Now is truly an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.
In December we get The Force Awakens, the first episode of a new sequel trilogy which will see the long awaited return of Luke, Leia, Han, and a surprisingly youthful Chewbacca. Then next year will see the release of Rogue One, the first in a new series of anthology films set in the Star Wars universe. There's even talk of Ewan McGregor getting his own trilogy of Obi-Wan films. But before all of that there's season two of Star Wars Rebels.
If you're new to Rebels here is a little primer to get you up to speed, but be warned, there lie spoilers ahead. Set in the “Dark Times” between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Rebels follows the adventures of the crew of the Ghost, a small group of, you've guessed it, rebels on the planet Lothal, which is currently under Imperial occupation. The crew consists of Hera, the pilot, leader and mother to this group of misfits, Kanan, a former Padawan who survived the slaughter of the Jedi and now lives in secret (he is also the dad of the group), Sabine, a Mandalorian graffiti and weapons expert (just imagine a fusion of Banksy and Boba Fett), Zeb, a Lasat who serves as the crew's muscle, Chopper, the token droid, and Ezra, a 15-year old orphan gifted in the ways of the force, currently being trained by Kanan to be a Jedi.
Throughout the first season we saw these intergalactic Robin Hoods steal from bumbling Imperial officers and give to the poor of Lothal, all the while avoiding the clutches of Jason Isaacs' Inquisitor (this show has quite a big name cast). It was all light-hearted and fun, but then Grand Moff Tarkin showed up, had the bumbling Imperial officers decapitated (it was off screen, but it was pretty clear what happened) and everything went from fun to f**k! in record time.
Season two is due to kick off in the autumn, but in the meantime Disney XD have aired 'The Siege of Lothal', a mini-movie event and probably the best piece of Star Wars content since The Empire Strikes Back. Seriously, it is that good. It all starts off with the crew of the Ghost now a part of what will eventually become the Rebel Alliance, something that isn't sitting right with Kanan. Having barely survived the Clone Wars and the slaughter of the Jedi, he is not eager to sign up himself or his friends for another war. He wants things to go back to the way they were, when it was just them fighting the Empire on their own. But he is about to learn that things will never be the same for any of them ever again.
Darth Vader has arrived on Lothal, and he has brought hell with him.
'Siege of Lothal' is sobering reminder of what makes Vader (once again voiced by the great James Earl Jones) such an effective villain. If you thought that the writers would tone him down because this is a kid's series then you thought wrong. We haven't seen Vader this ruthless since Empire. When he first confronts them directly, he makes mincemeat of Kanan, nearly decapitates Ezra with his own lightsaber, and deflects Sabine's blaster fire right back in her face (she's lucky that armour of hers is so tough, otherwise she would be very dead). They barely make it out of there by the skin of their teeth. Vader isn't a villain these characters can defeat, he is a villain they can only survive. His pursuit of the rebels is both relentless and without mercy. It also doesn't come without some serious collateral damage. One recurring character is killed off (and the good guys framed for it) and an entire refugee camp burned to the ground in a scene that was a direct callback to one of the most iconic moments from the original trilogy.
As well as acting as a bridge between the prequel and the original trilogies, Rebels has now become a sequel to The Clone Wars, Lucasfilm’s previous animated series that was unduly cancelled so Disney could have their own Star Wars animated series on Disney XD. Which is a tragedy, because Clone Wars was great! Curse you, corporate synergy. The first season featured very few references to Clone Wars or the prequel trilogy in general. But if the trailers are any indication, season two is going to incorporate Clone Wars in a big way, starting with the arrival of Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka was one of the central characters of Clone Wars, serving as Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice and closest friend after Obi-Wan. Now, having survived the Jedi culling, Ahsoka is all grown up and a leading figure in the rebellion.
If you worried that Ahsoka's presence would take valuable screentime away from the core characters you needn't have. Ahsoka has a surprisingly small role in the episode, only appearing at the beginning and the end, but she does get one of the standout moments of the episode as she connects to Vader through the force during the final battle (where Vader destroys almost an entire rebel fleet on his own) and learns the truth about who he really is. It was so powerful it knocks her unconscious. It will be interesting to see going forward how Ahsoka will deal with knowing that her friend, someone she loved like a brother, is now this monster.
Note and Quotes
--Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose husband voices Kanan (yes, that is Freddie Prinze, Jr.), will join the voice cast in season 2. There are no details yet, but I'm betting she'll be either someone from Kanan's past or a young Princess Leia.
--The clearance code Hera gives is 12-18-15. That is the release date of The Force Awakens, December 18th, 2015. Now that's what I call subtle marketing.
--Billy Dee Williams puts in a brief appearance as Lando Calrissian.
--One little detail that I love is that Imperial officers have 70s sideburns and 'taches just as they did in A New Hope.
--Like much of this series, Vader's look has been tweaked so that it more closely resembles Ralph McQuarrie's original concept artwork:
Hera: “Alright kids, make Mom and Dad proud.”
--That was the point the shippers lost their shit.
Darth Vader: "Your master has deceived you into believing you can become a Jedi."
Hera: "The Imperial Complex? Are you crazy?"
Kanan: "Does anyone ever say yes to that question?"
Ezra: "Ahsoka, do you know who...or what he is?"
Ahsoka: "No, I don't."
--Which is true, from a certain point of view.
Four out of four 70s sideburns.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.