Riding high from an excellent first season, the success of The Force Awakens, and the renewed interest for everything Star Wars, the season two of Star Wars Rebels did not rest on its laurels and gave fans another thrilling ride in the galaxy far, far away.
Compared to the first season, the crew of Ghost encounters a lot more dangers, the stakes are getting higher, the rebellion spreading, and the Empire is starting to take them very seriously. So seriously in fact that Darth Vader himself thought them special enough to warrant his attention. And when Darth Vader – in his suit from A New Hope – decides to give something his full attention, it’s going to be a very dark time for our heroes indeed.
The writers managed to do several things at once: push the story forward, connect our heroes to the past, and open the way for its bright (or dark) future. This season just seemed to have a (near) perfect balance of those three. It brought back old characters, explored the usual Star Wars themes, connected Rebels to the greater story of Star Wars….all the while staying true to its independent narrative. Despite old names like Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, Darth Vader, and Yoda adding luster to the series, it’s still all about Hera, Kanan and the rest of the crew. Each member gets their own chance in the spotlight (even Chopper!), allowing the writers to flesh out their identities by filling in the blanks in their own histories. Given the nature of the over-arching plot of the Jedi versus Inquisitors, it’s very easy to call some of the episodes as “filler”. But fillers they’re absolutely not. The Ghost is their own little rebel cell and they’re bound to go to adventures that has little or nothing to do with the ancient battle between the Force’s light and dark sides.
The connection to the Clone Wars series was made properly and with respect to each production’s differences in time and mood. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the man who helmed both shows: Dave Filoni. Despite the debacle of not being able to properly finish The Clone Wars so that it leads nicely into the Battle of Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith (which wasn’t even his fault to begin with), Filoni was able to keep it simple, faithful, and true. Simply put, this show is a prime example of how an Expanded Universe of any property should be made: respectful of the source, consistent with its themes, and expands the universe, not just the story (a flaw that was very common in the old EU).
Visually, Rebels feels a lot more steady. Personally, I think the animation is a lot better than Clone Wars in that there are scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Wars movie. I really appreciate how their animations preserve the identities of each character. You can clearly see the differences in skill level between Ahsoka (who was a very advanced Padawan learner), and Kanan (who was very green when Order 66 came). If you’re a little sharp, you’ll also notice how much dependent this season’s Inquisitors are with their roto-sabers as opposed to the Grand Inquisitor who showed a lot of skill (which will be explained in one very revealing episode). Now, I’d like to venture out and say that Rebels is better animated than The Clone Wars, but I can’t quantify that statement (The Clone Wars did have its moments. A lot of them, in fact). But it’s smoother to my eyes, and better suited to the atmosphere it is set.
Ultimately, Star Wars Rebels Season 2 delivers because it gave what it promised, the build up was real, and the showdown worthy to be added in the annals of classic Star Wars confrontations. While some issues are still left hanging (Maul, Ezra’s brush with the Dark Side, Ahsoka), it doesn’t disappoint, and the series is better prepared to walk down a darker, more dangerous path as the narrative path to Rogue One draws near.