The flawed but likeable characters. The incredible spectacle. An team of underdogs fighting overwhelming odds. A huge plot twist that nobody sees coming.
The Path of a Hero
There are many reasons why the first Star Wars movie, aka A New Hope — and in fact, the entire original trilogy — worked. The list above is just a handful of them. But one the greatest reasons that Star Wars transcended "blockbuster movie" status to become a veritable cornerstone of pop culture is because it follows the classical Hero's Journey story structure. The Hero's Journey is a kind of story that resonates deep within the human consciousness.
It goes like this.
A hero rises from obscurity, faces one trial after another, falling hard but getting back up again. He is counseled by a wise mentor, joined by loyal friends, faces an enemy stronger than himself, and overcomes incredible adversity to save the world. (Er, the galaxy.) This plot structure has been used in countless movies, TV shows, novels and more. Neo followed this path in The Matrix. Katniss Everdeen demonstrated the perfect hero archetype in The Hunger Games. Jack Shepard became the destined hero on Lost.
Don't Call Them Copycats
The first season of Star Wars Rebels is out on Blu-ray on Monday, Sept. 1. The good folks at Lucasfilm were kind enough to send over a copy a little early, and watching these episodes and all of the bonus features reminded me why the original trilogy was so great — and why Rebels so perfectly captures the tone, style, and spirit that made it work.
For starters, Rebels cleverly remixes the character traits and personalities of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and the rest into a form that's both familiar and fresh. But they're hardly carbon copies of the Star Wars inhabitants we love.
Instead of a single Jedi, this crew boasts two: Kanan, the Han Solo-like rogue who's good with a blaster but was secretly a Jedi before the Empire's rise; and Ezra, the young hero just beginning to learn the ways of the Force. Shades of Leia's feisty-but-nurturing side can be witnessed in Hera, the gifted pilot and loyal Rebel who leads the crew.
Chewie's gruff, animalistic nature is present in Zeb, a short-tempered warrior whose look is based on Ralph McQuarrie's original design for Chewbacca. R2-D2 gets a perfect successor in the cranky but reliable astromech droid C1-10P, aka "Chopper." And to keep things relevant, a dash of modern sensibilities are present in Sabine, the brilliant Mandalorian munitions specialist who excels at heat-of-the-moment improvisation and has an affinity for tagging her targets with Rebel symbols.
Each member of the crew has a deep, personal grudge against the Empire, and each one appears to be on a Hero's Journey of his or her own. Every one of them aspires to be better than what they currently are (though one or two of them would never admit it), and that's a desire shared by the motley gang from the original film trilogy.
Why It Succeeds
Star Wars Rebels is already a huge hit with a loyal fanbase, and the reason why is simple: it's a worthy successor to the original films. (It's also everything that the prequels aren't, but that's another argument for another day.)
Rebels hits all the right notes, tapping into that magical formula that fans know and love. A cynical person might see the series as a carefully strategized creation that trades on nostalgia. But the Blu-ray release, and particularly the behind-the-scenes features, aptly demonstrate how much love, thought, and care poured into every episode of the show. Star Wars is in very good hands.
Sure, it starts a little slow (one early episode is about two characters stealing a TIE Fighter — and that's pretty much it). But it finds its groove quickly — much faster than Star Wars: The Clone Wars did — and everything clicks into place. The crew makes friends, faces betrayals, fights Stormtroopers, and digs into their mysterious pasts. Over the course of just 13 half-hour episodes, this collection of brand-new characters somehow become integral to the Star Wars saga. I defy you to watch it and not find yourself loving and rooting for Hera, Kanan, Ezra, Sabine, and Zeb by the end.
The Blu-ray is a great way to get caught up before season 2 begins, and that's something you should definitely do. The second season is upping the stakes in every way, sending the Ghost out into the wider galaxy as part of the Rebel Alliance. Darth Vader enters the picture, voiced by James Earl Jones himself, while Grand Moff Tarkin takes a personal interest in stopping our heroes at all costs. And some familiar faces not seen since the Clone Wars are resurfacing....
Star Wars Rebels: Season 1 on Blu-ray is in stores on Tuesday, Sept. 1.