Keeping things rolling, TV Roulette returns this week with a look at the television side of the the Star Wars universe with Star Wars Rebels. The latest line in Star Wars cartoons has a pretty big legacy to live up to, so let’s see if it does a good job of continuing the thankless job of fleshing out a universe George Lucas couldn’t be bothered to tell us fully about, right after a quick rundown.
Spoilers Likely Ahead
TV Roulette Week 13
Star Wars Rebels; ‘Legends of the Lasat,’ Season 2, Episode 12
February 3rd 2016
Have I Seen This Show Before?
I have seen bits and pieces of this when surfing through channels, but as a person who doesn’t live and breathe Star Wars I have just never felt compelled to watch it.
Let’s just get this out of the way: this is a prime example of an episode that needed to be two episodes but instead was forced to be one. This is especially a problem for a show that is already only a half-hour. Of course, even that wouldn’t be a problem if the show didn’t feel like it was wasting the precious minutes it has. Shows like Gravity Falls have figured out how to get the most out of every minute of screentime, which helps make each episode feel special (this is especially important considering Disney-based shows often air on the most inconsistent schedules, with long periods of time between new releases). But for the most part, ‘Legends of Lasat’ felt really forced. Not enough time is spent developing Zeb Orrelios’ (Steve Blum) emotional journey as he discovers the possibility of his people not being wiped out. Instead, the story skips around, and tries to use ideas about the force to hand wave a lot of actual character development away. Would a lot of this hit better if I had been watching this show on a regular basis, and just not popped in because the roulette wheel has spoken? Somewhat, I think, but not entirely. Rex is wracked with guilt over his failures in the past to protect his people from the Empire, but gets through all of his issues after basically just being told to believe over and over again. Two episodes would have really given the story time to breath and explore Rex’s emotional journey as he moves past his guilt to realize that failures in the past don’t doom the future. It also would have allowed this show to better accomplish one of the main jobs of these canon television Star Wars shows–flesh out the idea of the Force and the Star Wars world in general.
The Star Wars franchise has a lot of strengths, but specificity isn’t one of them. George Lucas always liked to keep an air of mystery to the way his world works in the movies, and even The Force Awakens takes a page out of his book by setting its story in a new political and military status quo without necessarily explaining how we got there. The TV shows (and the no-longer-explicitly-canon Expanded Universe from the books) were always meant to be the franchise’s way of filling in the blanks. The various Clone Wars shows did a very good job of explaining the basic gaps between the movies, but more importantly, establishing the delicate dynamics that are supposed to be in play in the prequel trilogy. These shows give a better explanation about the clone stormtroopers and how they interacted with the Jedi. They better established characters that are then tragically forced to turn on comrades in arms because of Order 66. They showed the cracks in the Jedi Council’s facade of perfect wisdom that drove Anakin to the Dark Side. And it is these shows that can really analyze what the Force means in this world beyond simply giving Jedi cool powers. This can be seen in ‘Legend of Lasat,’ as Chava (Grey Griffin) spends much of the time talking about prophecy and the Force guiding the Lasat to their new home world; but it all feels so rushed. Zeb’s path to acceptance should have felt earned, but instead it felt like a plot necessity so that they could finish this storyline in one episode and get back to other things happening in the show. For crying out loud, when they find the new Lirasan, they just casual say that other members of the Lasat are already there. They don’t even show them. That is just ridiculous. It is possible that this was a budget concern, but if that is true then the show should have planned things better. And don’t even get me started on how little sense the actual journey through the exploded star field actually made, because the answer was basically just, “The Force protected us, I guess.”
What’s more disappointing is, a show like this can generally be granted a lot of slack, because when you have to do so much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the minutiae of universe building, things are going to get rushed sometimes because a lot of exposition is needed. But this pushed that slack way too far, and ended up feeling like a jumbled mess. Most of the core cast isn’t really needed in the episode, and honestly the episode would have been better off figuring out a way to have the episode just contain Zeb, the two Lasat refugees, and maybe Ezra to help make things relate back to the Force in a clearer way. The problem with the clutter isn’t abstract, either; it distracted too much from the good parts! The use of Hondo Ohnaka (Jim Cummings) is amazing, and he adds a lot of flavor to the episode. The art style for the exploded star field is absolutely stunning to look at. When the episode takes a minute to allow the more heavy-handed dialogue to land it proves quite effective, but that doesn’t happen nearly enough, and the result overall is an episode hampered to a distracting degree.
