So yeah, I had a chance to take a look at a handful of episodes a little while back. As they were edited together it’s hard to say exactly how many – the first two or three that comprise the pilot, and then one from later on, the significance of which quickly became apparent.
If you don’t want any spoilers whatsoever, I’ll only say this: ever since I saw him in The Patriot, I’ve thought Jason Isaacs belonged in the Galactic Empire, and his role as the Inquisitor DOES. NOT. DISAPPOINT. Yes, he has the gimmicky, spinning double lightsaber Grievous had in The Clone Wars role-play toy line (if you think about it, it makes sense that non-Sith Lords would want the most action gimmicks), and he’s basically calculated to be every kid’s new favorite (basing the character’s weapon on a toy repaint seems especially cynical). But unlike in most of the movies, where a seemingly cool new secondary villain is introduced with much fanfare and turns out to be utterly hapless when the chips are down (Grievous, the Fetts, Darth Maul, Jabba), the Inquisitor is intelligent, dangerous, and can own our heroes’ asses in combat, which is useful when all you have at your disposal are Stormtroopers who die very easily.
Yes, those Stormtroopers, somehow between ROTS and ANH, have become utterly useless. Rebels thus far provides no in-canon explanation for this, though the obvious narrative one is that the lead characters need somebody to beat. Stormtroopers die a lot – at one point evil Agent Kallus kicks one of his own into the Spice Mines of Kessel for asking a reasonable question. So even though they aren’t clones any more, they’re pretty disposable. The massive purple alien Zeb (based on early McQuarrie concepts for Chewbacca) makes it such a habit to knock them off for fun that you wonder how a whole planet of his creatures could ever have fallen to the Empire.
Rebels‘ introductory episode feels draggy because those of us with any interest have already seen the first ten minutes online. I think they’re edited slightly differently in the final version, but nonetheless, it’s still young Ezra Bridger – whose surname not only describes his narrative purpose, but also that of the show as a whole – doing a Disney’s Aladdin routine on the Empire-occupied planet of Lothal. His actions lead to smuggle Kanan and his crew saving the kid’s life, inevitably surviving a hairy situation with him and bonding. During the course of it all, Kanan reveals that he is a Jedi living in secret, and Ezra demonstrates the ability to use the Force. Meanwhile, Clone Wars’ Obi-Wan cameos via hologram, and maintains his inability to mount a consistent English accent.
Things pick up in the later episode, as a mission to save Luminara Unduli culminates in the Inquisitor revealing himself (the major criticism some of my peers had thus far is that, however many episodes in, the show is already overusing the gimmick of rescue missions that are traps), and putting Kanan majorly on the defensive. There’s also a significant plot gag that involves large aliens wanting to have sex with spaceships, I shit you not.
The B-plot features Kanan trying to teach Ezra the Jedi ways using only what he has to hand, and involves him reciting many signature Obi-Wan and Yoda lines half-assedly. This is awful at first, but then we realizes he doesn’t actually understand what things like “Do or do not; there is no try” even mean; he’s an A-student reciting the lines from his textbook that he memorized for the test without taking to heart.
On the downside, there’s an overly cute Wookiee baby that summons memories of the Holiday Special; on the plus side, every major character except Ezra is as cynical as Han Solo, save maybe astromech droid Chopper, who’s just a dick and the perfect anti-Artoo. And this animated universe is familiar – TIE fighters screech by (the open slots in the cockpit canopy are definitively glass-covered here, settling at least one childhood debate), Scout Walkers abound, and Speeder Bikes are closer to the Endor model. The Ghost that the rebels fly is very Corellian; you’ll just have to ignore that even as it spins and turns in battle, the crew in the cargo bay stay steady and upright as if in normal gravity, unless and until the plot calls for them not to.
This is very much Star Wars, but I hope as it progresses the show will rely less on in-jokes and create more of its own section of the universe. It sounds like there’s a very definite end-goal in mind, so I trust once that becomes clear the stakes will go up all around.
[I don’t know if this means anything – but a perfectly made-up Ashley Eckstein was at my screening, in SHIELD cosplay. Ahsoka return? Or a way to read far too much into things?]