It's a little over a year before the first big-screen installment of J.J. Abrams’ new Star Wars trilogy is due, but if you’re dying for a dose of the Force, the folks at Disney have a stopgap for you.
“Star Wars Rebels” is a new animated TV series that will premiere with an hourlong episode on the Disney Channel on Oct. 3, followed by regular 30-minute installments on the Disney XD channel starting Oct. 13.
The series is set somewhere between the time of the prequels and George Lucas’ original trilogy, just as stirrings of a rebellion are beginning to threaten the status quo of the Galactic Empire. It’s based around the adventures of a small band of rogue freedom fighters led by an outcast Jedi named Kanan Jarrus (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.).
Kanan and his crew of alien humanoids have been doing their best to hamper Imperial supply lines, stealing weapons and redistributing food to needy systems under the Empire’s thumb.
The first episode — “Spark of Rebellion” — is an origin story of sorts for the series’ protagonist, a young orphan named Ezra (Taylor Gray). When Ezra intercepts one of Kanan’s raids, the ensuing chaos leaves him reluctantly recruited for a rescue mission set to help a group of kidnapped wookiees.
The show is packed with familiar elements — lightsabers, wookiees and plenty of welcome musical nods to John Williams’ original score — but fans hoping for familiar faces might be disappointed. The first episode features a hologram cameo from Obi Wan Kenobi, and the trailer suggests that we’ll be seeing R2-D2 and C-3PO later in the series. But though the animation nods toward the grimy, lived-in look of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are nowhere in sight.
That isn’t to say the show isn’t a lot of fun. Its animation is pretty stiff, but unlike the awkward CGI-heavy presentation of the prequels, “Rebels” feels a bit more comfortable in its own skin.
Star Wars has always been made with a young audience in mind, but it’s worth noting that “Rebels” has its sights clearly trained on children. There are plenty of inside references for adult fans (the wookiees in the first episode have to be rescued from the Spice Mines of Kessel, which C-3PO referred to in “A New Hope”), but the characters and dialogue feel a lot more appropriate for Saturday morning cartoons than for adult cinema.
The end result is about what you’d expect: a fun, lightweight series that is just original enough to be interesting and just familiar enough to make fans feel at home. At best, it’s an alternate chapter in a section of timeline that hasn’t had a lot of attention in the Star Wars universe. At worst, it will give fans something to write about in Internet comment forums while they wait for their next trip to a galaxy far, far away.
“Star Wars Rebels” is rated TV-Y7 for some animated mayhem.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.