During Comic-Con last week, Disney offered a sneak peek at the pilot for the new TV series Star Wars: Rebels. And while we can't tell you much about the episode, we will say this in our spoiler-free first impressions: we're looking forward to spending more time in the animated Galactic Empire.
We attended a screening of an unfinished version of the pilot and I'll admit, our expectations were mixed. We were big fans of Clone Wars, the animated Star Wars series that Rebels co-producer Dave Filoni helmed, but our affection for that show had a lot to do with the moral complexity of the Clone Wars conflicts, the growth of lead character Ahsoka Tano, and the development of the Clone Troopers.
We already knew the premise of Rebels: Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) is a Force-sensitive street urchin who finds himself amongst the crew of the Ghost in the early years of the Galactic Empire. The Ghost's crew consists of a group of anti-Imperialists, including renegade Jedi Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), pilot Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), blaster-toting Zeb Orrelios (Steve Blum—with a design based on Ralph McQuarrie's original concept for Chewbacca, something the show doesn't ignore), Mandalorian tagger Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), and sarcastic astromech Chopper. As they try to stick it to the Empire, they have to contend with Imperial officer Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) and fearsome Jedi hunter the Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs).
The pilot isn't perfect, but it did leave us excited to spend more time in the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The relationships between the Ghost's crew members haven't fully gelled and there are places where the dialogue feels broad and cartoony, even for a cartoon. But as the voice cast is recording together, rather than individually, they will hopefully develop more and more of a rapport as the episodes go on. And I'm not sure I'll even get used to Ezra's character design with his waving anime hair.
But every time Rebels ventures into the Empire, it's a delight. There is something powerful about seeing a Star Destroyer again and watching the interactions between an Imperial officer and his Stormtrooper minions. And while the Rebels team evokes the look of the Empire, it strikes a nice balance between the tone of the original trilogy and its own, slightly lighter personality. Rebels remembers that it's a cartoon and isn't above a bit of slapstick. It's also fun to see Imperial characters who are competent and also nasty human beings, something that allows for moments of both menace and humor. And the animation, which was just getting better and better with Clone Wars, is often flat-out gorgeous in Rebels. You can see the grime and shine on each Stormtrooper's armor.
During the Rebels Comic-Con panel, co-producers Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni said that they were especially excited to explore the Empire and build it out a bit more. After getting a glimpse at Rebels and seeing its clear affection for and understanding of the appeal of the original trilogy, we're excited to watch them do it.