Set between “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” Disney’s film “Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion” returns to the beloved galaxy far, far away with a new cast of characters fighting against the Galactic Empire. The film, which ushers in an all-new animated television series, includes main protagonist Ezra, voiced by Taylor Gray, a young thief who is strong with the force. One day on a routine “pickup,” he encounters Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a battle-hardened renegade with a blaster and leader of the titular team of rebels. While their initial meeting is unpleasant, through a series of events the two develop an interesting relationship with each other. In addition to this development, Ezra also interacts with the rest of the crew, such as the pilot Hera, the muscle Zeb and the Mandalorian Sabine.
The show also introduces one of the series’s main antagonists, Agent Kallus, a tactful captain of the Galactic Empire hunting down the crew of rebels. While the characters are different from one another, they often seem to fall into the all-too-familiar cliche categories of many space-faring TV shows. Ezra is the talented youngster, Karan is the “badass” with the mysterious past, and Hera is the compassionate second in command. It is not until later in the episode when the creators seem to finally add some depth to the characters — but this feeling of depth is somewhat depreciated due to the creators’ choice of artistic style.
As a more kid-friendly TV show, the show implements an interesting animation style in order to give it a more cartoonish feel. While this style is indeed very similar to the series’s critically acclaimed spiritual predecessor “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” the animation strategy still somewhat works. For instance, while the strategy effectively delivers in action-packed segments, it doesn’t deliver as well in the slower-paced scenes, especially the scenes that require more emotion from the characters. Often, it feels as though the characters’ facial expressions were not revealing the complex emotions they were actually feeling. It was difficult to discern whether the characters were expressing unease and uncertainty or confusion.
Fortunately, however, the animation style effectively conveys the ultimate sense of adventure that the Star Wars universe has provided for the past three decades. Outer Space looks vast and wondrous, while the settings of the vast array of planets and starships feel futuristic and exotic. The sound design is refreshingly “Star Wars”-esque, with the swooshing of lightsabers and high-pitched firings of the gun blasters along with the impressive theme music playing in the background.
There are still some minor flaws holding the show back, especially considering that its target audience is children. First of all, the show’s humor is not as developed as expected. While there are some great laughs here and there, overall, the distribution of humor was too sparse; as a kid’s show, humor is crucial to its survival and success. Hopefully, as the show progresses narratively and finds its groove, this overarching problem will be fixed. In addition, the show’s pacing is a little off, only picking up after the halfway mark, making the introductory parts somewhat of a chore to watch.
Yet “Star Wars Rebels” does deliver in other dimensions. The diverse cast of aliens, humans and droids are all plucked from distinct aspects of “Star Wars” lore. In addition, the show effectively digs deeper into the “Star Wars” realm, advertising a story that seems to get better and better each week. While the characters might at first seem one dimensional, there is enough revealed about them later in the episode to make them more compelling. This isn’t necessarily the best start for the new series, but it’s definitely not a terrible one.
“Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion” debuts on the Disney Channel on Oct. 3.