‘Rebels’ No More

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A mural of the Ghost crew. Image courtesy of io9.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about who Star Wars Rebels is for. It’s ostensibly an animated kids show on a Disney network but new episodes air at 9 in the evening, a time block fitting for a cable drama series. Think about it like this: you have to stay up later to catch Rebels than to see a new episode of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. That’s kind of ridiculous.

My own nitpicks aside, Rebels’ three part finale was an excellent closing that answered most of our questions and gave us some new ones to ponder in a satisfying, anticipatory manner. Ezra’s journey has been delightfully weird and unpredictable, and since there was no way in hell Disney was going to kill off a 15-year-old, having him ride off to God-knows-where with some flying whales (I like to think that whoever created the Purrgil is a Gojira fan) dragging Thrawn along seems like a satisfying answer to “Where do these characters go once the OT kicks in?”

Personally, I feel like the galaxy’s most evil art critic/ultimate cultural appropriator should of just been killed off, like his lackey Governor Pryce. This isn’t because I dislike Thrawn; on the contrary, I find him to be a terrific antagonist, which is why I thought his annihilation would give Rebels the most triumphant possible conclusion. But I get it; fans love him and creators are going to want to use him for future stories. And just like everyone else, I desperately want to know how his unwilling voyage with Ezra and the Purrgil will effect him.

The last minutes of “Family Reunion – and – Farewell” jumps forward to post-Return of the Jedi to give us a peak at the remaining Ghost crew members. It took me a few seconds to wrap my head around the implications of Jacen Syndulla‘s existence and so, uh…yeah, that happened (Kanera shippers all of over the world let out an audible sigh of relief). It’s easy to say in hindsight, but of all the good guy characters on Rebels, Kanan always had the highest chance of dying. And while we all miss him dearly, at least he and Hera’s “will-they-won’t-they” business has some degree of resolution.

Speaking of shipping, Zeb and Kallus had a nice little moment together in which Zeb brought the Imperial agent – turned – Rebel to Lira San to show him that the Lasat had survived the Empire’s extermination. There’s quite a few people in Rebels‘ fandom that are pulling for these two to get together in the romantic sense. I’m not against that per se, but I always thought that the whole “Kallus tried to wipe out Zeb’s people” thing would just be too much for love to overcome, even though the genocide didn’t succeed. I’m not in any way an expert on LGBTQ issues, so what I have to say here carries little weight. For what it’s worth, Dave Filoni is down with your Zeb/Kallus ship.

“Family Reunion – and – Farewell” saves the best and most intriguing for last. Sabine has settled on Lothal (per my headcanon, she totally runs a DIY punk venue in Lothal City) and right before the episode cuts to credits, she meets up with Ahsoka – cosplaying as Gandalf the White, it would seem – to go search for Erza, who is still absent.

Rebels has been through a pretty astonishing amount of change in its four season. It’s crazy to think that it started out as this relatively low-key story about a localized piece of the Galactic Civil War and now it’s giving us space whales and time travel and shit. Even more so than the new movies (which I like), Rebels has really been expanding what we thought was possible in the Star Wars galaxy. Speculation is already rampant on what the next journey of these characters will be and what form it would take. As much I hate to dash people’s hopes and dreams, I don’t think the Rebels crew will make the jump to live action any time soon. No one has ever come out and officially said it, but I strongly suspect Rebels has the same relationship to the Star Wars films that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has with the wider MCU; the TV shows can pull stuff from the movies to work with, but not vice versa. Our burning questions about Ezra, Sabine and Ahsoka will likely come in the form of comics or another animated series.

Then again, Saw Gerrera showed up in Rogue One, so you never know.

Watching Star Wars Rebels has been a pleasure over these last four years. If you are one of those Star Wars fans who hasn’t been feeling Episodes VII or VIII, maybe give this show a shot? It couldn’t hurt.

Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers!

