Should be a force to be reckoned with...
Season One Review
New characters, old favourites, a very familiar design and that glorious music - a new hit series?As the Star Wars juggernaut gathers speed towards December 2015 and The Force Awakens, the unceremonious cancellation of The Clone Wars left room in the schedule for a new animated series from Disney and LucasAnimation. Just as The Clone Wars bridged the gap between Episodes II and III (and went a long way to expanding the universe and explaining away many of the discrepancies in the films) so Star Wars Rebels bridges the gap between Episode III and IV, telling the story of a small group of resistance fighters who sow the seeds of rebellion that leads up to the capture of Princess Leia. It is still early days and the series is still finding its feet somewhat, with the earlier episodes having a very ‘kid friendly’ attitude.However as the stories progress and the stakes begin to rise the tone and focus of the show shifts into something far more akin to The Clone Wars latter seasons where a far more sinister element enters the narrative. This can only be good. Where it does win out is in the design of the universe; being tied much closer to Episode IV most of the prequel ideas have been replace with ships, guns and characters that resemble something much more familiar. The story tells of a group of smugglers and their finding of a force gifted youngster, who is taken on as a padawan, and the group's growing aspirations to cause as much grief to the Empire as their activities can generate; their microcosm being a metaphor for the whole galaxy.
Picture QualityThe discs present a broadcast correct widescreen 1.78:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and are Region free. This computer animated series holds some lovely detail, both in the character makeup and intricate backgrounds. Yes, the characters themselves are very stylised (facial features and, especially, hair are borderline basic) but this frees up the rendering to add in depth to skin texture (human and alien), clothing has a solidity to it; but where it really opens up is in the weapons, computer consoles, mid-ground equipment and background landscapes. Check out the star fields in space, or the light sabre hilts, or the flight deck consoles, or the space chess boards! Real love has gone into detailing the sets which are based upon Ralph McQuarrie’s original design drawings used to sell the original film to the studios.
A fantastic image, as you would expect from a purely digital sourceColour is well defined with strong use of the primaries each having well defined grading. The light sabres have an excellent glow to them (red and blue) while explosions are suitably hot. Blue tones of night are nicely cool, while greens look lush when called upon. Contrast and brightness are set to give good punch and depth to the picture, check out the pitch of space with the excellent rendering of the star fields. The animation holds shadow detail when needed, but this is animation so blacks are limited to the design. Digitally there are no compression problems or edge enhancement. The (very) occasional bout of banding was seen, blink and you miss it judder and even less aliasing was noticed, but on the whole this is a fantastic image, as you would expect from a purely digital source.
Sound QualityI'll concentrate on the English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Shame this is not lossless. However, the sound field is suitably layered and throws some serious weight to the speakers. Being Star Wars there are plenty of opportunities to add to the surround field, flybys, ground craft, lasers, explosions are just some of the effects you can expect to hear. Dialogue is never lost in the mix, always being audible, sounding very natural and given a little directionality when required. However it is Kevin Kiner’s reimaging (or not) of John Williams’ iconic score, which sweeps majestically through the speakers landing you in the centre of the space port. Bass is well maintained with the sub getting a thorough workout during the action sequences or Star Destroyer flybys (awesome!) though it seldom reaches the depths to which the very best can. Otherwise this is a terrific track.
ExtrasRebels Recon (30 & 45 mins) – Split over the two discs, Rebels Recon, are a ‘Dr Who Confidential’ type behind the scenes featurettes from StarWars.com which looks at selected episodes in sometimes very close detail, includes interviews with cast and crew about how the stories developed and what the episodes represent – plenty of spoilers!
Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (5 mins) – Selected Star Wars: Rebels cast and crew appear at SWC 2015 in a Q&A event; horribly edited; why not include the whole thing?
Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22 mins) – Episode by episode recap/overview of the whole of the first season, narrated by Kanan; total waste of time.
Animated Shorts (12 minutes): The Four animated shorts used in the original promotion for the show; titled: The Machine in the Ghost, Art Attack, Entanglement and Property of Ezra Bridger.
Season 2: A Look Ahead (7 mins): Creator Dave Filoni exposits on what is to come.
Blu-ray VerdictStar Wars Rebels is the latest CG animation series from Disney and Lucas Animation replacing the ill-fated The Clone Wars and bridging the gap between Episode III and IV feature films. It tells the story of a rag-bag set of smugglers aboard a Millennium Falcon type space ship whose activities cause the Galactic Empire no end of trouble. When their paths cross with a young street urchin, Ezra - who shows a talent for the force – Kanan the smuggler gang leader and a Jedi himself, takes him on as a Padawan, leading them all into the sights of the evil Inquisitor (a dark Jedi trained in ways of the Darkside). As the stories progress their rebellious behaviour as well as their Imperial entanglements become analogous to the wider struggle against the Empire.
The series is showing good promise, although the early episodes were very ‘kid friendly’ the latter shows have real potential with a darker edge as the stakes get higher. Packed with interesting designs much closer to the original Star Wars and the return of characters we know and love (and one or two surprises as well) this first season is off to a great start. If it can keep up the momentum of the finale it should be a force to be reckoned with.
This first season is off to a great start
As a Blu-ray set, Disney’s disc is pretty good; the picture is excellent being bright, detailed with strong blacks and no artefacts; while the sound, despite being only Dolby Digital 5.1, is still well layered, rousing and presents a terrific amount of effects. The extra features are a bit of a let-down, though the Rebels Recon behind the scenes filming is worth the time.
You can buy Star Wars Rebels on Blu-ray here
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