BLU-RAY REVIEW: “Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Season 2” – Animation Scoop

BLU-RAY REVIEW: “Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Season 2”

For those unfamiliar with Star Wars Rebels – the Complete Season 2 was released recently on blu-ray – this review begins with a friendly warning: watch Season One first. Season Two literally begins with a bang, and it’s helpful to know who’s shooting at each other, and why.

The rebellion against the evil Empire is still in its formative stages. Our heroes are a band of hit-and-run marauders who fly a ship called, simply, the Ghost—no fancy names like Rand Ecliptic or Millennium Falcon for these guys. They’ve joined another rebel group led by a veteran of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, who happens to have been the apprentice of Anakin Skywalker, former Jedi knight, now the dastardly Darth Vader (reprised by James Earl Jones!).

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When Vader dueled Ben Kenobi in the Death Star, George Lucas points out in the Star Wars audio commentary that swordfighting is not as sophisticated as during the time of the Jedi knights: “Vader, being half-man, half-machine, Obi-Wan was pretty much an old man and this fight was a hard fight for them; it wasn’t an acrobatic, jump-around fast fight. It was a hard fight to fight because they’re both old Jedi.”

But this is Rebels, which takes place five years earlier than Star Wars. During this time, Lucasfilm Story Group exec Pablo Hidalgo points out that Vader is in his prime. And he has learned that Ahsoka has become a rebel. He also knows about Jedi wanna-be Ezra Bridger and his mentor Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi who escaped the slaughter of Order 66. With Vader involved, the fight becomes personal, and things look grim for our heroes.

Ezra—whose hero’s journey parallels that of Luke Skywalker—has something in common with Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon: he can stick his hand out and communicate with animals—which comes in handy when evading Imperial bad guys. He’s not yet a master; he wishes the Jedi mind trick would work for him; Kanan wishes the mind trick would work on him.

Ezra can also understand the beeps and buzzes of Chopper (C1-10P), the feisty astromech droid. So can Kanan, Ghost pilot Hera Syndulla, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine Wren and to a lesser extent, Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios. Unlike Artoo-Detoo, Chopper does not need an interpreter, apparently.

Rebels has a huge advantage over the movies: time. Whereas a Star Wars feature can last a couple hours-and-a-half, Rebels Season Two gives us just over eight hours (not including bonus material)—plenty of time for each regular to be spotlighted. Even Lando Calrissian, between Seasons One and Two, has more time to display his roguish charm than he did in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. A single episode can emphasize a sense of wonder about nature (“The Call”), or an “Enemy Mine” team-up between hero and villain (“The Honorable Ones”, echoing similar setups done in Star Trek: The Next Generation—“The Enemy” and Planet of the Apes—“The Trap”) or a swashbuckling rescue that surpasses the Death Star rescue (“Stealth Strike”). More time means more opportunities for lightsaber duels, and the ones we see in Rebels are spectacular—again, rivaling the ones we see in the movies.

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In “The Forgotten Droid,” Chopper befriends an Imperial droid, AP-5, echoing the relationship between Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio. Oddly, Chopper gets away with stealing — why would you allow this, Disney? — while the episode demonstrates the Idiot Plot, “a plot which is kept in motion solely by virtue of the fact that everybody involved is an idiot.” That is, the Ghost crew leaves Chopper behind. With friends like these, who needs idiots? Regardless, the repartee between Chopper and AP-5, leading to a willingness to sacrifice for each other, is altogether charming, and heartwarming, and AP-5 is a welcome addition to the cast. At least he isn’t as annoying as C-3PO.

Overall the stories are compelling and—dare I say it?—more entertaining than the prequel films, with a more appealing cast of characters than Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Disney would do well to hire the Rebels writers for the feature films.

What of the quality of the character animation? It’s serviceable; probably the best a production can do with a less-than-feature film budget. The humans and humanoids lack the nuance of real human movement, a problem solved by Weta Workshop’s crew for Jane and the Dragon, in which they used motion capture and a hair simulation program. Not so for Rebels, in which the characters are keyframed. Hera’s “lekku tentacles” and Ezra’s hair clumps tend to float as if underwater—though Ezra’s problem was solved when he got a buzzcut for Season Three.