The problem I have with Star Wars movies is basically the exact opposite of the problem I have with upcoming DC films: I tend to get so excited for them I have to actively fight off impossibly high expectations. And with Star Wars Celebration in full swing (Why am I not there?! Agghhhh!), the hype machine is in overdrive and so is my fanboyism. There’s all sorts of Star Wars news breaking at the moment, but below I’ve outlined my big three takeaways from Celebration so far. Let’s get cracking:

My enthusiasm for gaming tends to go through extremely dramatic and unpredictable ebbs and flows so I have no idea how interested I’m still going to be by the time Star Wars Battlefront II (curiously, it’s the second such game to be called that) is available to play on Nov. 17. But for the time being, this looks cool as hell. It’s supposed to be the first Star Wars game in the new continuity to explore a post Return of the Jedi setting and it appears to also set up the rise of the First Order. I’m a bit iffy on video game stories being made into franchise canon (good riddance, Force Unleashed), but Battlefront II gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

I was totally wrong about Star Wars Rebels concluding with its third season despite appearances to the contrary, but I wasn’t off by much. It’s been officially announced that it will end with the upcoming season four. Truthfully, I didn’t expect this show to last; in addition to the fact that cartoons for kids don’t usually have deep runs, the five years before A New Hope time frame didn’t give its storytellers tons of wiggle room. Nonetheless, the pieces of an emotionally satisfying conclusion are in place, especially since Hera’s somber narration doesn’t imply a happy ending. We know from that Easter Egg in Rogue One that she’ll probably be okay. My credits are on Kanan buying the moisture farm, since I don’t think Disney is about to kill off any 15-year-olds. I’m pretty sure Thrawn will go down too, which would take him “off the board” during the events of the OT. At any rate, I’m glad Rebels will get to end on its own terms, rather than get abruptly yanked off the air like Clone Wars did.

And that wolf! I don’t know what it is, but I love it already!

I’ve saved the best for last: the first trailer (it’s April; there’s going to be several more) for The Last Jedi. I’m super bummed that the elderly versions of Luke, Han and Leia won’t get to share the screen but it’s nice to have Luke back even though the last 10 or so years haven’t been kind to him. Luke took on a mentor role in some of the later post Saga books in the now defunct EU and getting to see that version of him onscreen is going to be treat, especially since Mark Hamill is really selling it with that magnificent beard. The only major plot point we can cull from this is that a despondent Luke, haunted by his failure with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, will be ending the Jedi Order. Everyone – me included – thinks this means Star Wars is trying to move past the Light side/Dark side dichotomy (Luke’s “It’s so much bigger” line is lending that theory major credence). The idea that the Force has more than just two paths was touched upon in the previous season of Rebels via the Bendu character and hopefully it will get explored further in TLJ. I stand by what I said about Star Wars needing to take creative risks and this feels like a step in the right direction.

The Last Jedi comes out on Dec. 15.

Star Wars Rebels is Back on Saturday

Part of me kind of dreads the return of all the fall TV series. I mean, sure, I like Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Timeless, Supergirl and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but all that viewing feels burdensome at times. Between going back to the gym regularly (hello 2017) and Final Fantasy XV my non-work hours are rapidly eroding. I’m in for a long winter, even without the imminent presidency of the Tangerine Troglodyte.

But Star Wars: Rebels? Hell, yes, I have time for that. The above three minute trailer heralding the second half of season three is a jam-packed doozy. I’m a fan by default at this point, but if you’ve just seen Rogue One (fantastic, by the way) and you’re still craving Star Wars, then start watching this show.

Season three has really expanded the scope of Rebels, something this series badly needed after mostly two seasons spent meandering about Lothal. It looks like that trend is continuing as season three comes to a close. I’m guessing Rogue One really lit a fire under the asses of executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman because it sure looks like big things are a coming and…possibly the end of not just this season but the whole series?

From what we can gleam from the trailer, the various Rebel cells are coalescing into a larger whole, there’s some familial drama with Sabine, her mother and the other Mandalorians (the darksaber from Clone Wars is back) and oh, shit, that Obi-Wan reveal…hopefully Old Ben will finish Maul off for good this time. This all looks conclusive; now we just need to know what will happen to Kanan and Ezra. Are these dudes even still alive during the events of the OT? I don’t think it likely but we shall see.

Star Wars: Rebels is back this Saturday (Jan. 7). Order a pizza, grab a six pack of some delicious beer and tune in at 8:30 p.m. if you’re on the West Coast.

Carrie Fisher: 1956-2016

Goddamnit, this one hurts on a profoundly shitty level.

After cutting down Alan Rickman all the way back in January, this ugly ass year once again robbed me and countless others of an actor integral to a franchise I love. 2016 can get fucked forever. Carrie Fisher’s passing has made it clear to me more than ever the appeal of the “fuck 2016” meme: every time we think we’re getting tired of this schtick, another death or some intolerable bullshit (*cough* Trump) will come along and put us in need of some serious coping.

