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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. Read More

Rebels Revisited: And the Children Too

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Ben: Which is worse; a gruesome fate fully realized on the screen, or a future that’s only implied and never stated? As a narrative device, it’s almost certainly the threat rather than the act that’s more effective. While there is certainly an amount of narrative punch to be had in spelling out just how terrible the end of someone’s story winds up being, many more worse things can spring from the imagination of the audience. It’s why horror movies with low budgets can still be just as frightening by not showing exactly what might be killing its character.

That’s what makes the rules of Standards and Practices toward kids’ programs often counter-intuitive. Any potentially traumatizing acts are forbidden to be shown, so the show’s creators will get around that by having the act happen, but placing it off-screen or out of view, or even just relegating it to being mentioned. But a child’s imagination is a fertile thing, and seeing the act has little to do with actually being terrified by it. The sounds, hints and implications are enough.

Rebels very knowingly steps into this territory with “Future of the Force”. The whole plot of the episode revolves around the kidnapping of infants too young to even speak. Whatever fate they might suffer once in the hands of the Inquisitors is never actually said (the closest we get is the Seventh Sister’s declaration “Who doesn’t want to be a mother?”), much the same as this episode’s predecessor, The Clone Wars’ “Children of the Force”. To this point in canon, we don’t know exactly what fate or fates might await the unfortunate infants. But as previously stated, what we can imagine might be even more terrible than what is true.

So let’s do some imagining, shall we? Read More

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Speculation

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With roughly a month and a half left until the premiere of The Force Awakens, promotion is ramping up and speculation is running wild. And while there’s more BB-8s than you can shake a stick at, one character has been conspicuously absent so far: Luke Skywalker.

J.J. Abrams is well known for keeping movie plots and key characters close to the chest. He loves to talk up the “mystery box” concept and is a proponent of the idea that the mystery is more exciting than the revelation. And all this secrecy has led many Star Wars fans to wonder if perhaps Luke didn’t become the Jedi Master we all expected but perhaps…fell to the dark side instead.

There would definitely be a certain poignancy in having the Big Bad of the sequel trilogy be the former celebrated hero of the original trilogy. The story of Star Wars is about the struggle between good and evil; more specifically it is about how everyone has the capacity for both good and evil and that it is your choices that matter. Anakin and Luke both follow the hero’s journey but come to wildly different endings, one tragic and one heroic. They act as foils to one another and show how little choices eventually build up into something good or something evil. But to say that Luke will be evil in The Force Awakens is, I think, a misunderstanding not only of Luke’s character development but also a misunderstanding of the type of hero Luke Skywalker is.

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Rebels Revisited: Empire of Ambition

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The theory behind any social Darwinist system is that not only do the fittest survive, but society is purportedly better off when competition encourages innovation and achievement. “Always Two There Are” demonstrates how rivalry and competition not only serve as the basis for advancement within the Inquisitorius, but as the fundamental organizing principle of the Galactic Empire. Already in this episode, the audience sees that this competition might sow the seeds for future conflict within the Imperial ranks: conflict that might not actually bring about the results that ambition demands.

In this episode, we learn that the Seventh Sister and the Fifth Brother are Inquisitors seeking the same quarry. They’re competing for the same prize in a few ways, as Dave Filoni explained in Rebels Recon: the Inquisitors are not only chasing after Ahsoka and her Jedi entourage but they’re also all competing for the now-vacant position of Grand Inquisitor. Pablo Hidalgo added another detail: even the very numbers in their names might signify some sort of status, or at least another basis of competition. Even without these behind-the-scenes details, we see that the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister are surprised to see each other and that they’re refusing to share credit or information with each other. I don’t blame the Seventh Sister, as she’s much cooler than the Fifth Brother so far (SMG’s voice acting and the character animation and design knocked it out of the park — she’s described as a thinking man’s villain, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that entails) but she’s clearly willing to pretend she has knowledge that she doesn’t, just to make a play at withholding information from the Fifth Brother. That’s not very productive. Read More

License to Kill: How Does Del Rey Fit Into The Disney Era?

anewdawnNow that we’ve all had well over a month to digest the Force Friday releases, some big-picture reactions are taking shape. Recently Jay elaborated on how the Servants of the Empire series tells us a great deal about the canon Empire and why it falls; maybe even more than it set out to. Before that, Sarah discussed how my early fears may have been unfounded, and that the earliest rounds of The Force Awakens merchandise appear to be far more progressive and gender-inclusive than similar items from that other Disney wunderkind, Marvel.

Another thing that’s been bouncing around my head has proven to be a little harder to talk about; but the truth of it remains: it seems to me that Disney-Lucasfilm Press—the in-house publishing division that has released numerous middle-grade books like the Servants series and the “young adult” Lost Stars—is officially running circles around Del Rey. Some might say that producing books for younger readers (even dozens of them) is an easier job than producing “adult” novels Del Rey-style. I don’t particularly think that’s true, but even setting aside all the short stuff, Lost Stars is the equal of any adult novel in both length and maturity, and for many is simply the best novel—no qualifiers needed–of the new canon. Lost Stars is proof that Disney and Lucasfilm are capable of producing a full-length novel that deserves to stand alongside anything ever published by Del Rey, or Bantam before them; and they’re capable of doing it in-house.

Compared to a lot of other fans I know (including some who write for me), I’m a relative pushover when it comes to Star Wars books. It’s very rare that I emphatically dislike anything; when I was reviewing for TheForce.Net I almost never rated a book less than 3 / 4, because the GFFA is such a fun setting that I can usually enjoy even a disappointing book on some level. So none of this is to say that I think Del Rey’s output has sucked over the last year; not everything has been my cup of tea but I’d only describe Tarkin and Heir to the Jedi as remotely disappointing; Aftermath, and Chuck Wendig himself, was a rollicking breath of fresh air for Star Wars publishing, and John Jackson Miller is quite simply one of my favorite Star Wars writers ever and can do no wrong in my eyes. Read More