The fight for galactic freedom is here — and it officially began in San Diego.
Star Wars Rebels, Lucasfilm’s upcoming animated series about the origins of the rebellion against the Empire, made its true public debut at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend. Fans were treated to a panel discussion with the series’ cast and creators, autograph sessions, and photo ops with life-size statues of Star Wars Rebels‘ heroes, as well as previews of toys, collectibles, and much more. Perhaps most significantly, however, Lucasfilm held a theatrical screening of the series’ one-hour opening episode to a packed house — a powerful way to kick off the new era of Star Wars.
“Seeing it in a big movie theater, that’s how everyone should watch every episode of the show,” joked Taylor Gray, who plays young con-artist-turned-Padawan, Ezra, in the series. “It’s so cool to hear people laugh during a joke, or just see people’s faces [as they react]. I can’t wait for more people to see it and hear what they have to say.”
For the cast and creators, Comic-Con was a chance to connect with fans and reflect on their Star Wars journey so far. Tiya Sircar, the voice of explosives expert Sabine, recalled that the nature of the series was originally kept secret. “I think all of us were under the impression that we were auditioning for a new Disney animated series called Wolf,” she said, referring to an early codename for Star Wars Rebels. “I didn’t know until the day I got the call saying, ‘Hey you got that job, by the way, it’s Star Wars.’ It was doubley exciting. I got a job, and oh my god, what — it’s Star Wars. It was amazing.”
The series is also historically important within the world of Star Wars. Star Wars Rebels, created under the stewardship of executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, and Greg Weisman, is the first product of the Lucasfilm Story Group’s new storytelling alignment, in which everything — movies, comics, games, and TV — is canonical and cohesive. That fact is not lost on the show’s stars, nor is the significance of the story that Star Wars Rebels tells: how the Rebel Alliance formed between Episodes III and IV. “To go from Order 66 to Leia putting that piece of information into R2-D2…” mused Vanessa Marshall, the voice of heroic/maternal Hera. “What happened between then? To be apart of that segment is epic. We all care deeply.” Steve Blum, who plays the Ghost crew’s brute-with-brains, Zeb, agreed — but jokingly acknowledged the weight of that responsibility. “And no pressure filling in those kinds of gaps,” he said. “None at all.”
Visually, Star Wars Rebels takes much inspiration from the work of original trilogy concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to connect it to the saga; from a storytelling perspective, the connection is made through its ensemble cast and through Ezra, who gets swept into a larger adventure, discovering powers he didn’t know he had, and fighting for a greater cause. But that framework was created not by design. “It’s funny because it’s almost a coincidence,” said executive producer Simon Kinberg. “We didn’t sit there and strategically say, ‘How can we retell A New Hope, and who’s our new Luke?’ It’s just, and I find this even when I’m writing X-Men and anything else, you gravitate toward the storytelling strategies of New Hope and Empire because they’re just so good.” At its core, however, Star Wars Rebels is a more character-driven story than it might seem on the surface. “It’s an intimate story,” said Kinberg. “It’s really a story about five people on a ship that takes place against the backdrop of this massive galaxy of characters and villains and stormtroopers and battleships.” The combination of all these factors — telling a fundamental tale, recapturing the feel of classic Star Wars, and introducing a new cast of exciting heroes — can make Star Wars Rebels into something very special.
“On Rebels,” said Kinberg, “to me the opportunity is to create something for a new generation of Star Wars fans that also appeals to our generation that grew up loving it — and still loves it.”
Star Wars Rebels will premiere in October 2014 with a one-hour special telecast on Disney Channel, and will be followed by a series on Disney XD channels around the world.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.