As a guy who has been in love with all things Star Wars since at least the age of seven, any member of the trio passing away was obviously going to hurt like hell. The youngest of them, Fisher was just 60. Even taking her health problems into account, I thought we had more time with her. Fisher was, of course monumentally awesome as Princess Leia. She was the strong female character I never knew I needed; the one I took for granted for far too long.

There was way more to this gal than just Star Wars. She was a highly prolific and sought after script doctor throughout the ’90s, authored eight books, survived drug addiction and became an advocate for mental health after going public with her struggles with bipolar disorder. Fisher was a remarkable woman; I’m currently trying to comfort myself with the notion that she was simply too good for this world.

Rest in power, princess.

Let’s Watch the Rogue One Trailer!

I hope you aren’t sick of Star Wars yet, because Disney is offering us another serving before Episode VIII arrives next year. Behold Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Clunky subtitle aside (it could be so much worse) I’m pretty excited for this. Granted, I’m a Star Wars guy, so I’m always down. But a part of me has always wanted to see a Star Wars story that was an actual war story. I think that a comic or TV series that is basically Band of Brothers but set in the Galactic Civil War would be the greatest thing ever and Rogue One appears to be the closest I’m going to get to that for the time being. This movie is concerned with the theft of the plans to the original Death Star (that’s the briefing room from the Yavin IV base you see in the trailer) so there will probably be plenty of espionage action in addition to battle scenes.

Since it leads right into A New Hope, Rogue One likely won’t take any storytelling risks nor pitch any curve balls at us – hence, no Jedi. I only hope that the Emperor’s guards (who are present in this trailer) actually get to do something this time, since they did nothing but stand in the background in Return of the Jedi. It would be a huge missed opportunity if Donnie Yen’s staff-wielding martial artist didn’t get a fight scene with them. And goddamn, it feels good to see AT-ATs again.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes out on Dec 16. It stars Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk and is directed by Gareth Edwards.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who are pissed about there being another female protagonist in a Star Wars movie just…stop. For the love of God, please stop.

What’s Next for ‘Star Wars?’

 

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Image courtesy of Wookieepedia.

The Force Awakens is knocking down box office records and Star Wars is perceived as cool again. Disney has charted a loose course for the near future and has deviated slightly by bumping Episode VIII from May 2017 to December of that same year. We are still going to be getting a movie a year from now until at least 2019, which will include the next installments of the new trilogy as well as standalone spinoff films (one of which is slated for release this December). In the meantime, we can help ourselves to a proverbial buffet of secondary Star Wars media: the Rebels animated series, the various Marvel comics series, the occasional new novel or two and of course, Legos.

But for many people, these are all trivial distractions from what’s really on their minds: Episode VIII. It has a director in Rian Johnson, who I only know from the fantastic Looper. Nonetheless he’s exactly the sort of filmmaker that I hoped The Force Awakens would get, but we had to settle for the poor man’s Spielberg that is JJ Abrams. While Abrams did an alright enough job, I’m eager to get this franchise into someone else’s hands.

For what it’s worth, Episode IX also has a director picked: Colin Trevorrow, which I’m not enthused about at all. His Jurassic World was a broken mess so contemptible that I’ve sworn off Chris Pratt until the next Guardians of the Galaxy. I sincerely hope Trevorrow either drops out or takes an online film school course between now and IX’s tentative release date.

Anyhow, a great many folks have pointed out many similarities between TFA and A New Hope, mainly that they are almost the same movie. I was willing to overlook this because A) TFA did not suck, B) the new characters made up for it and C) being the first Star Wars film in a decade, taking the safe road is forgivable, especially considering what happened last time we got a new trilogy. But now that Star Wars is back in everyone’s good will, I feel like I have to put this out there: Episode VIII needs to be different.

I really don’t want an VIII that is essentially an Empire Strikes Back knockoff. TFA following ANH is one easily brushed aside thing, but VIII following Empire just as closely? Then I’ll get mad. And that’s just it; Empire is universally considered the best film in the OT. Even I, the most ardent defender/apologist of Return of the Jedi you will ever meet, would not dispute that fact. I mean, that’s just crazy talk. With that in mind, can you envision a scenario where there isn’t overwhelming studio and/or fan pressure to make VIII into an Empire clone? If you are one of the suits at Disney, why wouldn’t you take another trip down memory lane to the tune of another billion dollar global box office take?

