A Long Time Ago: The Original Trilogy’s Influence on Star Wars Rebels

How the work of McQuarrie and more helped shape the world of Star Wars Rebels.

Many elements come together to form the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy. The visuals, the dialogue, the overall tone — they feel like Star Wars and nothing else. With Star Wars Rebels, which is set roughly five years before A New Hope, capturing that spirit was essential. One could argue that the show would feel inauthentic without it. But Star Wars Rebels captures it masterfully, and in numerous ways.

Ralph McQuarrie concept art from the original Star Wars trilogy, used as inspiration for Star Wars Rebels

Ralph McQuarrie concept art from the original Star Wars trilogy.

Star Wars Rebels - Lothal Capital City

Lothal Capital City, as seen in Star Wars Rebels.

As is well-documented, Star Wars Rebels went right back to the source — original Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie — to provide the aesthetic blueprint for the series. Returning to McQuarrie’s work was a long time desire for executive producer Dave Filoni, an artist himself. Many of the vistas and cityscapes, including Lothal’s capital city, were inspired by McQuarrie’s designs — in fact, Filoni used McQuarrie artwork to show Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy how Rebels would look. Likewise, the character Zeb is modeled after McQuarrie’s own original idea for Chewbacca, and an earlier design for Jabba the Hutt appears on the show as Azmorigan, a crime boss. As Filoni told StarWars.com, “We wanted something that was going to be reminiscent of the original trilogy, so I suggested we base it on Ralph’s designs. I wanted to do that on Clone Wars, but honestly, we didn’t have the know-how to accomplish it at the time. We were able to do it with Rebels though, with round-shaped characters and things that were a bit more classic animation.”


Beyond the McQuarrie influence, Rebels also embraces the overall aesthetic of the original trilogy, from the design of spacecraft and landspeeders to the same well-worn appearance of a gritty universe. Significantly, Filoni worked with Rebels VFX lead Joel Aron to replicate the visual style of lightsabers not seen since A New Hope. “Joel Aron and I very consciously decided to make it like what you saw in the ’70s,” Filoni told Nerdist.com. “The lightsabers that we’re putting in Star Wars Rebels are very much the long thin slender blade that is just more like a fencing rapier…. And they oscillate. They actually quiver.” Other efforts included matching the original visual and sound effects of the trilogy, such as the scream of a TIE fighter and their white-cloud explosions from A New Hope.

The Lothal Jedi Temple

Themes, as much as imagery, recreate the Star Wars experience. Themes such as a young man living on the edge of the galaxy being plucked from his small world and dropped into a bigger adventure. The character Ezra Bridger plays a significant role invoking this feeling as show co-creator Simon Kinberg remarked to StarWars.com, “I just felt like part of what works so brilliantly in the original Star Wars movies is having someone who’s an outsider, and sort of innocent, and naïve to the world, being brought into it.” Kanan Jarrus inhabits the role of a less experienced Obi-Wan, intent on teaching Ezra the ways of the Force. Through Ezra’s training, Rebels imbues the Force with the same mystical qualities which enraptured audiences with the Jedi throughout the original trilogy, right down to the wisdom of Yoda as voiced by his co-creator, Frank Oz.  This similarity was intentional according to Kinberg, who said, “I think that the way we use the Force [Laughs], let’s say, is reminiscent of the original trilogy…And then we certainly wanted, for Ezra especially, since the show is being told through his eyes, to show a very organic evolution into discovering one’s Force abilities, and then developing them.”

There are many more connections to the original trilogy — the expansion of Tarkin as an evil force, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) in all his tragically-evil glory, and much more. But to list them all would spoil the fun of discovering them on your own. For those who loved the original trilogy, but who have not yet watched Rebels, now is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the newest Star Wars adventure. For those who are already fans of the crew of the Ghost, it is the perfect time to sit down, re-watch and re-appreciate the DNA shared between Rebels and the three chapters of a story that began a long time ago.

Ross Brown, a mild mannered attorney by day, has been frightening friends, family, and random strangers with his passion for Star Wars since the 1990s.  Currently, he channels much of his enthusiasm into writing about the galaxy far, far away online at Brown’s Review, encompassing the Star Wars films, television shows, books, and comic books within his purview.