Monday, November 2, 2015

Star Wars Rebels: Kanan's Story

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When Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced that it would be producing a new series of Star Wars sequels and spinoffs, I had some really mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was really excited about seeing more of my favorite sci-fi universe. On the other hand, I was also a little nervous about what they were planning to do with it; after all, the prequels weren’t nearly the same quality as the original trilogy. And on top of that, Disney decided to get rid of the entire extended universe!

Now, I wasn’t quite as upset about that as some Star Wars fans I know, who had dedicated years to collecting and reading all of the EU books. In my opinion, it made sense for Disney to scrap the entire EU so that they could have a clean slate to create their own Star Wars universe instead of having to fit their new movies into a universe which has already been created and spans millennia of Star Wars history. Looking at this in comic book terms, it’s little different from Marvel Studios making changes to the characters and events of the comics when adapting them to the movies.

With that being said, however, I was still disappointed because it meant that so many characters I really like are unlikely to appear in the Star Wars universe any more.

In order for me to really get behind the new Star Wars universe, Disney needed to provide me with new characters in whose stories I can become invested. And even now, a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters, I can definitely say that they have done so already. In fact, it started last year already, with the first season of Star Wars Rebels. For a series directed primarily at children, Star Wars Rebels is a surprisingly mature series.

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Here is a very brief overview of the series for those who have not been watching it. In a nutshell, Star Wars Rebels follows the exploits of a small group of Rebel freedom fighters operating on the Outer Rim planet of Lothal about 5 years before Star Wars: A New Hope. The Rebels are the crew of a smuggler ship named the Ghost: Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi survivor of Order 66; Hera Syndulla, the Twi’lek pilot; Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian warrior; Zeb Orrelios, a Lasat warrior and one of the last survivors of his species; and Ezra Bridger, a Force-sensitive human orphan who falls in with the group early on. The series follows their efforts to fight against the Empire’s forces on Lothal and help the innocent civilians who suffer under the Empire’s oppression. The second season just started a couple weeks ago, showing the expansion of the Rebellion from independent cells into a unified fighting force.

Though the series is shot as though from the perspective of the younger characters (Ezra and Sabine), you can very easily look at the entire series as being Kanan’s story, not Ezra’s. How? Thus far, the first two seasons have focused on Kanan’s development and his journey of discovery, leading him to acknowledge and accept his role and position in the galaxy.

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Season 1- The Jedi

When we first meet Kanan, he is something of a rogue smuggler and freedom fighter using his blaster more than anything else and serving as one of the two leaders of the Ghost crew, along with Hera. It is not until much later that we learn his story (which is the subject of a comic book series from Marvel): he was a Jedi padawan during the Clone Wars, apprenticed to Master Depa Billaba. However, in the Order 66 massacre Master Billaba was murdered while buying time for her apprentice (Kanan) to escape. After the destruction of the Jedi, Kanan drifted around the galaxy, hiding his Force sensitivity and Jedi training and refusing to wear his full lightsaber openly.

This all changes in “Spark of Rebellion,” the movie prequel to season 1, when the Ghost crew attempts to rescue a shipload of Wookiees being sent into slavery. It turns out to be a setup as Agent Kallus is waiting for them, and the crew and Wookiees are pinned down by stormtroopers. However, this is when Kanan makes the decision to stop hiding: he steps out of cover, casually dodging laser bolts as he walks out between the two sides. He stops, takes out the two pieces of his lightsaber, puts it together, and ignites it (probably for the first time since the Clone Wars). Suddenly, he’s no longer a “space cowboy” fighting back against the Empire; he is a Jedi. (For the record, that is easily the best moment in “Spark of Rebellion”) The movie ends with Kanan offering to train Ezra as a Jedi.

The next key moment comes in “Rise of the Old Masters” (1x03), when the crew hears a transmission stating that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli survived Order 66 and is being held in a high-security Imperial prison. Because he suffers from major insecurities over his own failures—fleeing and leaving his Master to die as well as his incomplete training—Kanan leaps at the opportunity to rescue a great Master who could train Ezra herself. However, on finding Master Unduli’s cell, Kanan and Ezra discover that she has been dead for years and the Inquisitor was only using her bones as a lure to draw renegade Jedi into a trap. The crew manages to escape the trap, and Kanan and Ezra have a talk. Both reveal their respective insecurities—Ezra thinks Kanan is rejecting him; Kanan does not think he is worthy to train Ezra—and at the end of the episode Kanan resolves to train Ezra himself, despite his insecurities.

After Ezra taps into the dark side to defeat the Inquisitor in “Gathering Forces” (1x07), Kanan takes Ezra to a Jedi Temple on Lothal in “Path of the Jedi” (1x08). There both of them are tested by the temple as well as the temple’s spiritual guardian, Yoda (who appears as a disembodied voice). In the temple Ezra learns to accept what it means to be a Jedi and receives a kyber crystal. At the same time, Kanan waits outside the testing chamber with the bones of old masters, and Yoda’s voice comes to him, as well. Significantly, Yoda leads Kanan to accept his position as a Jedi and that he is now a Jedi Master not because of his training and experience but because Ezra needs him to be his Master.

