitous Minister Tua, overpowered by Vader and Agent Kallus, is used in a clever ploy to discredit our heroes on Lothal and drive them away as they attempt to get her off the planet in return for information vital to the rebels. Her death in a shuttle explosion and the appearance of Vader wielding a lightsaber ups the ante. Kanan realises that they are outmatched. This is no inquisitor.
Our heroes manufacture an escape with the help of Lando Calrissian but inadvertantly lead the Empire back to this small rebel fleet via a tracking beacon. In a sequence littered with evocative moments both visually and musically, Vader decimates the fleet and Phoenix Squadron, almost taking The Ghost along with it. And it’s here that Ahsoka gets her big moment in the episode where she discovers the identity of their mysterious sith attacker as at the same moment Vader senses her in the Force and reports it back to his Emperor.
There’s so much to discuss in this episode. That winning wit is present and correct, with Kanan and Ezra getting some of the best, most wry moments. Personally, I still don’t entirely trust Hera and her motivations and see a heel turn in the offing for Ahsoka at a later juncture (master and apprentice together again?), but the crew continues to develop and grow. Zeb has a back history I am itching to discxover while Sabine – the one character I took the longest to take a shine to – grows and grows into the teams secret weapon. As with many young Jedi discovering their power Ezra is headstrong and arrogant at times, but the episode used a number of grace notes to develop the characters. Kanan allowing Ezra to fly off and watch the burning of Tarkintown reminded me greatly of Ben allowing Luke to zoom off and watch the burning embers of the homestead. It was a moment where the harsh realisty hit home for our young heroes in both shows and was well placed here. Kanan continues to grow as a teacher giving Ezra information when he needs it and the space to think and order this thoughts and feelings. And the mindtrick moment: “I wish that worked for me.” “I wish it worked on you.” was priceless.
Stylistically the show looks great, with nods to McQuarrie a constant through the show but littered with original trilogy flourishes. As a kid, the A-Wing was a later trilogy vehicle. Here we see it was always in use, just never seen in the early OT. The canon reboot allows such logical changes, and while it will always be a vehicle introduced later on for me, it makes all the sense in the world (and the A-wing Phoenix Squadron just looked great launching from the Blockade Runners.) Apart from eyeballs still looking like pool balls and the characters running like Woody bounding across Andy’s bed from Toy Story 21 years ago the animation is a joy, especially when it comes to vehicle combat. This had so many astute directorial decisions and choices when it came to the combat that I was nodding, grinning and fist-pumping all the way through. While weight of animated characters is still the big shortfall in CGI animation in general, the movement of the vehicles is equal to anything in the movies. This felt very much like it belonged on the big screen, which of course it did at Celebration Anaheim back in April 2015.
Of the cast there’s not a negative word to be said. Our leads totally own their characters and grow as the series develops. Vanessa Marshall as Hera, while only being a character in her mid 20’s, acts like the mother of the ship and the rest of the crew clearly indulge her in that. During the season break Freddie Prinze’s Kanan has had layers added via the excellent Marvel Comics limited series and his weariness and eagerness to stay under the radar and in the shadows looms large over their collective decisions. Steve Blum couldn’t nail Zeb better with a hundred takes. He likes to fight, he likes to break peoples balls and he is all about the team. And while a grouch he clearly has a sad tale to tell. Taylor Gray continues his great work as Ezra. A touch older, a lot wiser and keener to fight than ever he is a long shot that’s paying off for the crew and Hera’s faith in him is being bourn out (and if there’s an appearance by Boba Fett come the sequel trilogy, with Ezra being exactly 2 days older than Luke and Leia, my sneaky bet is on it being him under the helmet and not an aged and withered clone of Jango Fett.) Tiya Sircar as Sabine too, a little older and more aware of the crews place in the wider scheme of things. As I mentioned before, she’s going to be a major player come series finale and a challenge to Hera’s authority. And Chopper (whoever plays him!) doesn’t need to change one jot.
And you can’t talk voice work in Star Wars Rebels without mentioining the villainous ace in the hole, David Oyelowo as Agent Kallus. Consistently calculating, subservient, willing to serve and duplicitous all at the same time, he is a character I sincerely hope isn’t bug squat by the time the series ends. Throw in an on-the-nose Sam Witwer as the Emperor and it’s clockwork. Oh yeah, and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader playing a version of the character he first voiced back in 1977 five years earlier in the chronology than he did back then. It has to be said, with Jones back as Vader and Frank Oz returning as Yoda the original trilogy feels closer than ever, The Force Awakens notwithstanding.
We have to wait a couple more months for season 2 to continue and already we know we’ll be seeing the return of Captain Rex and company as well as Hondo Ohnaka from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While we push on to go bumper to bumper with A New Hope, we continue to throw lassos right back to the cataclysmic Clone Wars in an ongoing effort to bind the galaxy together. With high water marks like Siege of Lothal to measure up to and a team of creatives more than capable of achieving it, these are halcyon days to be a Star Wars fan.
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