Rebels is the latest entry into the Star Wars universe and it’s off to a good start.

Like most Star Wars fans, I was pretty bummed out where the Expanded Universe was shut down by Lucasfilm. Sure, it had problems, but modern audiences grew up with those stories, and it was disappointing to see them suddenly brought to a close. But more importantly, it puts a huge focus on the New EU, especially the Star Wars: Rebels TV show. Outside of Episode VII itself, Rebels will set the tone for how Disney introduces Star Wars for a new generation, and a lot rides on getting it right.

Thankfully, the Spark of Rebellion premiere movie is a strong opening chapter. With a new cast of characters and impressive array of action sequences, Rebels is already proving itself a fun-filled adventure. The plot and character arcs are a little one-dimensional, but it lays several intriguing seeds for future episodes, and makes me look forward to what else Disney has in mind for the Star Wars franchise.

Haven’t caught it yet? You can watch Spark of the Rebellion on iTunes and, after this feature-length premiere, new episodes will be airing on Disney XD starting on Monday, October 13. Read on for the rest of our review!

Star Wars: Rebels is set in-between Episode III and IV. The Jedi Council and Old Republic have fallen, and the Empire has fully established its supremacy across the galaxy. But as the Empire grows in strength, rebel cells spring up to protect civilians who cannot defend themselves. Rebels focuses specifically on the Ghost and its crew, who use their underworld contacts to find anyone in trouble and bring justice back to the galaxy.

Before we continue, can we acknowledge that it’s very easy for the Rebel Alliance to look like villains without context? When the first major battle occurs in Rebels, the only thing we’ve seen the Empire do is arrest someone selling food without a license. Sure, they’re a little dickish about it, but come on. Food safety is important. The Rebel forces, on the other hand, set off bombs in a populated city, steal Imperial cargo, and gleefully shoot down soldiers in the street. These aren’t the underdog Rebels who fled a Star Destroyer; these guys start on the offensive, and prove to be a significant threat. It’s no wonder Darth Vader is hunting them personally by the time Episode IV rolls around.

But don’t worry, these Rebels are cartoonishly good-hearted freedom fighters, not terrorists. The Ghost’s mercenary crew is motivated by pure intentions, and will do absolutely anything to help the common alien. Those cargo crates were filled with food the Empire kept from starving farmers who were evicted from prime real estate. Meanwhile, Stormtroopers openly use Wookies as slave labor, and anyone questioning Imperial policy is arrested for treason.

Sure, I get wanting the Empire to look bad, but that’s pretty heavy-handed, even by cartoon standards. At one point a Stormtrooper stops fighting rebels so he can literally chase a terrified Wookie toddler for five minutes. The murders of Uncle Ben and Aunt Beru were more subtle than this, and it reduces everyone involved into one-dimensional archetypes. Thankfully, once we’ve established that yes, the Rebels are good and the Empire is unredeemably evil, we can start getting to the fun stuff.

First of all, Rebels visual style is a great combination of The Clone Wars and the original, live-action movies. Characters are animated with an appropriate amount of cartoon physics and proportions, while the sci-fi designs comes straight out of the original trilogy. We’re back to bulky transport ships and awkward-looking Imperial walkers, instead of the sleek designs of the prequels. Star Destroyer interiors look a little more polished than I remember, but by and large this is just a upgrade of the classic visuals for old-school fans to appreciate.

Rebels also packs an impressive number of action set pieces into its premiere. We’ve got two space dogfights, a vehicle chase sequence, multiple Stormtrooper skirmishes, and a climactic assault on an Imperial slave mine. Sabine is an explosives expert who adores setting off charges once Stormtroopers have gathered around them, while Zeb can physically dispatch enemies as effectively as any Wookie. In other words, Rebels is fast-paced from the very beginning, establishing the entire Ghost crew as hardened badasses.

The main focus, however, is on Ezra, the Ghost’s latest crew member. It’s pretty clear from the start that Ezra is force-sensitive, but now that the Jedi are almost extinct, he has no idea his abilities are extraordinary. He also thinks quick on his feet, and has a knack for getting himself both into and out of trouble. But thanks to his time alone, Ezra has a lot of difficulty trusting people, especially this surprisingly altruistic Rebel crew. Of course, despite his concerns, he starts behaving just like them after a few minutes around them. It comes off as sudden, but by the end of the episode, we start to realize that Ezra is just looking for some kind of family, and this crew fits the bill.

The most interesting characters however are Kanan and Hera, the Ghost’s captain and pilot. Of the entire cast, these two have the best chemistry, subtly teasing they’re in an “old married couple” relationship. You can definitely sense a shared history between the two, which makes sense: Their first adventure was already detailed in the latest Star Wars EU novel. On top of that, Kanan is a Jedi in hiding, trying his best to live a mercenary life while still following his Light Side principles. There’s a lot these personalities can bring to the table, and it’ll be great to see how they lead Ghost in future episodes.

Bottom Line: Star Wars: Rebels is off to a good start, returning to the original trilogy universe we haven’t seen in decades. Most characters come off as a little one-dimensional, but Rebels makes up for it with well-designed battle sequences and seeds for future episodes.

Recommendation: The Force is strong with this one.

[rating=3.5]

Marshall Lemon had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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