The larger problem, though, is that it is kind of ridiculous that Star Wars Rebels is the only continual Star Wars we have right now (I refuse to count the Lego cartoons). I understand wanting to keep the movies special, but it is ridiculous that there hasn’t been more done with Star Wars on television. Obviously, a live action show would be a nice change, but not as necessary as one might think, because really animation is the best place for Star Wars to live if you aren’t going to have the money required to do the sort of epic things one expects to see in Star Wars. The problem is that the TV we have gotten has been so limiting. Star Wars at its core is for kids, and it is understandable that much of the TV product would be aimed at kids first. But Star Wars Rebels is aimed a bit too much at the young male demographic that Disney XD was created to attract to the Disney brand–which is a problem, because, well, young teenage boys are the fucking worst. As someone happy to be past those days, I can say my interests at that age are very different in a lot of ways than anything I liked before or after, mainly because it was almost impossible to focus on anything for any given amount of time. So that means TV programs made for young teenage boys have to be very specific, and, in a lot of ways, just plain bad. These shows are hyperkinetic to the point of incoherency because they’re afraid to sit still and risk losing interest. That’s a terrible formula for TV shows, and they should instead do what most of our culture does–ignore that period of male stupidity and just make a good show for everyone. That would attract a broader audience, and male teens will roll with it anyway, or they’ll go outside and play with firecrackers or some shit. At any rate the shows will be good. More importantly, television isn’t only viewed when it airs now, so once the boys grow out of this hellish stage they will be able to watch and enjoy the show. It’s just not worth trying to fully engage such a volatile and risky audience segment–because when you do, you end up with “Legend of Lasat,” which blew through meaningful character development just so it didn’t risk going too long without explosions and Jedi fights.
One thing Star Wars Rebels needs to be commended for that I didn’t mention is the narrative diversity of its characters (even if I didn’t get to see most of them utilized properly). Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) is a female badass in bounty hunter armor, Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) is the female owner of the ship the rebels fly, and Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a Padawan who survived the Jedi purge. The crew is an interesting mix that continues to showcase Star Wars‘ new commitment to diversity in its characters, and emphasize how the television cartoons have been leading the charge for years before it culminated in Star Wars: The Force Awakens being such a progressive film. Which goes to show how important these cartoons can and have been. Its a shame that the writing for this episode didn’t live up to the legacy that these shows have. Especially because, if this is to be our only Star Wars fix between our yearly movies, the least everyone involved can do is make sure it is worth such a designation. Because otherwise, what is the point in making these original shows? If it is just about the money, they are better off continuing to make as many Lego versions of Star Wars as possible, because at least then no one is pretending that there is supposed to be anything deeper going on with these shows.
Notes and Observations:
- Though brief, Kanan and Ezra did actually use their lightsabers in this episode. The understatement of this was kind of cool, because as badass as lightsabers are, they would be common enough in this world that every use doesn’t merit a celebration.
- Chopper is a nice bit of flavor on the ship. I especially enjoyed the banter he has with the crew, and the bit where Syndulla has to tell the droid that Jeb is coming back so the droid can’t have Jeb’s room.
- It was a nice touch when Ezra and Kanan use their Force powers to help power the ship, even if that sequence still makes very little sense.
- Zeb’s distain for prophecy is fun, especially when he calls out that prophecy types never admit when they are wrong, but instead just alter the prophecy.
- Agent Kallus has some sweet sideburns, but his villainy in this episode felt pretty stupid. If I am supposed to take him seriously as a villain, then the show failed. If I am not, then, well played with the sideburns.
- Hondo is so the best part of the episode, and watching him switch sides on a dime is amazing. Especially because when people turn on him he thinks it is brilliant as well.
Episode Grade: C+
Would I Watch More?
Not on a regular basis. Maybe I just don’t really care about what happened between Episodes III and IV, because this really didn’t do much for me. Maybe if Star Wars ever decided to do something a bit more adult on television I would care more, but for whatever reason this specific kids show didn’t draw me in. I might give it another shot in the future, because the world building the show is doing is quite impressive; I just don’t know if I trust the writing to be worth tuning in for on a regular basis. I hope that fear is proven wrong.
Should You Be Watching It?
Do you live and breathe Star Wars, and want to see something new while waiting for more movies to come out? Then yes, because this is really all you have right now, and even in a problematic episode, this show did a great job of continuing to build up the Star Wars Universe. That alone is worth watching for, because it will allow you to see things that the movies just don’t have room to show. If you aren’t a diehard Star Wars fan, however, meh. This may have just been a rough episode, but there were a lot of issues that feel more endemic to problems shows have as a whole. I wouldn’t say it isn’t worth watching at all, but it does feel like it is only important because of what it represents, more than what it actually is.
That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. Checking in on the current state of the Star Wars television universe was illuminating, even if I wish it would have been a more fun experience. Come back next week for more insight into the world of television. In the meantime, I really need to go work on my lightsaber techniques.