(I went as spoiler free as possible but if you haven’t watched the Rebels S2 finale, skip the discussion of the special feature From Apprentice to Adversary)
I think I was more excited than the kids when we heard season 2 of Star Wars Rebels was going to be a full 22 episodes (including the two-part Siege of Lothal). Along with sitting down to watch Episodes IV-VI with the kids for their first viewings, it was The Clone Wars (which I will always love for redeeming Anakin and giving me Ashoka Tano) and season 1 of Rebels that reminded me of the wonder and excitement of the Star Wars universe and reignited my immersion in the fandom (I, like so many others, fled in horror after the prequels which shall not be named).
The Clone Wars, however, is difficult to share fully with the kids: there are several episodes that are simply too intense, the youngest was terrified of the resurrected Darth Maul (and I can’t blame her), and the end of the series is so bleakly tragic even I felt a bit too uneasy to immerse fully. Rebels definitely has dark moments, even some brutal and heartbreaking ones but pain is tempered with hope, humor, family, just enough slapstick and sarcasm, and a Corellian YT-1300 light fighter’s worth of magic, making Rebels something around which my family could gather and in which we could lose ourselves together.
Some folks I talked too felt a bit let down by what they considered the “filler episodes” in season 2, the stories that moved away from the Rebellion to focus on smaller-scale events and character studies. Watching the Siege of Lothol again on the newly released Blu-Ray (yes, I did get a copy to review, yes the review is honest), and a bunch of the Rebels Recon featurettes, I was reminded of just how strenuously I disagreed with said folks and why.
Because season 2 had an additional seven episodes to work with, the audience was treated not only the overarching story of the nascent Rebellion (and glimpses of the younger selves of such major player as Leia and Vader) but an opportunity to step into the lives of each member of the Ghost’s crew, from Zeb (Legends of the Lasat, The Honorable Ones) to Sabine (The Protector of Concord Dawn) to Hera (Homecoming, in which we also get to see the usually suave Kanan make a complete ass of himself trying to impress Hera’s dad) to Chopper (The Forgotten Droid). We are reminded of why Kanan is so quick to mistrust the military structure of the Rebellion (The Siege of Lothol – and if you haven’t read the tie-in comic, Marvel’s Kanan: The Last Padawan, you should), of how lost Ezra was and, in some ways, still is (Legacy), and of Ashoka’s true power (Twilight of the Apprentice). While the main focus remained on our heroes, Rebels also did something rarely done in genre fiction, or indeed in any sort of storytelling: it showed us growth, change, and doubt on the part of a villain, and Agent Kallus (The Honorable Ones) no less, formerly one the Empire’s most staunch scions (I can’t wait to see where that goes). All of this character and world building added such magnificent detail to long ago and far away, maintaining a sweeping scope while, at the same time, allowing the viewer to connect to the story on a very personal level.
There’s a lot to learn from season 2 as well (yes, learn. It happens): it’s okay to be angry and afraid as long as you don’t let it control you (Kanan). There can be serious consequences for speaking up but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it (Ezra). It’s okay for men to cry and also to offer comfort (Ezra and Kanan). Be open to that which life is showing you instead of holding fast to what you think you know (Zeb and Kallus). Sometimes, you can go home again (Hera) and sometimes you can’t (Sabine). You won’t always win but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try (Ashoka). There is evil in the world but it can’t take you if you trust the still, small voice (Ezra and Maul). Love your family, biological or chosen. Be wiling to sacrifice for what’s important.
Favorite episodes? I’m glad you asked (you did ask, right?):
The small ones were, and still are, enamored with The Call, featuring the Purrgil (space squid/whales who are much cooler than that description makes them sound but I’m trying to avoid spoilers to the extent possible) and Ezra’s deep Force connection to the natural world. We’ve watched it… heck, probably fifteen or twenty times and it’s magical for all four of us every time. The Lost Commanders is a close second; how could it not be considering the return of two of the boy’s favorite Clones?
My favorite, finale aside, is The Honorable Ones for the reasons mentioned above. I will also include any moment Ashoka or Rex is around. Hubs is partial to Wings of the Master but it is a truth universally known that he has a thing for the Mon Calamari.
In short? Season 2 of Rebels is superior stuff. I would even venture to call it one of the strongest entries into the Star Wars canon (old or revised).
Along with all 22 episodes, the Blu-Ray also has some neat featurettes including: this seasons’ Rebels Recons, Connecting the Galaxy, and From Apprentice to Adversary (the section you should skip because spoilers).
