Binge 'N' Purge - Star Wars Rebels Season 2
I have to confess, I wasn’t terribly bowled over by Star Wars Rebels season 1. That’s part of why I didn’t review it on the site when it was released on blu-ray. Sigh…okay, I’ll be honest, it kind of annoyed the hell out of me. How the hell can you call something Star Wars and confine it to a single planet for the bulk of the season? Seriously, imagine that Episode 1 was five and a half hours long…and it ALL took place on Tatooine. Yeah, not exactly a thrilling thought, is it? The other thing that prevented me from enjoying…or liking…season 1 is that the main character, Ezra Bridger, suffered from a SEVERE case of Wesley Crusher syndrome…a wunderkind that usually ALWAYS has the solution/plan or so forth that always proves to be right above those of…say more experienced voices. [See also Agents of SHIELD’s Skye/Daisy…the whole reason I stopped watching that show. – Ed.] Now, granted, for most TV shows, the first season is always a little rough. But this is Star Wars. Even more so? Clone Wars had a few nits here and there…but overall was pretty amazing…and the same folks involved there were at the helm of this new show.
All that being said…does season 2 improve on its dismal start?
Yes in that we do spend a fair amount of time away from Lothal…yet it never fails, one to two episodes per disc of each of the three discs in the set, we find ourselves back there. With the same frightening consistency, this is the frequency of Ezra’s wunderkind outbursts too. So, yes, the series does seem to be learning from their mistakes…but at the same time, they’re still making them, just less frequently. Then…then there’s something that might have been present in season 1, is present in season 2…but I’m not sure it was there in the Clone Wars. I must admit, this might stem from a thought I’ve had regarding a potential opinion piece but…is it just me, or is some ‘Disney-ification’ taking place? Many of the characters have a moment here or there where you can catch a whiff of it…but there is one character that I can point directly to exemplifying what I mean: Imperial Minister Maketh Tua. Granted, her character doesn’t last very long in this season, but she was present in season 1 (and as much as I should probably revisit season 1 to confirm my hypothesis, I’d rather watch a prequel marathon…just sayin’). But everything from her design, her voice direction, her behavior onscreen…it’s needlessly bumbling and comedic. Why do I say this is ‘Disney-ification’? Because if you look at the other shows aimed at children made my Disney, you see the same thing…adults that are bumbling idiots leading to them being bested by superior kids time and again. It’s utter weak sauce…though, again, season 2 doesn’t seem to rely on this as much as season 1 did.
But this kinda brings me to a bit of an epiphany. Sure, I keep mentioning how great Clone Wars was…and it was…but when you compare it to Star Wars Rebels, there’s a big thing missing that, up till now, I didn’t think was such a big thing…and you can get a hint of it if you look at my review for Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
George Lucas has nothing to do with this current series. True, he didn’t write or direct any of the Clone Wars episodes, but he was always there in the background, giving ideas and approving things. As anyone that has seen the Prequel Trilogy can tell you, this is where George shines…not in the writing or the directing, but the ideas. From there, he passes them on to writers, directors, various designers and that’s how classic Star Wars is born. It’s when he becomes, dare I say…imperial, managing every aspect of things, where the wheels fall off. As much as Star Wars fans are going to string me up for this…George’s absence here is very tangible and Disney’s presence is equally tangible.
The easiest way to frame this? Let’s take a look at Ahsoka in The Clone Wars versus Ezra in Rebels. Ahsoka was not the main character of Clone Wars…whereas it’s hard to imagine Rebels continuing without Ezra. Although she had the occasional ‘wunderkind’ moment here or there, it was made very clear that Ahsoka was the student and Anakin the master. When it comes to Ezra, even still in season 2, he’s does things that are outside of his master’s skill set. Sure, in following his feelings/instincts, it’s not unusual for a student to branch off in a different direction from his master in the Force, but the difference with Ezra is that there is little impact from when he strays and he’s wrong. Oh, wait, that would require Ezra to actually be wrong from time to time…which happens a bit more now in season 2, but was utterly absent from season 1. Lastly, look, I’ll be honest, I absolutely hated Ahsoka in the opening Clone Wars movie and into season 1…but the writers took care to temper her, to craft her character. She still had qualities that I found annoying…but as she matured throughout the series, they weren’t played up to 11 like they had been in the movie, they slowly ratcheted down until she became an honest to goodness balanced character. After 2 seasons, Ezra’s still running at 11…and given where he’s likely to go in season 3, I don’t see this changing any time soon. It’s just never a good sign when you can’t stand the series’ main character.
