The announcement of Star Wars: Rebels was met with mixed reactions from fans. Some folks resented Rebels right off the bat for the crime of not being season seven of The Clone Wars. Others, like myself, were simply tired of the pre-A New Hope era, and wanted Lucasfilm to move the story along, show us some post-Return of the Jedi action.
I think it’s safe to say that fans worried about a dip in quality following the Disney acquisition were pleasantly surprised by Rebels. But now, with season two just a month away and the first season finally out on DVD and Blu-ray, is an excellent chance to look back at season one as a whole. Does the show hold up on a second viewing, not only on an episode-by-episode basis, but as a complete work? And is the new Blu-ray set worthy of the show and a good investment, going into season two?
Let’s find out together, friends!
Star Wars: Rebels arrives on Blu-ray in a two-disc set featuring 1080p video with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio in English, French, and Spanish. Unlike The Clone Wars’ cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Rebels was produced in the more TV-friendly 1.78:1 ratio, and is presented here as such. The Blu-ray set includes:
- All 15 season one episodes
- The 4 pre-season shorts
- All 14 episodes of Rebels Recon, the online behind-the scenes explorations behind each episode
- A 22-minute recap of season one
- A special preview of season two
- A look at the Rebels events and cosplayers from this year’s Celebration
THE EPISODES (spoilers ahoy!)
- 01 & 02: “Spark of Rebellion”
A fun and engaging — if rushed and poorly constructed — introduction to the show, the characters, and the post-Revenge of the Sith galaxy. Each of the new characters gets a chance to shine here, but the two-part episode tries to do too much in too little time. Might have worked better as a feature-length pilot, but as it is, there are so many twists and reversals crammed into just 40+ minutes that it begins to feel cheap. Additionally, the version included on the Blu-ray is the “extended” edition which opens not with Ezra seeing a Star Destroyer over Lothal, but with the Inquisitor reporting to Darth Vader — a pointless scene that spoils both the original reveal of the Inquisitor at the end of this episode, and the reveal of Vader in the finale.
- 03: “Droids in Distress”
The first “regular” episode settles down to a more manageable scale and pace. I’m not certain we needed guest appearances from R2-D2 and C-3PO this early into the show’s run, and while Threepio is played for comic relief as usual, his characterization is wildly inconsistent throughout the episode and we’re left with the impression that he’s less naive than he is schizophrenic. A surprisingly dark plot for what’s ostensibly a kid’s show, though; hey kids, let’s talk genocide!
- 04: “Fighter Flight”
A fun, light romp that holds up better upon a second viewing. Ezra and Zeb are forced to spend some quality time together and wind up, among other misadventures, stealing a TIE Fighter. An excellent example of the attention that goes into the animation; the TIE under Zeb’s inexperienced touch wobbles about in a convincingly shaky manner quite unlike those piloted by professional TIE pilots. Well-paced, low-stakes, fun.
- 05: “Rise of the Old Masters”
The first real “mythology” episode of the series, this episode serves both as a nod to fans of The Clone Wars and as an introduction to a host of characters and concepts that will be important going on. The most notable, of course, being the Loth Cat (okay, and I guess Jason Isaac’s Inquisitor is kinda important too). Good stuff.
- 06: “Breaking Ranks”
This one might qualify as my favorite episode just because it finally puts to rest the (absurd, in my opinion) notion that the Stormtroopers of the original trilogy are all clones. That aside, there’s some great stuff going on here; I can take or leave anything with Ezra, but the Academy storyline does deepen the mythology behind the Inquisitor and how the Empire deals with Force-sensitive kids. Hera and Kanan taking on the trio of Assault Carriers is the highlight of the episode, though (particularly the animation of Hera’s facial expressions during the battle, and the shot of The Ghost diving down towards the ecliptic from above).
- 07: “Out of Darkness”
Some nice character development on Hera and Sabine here, as well as our first mention of Fulcrum and the larger Rebellion. Nice visual touches to The Clone Wars with the wrecked ships in the asteroid base, and another great animated ship battle at the top of the episode (I particularly liked the TIE Fighter just barely twitching to avoid laser fire).
