As we all gear up for new installments of the Star Wars saga, some of the best storytelling to ever happen in that universe is going on right under our noses. Tonight sees the two-part premiere of the second season of Star Wars: Rebels and I'm here to tell you that if you're a fan of Star Wars you can't miss it.
Set just a few years prior to the events of Episode IV, Rebels gives us an intimate look at the formation of the early Rebellion in its fight against the Empire. The first season was emotional, surprising, and felt like the Star Wars we've always loved. It brought together a group of characters that showed us the best of the saga, from former Padawans who had survived Order 66 and kids born into oppression all the way to freedom fighters and Mandalorian warriors: it's all here. And with the finale of season one, we were promised something truly special: a confrontation between Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker's former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano.
The two-part episode itself focuses on Vader's mission to eliminate the titular rebels who destroyed Governor Tarkin's Imperial Star Destroyer over Mustafar. The only reason they were able to escape was through the intervention of their secret contact, Fulcrum, who turned out to be former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.
Ahsoka's fate might have been one of the largest dangling threads left in the wake of the cancellation of the popular series The Clone Wars. Though there's a 14 year gap that leaves many unanswered questions. I asked Supervising Director Dave Filoni about the decision to bring that character into this new iteration of Star Wars. "One of the first things people always want to know, even in early story outlines, was what would Ahsoka's involvement be? Would we use her or not? And to be honest, we were all pretty careful about using her as a character because we had had some very definite plans for her going up to the end of The Clone Wars. I wanted to make sure if we used her it'd be in a way that I thought was consistent with where we were going in that series and where we ended up."
Tonight's season premiere, which was screened for a screaming audience of thousands-myself included-at Star Wars Celebration in April, and it certainly feels like that use of Ahsoka was perfect. The episode, which will air on Disney XD, brings together all the elements of Star Wars that we love, and hints at the confrontation between Darth Vader and his former apprentice, but never once short-changes the contributions of the lead characters of the show.
In fact, Darth Vader is so menacing and capable in this premiere, I wonder if all of the Rebels teamed up together could stand up against him long enough to do anything other than run away. This episode is easily the scariest the dark lord of the Sith has ever been since his initial introduction aboard the Tantive IV in the first Star Wars movie. And, of course, he's voiced again by none other than James Earl Jones who seems to take a grim sort of glee in hunting down those he would have fought beside in a former life.
Star Wars: Rebels marries together beautifully the two eras of Star Wars George Lucas gave us, and in no way more perfectly than tomorrow's episode. And even though George Lucas is no longer directly involved in Star Wars, his influence is relied upon every day on the show. "There's a tremendous respect for the work [George] did and the ideas he had," Filoni says. "Especially for the ideas that never really made it all the way to finished. I know that the existing Clone Wars scripts that we finished are basically revered as working continuity for the most part. I know any of the story ideas that were pitched for other work George is doing are all still thought of as good places to work from. No one person can really fill that role [George had] and I don't think anybody is rushing to do that either, and it's mainly out of respect. We're working for a love and respect for Star Wars and that's across the board in everything Lucasfilm is doing."
That dedication to what's come before is one of the things that makes watching the animated companions to the Star Wars films so enriching. They add deeply to the mythology and challenge you to think about the story differently. It brings to the table an enormous package of context that makes the Star Wars saga even better.
If you're a fan of Star Wars, especially a fan of Darth Vader, then the season two premiere of Rebels is exactly what you need. It's old-fashioned serialized storytelling, wonderfully animated, voiced by some of the best acting talents in the industry, and put together with an unparalleled love for the cultural icon that is Star Wars.
The season two premiere movie airs Saturday, June 19 on Disney XD at 9pm ET/PT. After this, new episodes will roll out in the fall during the lead up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Bryan Young is the author of "A Children's Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination" and "The Serpent's Head," the editor-in-chief of the nerd news and review site Big Shiny Robot!, and is the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, "Full of Sith."