Yes, I was one of the lucky so-and-sos who saw the hour-long pilot for Star Wars Rebels last week at Comic-Con International: San Diego. In a packed single theater (not to get anyone in trouble, but I’m pretty sure there were some people standing in the aisles!), alongside members of the cast and crew and special guests from Lucasfilm, select fans and press watched the pilot a few months early, with two episodes back-to-back on the big screen.
Newsarama Note: The videos included are the most recent, that debuted during Comic-Con, and not necessarily from the Pilot episodes
And, in short, it was magnificent. While we’ve been asked to hold back from a full review or (obviously) any spoilers, we can tell you that the show absolutely hits the ground running, and feels more like it was an episode in the middle of a third season than one kicking off a brand new series. The beauty of having much of the Clone Wars team, led by Dave Filoni, back is that they know how to work together already – much like the team in the show, but more on that in a moment.
Rather than a traditional review, here are five things I noticed while watching the first two episodes (which together will serve as the hour-long special pilot on Disney) of Star Wars Rebels that should make you very excited to see it (and make me excited to see it again).
The Team is Already Together
This isn’t an origin story for this squad of Rebels. Instead, the team is – with the exception of Ezra – already together. In fact, they’re not just together, but they’re already a well-oiled machine, with clearly defined roles, a structure to everything they do, and a dynamic that instantly feels like a family.
Rather than feeling like the show was starting from a stereotypical “here’s everyone meeting,” it almost felt like it started at say, the end of Act One of a three act story. The team is almost complete, there’s just one missing component, a character to act as both the point-of-view for the viewer and the inciting incident for the team (and its ostensible leader Kanan)’s call-to-action.
It’s refreshing to see them hit the ground running (literally, when you see the first few minutes), and really serves to demonstrate the family dynamic that Filoni and others have been talking about for the last several months. The principal cast of Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Tiya Sircar, Steve Blum, and Taylor Gray sell it right away – they might as well have been working together for three seasons already, too.
That Special JEDI Feeling
Look, just because this era has very few Jedi doesn’t mean we can’t (or don’t) get those special signature Jedi moments.
And the pilot has several of them: from a Jedi holocron containing a message from an old friend to a first deep meditation for a young padawan, and finally to the absolutely chill-inducing first ignition of the lightsaber by our hero.
There’s no other way to say it, Jedi are cool, and having them reduced from every-other character in the Clone Wars to just a very select few has an instant positive impact. When you see a Jedi, you know it’s a big deal. Almost as much of one as when you see one of the signature villains of the series.
And Oh, Those Villains are Awesome
The thing about Star Wars is that when it debuted, there were just as many, if not more, kids who wanted to play Darth Vader as there were that aspired to be Luke. That overwhelming, imposing sense of danger that Vader just oozed every time he took the screen was truly awe-inspiring.
In that grand tradition come Agent Kallus and the Inquisitor. While the latter isn’t in much of the pilot, his impact is still instantaneous. You’re instantly afraid of him, and instantly want more of him.
Kallus, meanwhile, is present throughout the hour, and is a difficult character to get your head around. Maybe it’s David Oyelowo’s cool and calm voice, or maybe it’s the confidence, but Agent Kallus is charismatic and it’s hard not to root for him just a little. You don’t want him to win, but you certainly want him to be close behind the heroes, if only so you can see them snap into action once more.
The extended look at the Inquisitor in action shown at the Rebels panel about two hours before the pilot screening showed off his skills, but the in-episode introduction to Agent Kallus shows he will have plenty of staying power on his own.
It Feels Like the Original Trilogy
Comedy, Drama, Romance, somebody epically messing up – yup, this is the Star Wars us 30-somethings grew up with, in all the best ways. While Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an amazing show that gave us some truly great characters and even better character moments, with a sprawling cast and events happening all over the galaxy, it was hard to get that same feeling we all had watching the original trilogy for the first time. Episodes like “Rookies” and much of the interaction between Satine/Obi-Wan or Anakin/Ahsoka hit the right notes, but it was impossible to maintain across every season and every storyline.
Lucasfilm Animation decided to go in a different direction with Rebels, giving us a core cast who could grow and experience and laugh and cry and love and fall all together, all the time. This results in an immediate feel (thanks to the pre-established group dynamic mentioned above) of family, and from that spawns all those attributes from the first three movies. The group can go from heatedly arguing to joking around to a heartfelt hopeful moment all in one scene, and it manages to just capture that elusive “feeling” that is so hard to define.
The Impact of the Era
There’s no denying it: it’s just plain cool to see TIE Fighters and Stormtroopers on the screen once more. Just as Dave Filoni and his team have said how much fun it is to finally be drawing these things, it’s impossible not to have a little burst of excitement every time you see one of the character or vehicle types you knew so well back in action. The era also allows for the Jedi to feel more special than they have in recent stories, as mentioned before. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the feeling of dread that pervades the galaxy, because out of that dread comes hope.
The hope that bursts through happens on multiple levels. There’s hope from Ezra that he can simply find a way to survive. There’s hope from Hera and Kanan that Ezra can choose the right path with them. There’s the viewer’s hope that Zeb will come around. And then there’s the greater hope: the hope of the people that they can rise up and make the galaxy not just a safe place to live, but a happy and free one, too.
Star Wars Rebels manages to hit all five of these notes (and much more) in just the first hour of its first season. If this keeps up, we’ll easily have some of our best Star Wars stories yet.
Star Wars Rebels premieres October 2014