- 08: “Empire Day”
Here the writers seem to be trying to distance themselves from the prequels’ decree that a Jedi can’t get close to anyone, with Kanan explicitly telling Ezra he has to be willing to get close to others. Other than that, this episode is mostly Ezra backstory and setup for “Gathering Forces.” I did enjoy Freddie Prinze Jr.’s performance as “drunken patriotic Kanan.” “EMPIRE DAY!”
- 09: “Gathering Forces”
Opens with one of the best space battles we’ve seen yet, and climaxes with a lightsaber duel that might be more exciting and intense than anything we saw in six seasons of The Clone Wars. Kanan trying to shoot the Inquisitor during the duel is a great moment of characterization for Kanan, too. Again, Prinze Jr. gives an especially good performance here; the way his voice shakes upon realizing Ezra has touched the Dark Side is excellent. Other nice moments include Ezra putting on his helmet to insulate himself from an uncomfortable conversation, and Hera’s concern over Ezra and the fate of his parents.
- 10: “Path of the Jedi”
I tend to have very little patience for “extended vision / spirit quest” episodes, and “Path of the Jedi” doesn’t really change that (Buffy’s “Restless” is probably one of the few exceptions). This episode seems constructed to drop a lot of character information on the viewer in a frankly lazy and uninteresting way. I find the presence of a Jedi Temple on Lothal very convenient, and the idea that Ezra is just so friggin’ amazing that he earns a lightsaber crystal is not really supported by this or any other episode. A much more interesting path for the episode to take would have been for Yoda (or the version of Yoda that exists in this temple) to be “well, you’d normally have to wait much longer to earn this, but desperate times and all that.”
- 11: “Idiots Array”
Like “Fighter Flight,” this is a fun, funny, low-stakes episode that’s a blast to watch. Billy Dee Williams is in fine form as Lando, and the crew’s various reactions to him are fantastic. Does raise several issues about the ethics of droids and AI in the Star Wars universe, but there was already enough material to write a paper (or a book) on droid ethics in Star Wars, so this just adds more fuel to that fire. ALSO: Sabacc is finally canon, and I finally know how to pronounce it.
- 12: “Vision of Hope”
A slightly diverting but mostly predictable episode that feels rushed, like the pilot. There are a couple of nice moments (Kallus greeting Ezra as “Padawan Jabba” chief among them), but the Senator Trayvis plot really needed more development for me to care about his betrayal here. Also: still not a fan of Brent Spiner, even in voice form.
- 13: “Call to Action”
HERE WE GO. The first part of the excellent three-part finale, this episode ups both the stakes and the consequences of the show, mainly in the persona of Grand Moff Tarkin (brilliantly voiced by, so far as I can tell, the ghost of Peter Cushing). Plenty of great moments, from the exquisite shade Tarkin throws at the Inquisitor in the opening scene, to the exciting assault on the communications tower, to the shocking finale. This is a good one, folks.
- 14: “Rebel Resolve”
Mostly occupied by a fun, straightforward, believable heist, this episode is also notable for the devil’s bargain Ezra enters into with Vizago (gee, I wonder if that will come back to bite him?) and some really great character moments with Hera. Apparently Mustafar is known as the place where Jedi go to dieeeeeeeeeeee? Also, Chopper tries to murder another droid.
- 15: “Fire Across The Galaxy”
Great and worthy finale to the season and a glimpse of the greatness that the show could (and hopefully will) attain going forward. Some fantastic animation in this episode (we never reach Mustafar, but frankly I think they picked it less for the name recognition and more so we could have a big firey orb in the background during the climactic escape), another great lightsaber duel (Kanan’s improvisation with Ezra’s blaster/saber is great), and some great emotional beats (Hera’s face on hearing Kanan’s voice can’t be beat, but for pete’s sake will those two kiss already?). Oh yeah, and even knowing it was coming, I was on the brink of tears seeing Ahsoka climb down that ladder. Bring on season two!
