I still remember where I was when I heard that Star Wars was back. It was the day Assassin’s Creed 3 launched and as I was coming to terms with how horribly disappointing that game was to me, something uplifting blasted onto my twitter feed.
DISNEY PURCHASES LUCASFILM, EPISODE VII COMING IN 2015?
Or something like that. Specifics weren’t important because Star Wars: Episode VII was finally a reality, finally coming after so many childhood years spent fantasizing in my backyard about the further adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia. Of course, Star Wars never really went away, but the excitement surrounding the franchise had nosedived into a baseline of diminishing returns with tastes of the universe’s greater storytelling potential coming in books, games, and comics.
One constant source of solid Star Wars storytelling that remained after the prequel trilogy was The Clone Wars cartoon. While it got off to a rocky start with the animated theatrical film, by two-and-a-half seasons in, I was getting the tales from a galaxy far, far, away that I had truly been missing. Thirty-ish episodes and a painfully mediocre film was a big investment before getting to the good stuff, but when Clone Wars finally stepped up to bat, it knocked it out of the park.
And so, with the return of the main series of films, Clone Wars died a quiet death as the prominent source of Star Wars storytelling. Plans for the final season were scrapped, slapped together, and unceremoniously uploaded to Netflix. Star Wars was “cool” again, and a serialized cartoon set in the prequel-era that aired on Saturday mornings was decidedly “uncool”.
But The Clone Wars was offered something of a second life in Star Wars Rebels. Like its predecessor, the series was slow to start and aimed at a younger audience. But with Season 3 beginning this weekend, Rebels has evolved into an essential piece of Star Wars storytelling.
The series follows a group of soldiers and pilots attempting to fight against the Imperial forces just before the events of the first Star Wars film. Thanks to impeccable art design, music cues, and cameos, Rebels feels as in-universe as any other Star Wars story. Even thought it’s an animated series, Rebels carries real stakes and you get the sense that it will have consequences on the greater Star Wars mythology.
For example, Season 3 reintroduces Grand Admiral Thrawn to the proper canon timeline. The fan-favorite villain has been lovingly recreated in true fashion and will pose the biggest threat on the show yet. Characters from The Clone Wars have been given closure in Rebels, and hints at the greater nature of the force have been made in spades. If The Force Awakens was a return to the cinema for Star Wars, Rebels is the kind of serialized storytelling that will preserve everything fans love about the universe.