Among the handful of new children’s shows to come out of 2014, Star Wars: Rebels stands out as one of those rare cartoons parents can watch, enjoy and share alongside their kids. Here are three reasons why Rebels is a positive series for kids and geek parents alike.
1) There is a character every child can relate to within the core Rebels cast.
The Rebels ensemble is comprised of six main protagonists, a renegade crew of outcasts aboard the starship Ghost. Constantly trying to undermine the Empire, the crew is forced to work through adversity and constant threats in search of common ground and a unifying mission.
The show’s two strongest characters are Hera and Sabine, two female heroes written well beyond stereotype. Their depictions, as strong, intelligent, independent leaders, break the tropes in which most female characters are represented on action shows like Rebels. Hera is a Twi’lek pilot and the captain of the Ghost. She is a quick-witted, resolute leader who ties the crew together with reason and responsibility. While a personality like Hera’s would be easy to write as motherly, the Rebels writers resist the cliché.
Sabine, a Mandalorian graffiti artist, is the most individual and unique member of the crew. She’s an artist who dons custom, pink, airbrushed Mandalorian armor. Yes, the same Mandalorian armor worn by Boba Fett. Girls can look up to Sabine as a righteous young woman who never follows or falls into the traps and tropes of the boy-crazy, superficial depictions of most sixteen-year-olds on television.
Ezra, the Rebel’s lead protagonist, is an impressionable young man with the misfortune of having to spend his adolescent years in a time of war. The series is told through Ezra’s eyes. His naivety and stubbornness are familiar representations of the awkwardness of youth.
The Ghost‘s other three-crew members include the Jedi Kanan, a wise and strong teacher, the hulking alien Zeb, who conceals his feelings behind brash stubbornness, and Chopper, a mischievous astromech droid who is the Rebel’s equivalent to an annoying little brother.
2) Finally, here is a Star Wars cartoon that knows its audience.
As one of the many Star Wars fans who loathes the prequels, I can admit that Clone Wars was the only good thing to come from those films. The action and galactic immersion in the series was fantastic. The problem, however, was that like the prequels themselves, many of the story arcs on Clone Wars revolved around politics. Much like how Phantom Menace was constructed around trade negotiations, the themes in many of Clone Wars’ 121 episodes involved politicians, diplomats and even bankers doing a lot of talking. For the average eight- to twelve-year-old, this doesn’t make for the most compelling television.
Rebels breaks that streak by keeping the exposition light and the action vibrant. That’s not to say that kids can’t comprehend headier themes like politics. Its amazing the kinds of complex ideas children can quantify, and I’m an advocate for enriching the themes of media geared toward children. Star Wars, however, exists as a franchise of wonder, where simple childhood notions of heroism and good vs. evil exist to transport children to other worlds and blossom their imaginations. Sometimes, the simple things just work.
3) There is a lot of subtle fan service for Star Wars fans big and small.
Rebels exists in the timeframe between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The Empire is taking hold, the Rebels are banding together and that familiar post-prequel Star Wars universe is on full display, from classic Stormtroopers and TIE Fighters to voice cameos from original cast members like Anthony Daniels (C-3PO). The show’s creators inject the world with a classic look and visual design derived from the original, fantastical concept art Ralph McQuarrie created for Star Wars some 40 years ago.
The best fan service of all are the small Easter eggs that pop up now and again. Deep cuts geek parents and Star Wars fans watching the show might pick up on include things like the Empire’s frequent use of the Imperial Troop Transport, a vehicle famous for being the first Star Wars toy not to appear in the films. My favorite nod thus far was the revival of RX-24, a pilot droid who appeared in the second episode of the series. Some may be familiar with RX-24, or Rex, as the robotic pilot of the Star Tours rides in the Disney theme parks throughout the 1990s. On the ride, Rex was voiced by Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), and on Rebels, Reubens returns once more to lend his voice to the clumsy droid.
Rebels returns with all new episodes on January 5th, after a short mid-season break.