Sometimes great detail is observed when the CG characters interface with their surroundings, as when Chopper vibrates when he rolls over uneven surfaces. Other times, the filmmakers ignore things like animating according to size and scale. When Zeb runs alongside humanoids, it’s at the same pace. It appears as if he’s slipping. Common sense tells us that, being a taller creature with longer legs, he would outpace his smaller companions.

And what’s wrong with the jump to hyperspace? It’s a simple effect, easily referenced in A New Hope. The jump begins with an over-the-shoulder shot in the cockpit. Solo pulls the lever and the stars stretch and streak, indicating an acceleration. We cut to a rotating starfield and the spaceship is already in motion, disappearing into infinity. Most of the time, the effect is botched in Rebels and for that matter, The Force Awakens. We begin with the cockpit view and the stars streak. But when we cut, either the ship is still and then it accelerates, or it’s a slow drift and then it zips into infinity. “What the-?” as Han Solo would say. In The Force Awakens, the stars streak as usual in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, indicating the ship has already launched and zooming away. Yet after the cut, we see the tail end of the Falcon still in the freighter hangar! And then it launches!

But at least in Rebels, the decelerations from hyperspace are spot on, and impressive!

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The Star Wars flavor is further enhanced with the usage of Ben Burtt’s sound designs, and by composer Kevin Kiner weaving in John Williams’s themes, not only from the Star Wars films but from Raiders of the Lost Ark as well.

What makes the Star Wars Rebels: Season Two BluRay a “must buy” is the inclusion of “Rebels Recon” from Starwars.com, featuring the filmmakers commenting about the making of each episode. Host Andi Gutierrez interviews executive producers Dave Filoni and Henry Gilroy; Story Group exec Pablo Hidalgo; art director Kilian Plunkett and cast members including Steve Blum (Zeb, stormtrooper), Freddie Prinze Jr. (Kanan), Tiya Sircar (Sabine), Catherine Tabor (Numa), Taylor Gray (Ezra), Sam Witwer (Emperor Palpatine, Maul, and recently in Once Upon a Time as Mr. Hyde), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), and Matt Lanter (Anakin). We learn tidbits such as Ezra being born two days earlier than Luke and Leia Skywalker. Or how the B-wings were developed for Jedi and later used in Rebels. Or that AP-5’s droid type was first seen outside an elevator in the Death Star.

Imagine if such documentaries were done during the making of Jonny Quest or Batman: The Animated Series, for each episode! Disney/Lucasfilm has allowed a historical record for this production, preserved for Star Wars fans for generations to come. If only other shows would do the same!

In the season-ending Recon covering “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Dave Filoni promised to disclose a “really big moment” in Star Wars history—significant to long-time fans—at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016, which he did here. That revelation was the introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn—formerly of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, now called “Legends,” into the new canon of Star Wars lore.

The Blu-ray includes two bonuses not available on the DVD. “Connecting the Galaxy,” which talks about the Easter Eggs in Rebels that connect to the movie series. It points out the introduction of the training mode lightsaber in “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” which doesn’t maim or kill. In “From Apprentice to Adversary: Vader vs. Ahsoka,” Filoni discusses the events leading to their final confrontation. Whether or not it’s Ahsoka’s final final appearance has yet to be revealed.

Future episodes promise to bridge the gap between the formation of the Rebel Alliance and the events of Rogue One and A New Hope. With these intriguing storylines, winsome characters and swashbuckling excitement, we hope Disney/Lucasfilm will continue Rebels beyond Season Three into the post-Jedi era. May the force be with them!

Bob Miller

Bob Miller

W.R. Miller - known informally as “Bob” - is a writer who has contributed to publications such as Starlog, Comics Scene, Animation Magazine and Animation World Magazine. Bob has been involved in animation for two decades, as a writer, character animator, special effects animator, and storyboard artist - For more information about Bob, check his website: http://wrmilleronline.com/
Bob Miller
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