Star Wars Rebels: Spark Of Rebellion (2014)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/7/14
Director: Dave Filoni

Disney's first foray into the "Star Wars" universe is both thrilling and disappointing, much like George Lucas's prequel films. Firmly in the mold of "The Clone Wars" animated series, "Rebels" takes place between Episode III and Episode IV, where the Galactic Empire is seizing control of everything it can get its hands on. A small band of freedom fighters led by a surviving Jedi named Kanan spend their time hijacking supply trains, sabotaging equipment, and creating civil unrest all in the name of freedom and justice. Basically, they're a small terrorist cell being glamorized as heroes. Everything was running smoothly until this annoying teenager named Ezra shows up and botches their plans. Ezra is a thieving street rat with a bad attitude who cares only for himself, and is basically the Mos Eisley version of Aladdin. He basically spoils all the fun, just like Ahsoka's "That's So Raven" character did in "The Clone Wars." I'm hoping the pilot episode gets all of the adolescent attitude crap out of the way up front, so that the rest of the series can focus on actual story arcs and character development.

Apart from Ezra's grating and insulting personality, the rest of the primary cast is fairly likable. Having a female Twi'lek pilot and a female Mandalorian explosives expert is a huge plus, and they're definitely the highlight of the show. A brute named Zeb and a cocky astromech droid called Chopper add muscle and humor to the group, and are oddly reminiscent of Monterey Jack and Zipper from "Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers" (1989). The character design and overall aesthetic is not nearly as stylized as "The Clone Wars" and adopts a more conventional cartoony look. The Stormtroopers sport a sleek classic appearance and look great, while the Wookiees look embarrassingly awful. We're even treated to a baby Wookiee at one point, which evokes traumatizing memories of Lumpy from the "Star Wars Holiday Special" (1977). Thankfully, he doesn't join the team.

One area where the series stands out is with its spaceships and space choreography, which are heavily influenced by the original trilogy. Seeing classic Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters in combat is utterly thrilling, even when most of the scenes are direct rip-offs of the films. The rebels' main ship is called Ghost, and is a simple variation of the Millennium Falcon, with a central cockpit rather than an asymmetrical one. For all intents and purposes, it IS the Falcon, as the interior looks the same and its flight patterns are identical. Mind you, this is not a bad thing, since watching it in flight is a thing of beauty. In addition to all of the classic "Star Wars" sound effects, they also manage to squeeze the Wilhelm scream into the pilot episode. The music is rather generic and forgettable, but it still utilizes some of John Williams' original themes. The most disconcerting moment was hearing music from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" (1981) playing at one point.

Plot-wise, "Spark Of Rebellion" is uninspired and depressingly cliché. An annoying kid gets mixed up with some revolutionaries and they settle their differences by bonding through violence. After escaping into space, Ezra warns the others of an Imperial trap and gets captured by the Empire as a result, and the rebels feel honor bound to rescue him. Then they're off to the Spice Mines Of Kessel to free some Wookiee slaves and throw another wrench into the Empire's schemes for Galactic dominion. At the end, Ezra decides to join the group for good and learn the ways of The Force from Kanan. Lame and predictable to a fault, but the action scenes are exciting and well staged. Unfortunately, the pacing is so frantic that there's no time allowed for building dramatic tension, exploring details, or fleshing out a plot. It's pretty much full throttle the entire time. For instance, rescuing Ezra from the Empire takes literally less than two minutes. The team agrees to rescue him and the next thing you know, the Ghost has landed on a Star Destroyer with no resistance, and Ezra shows up in the landing bay seconds later. Then they all jump back on the ship and blast into hyperspace, leaving you reeling with thoughts of "what the hell just happened and why was it so easy to escape?" And then mere seconds after that, without a chance to even catch your breath, Ezra says "Let's go rescue some Wookiees!" and they're off to Kessel. I'm a huge action fan, but the show definitely needs to work on its cadence.

Overall, "Star Wars Rebels" has some interesting ideas and a lot of potential, but only if the writers get serious and choose to tap into it.