DirectorDave Filoni, Various
Release Date(s)2015 (September 1, 2015)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Disney XD (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
Set five years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV, and some fourteen years after Star Wars: Episode III, Disney XD’s new Star Wars: Rebels TV series depicts the adventures of the crew of the freighter Ghost as they fight the oppression of the Galactic Empire on and around the Outer Rim planet Lothal. Leading them is a former Jedi Knight named Kanan Jarrus, who survived the Clone Wars, and his ace Twi’lek pilot and girlfriend, Hera Syndulla. The group’s muscle is provided by a Lasat bruiser named Zeb Orrelios. A teenaged female Mandalorian (and former Imperial Academy cadet) named Sabine Wren adds a dash of style. Every Star Wars crew needs a droid for technical support, and the Ghost’s is provided by C1-10P, aka “Chopper.” And rounding out the crew (while also helping to draw the audience into the story) is Ezra Bridger, a young street rat and orphan they find on Lothal with whom the Force is strong.
Part of what makes Rebels interesting – more so than the previous Clone Wars animated series (which was also produced by Dave Filoni) – are its greater ties to the Original Trilogy, plus its cast of all-new characters whose futures aren’t pre-determined. Early in the first season, you’re simply drawn to these characters as you slowly get to know them. But as the season progresses, much of the delight of these episodes lies in discovering how each of the characters and events connect to the films we all know and love. In the process, we’re treated to cameos by familiar and beloved characters, including Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C3P0, R2-D2, Lando Calrissian, Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and Bail Organa. What’s truly exciting about this is that the production has actually gotten James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, and Anthony Daniels to reprise the voices of their classic characters. Fans of the Clone Wars series will be pleased to see the return of the now adult Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice (voiced as always by Ashley Eckstein). You might also recognize Freddie Prinze, Jr as Jarrus, with additional voices provided by the likes of David Oyelowo, James Hong (“I just do eyes!”), Peter MacNicol, and Brent Spiner.
The other thing that’s pleasing here is the way Rebels makes good use of visual elements and designs from all six Star Wars films, while also incorporating many new elements too that still seem perfectly fitting and familiar. Serious fans will know that this is because the art department is drawing heavily on unused concept art for the films by Ralph McQuarrie and others. In fact, the characters of Zeb and Chopper are based on McQuarre’s original design sketches for Chewbacca and R2-D2 – that’s just two examples of his strong, if posthumous, influence on this series. But there’s much more: For example, an episode featuring a public shuttle ride features the RX-24 pilot droid from Disney’s Star Tours ride. And the crime lord Azmorigan is based on early concept art for Jabba the Hutt. These references are almost like Easter eggs and really help to draw in longtime fans.
Disney’s Blu-ray release is a 2-disc set. Disc One contains 8 episodes (Spark of Rebellion: Part I, Spark of Rebellion: Part II, Droids in Distress, Fighter Flight, Rise of the Old Masters, Breaking Ranks, Out of Darkness, and Empire Day), plus 7 Rebels Recon behind-the-scenes featurettes (one for each episode, 36 minutes in all). It also has a very nice bonus: The full “Chewie, we’re home” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in full 1080p and 5.1 sound. This looks absolutely amazing and, let’s face it, it’s by far the best extra in the set. There’s also a preview for Disney’s Aladdin: Diamond Edition Blu-ray. Disc Two adds the remaining 7 episodes (Gathering Forces, Path of the Jedi, Idiot’s Array, Vision of Hope, Call to Action, Rebel Resolve, and Fire Across the Galaxy), plus 7 more Rebels Recon featurettes (one for each episode, 45 minutes total). There’s also Rebels Infiltrate Star Wars Celebration (4 minutes), which is a quick look at the packed convention panel from this past summer. Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22 minutes) is a recap of the events of Season One and provides some backstory on each of the characters. Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead (7 minutes) offers glimpses of stories and characters from the new season, which begins airing on Disney XD next month (on October 14). And all 4 of the animated shorts that were released online in 2014 (The Machine in the Ghost, Art Attack, Entanglement, and Property of Ezra Bridger – total 12 minutes) are included too. The Rebels Recon shorts feel like a glossy, Disney XD version of Access Hollywood aimed at kids, but the rest of this material is okay. I would certainly like to see a little more bonus material aimed at older fans however.
Star Wars: Rebels features 22-minute episodes, each rendered entirely in 3D CG. The animation is surprisingly simple, yet stylish – a format that works perfectly well to tell the story without ever getting burdened by too much detail. They’re presented on Blu-ray in full 1080p high-definition in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The image quality is striking, with bold, vibrant colors and deep black levels. Edges are clean, with refined detail that renders this show’s unique background textures perfectly. Color, light, and shadow are all cleverly used here to create a rich sense of atmosphere and tone, which lends this series a highly cinematic look. Audio is available in English, French, Spanish, and German 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish. The Dolby Digital mix is good and nicely immersive, but we’d have preferred Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD. Still, the dialogue is clear, bass is solid, there’s nice directional play in the surrounds, and the John Williams-based score (including lifted themes and original music based on the same) is well presented.
Implicit in the very title of Star Wars: Rebels is the idea that this show will, over time, gradually depict the birth of the Rebel Alliance. If Season One is any indication, we’re certainly going to get our money’s worth. Younger fans will love Rebels, of course, but the real surprise is just how much older fans of the classic films will find to enjoy here too. This show is great fun and offers some damn good Star Wars storytelling to boot. (In fact, I think you could remake all six films in this style of animation and nobody would bat an eye.) Star Wars: Rebels is well worth your time on Blu-ray – don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt