With Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out later this month, it’s a good time to look at another adaptation in preparation. Today, it’s a look at the pilot episode of the CG-animated Star Wars Rebels.
Several months ago, Lost in Translation reviewed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, covering the issues that come up when adapting from film to television. In brief, the difference is time available, pacing due to commercials, and budget. The Clone Wars, though, filled in details between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, strengthening the latter through giving spotlight time to characters that get brief moments during Order 66.
The pilot episode of Star Wars Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, introduces new characters to the setting. The Galaxy Far Far Away is huge, capable of containing a large number interesting folk. It starts with Ezra, a young boy living outside the capital city of Lothal, watching as a Star Destroyer comes in over the city as “The Imperial March” plays.in the background. Ezra heads into Capital City to see what is happening and runs across Imperial officers bullying a simple fruit peddler. After a bit of sleight of hand to gain a communicator, Ezra redirects the Imperials with a false call for backup. He keeps watch, and notices several shady figures passing along silent communications. He also senses something about one of them.
The shady miscreants, Kanan, Zeb, and Sabine, are after a number of crates the Imperials have. hooked up to speeder bikes. Sabine, wearing colourful Mandalorian-style armour, creates a distraction through an explosion. While the would-be thieves deal with the stormtroopers guarding the bikes, Ezra slips in and steals one of the speeders himself. Thus begins a chase involving Ezra, Kana in pursuit, and the Imperials chasing both. The Imperials play their trump card and bring in a TIE fighter. Kanan has his own trump, Ghost, piloted by the Twi’lek, Hera, and maintained by the astromech C1-10PR, or Chopper. Ghost takes out the lone TIE, but four more have caught up. Ezra grabs his crate and leaps to the cargo ramp, a leap that should have been impossible.
Ezra gets a quick breather and discovers that the crate he brought on board is filled with blaster rifles. The TIEs don’t give up, and chase Ghost up to orbit. `Kanan takes one turret to discourage pursuit. Ezra, placed into a storage locker by Zeb for safe keeping, gets into Ghost‘s ventilation system and falls into the second turret. The kid’s first time off-world and into space is marred when he sees two of the TIEs attacking. Sabine arrives to take over the turret, and clears a path to let the ship enter hyperspace.
With time finally to rest, the crew comes to a decision about Ezra. They can’t take him back home just yet; their timetable is too short to allow for that. Instead, they take him to a location on Lothal known as Tarkintown, named after Governor Tarkin and populated by people displaced by the Imperial war machine. One crate, the one Ezra tried to keep, is filled with blasters to be sold to raise credits for the Ghost‘s operation. The rest contain food that is given freely to the residents of Tarkintown. Confused, Ezra returns to the ship. Elsewhere, Kanan and Hera make a deal with a middleman, who offers information about the location of Wookiee prisoners being transferred to become slaves.
Back on Ghost, Ezra gets another odd feeling, drawing him into Kanan’s cabin. Ezra searches the room, finding a lightsabre and a holocron. Kanan appears and relieves Ezra of the lightsabre, but appears to miss the holocron. With the prisoner transfer, there’s no time to return Ezra to his home. Ghost lifts off to intercept the transport ship.
Getting close to the transport is simple enough. Hera name drops Governor Tarkin, which is enough for the transport to call off its TIEs and allow Ghost to dock to transfer another Wookiee. Kanan, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper head to the airlock to meet the stormtroopers waiting. The attempt to pass Zeb off as a rare hairless Wookiee goes as well as expected, leading to Zeb decking both stormtroopers. The group splits off in pairs, with Kanan and Zeb going to free the Wookiees and Sabine going with Chopper to handle the technical side.
In Ghost‘s cockpit, Hera loses contact with Kanan. The transport is jamming the signal, letting Hera deduce that the information was faked and the entire situation is a trap. Ezra gets a bad feeling moments before an Imperial Star Destroyer appears from hyperspace. Hera and Ezra argue about staying and telling the others about the trap; Ezra is far too used to being on his own and not sticking his neck out, but he does go. He finds Kanan just before the cell door is opened; on the other side, stormtroopers await. They hear the conversation and burst out.
Kanan’s plan included contingencies in case of stormtrooper pursuit. He orders Sabine to turn off the gravity in the transport. Kanan and Zeb take advantage and flee, dragging Ezra along as the stormtroopers and the Star Destroyer’s commander float helplessly. They don’t have much time; the Imperials recover quick enough, but Kanan knows when the gravity is returning and is ready to run when it does. The two groups reunite and race back to Ghost with the Imperials close behind. Ezra falls behind and is taken prisoner by the commander. Not knowing that the kid isn’t on board, Hera undocks and makes the jump to hyperspace. Kanan takes stock. He feels that Ghost has to go back to rescue Ezra, having been responsible for the kid getting involved in the first place.
On the Star Destroyer, the Imperials take most of Ezra’s belongings, but miss the holocron. The Star Destroyer’s commander introduces himself as Imperial Security Bureau Agent Kallus, who is after Kanan’s group because of their effectiveness. Resigned, Ezra takes a look at the device and is able to open it. The holocron begins to play a message from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Buoyed a bit, Ezra comes up with a plan to escape. The first part involves luring the guards into the cell, done with some acting. The second part involves recovering his belongings and hiding inside the ship. He grabs a helmet to listen to the comms chatter. Ezra hears news of Ghost returning, and does what he can to distract the stormtroopers.
Kanan, Zeb, and Sabine head off Ghost to find Ezra, only for him to be waiting for them. Kallus arrives with his troopers, but Kanan’s people escape, this time with Ezra. On board, Ezra informs the Ghost‘s crew of where the Wookiees are going; he overheard the captain of the transport mention Kessel. Kanan orders Ghost to Kessel. Kallus, though, shows that he’s deserving of a Star Destroyer and realizes that he was overheard by the kid, and heads to Kessel as well.
On the spice moon of Kessel, Kanan leads a daring breakout, distracting the stormtroopers guarding the Wookiees long enough for Ezra to sneak past and free them from their shackles. However, TIE fighters appear behind the landed Ghost. Hera and Chopper need to take off to deal with the TIEs, leaving Kanan and his people and the Wookiees on the ground. Kallus appears and orders his stormtroopers to fire. Kanan realizes the best move is the 22-Pickup. The goal, get the Wookiees into a cargo container while keeping the stormtroopers attention on himself. To do this, he walks out into the barrage of blaster fire and draws his lightsabre.
Meanwhile, Ezra realizes that one Wookiee won’t go unless his young son returns. Ezra runs after the young Wookiee, who is already being chased by a stormtrooper. The Wookiee runs to the end of a docking platform with nowhere to go but into the pit. Ezra leaps over the stormtrooper and hits him with his laser slingshot. The stormtrooper falls over the railing with a Wilhelm scream. Kallus, though, saw Ezra and followed. The ISB agent sees an unusual opportunity, killing a Jedi and his apprentice. Kanan arrives in the nick of time, riding on the hull of Ghost to pick up Ezra and the Wookiee.
The Wookiees are freed and given a ride home. Ghost returns to Lothal and the abandoned tower that serves as Ezra’s home. Ezra lifts Kanan’s lightsabre again and leaves. Up in his home, he looks around at the various souvenirs he has taken. Kanan appears behind him to explain the Force and gives Ezra a choice; either add the lightsabre to the other items to gather dust, or to join the crew of Ghost and learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. When Ezra turns around, Kanan has disappeared.
On Ghost, Kanan meditates while listening to Obi-Wan’s message, the warning sent during Revenge of the Sith to avoid the Jedi Temple. Ezra walks in and returns the lightsabre, joining the crew. On board the Star Destroyer, Kallus reports his findings to an Imperial Inquisitioner, who is most interested that a Jedi has been found.
Expecting one episode, the pilot episode at that, to be able to do what the entire Clone Wars series did is unreasonable. In television, the pilot episode exists to set up the series, including introducing characters, show the possible situations the characters get involved in, and set the tone. The key here is to see how much Star Wars Rebels holds up to expectations. To this end, the pilot pulls in elements already familiar to Star Wars fans. The music used shows inspiration from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Unlike Clone Wars, where the music had a martial tone, Rebels uses the more hopeful themes from A New Hope. The speeder bike chase used music from the similar scene on Endor in Return of the Jedi.
The characters pull their weight, as well. Ezra becomes a hero despite himself, setting up a Hero’s Journey arc. Kanan has a roguish streak in him, but is still a mentor figure. He and Hera get along like a married couple; bickering but without heat and around for each other. The dialogue would fit in A New Hope without difficulty. Sabine, despite the Mandalorian armour, isn’t dour. Instead, she has the heart of an artist, albeit one whose medium is explosions. Even the holographic Obi-Wan is shown as between his appearance during Clone Wars and Alex Guiness, with James Arnold Taylor returning for the role. The eye to detail is there.
One detail I noticed was with Ezra. His character design and his character arc is similar to the title character in Disney’s Aladdin. Given that Rebels is also a Disney production, the similarity may be deliberate. Ezra, though, doesn’t have a wish-granting genie to help him mature. Instead, he has one of the last Jedi. The shorthand, though, for people who make the connection help with understanding Ezra’s character.
Star Wars Rebels has the potential to strengthen A New Hope much like Clone Wars did with Revenge of the Sith. The feel of “Spark of Rebellion” had the right touch; humour, a dangerous threat, and villains with great potential for evil. The pilot has laid down the map for the series, and it should feel very much like A New Hope.