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Review: Star Wars Rebels Special

Sabine and Ezra cosplayers with life-sized models of Kanan and Chopper
Sabine and Ezra cosplayers with life-sized models of Kanan and Chopper

If waiting over a year for the much-anticipated Star Wars Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams, is too much for you, do not fret! New animated action series Star Wars Rebels might just be able to tide you over. Filled with action-packed sequences, amazing visuals and most of all, characters that are new yet familiar to fans of both the Original and Prequel trilogies, the Force is undoubtedly strong in this one.

Star Wars Rebels is set to premiere in Singapore as an hour long Special this Saturday, October 4th on the Disney Channel at 11am. In a precedent-setting move, this is just TWO hours after it makes its television debut in the US!

Thanks to the wonderful people at Disney SEA/LucasFilm Singapore, we got invited to see an exclusive screening at the award-winning Sandcrawler, which opened earlier this year. Check out our review of the event, and the Star Wars Rebels Special, under the cut.

Life-sized model of the Inquisitor, with Stormtroopers and invited guests Credit:
Life-sized model of the Inquisitor, with Stormtroopers and invited guests

It was great to see a lot of familiar faces at the screening – naturally present were representatives from FightSaber, Cathar Outpost and, if I’m not mistaken, the Singapore Garrison of the 501st Legion, as well as the guys from The Star Wars fandom has long been an established presence among our local geek culture, and it was just great that they were invited to attend this exclusive screening.

We were greeted at the entrance to their state-of-the-art in-house theatre by cosplayers portraying two of the heroes of Star Wars Rebels, namely, Sabine Wren, the team’s Mandalorian demolitions expert, and Ezra Bridger, the spunky young con artist through whose perspective the audience are re-introduced to the Star Wars saga. There were also life-sized models of Kanan Jarrus, wielding an inactive lightsaber hilt in the most blatant foreshadowing ever, and Chopper, an astromech droid with quite the personality. The show’s remaining protagonists are Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek pilot and owner of the starship Ghost, and Zeb Orrelios, an agile and strong “honor guard” who belongs to an as yet unmentioned species.

Ezra Bridger and the starship Ghost Credit: LucasFilm
Ezra Bridger and the starship Ghost
Credit: LucasFilm

After mingling around with the other invited guests, we were ushered into the hundred-seat theatre as Supervising Director Dave Filoni greeted us (in a recorded message on screen, unfortunately) and introduced the Special. Entitled “Spark of Rebellion”, the hour-long Special threw the audience deep in the middle of an ongoing adventure, where Ezra the con artist sees a Star Destroyer entering orbit around his planet – unfortunately a familiar sight in the new Galactic Empire. Though its hard to say whether the reference was intended or not, the Disney influence on its new franchise acquisition was readily apparent when, presumably channelling Aladdin, Ezra gets the better of both the Empire’s troops as well as the fruit merchant they were harassing. The young thief is even referred to as a “street rat” in that scene!

Kanan Jarrus, Zeb Orrelios and Sabine Wren Credit: LucasFilm
Kanan Jarrus, Zeb Orrelios and Sabine Wren
Credit: LucasFilm

Ezra’s little crime soon involves him in a bigger heist, as the crew of the Ghost is in the midst of stealing supplies from the Empire under their very noses! Led by Kanan, who wields a blaster better than a Stormtrooper, the team of Zeb and Sabine stealthily make short work of the soldiers, but get distracted when Ezra claims one of the supply containers for himself. When Ezra finds himself caught between the Empire and the Ghost crew, little does he realise that by choosing a side, he is changing his life forever. As one action-packed sequence follows after another, each scene showcases how the different characters bring something unique and valuable to the crew. We also get hints at a possible romance between 14-year-old Ezra and 16-year-old Sabine, as well as the suggestion that Hera and Kanan know more about Ezra than they’re letting on.

Agent Kallus Credit: LucasFilm
Agent Kallus
Credit: LucasFilm

While the protagonists had several opportunities to be develop as characters, the exact threat of the show’s villains was not quite as clear by the end of the hour-long Special. Admittedly, that is to be expected from a series opener that is essentially focused on introducing the heroes rather than the antagonists. The main villain of the Special was Imperial Enforcer Agent Kallus who, despite being cold and ruthless in his dealings with his subordinates and his relentless hunt for the Rebels, still comes across as being more human and more relatable than the Inquisitor, an intimidating, shadowy figure who is clearly the “big bad” of the series.

Sabine Wren Credit: LucasFilm
Sabine Wren
Credit: LucasFilm

As with all new shows, it’s usually the characters that make or break the story, and Star Wars Rebels is no different. It’s hard to explain, but even before I saw the show, it was clear that Sabine would be the character to watch. Even by Star Wars standards, a female Mandalorian stands out, and with her highlighted hair, striking features and unique sense of style, she definitely brings a dynamic creativity to her explosions. It is also important to note that Sabine’s pan-Asian features are complemented by the voice of Tiya Sircar, an American actress of Indian descent! The other breakout character, for me, was definitely the cantankerous and astromech droid C1-10P, colloquially known as Chopper. If there’s one thing that utterly defines the Star Wars franchise, it’s that the astromech droids are the real heroes behind the heroes and, it would seem, Chopper is no exception.

The crew of the Ghost Credit: LucasFilm
The crew of the Ghost
Credit: LucasFilm

The dedication of the creative team behind Star Wars Rebels is clearly apparent. In trying to bridge the era between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, they have borrowed design elements from the original 1977 film, especially the visual genius of the late concept designer and illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, who dreamed up the iconic looks of Chewbacca and R2-D2, among others. In fact, as a true homage to McQuarrie, the appearance of the characters Zeb and Chopper are actually heavily based on the original designs for Chewbacca and R2!

Despite borrowing from the brilliance of yesteryear, the pedigree of the show’s production crew is nothing to be sniffed at. Supervising Director Dave Filoni brings fellow veterans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with him, including Art Director Kilian Plunkett, Lighting and VFX Supervisor Joel Aron, Line Producer Athena Portillo, and Oscar and Emmy-nominated Supervising Sound Editor Matt Wood from , so you know there’s going to be at least the same high level of quality as the Emmy-winning animated series. Series creator and writer Simon Kinberg has geek movie pedigree up the yin-yang – among other credits, he is writer and producer of X-Men: Days of Future Past and its sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse, as well as the reboot of The Fantastic Four. Not to be outdone, Executive Producer Greg Weisman is a geek animated series staple, having produced the shows Gargoyles (of which he is a co-creator), Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice. With these brilliant minds on board, there can be no doubt of the production quality of the show.

Star Wars fans have much reason to rejoice. With Star Wars Rebels  coming so soon after the highly acclaimed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and filling the gap while we wait for Episode VII in 2015, needless to say, the saga continues.

The Star Wars Rebels Special premieres on Disney Channel this Saturday, 4 October at 11 a.m. and on Disney XD on 5 October, 8 a.m.  The series itself only begins 29 November, 12 p.m. on Disney Channel and 30 November, 8.30 a.m. on Disney XD.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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