There is this one negative side effect from the prequels that no one ever talks about: it made Star Wars fans deeply afraid of change. Everything about TFA was tailor-made to address those fears: the return of the original cast members, the mostly practical effects, the rehashed plot, the near identical aesthetic and the presence of JJ Abrams, the aforementioned poor man’s Spielberg. All deeply comforting to a fan base that has a hard time letting things go.

Hey, speaking of not being able to let go of stuff, what the hell is up with the continuing presence of Darth Maul in secondary Star Wars media? Have you seen that dense, spoiler-filled trailer for the second half of the current Star Wars Rebels season? Guess which spike-headed, full-body tattoo enthusiast with cyborg legs is STILL kicking around a mere five years before ANH? Seriously, fanboys, what is the deal with your obsession with Maul? I get that he was the only cool and edgy thing (in strictly visual terms; film Maul had as much personality as a sock drawer) in a movie that was overflowing with pandering little kid crap but your drawn out attachment to this vastly overrated character is getting insane. Let. Go.

Okay, rant over. Let’s get back to business.

I guarantee that it’s only a matter of time before Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams (who will stick around as an executive producer) or one of the cast members will drop the “we’re going to make this one our Empire Strikes Back” line during an interview and the fans will eat it up. And maybe they’ll just be pulling our legs and will yank the rug out from under us in VIII by disregarding the OT formula entirely. That would be just dandy, but they could also just build a loose facsimile of Empire and most of us still won’t give a shit and will just go along with it like last time because it’s Star Wars. I have faith in Johnson, but I tend to be cautious with my optimism.

No one at Disney or Lucasfilm will ever see this column, but if I could give whoever is in charge of Star Wars just one bit of advice, it would be this: take a risk. Don’t stray down the path of familiarity and nostalgia and don’t try to give the fans what they think they want. Forget about the OT; this is a new saga. Make the most of it and please, for the love of the Force, don’t put a Starkiller Base II in Episode IX.

The New ‘Star Wars’ Does Not Suck and is Pretty Damn Good

It wasn’t until three days before Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens dropped that I became genuinely terrified it was going to suck for reasons that are completely unnecessary to recap. It didn’t help that I wasn’t seeing it until Sunday, making the wait that much more excruciating and my social media browsing that much more risky, lest I happen upon some of those dreaded spoilers. I saw TFA with my mom, my older brother and his wife in a packed theater for a 10:40 matinee to cap off a weekend that had not been kind to me physically or mentally. These two hours and 16 minutes (more like three hours, seeing as we showed up super early to get decent seats) were going to make or break my Sunday.

Here is the brief version: it’s good. In fact it comes pretty close to great and gets better the more I think about it, which might necessitate a second viewing for me. TFA has its fair share of flaws, none of which come close to breaking it and it more or less gives you everything you want from a new Star Wars movie. The new cast is awesome, the old cast is as awesome as you remember and the story has an appropriate “this is Star Wars” feel to it.

Good as it was, TFA didn’t blow me away; there are at least two scenes that got the whole theater clapping (me included) but otherwise I didn’t come out of it thinking I had seen some spellbinding masterpiece of cinema. The fan service starts to wear thin midway through. There’s at least one dramatic turn that is robbed of its heartbreak factor by how predictable it is. The story itself feels like a broad retelling of A New Hope and that’s before we reach the finale: an X-Wing flies through a trench to take out a planet destroying super weapon, which is protected by an energy shield that another group of characters have to take down, which is all taking place on a snowy, icy planet. Essentially, it’s the three big action set pieces from the original trilogy dropped into a blender.

This is where the cast comes into play, because without them, TFA is nothing special. It’s hard to put into words just how satisfying it is to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher slip back into Han and Leia mode, more so because of how well they mesh with newcomers Daisy Ridley (as new hero Rey), John Boyega (defecting Stormtrooper Finn) and Oscar Isaac (as ace pilot Poe Dameron). But the biggest standout of all is Girls star Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the villain of the piece. It’s impossible to talk much about Ren without revealing some major spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at this: he’s a radical departure from any Star Wars badguy we’ve seen before and I can’t wait to see how his story unfolds.

Weirdly enough, the movie TFA reminds me of most is this years’ Peanuts. They both do just enough things good enough to dance on the cusp of greatness, they both give audiences what they want and they both grow on you to the point where you desperately want to see them again. TFA leaves you hungry for more, which is the best possible feeling to have on this side of the first new Star Wars film in a decade.