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Rebels Revisited: Promises, Expectations, and the Season So Far

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Mike: For over a year now, Star Wars Rebels has been Lucasfilm’s biggest product. Sure, excitement for The Force Awakens has always been another animal altogether, but until now, it’s mostly been an abstract item that can be teased and speculated about but not directly engaged with—and certainly not on a weekly basis. With Rebels officially on its midseason hiatus, it finally takes a definitive backseat to the film, and for many, permanent second-class status. If you were on Twitter Wednesday night, you had a front-row seat for this process, as mere minutes after “Legacy” ended a new Chinese trailer appeared and quickly swallowed up nearly all Rebels discussion—this week’s poignant long-term ramifications (and Clancy Brown) be damned.

As major television series go, Rebels is still young; it may have several seasons yet to develop its characters and relationships in a way that rivals the depth of a Finn or a Rey—it’s certainly got much more running time to work with. But if it’s going to punch its weight in a franchise that’s releasing one movie a year for the foreseeable future, Rebels can’t afford to coast on our existing goodwill. As much fun as I’ve had following the show so far, I have to admit to feeling somewhat underwhelmed by “Legacy”, especially as compared to last year’s midseason finale “Gathering Forces”. Maybe it was the return to Lothal, or the lack of a feeling of danger from the Empire and the Inquisitors (in their minute or so of screentime) compared to the confrontation with the Grand Inquisitor at Fort Anaxes, or maybe I was just bummed by the apparent cliffhanger (“Gathering Forces” was the conclusion of a two-parter, while “Legacy” appears to be the first half of one), but looking at the whole show up to this point I can’t help but see certain aspects as a step backward.

Of course, Rebels at its worst has always been a tremendously fun half-hour of television; I’m not criticizing what it is now as much as hoping it, like Ezra, will keep developing its powers and become so much more. Ben, not to put you on the spot (though I guess that’s exactly what I’m doing), but you actually conceded on Twitter that Friday’s Revisited wasn’t your greatest work; do you think on some level you were feeling similarly underwhelmed?

And what about the rest of you? Whether you get where I’m coming from or you’re as in love with the show as ever, what’s the number-one thing you think Rebels could do in the second half of the season, and beyond, to become the best show it can be?

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Ben: Underwhelmed is a strong word. Taken aback is more like it. “Legacy” was the sort of episode that I felt like I needed longer to digest and process before writing about, and due to circumstances in real life and other reasons I wasn’t able to. It certainly wasn’t at all what I was expecting for the “midseason finale” (which is a terrible practice and should be abolished but whatever). An action-packed front half that led into an extremely mellow and even melancholy second half, with some of the best acting (both visually and from the voice actors) of the entire show. There was no cliffhanger. There was no big action showpiece to hang a hat on or leave you rabidly wanting more.

Rebels as a whole is about what I had expected right from the get-go, a more kid-friendly show that nonetheless appeals to the adults in the crowd with its long-term storytelling and nuanced characters. What I don’t think I was prepared for is how low-key the show can get at times. Those looking for a 22-minute thrill ride every week won’t necessarily always get their fix. The thing that’s really stuck out to me in that way is how willing it is to be quiet, soft and still. To let the animation and music speak for themselves. “Legacy” in particular has a terrifically animated and scored scene towards the end after Ezra hears the news about his parents’ fate. Rebels would be best served to continue to march to the beat of its own drummer. The more different and daring they’re willing to be, the better.

I’d love to see more thwarted expectations from here on out. And I’m not talking about expectations like, “oh, Ahsoka’s gotta die, Vader’s gonna kill her”, I’m talking about expectations about the themes of the show, about how the characters move forward on their journeys, about the tone and style and pace and things like that. More episodes like “Legacy”, where you expect one thing to happen only to have something else happen that serves the story even better and takes it in a new direction. Play with our expectations like a cat with a ball of string, Rebels.

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Sarah: I’ve been feeling rather underwhelmed this season too. I think a large part of it is just a change in the story structure, mainly that we don’t get as many episodes centered around the whole crew. Rather, we’ll get Jedi episodes with Ezra and Kanan (and maybe another member of the Ghost) or we’ll get episodes centered around the “civilian” members of the crew. It makes sense, now that they’re working with the structure of the larger Rebellion, that they would be broken up into missions based on skillset, but I miss the interplay we got between the whole crew back in season one, when it was just the Ghost cell running around on Lothal.

Partially too, we’re starting to get into the issue that I believe plagued The Clone Wars at times. Since Rebels takes place between two movies, there’s a certain amount of inevitability to the story. You know that they’re never going to take down Vader and you know that there’s only a certain amount of damage they can cause to the Empire. It was an issue in TCW as well; no matter how many times Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan had Dooku or Grievous in their clutches, we the viewers know it won’t last because we see Dooku and Grievous free and causing mayhem in Revenge of the Sith. Though there is definitely entertainment in seeing just how the two of them manage to escape (or in Rebels‘ case, seeing how much the Ghost crew can thumb their nose at the Empire), at a certain point you start running into a narrative wall because you can only raise the stakes so much.

In fairness, I think this season is approaching the story much differently than season one did. Season one was generally more “problem of the week” style episodes, with the occasional two-parter. I get the sense from this season that it is slowly building towards an overarching story instead of the more instant gratification of the “one and done” episodes in season one. It’s a slower type of storytelling, and presumably we won’t get that payoff until the second half of the season. We just need to stick along for the ride.

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Jay: I rather liked a few of the episodes — the original introduction of the Inquisitors, the B-wing episode, and the Interdictor episode. The problem though is that the show isn’t exactly delivering on what it promised, or what I expect. The show feels — more than ever — like the Kanan and Ezra show, and a couple of Hera and Sabine episodes aren’t fixing that. Hera is criminally underused this season, and is often sidelined entirely. Sabine had a focused episode but is otherwise part of the ensemble, when she’s there at all. It’s a far cry from the “as much screen time as Ezra” that we were allegedly promised.

This is more than just character screen time, too. Jedi-centric episodes have a different tone than the Rebellion or fringe-oriented ones. Sabine and Hera bring different things to the table and their presence is missed. It’s probable we’ll get more of them as the season goes on, judging from previews, and I’m hoping that’s the case. Rebels has been and still is promising, but I don’t want it to coast. The cast and concept are awesome and I hope they really do make sure to use it to its potential.

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