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Star Wars Rebels Season Two Review

Despite enjoying the first season of Star Wars Rebels far more than I expected to, nearly six months passed before I got around to watching the second.  This was not out of any particular hesitance, just life, work and gaming getting in the way. 

Expanding from a 15 episode run in the initial season to 22 in the sophomore outing provided the series creators freedom to increase the scope of the story and the amount of time spent on character development.  They have managed to do both with somewhat mixed results. 

One of the primary changes to the central plot of Rebels involves the tight-knit crew of Ghost starting to become more involved in the wider rebellion against the Empire.  While they can undoubtedly do more good with new friends and resources, they also make themselves bigger targets for retaliation.  The opening episodes of the series depict some of that fall-out, as the planet Lothal is put under siege. 

The Empire’s overwhelming military might is only one aspect of the threat – Kanan and Ezra continue to be pursued doggedly by Vader’s remaining band of Inquisitor’s.  Ahsoka Tano, revealed to be still alive from the Clone Wars era in the closing moments of season one, lends her skills to the Rebel cause, despite her continued estrangement from the path of the Jedi.  Her unresolved past with Vader builds until the very last scenes of season two. 

In my review of season one, I lamented the fact that the heavy focus on Ezra’s character building left little opportunity to flesh out the stories of the other heroes.  This imbalance is redressed, but I regrettably found some of these episodes turn out to be the weakest of the series so far.  ‘Legends of the Lasat’ attempts to tell a compelling story of the fate of Zeb’s people, but bores from start to finish.  ‘Blood Sisters’ and ‘The Protector of Concord Dawn’ offer a glimpse at Sabine’s past, and current-day Mandalorian culture, but fail to make Sabine any more interesting. 

Hera fairs somewhat better, and in ‘Homecoming’ the resistance to Imperial presence on Ryloth is explored, largely in the person of Cham Syndulla, her estranged father.  In an even more direct callback to the Clone Wars series, an aging Captain Rex and a small band of clones, long ago freed of their control-chips, are found eking out an existence on a desert world.  Rex’s storyline is just one of several interesting recruitment opportunities the Rebel’s are faced with. 

There is plenty of fanboy material throughout the series, from the obligatory cameos, to first appearances of Rebel and Imperial technology that will later pop up in Episode IV to VI, related comics and video games.  Ralph McQuarrie’s fingerprints are still all over Star Wars Rebels designs and observant viewers will catch all sorts of clever references.  The creators clearly love their jobs and love playing within this universe. 

The animation here is an incremental improvement on the first season, much in the same way that The Clone Wars visuals gradually changed over time.  With the variety of locations and planets expanding greatly, there is much more in the background to appreciate: from ancient Jedi and Sith Temples, to an icy moon of Geonosis to an asteroid refinery shrouded in gas clouds.   

Many of my fears about the second season were largely unfounded.  The show resists the temptation to insert too much Darth Vader and spend too much time on recognizable main characters from other series and adaptations.  This is still a story about the crew of the Ghost, by and large, though I admit my interest was most piqued when the plot focused on activities related to the Rebellion itself, rather than side developments.   

Unsurprisingly, Kanan and Ezra’s relationship as master and apprentice is a centrally important part of the story.  At times, it seems as though their presence accomplishes little beyond exposing their friends and allies to harm, given an Inquisitor is rarely more than a few steps behind.  It almost seems inevitable that a rift may form between the Jedi and their companions, even if their goals are shared. 

Kanan, one of my favourite characters who benefits from a continually strong performance from Freddy Prinze Jr. unfortunately gets very little in the way background development.  There are brief mentions of his old master and the events of the Clone Wars, but not much beyond that.  Hopefully this is covered in more detail in Season Three, as I would be disappointed to have to turn to supplementary material. 

Probably my biggest source of frustration in Season Two is the Inquisitors, who fail completely to live up to the presence of the Grand Inquisitor from Season One.  None are nearly as interesting in terms of design, abilities or character design, and each additional member merely waters down the concept more.  It is hard to picture Vader tolerating these ill-disciplined, occasionally zany and bickering underlings.  The sense of danger just isn’t as believable. 

‘The Honorable Ones’ is notable as a stand-alone episode as it manages to tell an engaging story with only Zeb and Imperial Agent Kallus: stuck together and trying to survive while awaiting an uncertain rescue.  Consistent with Season One, this season ends with a Jedi-heavy two-episode arc, featuring a cameo I would just as soon have done without.  In a season where I felt the lightsaber content had largely taken a backward step, there was a lot of action to enjoy here. 

At this risk of spoiling the climax of Season Two, I have to tip my hats to the creators who present a few bold twists that will permanently affect the future of the series.  If nothing else, Season Three will be a creative departure and I’m interested to see where things go.   

Verdict:

Star Wars Rebels S2 is somewhat uneven compared to S1 but overall, anyone who enjoyed the first outing will find plenty to like here.  There are about three or four filler episodes I could have done without and one too many plots driven by searches for dwindling resources and a need for special parts.  A patient viewer will recognize the creator’s attempts to make this story fit within the wider mythos, and for the most part, it works well.


 

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