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Everything comes to a head after Kanan’s capture by the Empire in “Call to Action” (1x11), when Kanan is transferred to the prison on Mustafar (“Rebel Resolve,” (1x12)). In “Fire Across the Galaxy” (1x13), the Ghost crew rescues Kanan, but Kanan and Ezra must face off against the Inquisitor. During the battle—which might be the best lightsaber duel in the Star Wars universe from both a technical and an emotional standpoint (at least including Rebels and the 6 movies)—the Inquisitor knocks Ezra off the platform, leading Kanan to believe that Ezra was killed. Though he flirts with despair momentarily, Kanan puts his fear and despair aside, opening himself up fully to the Force. Afterward Kanan is completely fearless as he fights and defeats the Inquisitor, dual-wielding his and Ezra’s lightsabers.

By the time he and Ezra come face-to-face with “Fulcrum”— Ahsoka Tano, the former apprentice of Anakin Skywalker during the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series who is now a rogue Jedi after leaving the Order—Kanan has fully embraced his role as a Jedi. And just in time, too, as Ahsoka believes that Kanan and Ezra give the people hope—hope that the Jedi are coming back and the Empire can be defeated.

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Season 2- The General

As of now we’re only about a third of the way through season 2, but it’s already clear that this season is focusing on Kanan’s acceptance of the Jedi’s traditional role from the Clone Wars of military leader.

This starts right off the bat with “The Siege of Lothal” (2x01-2), which sees the Ghost crew teaming up with the Rebel cells which rescued them from Mustafar in “Fire Across the Galaxy.” However, the crew is divided about whether they should continue fighting as part of the larger group or should return to operating alone. Kanan in particular does not want to become involved in another war, considering how much the last one cost him personally. Instead, he wants to go back to working by themselves. Unfortunately, on returning to Lothal they are confronted by Vader, who nearly kills both Jedi before tracking them back to the Rebel fleet and singlehandedly taking out both the Rebel escort squadron and the Rebel flagship. Subsequently the group agrees to join the Rebellion officially, with Kanan (and to a lesser extent Ezra) taking on more of a leadership role alongside Ahsoka and Commander Sato.

Kanan is further forced to face his reluctance to accept command in “The Lost Commanders” (2x03) when Ahsoka sends the crew to find a friend of hers who has some information which the Rebels can use. This friend turns out to be one of a trio of clone troopers living on an old Republic AT-TE (specifically Captain Rex from Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Kanan distrusts clones for their role in Order 66 (and I suppose you really can’t blame him) and shows his distrust every time one of them calls him “General” or “Commander.” However, the Imperial assault in “Relics of the Old Republic” (2x04) forces the clones and Jedi to work together, with Captain Rex immediately deferring to Kanan’s leadership when Kanan agrees to act as their “eyes” during the sandstorm. When the clones tell them to take advantage of the AT-ATs’ distance to escape, Kanan is all-too-willing to leave them to die to cover their escape, but Ezra appeals to his sense of obligation to Ahsoka, and Kanan resolves to return for the clones. I think this moment—when Rex is accepting his fate even as Kanan, Ezra, and Zeb drop in to save the day with air superiority and Jedi awesomeness—more than any other so far exemplifies where the season is going. Even now Kanan still struggles with his mistrust of Rex, but he still accepts that as a Jedi he must lead.

By the end of the season, I expect that Kanan will be ready to fully embrace the role he needs to take as a military leader in the Rebellion. And I expect that Captain Rex will help him do it.

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Kanan is not by any means a Jedi in the same mold as Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, or Mace Windu. He is not as adept as any of the above—due in no small part to his interrupted and incomplete training. He is not as accomplished a general as any of the above—due in no small part to his lack of experience, having only been a Padawan during the Clone Wars. However, these circumstances do not excuse him from accepting and embracing the role which he needs to take in the growing Rebellion. He is a Jedi Master not because of his training or experience but because he has a Padawan who needs to learn. He is a Jedi Commander not because of his military experience or his desire for war but because the Rebellion needs leadership and that’s what Jedi provide.

I really like how well this series is filling in the gaps at the beginning of the Rebellion. One aspect of the EU that always held my interest was the idea of renegade Jedi who survived Order 66 and lived through the Empire to join the Rebellion or join the New Jedi Order after the Battle of Endor. I am very curious to see if Star Wars Rebels will expand on the three Jedi we have met so far by bringing in more Jedi survivors. And at the same time, I am very curious to see how this small, rebuilding Jedi Order will impact the events of the new trilogy, where it appears that Luke is just about the only remaining Jedi.

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