I decided to set aside my skepticism of all things Star Wars produced after 1983 and give Star Wars Rebels a try. I had watched the trailer and a few other previews online and was attracted to the Ralph-McQuarrie-inspired art and the apparent lack of any references to the dreaded (and dreadful) prequels. So I signed up for a season's pass on iTunes and watched the first episode with the kids (Beatrice and Zach, six-and-a-half and four). We've been watching one episode a week ever since.
I'm amazed at how right Star Wars Rebels is. The characters are terrific. Zeb is a wonderful mix of strong and smart, gruff and gentle. He's possibly my favourite character. Sabine and Hera, while a little underdeveloped so far, are promising female leads in a universe that has always been too short on them--something that bothers me a lot more now that I have a daughter than it did seven+ years ago. Chopper is a genuinely new take on a droid (unless he's not--I've never watched Clone Wars so I don't know what I've missed, but he seems fresh and original to me).
But most intriguing to me are Kanan, billed as the cowboy Jedi, and Ezra, his accidental protegé. Watching how the show's writers have drawn these two characters, I feel like I'm finally seeing what I had hoped for from the prequels: a coming-of-age story mixed with a Jedi take on the buddy flick. Kanan and Ezra's complex relationship, in which annoyance and admiration are mutual and frequently simultaneous, is what Obi-Wan and Anakin's could and should have been. Utterly unlike the prequels, the age difference here is perfect: Ezra is old enough to be interesting and young enough to be forgivable, while Kanan is old enough to be authoritative and young enough to be in over his head in training a would-be Jedi. Isn't this exactly what the original trilogy led us to believe about Kenobi and Skywalker? It's hard for me not to see the Kanan-Ezra relationship as a gentle rebuke of the prequels, as though the Star Wars Rebels writers are saying to old-time Star Wars fans like me, "This is what could have been".
Perhaps my favourite thing about Star Wars Rebels so far is that it actually feels like Star Wars, by which I of course mean the original trilogy. The stormtroopers look like stormtroopers. The vehicles are familiar, even when they are given novel twists. The settings have the eerily organic quality of McQuarrie's paintings. I feel delightfully at home in this world.
Hanging over the entire series is the knowledge that, by the time of the Episode IV era (said to be five years in the future) the only Jedi left in the galaxy are Obi-Wan and Yoda. What this means for the arc of Star Wars Rebels is brutally clear: Kanan and Ezra must die. The grim inevitability of their deaths brings an unexpected poignancy to the show. For the moment, I want Star Wars Rebels to go on and on. But eventually it has to end, and the ending must be harsh. I pray the show doesn't flinch from the impending tragedy. Judging by the perfect-pitch storytelling we've seen so far, it won't. In that case the best of Star Wars Rebels is yet to come.