Review

Disney is the driving force of 'Star Wars Rebels'

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
'Rebels' is the first product of the 'Star Wars' / Disney empire, and a Disney cartoon is what it is

What can we say of "Star Wars"? Three terrible prequel movies have done nothing to dim its luster or impede its progress.

It is not exempt from criticism, even from fans (Jar Jar Binks, come on down), but it is immune from it: too huge, too sprawling, too much in the air and everywhere, like Obi-Wan Kenobi after Darth Vader cut him down, to feel the sting of your rapier wit. Even George Lucas admits to comprehending only a portion of the material that his multimedia, multiplatform saga has spawned.

The latest expression of the brand, sent to hold your attention until the arrival of the seventh live-action film, is "Star Wars Rebels," a new cartoon series that premieres Friday on the Disney Channel before taking up its regular post, Mondays on Disney XD. (Not surprisingly, it has already been renewed for a second season.) Many members of the creative team are veterans of Cartoon Network's six-season "The Clone Wars," and young enough to have this stuff in their blood.

Notably, "Rebels" is the first tangible fruit of the incorporation of "Star Wars" into the Walt Disney empire, and a Disney cartoon is very much what this is. Whatever it takes from the old films — and it takes a lot, including designs taken from the original concept art of the late Ralph McQuarrie, with a bright palate and painterly look, and photographic explosion effects as in the original trilogy — it is as shaped by the current house style as any of the more traditional folk or fairy tales the studio has turned to gold and/or dross.

Friday's opening episode, the double-length "Spark of Rebellion," borrows elements from Alexander Korda's "The Thief of Bagdad" — the young hero, a nimble "street rat" named Ezra (Taylor Gray), bears a striking resemblance to Disney's Aladdin, though with bright blue eyes — and, indeed, the original trilogy itself.

Its motley crew has a vague structural resemblance to the Millennium Falcon gang, including the aforementioned Ezra, within whom the Force is strong (and whose 14 years, in a story set five years before "A New Hope," makes him Luke Skywalker's contemporary); a wisecracking ranger (Freddie Prinze Jr.), part Han Solo, part Ben Kenobi; a big strong alien (Steve Blum); two female characters, a graffiti-artist demolition expert from Mandalore (Tiya Sircar) and a Twi'lek pilot (Vanessa Marshall); and a wastebasket-shaped droid with comical attitude.

Although "Clone Wars" had its moments of humor, it was darker and more naturalistic than "Rebels," which incorporates a lot of slapstick and jokes and both the funny faces and looks of literally wide-eyed wonder the studio has specialized in for decades. Though firmly in the Lucas tradition, this is also a Disney cartoon, for a Disney crowd and a Disney corporation — watching, you can almost feel the plastic and the plush — and whatever the characters are up to, however cute or sentimental the business, it is smartly designed and cinematically staged, and not hard to enjoy.

I do think that the animated cartoons, compared with the live-action cartoons, are the best expressions of the brand since "The Empire Strikes Back." You may now guess my age.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion'

Where: Disney

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-Y7 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 7)

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