SEASON ONE FINAL SCORE (average): 3.9/5
I really liked season one of Rebels. Not all of the episodes are winners, and Ezra is a monumentally uninteresting character (whose entire character arc unfolds over the two-part pilot). But the rest of the crew is varied and nuanced, and the glimpse at a galaxy under Imperial rule is a fascinating one. I would have liked more of a look at Lothal and those “industrial interests” which make the planet worthy of Tarkin’s attention, but overall, this was an excellent, if flawed, first season to a show that I’m certain will only get better over time.
Video quality is excellent, as one would expect from a direct digital-to-digital transfer. There’s little-to-no evidence of artifacting or blurring, and the detail is extraordinary. Even broadcast HD can’t attain the same level of detail as Blu-ray discs, and for that reason alone this set is worth the purchase. Details like Agent Kallus’s freckles, or the smudges of paint in Chopper’s disguise in “Rebel Rescue” show up clear and brilliant on this transfer. Audio is likewise good; a 5.1 surround system was not available for use at the time of this review, but the mix in a three-channel environment was nevertheless strong. Dialogue levels are good, and the mix of sound effects and music never becomes overwhelming. The show’s excellent sound design, like the video, is on display here in a form simply impossible over broadcast, and it’s a pleasure to hear.
Special features are thin on the ground, unfortunately. The set does include the four short films that preceded the season premiere (“Machine in the Ghost”, “Art Attack”, “Entanglement”, and “Property of Ezra Bridger”), but they are for some reason included on the second disc with the featurettes, instead of before episode one on disc one, where they belong. Additionally, while the main episodes have a “play all” option that allow you to binge-watch a disc at a time (which, let’s be frank, is what you’re gonna do), the disc forces you to select each short individually. A “play all” option for the four shorts would have been welcome, in addition to placing them on disc one. I’ve already expressed my displeasure in the omission of the original broadcast version of episode one, especially when both versions could have been included via seamless branching at no cost to disc space. This is especially frustrating when viewing “Property of Ezra Bridger,” which visually leads right into (the original version) of episode one.
The Rebels Recon episodes, at least, are spread out over both discs, though you have to go looking for them. An option to watch each Recon episode after the Rebels episode it covers would have been a logical and welcome choice. Episode trailers and commentary tracks would have been nice, too, and are conspicuously absent.
The only other feature of note is the season two preview. It’s the same eight-minute preview which debuted at Celebration, but with an introduction by Dave Filoni tacked on the front. His intro is intercut with some intriguing and lovely concept art for season two, and he drops several hints about what’s to come, so it’s a welcome addition. The main preview, of course, is just as exciting and tantalizing as it ever was, and it’s nice having it here on the Blu-ray.
The other two features they really needn’t have bothered with. There’s a 22-minute recap of season one, which seems like a pointless addition to a set that one is buying, presumably, for the express purpose of watching season one. If this set wasn’t so light on features this wouldn’t stick out so much, but as it’s one of the few features we do get, it seems especially extraneous. The final feature is … odd. It’s not quite a documentary of Celebration, and it’s not quite a full representation of the Rebels panel, but a frustrating mishmash of both. Again, with this set so light on features, I really would have liked for them to have taken a little more time and given us both a documentary about Celebration and the full video of the Rebels panel (especially the latter). What we do get seems half-assed at best.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2.5/5
Really, whether or not you buy this set depends on how much you enjoy Star Wars: Rebels. The special features aren’t compelling enough on their own to justify the purchase — particularly with the Rebels Recon episodes being freely available on YouTube. I wish Disney had put a little more effort into the features on this set (and taken a little more care with the disc and menu design and configuration) and really made this a must-buy. That said, if you have a Blu-ray player and a decent TV — and you’re as much of a fan of the show as I am — I’d recommend getting this set. The MSRP of $45.99 is a little high, but with most retailers selling it in the $30-35 range, I’d say go for it.