The Rebels Recons are short recaps containing tidbits, trivia, and conversations with the show’s cast and crew. The trivia was my favorite bit but then, as a writer, I’m a sucker for world building and connections in all their forms. I had not idea, for instance, that Ezra, born on Empire Day, is just two days older than Luke and Leia or (Clone Wars spoiler) that it is highly probably Sabine’s mother was in the throne room when Maul killed Sateen (the Mandalorian leader for the majority of The Clone Wars and, possibly, Obi-Wan’s forbidden love). I’d wait until you’ve watched a given episode to view the Recons as they are, in part, recaps, but they’re definitely worth your time.
Connecting the Galaxy is a summary of the easter eggs linking Rebels to the larger Star Wars universe. Some of them I caught but a fair few of them I hadn’t and they were all pretty cool. It’s such a massive universe, having the important bits highlighted helps connects all the dots and star and planets (I didn’t, for example, notice Hondo’s flag hanging outside Maz’s haven in TFA). There was one I expected to be included that wasn’t (it involves Zeb’s character design) but maybe it will come up next season.
From Apprentice to Adversary is the best of the special features lot, tracing Anakin and Ashoka’s relationship from its inception to the thing that happens at the end of season 2. Listening Dave Filoni talk about the arc he planned from the beginning, the hints he dropped in The Clone Wars even though he had no idea at that point Rebels would come to fruition… I won’t lie, the writer and the fan girl in me got chills when he mentioned that Anakin trained Ashoka in a specific fighting style which would give her an advantage over larger opponents like him, implying he was preparing Ashoka specifically for a confrontation between them, that he knew she would one day have to face his Dark Side and he wanted her to win… These two… goodness, these two… I think the moment they said goodbye in The Clone Wars was one of the only times I have flat out bawled during an episode of television; the split second during the Rebels finale when he’s Anakin again was another.
Along with the DVD, I got some also great goodies:
Kanan’s Lightsaber (Hasbro): I am not usually a huge fan of toys which make noise. When the kids were babies, I specifically asked people not to purchase such things (I was, of course, completely ignored). I have to admit I love this thing and partly for the sound fx. They’re decent recreations of what we hear in the shows and movies but programmed at an acceptable decibel range (excited child shrieking excluded). The other toy sabers we have collapse all the way and one of the segments inevitably gets jammed either in the hilt or in one of the other segments; this saber is designed with a stationary segment adjacent to the hilt, which means the extension of the rest is smooth and even my four year old hasn’t been able to jam it (yet). It also makes the saber sturdier when it is inevitably dropped during some experimental maneuver.
Stormtrooper Blaster (Hasboro): It is Nerf and can launch projectiles, which makes it the automatic favorite around these parts. I like that the barrel length is variable (makes it easier to duck the wild children) and is easier to aim because it has a stabilizer you can put on your shoulder. We’ve already lost the darts from package (totally the kids’ faults) but it was easy enough to find replacements; if you’re planning on purchasing, I’d go ahead and get them both together to prevent lag and your six year old asking you ever ten minutes when the new darts are going to arrive.
DK Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide: We’ve taken this particular volume out of the library approximately fifty-seven times and it’s possible I’m more excited than the kids we now own it. The graphics in the DK books are fantastic, full stop, and the text is clear and simple, which means my beginning reader can interact with it either with me or on his own. The younger one is perfectly happy staring at the art for hours and, because she knows what a lot of the objects are, is starting to sight read some of the text. The book is divided into four sections (Characters, Weapons, Vehicles, and Locations) and they’re well marked which cuts down on kid frustration when seeking out a particular entry. It also means Mom can find the answer to a given question quickly, thus convincing her children she is brilliant, at least until they both become proficient readers.
Disney Star Wars Rebels “Wallet”: At least, that’s why my daughter is calling it. A small binder that contains markers, pencils, a ruler, glue stick, eraser, and paper the kit would be great for any Star Wars loving kid who needs school supplies, though I think, since I have two ST loving kids, we’re going to reserve as a compact entertainment device (since it fits easily into mom’s bag without weighing it down) to be used in situations in which (horror!) the children may have to wait of something.
All the awesome.
The Star Wars: Rebels Season 2 Blu-Ray was released on August 30th.
And at the moment of writing, the premier of Season 3 is in T-minus-24 days, which can’t go by quickly enough.