I sound like I’m bitching, I know, but actually, there’s a lot to like here in season 2. We actually DO get to leave Lothal…so that’s a big plus. We see the fledgling Rebellion continue to grow. And we see a mature Ahsoka taking a leadership position. In fact, as much as I surprise myself by typing this, Ahsoka was one of the high points of this season…as her arc throughout the season was her growing realization as to what had happened to her former master and the conflict that knowledge gives rise to.
We have a new set of Inquisitors now…two of them…wait, three-ish…and they’re not as impressive as the Grand Inquisitor from season 1. I tended to feel that they were more a persistent annoyance than an actual threat. Granted, the true threat this season was Darth Vader…but he was more of a looming threat, only appearing in the season opener and the season finale. [I do have to say, though, kudos on getting James Earl Jones to voice the role once more! – Ed.] Here’s an interesting thought though…one of the inquisitors, the Seventh Sister, is a Mirialan…just like Barriss Offee, the former Padawan that framed Ahsoka and led to her leaving the order. One can’t help but wonder…could it be?
While I’m hinting at a possible character return, we do see some old Clone Wars alumni emerge in season 2 of Rebels, and they’re a most welcome sight. We catch up with Rex, Lando makes a brief appearance, Hondo is there and, normally I’d say this is a spoiler but his picture is on the back of the discs’ package, Maul makes his return as well. Oh, and there’s Yoda too.
With all the mixed things I’ve said about this season, I will say this…it’s worth it just for the season finale, ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’. Sure, Ezra is in full-on Ezra mode here, but even that can’t sully the episode. First off, I do have to say that the design and visuals that accompany the Sith world of Malachor are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Not just in CGI cartoons…but period. The design is just that good. It feels dark and creepy…but at the same time wondrous and, in its own dark way, beautiful. The interaction between Ezra and Maul sets the stage for what will likely be the arc for season 3 and Kanan’s trials…oops, wait, that’s in the episode “Shroud of Darkness”…nevermind. Well, what happens to Kanan in this episode is still pretty interesting. Ultimately though, it is the confrontation between Ahsoka and Darth Vader that is the centerpiece of this episode and, like I said, no matter what issues I had with this season…that fight alone is totally worth the price of admission. And, in fine cliffhanger tradition, we as the audience are given no clear indication as to how the fight ends…although, given the Original Trilogy, it’s pretty safe to say that we know Vader comes out of it okay.
One last episode that stands out here is the episode where Agent Kallis and Zeb find themselves stranded on an icy moon of Geonosis. Sure, it’s a standard ‘Enemy Mine’ sort of set up…well, except neither of them is pregnant…but I was surprised that the writers went full bore with it. What I mean by that is once Kallis was rescued, it’s very clear upon his return to his Star Destroyer that the Empire doesn’t sit as well with him now as it did prior to his being marooned. I hope they give this character thread its full due in season 3…as opposed to, say, wrapping it all up in one episode, likely pushing the reset button on Kallis’ character so that we can get back to what’s “important”…which, as we all know, is focusing on Ezra.
Anyway, to sum up, Star Wars Rebels season 2 is showing some improvements but still fails to reach the high bar set by its predecessor series, The Clone Wars. The episodes do some good character work but at the same time still struggle from freeing themselves from the mistakes of season 1. As bitter medicine as those mistakes can be, it turns out that the season finale is the “spoon full of sugar” that helps this medicine go down…and that episode alone merits recommending season 2. [I guess it makes sense to have a Mary Poppins quote in this review. The Lord Mouse will be pleased. – Ed.] Put simply, if you’re going into Rebels fresh, just remember that it’s not going to be as good as The Clone Wars and that it was produced by Disney and you’ll be fine. These two thoughts should be enough to moderate your expectations.
[Post Script – If you take a look at the Wikipedia ‘List of Episodes’ pages for each series, it will give you an estimated number of viewers for each episode. Given the way Rebels is going so far, it doesn’t surprise me that the numbers are WAY down when compared to those of The Clone Wars episodes. Go ahead and file that under ‘Just Saying’. – Ed.]