. . . nothing but “Starrrr Warrrrs,” day after dayyyy.
Thank you, Bill Murray, and thank you, curiously enough, Mickey Mouse: “Star Wars Rebels,” a new animated series premiering Friday on the Disney Channel (before it moves to a weekly slot on Disney XD on Oct. 13), is a shipshape, neato-burrito side project that finds the right balance between hype and hyperspace.
The first double-length episode, subtitled “Spark of Rebellion,” is a perfectly acceptable entry in the “Star Wars” universe. It’s also clearly meant for 10-year-olds, so what’s with all the 45-year-olds asking me if I’ve seen it yet?
Well, you know, this is religious stuff for some of us original fanboys, and “Rebels” is the first indication of what will become of “Star Wars” under the stewardship of Disney, which acquired the entire Lucasfilm operation a couple of years ago and promptly floated a number of ways in which it intends to amp up the brand.
To everyone’s surprise, this included a green light for “Episode VII,” which is due in movie theaters in time for Christmas 2015 and brings Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back as Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. One thing is certain about the new ownership: Disney intends to make as much money as it can on “Star Wars,” no offense to your sacred childhood memories.
None taken! These days, you can have as much or as little going on in your own private “Star Wars”-sphere as you like. For some, the movies are plenty. Most of us can admit — almost without twitching — that George Lucas’s prequel trilogy pretty much soured the relationship. The bright spot in the prequels, I suppose, was that they taught us to not take “Star Wars” so personally. This was a real problem.
Of course, “Rebels” is hardly “Star Wars’s” first trip to cartoonland. Animator Dave Filoni’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” debuted in 2008 and ran for an impressive 125 episodes on Cartoon Network. “Clone Wars” had a style all its own, filling in the huge blanks between Lucas’s “Epsiode II: The Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005), in which Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and the old guard actually fought and experienced the so-called Clone Wars that everyone in the films talked so much about. “Clone Wars” was harmless fun — a toy commercial with a noticeable moral code and a willingness to experiment.
Snuffed out by the Disney deal, “Clone Wars” nevertheless left Filoni and his “Rebels” co-creators, Carrie Beck and Simon Kinberg, with a reliable blueprint for how to do “Star Wars” purely for kids (after all, “Star Wars” should rightfully belong to kids) in a half-hour format, while appeasing the childlike devotion in adult fans.
In addition to a slightly more sophisticated animation style, “Rebels” has the benefit of taking place in what is undoubtedly the proven sweet spot of “Star Wars”: It’s set five years before the events seen in the original 1977 film. That means that “Rebels” is more recognizably and visually “Star Wars”-ish than the stories set in the failed art-deco/hotel atrium aesthetics of the prequel era. In “Rebels,” there are once again stormtroopers, Imperial officers, Star Destroyers, TIE fighters and AT-ATs, all with their attendant sound effects and movements and John Williams music cues. At long last we are home, where the obfuscation between “good guys” and “bad guys” has fallen away.
As fans already know, the “Rebels” animators looked for inspiration to the paintings and sketches of the late conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, whom Lucas hired in the early 1970s when “Star Wars” was just a germ of an idea. Before anyone really knew what “Star Wars” would look and feel like, McQuarrie had begun drawing rudimentary notions of droids, Wookiees and Sith Lords. One of the good guys in “Rebels,” a lumbering creature named Zeb Orrelios (voiced by Steven Blum), is a dead-ringer for McQuarrie’s earliest take on Chewbacca.
There’s a story here too, by the way: On a far-off planet that’s recently come under Imperial occupation, a skilled teenage thief named Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) runs into a band of thieves headed by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and unwittingly foils their latest heist. The more Ezra hangs out with Kanan’s crew, it begins to dawn on him that they’re working for a larger, secret alliance dedicated to overthrowing the Galactic Empire.
And that’s where the fun begins. That’s where it always did.
(one hour) premieres Friday at 9 p.m. on Disney Channel. Half-hour episodes of “Star Wars Rebels” on Disney XD begin Oct. 13 at 9 p.m.