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Thursday, 3 November 2016

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS REBELS - THE COMPLETE SEASON TWO' (BLU-RAY)

The coming of Vader. STAR WARS REBELS Season Two, out now on UK Blu-ray and DVD. Images: DISNEY/LUCASFILM.

Their early battles against the tyrannical Empire, staged via the terrorised and resources plundered world of Lothal, may have been a success, but now the small motley band of irregular heroes led by former Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus have been noticed, in the sights of the cruel Emperor Palpatine's war machine, now intensified in its ambition to eradicate the growing Rebel uprising, and soon dispatching their ultimate servant for intimidation, chaos and destruction - the black-masked, black-hearted Darth Vader - to fulfil that mission statement, as the harder-edged second season of STAR WARS REBELS, now in an expanded twenty-two episode run, arrives on Blu-ray HD and standard definition DVD, from Lucasfilm/DISNEY.

Darth Vader uses the power of the Dark Side to the fullest!

Star Wars Rebels Season Two Trailer (Official) - YouTube
Star Wars Rebels Season Two - Mid-Season Trailer (Official) - YouTube

New beginnings for our heroes, now allied with Rebel veteran Commander Sato.
The Ghost, parked with Sato's small Rebel squad.

The close-knit crew of the adaptable freighter Ghost are indeed part of a larger universe, and no longer confined to one planet - a situation that some more than others are ready to accept since they first encountered orphan maverick Ezra Bridger on Lothal, to the rescue of Kanan, and the battle to escape the fiery realms of Mustafar and Imperial Governor Tarkin, which prior closed Season One, bringing with it lots of surprises and new story directions. REBELS Season Two certainly gets off to a flying start, with no time wasted, launching the series revised format, as our heroes fight alongside a spirited Rebel cell led by Commander Sato, which, though small in numbers, has some ultra-cool and very nifty A-Wing fighter support (a nice reference to the live-action RETURN OF THE JEDI, and a building of the Rebel Alliance that will be seen with standalone tale ROGUE ONE).

Our Rebel heroes caught between enemy lines.

All of the series main characters get their own unique share of the limelight across the season: ORDER 66 survivor Kanan takes young apprentice Ezra Bridger ever more under his wing, their friendship and abilities together in the Force explored and strengthened across numerous episodes featuring the latter's Jedi training, though the all too easy influences of the Dark Side and its incredible power are starting to impress themselves on the boy, who wants to do more in the battle against evil. That Mandalorian fighter with the artistic bent, Sabine Wren, encounters an old friend in bounty hunter Ketsu Onyo, then discovers her race working for the Empire; bulky but loveable grouch Zeb Orrelios gets to pleasurably bash a lot more Stormtrooper skulls together, is reunited with some rare surviving members of his species and help them find a home, during a mysterious and uplifting episode, then gets himself trapped on a deadly moon, forced to survive alongside old enemy Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) in an enjoyable new spin on the standard enemies trapped together idea. Ace pilot and caring matriarch figure Hera Syndulla ends up in a family feud with her resistance fighter father, Cham, then uses her piloting skills to the fullest with a new prototype B-Wing fighter, for the genuinely terrific episode, Wings of the Master. Finally, as squat and full of attitude as ever, Chopper the droid gets a new friend with Imperial inventory buddy AP-5, whom I hope we get to see again at some point - a more bizarre, cantankerous and oddball couple even than Threepio and Artoo!

Padawan no more! Ahsoka Tano joins the STAR WARS REBELS family with Season Two.

With some subtle foreshadowings to the upcoming live-action ROGUE ONE (notably the Death Star), and unfinished mythology business from THE CLONE WARS animated series, cut three seasons short of its run, needing to be sorted out, Supervising Animation Director Dave Filoni skilfully address the unresolved timeline questions by bringing back many Prequel era animated fan favourites, developing them further in their new, older in years perspective, nearly nineteen years on from the slaughter initiated by the newly arrived Emperor Palpatine. Top of Filoni's list is former Jedi Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, last seen leaving the Jedi Order in Season Five and getting caught up in a whole load of separate adventures currently being revealed in novel form. Having had her character's voice disguised on and off previously, the identity of Hera's secret ally in "Fulcrum" was finally out of the bag, in a return, along with the voicing of Ashley Eckstein, that couldn't have been more appreciated by her worldwide fan base. Mature, confident and at one with the Force mentally and physically, skilfully brandishing her new white lightsaber blades, Ahsoka has an imperative to unravel the mysterious identity of Darth Vader, her suspicions of him awakened after their first ship-to-ship confrontation during part two of the lively season opener, The Siege of Lothal, then in the eagerly anticipated, epic and highly satisfying duel that brings the year to an exciting close and a tense cliffhanger for the heroine and her ultimate destiny, keeping fans on tenterhooks all over again! You're a very naughty man, Filoni!

Captain Rex with Gregor and Wolffe in The Lost Commanders.

Additionally crowd pleasing from the second story onwards is via the continuing battle contributions and confidence provided by her old friend and war comrade in former Clone Captain Rex (now looking like the STAR WARS version of Montgomery Scott from the STAR TREK series, what with his bigger girth and fluffy beard) as he too heads back into action of a whole new kind against the Empire, having previously disobeyed the ORDER 66 initiative (along with two of his colleagues) and endured previous self-exile in the Outer Rim. His vocal creator Dee Bradley Baker had never been away from the animated STAR WARS universe, but this is the character for which he'll always be fondly celebrated. Being honest, though, there's a few moments here and there when I felt the returning characters were a little bit shoe-horned into proceedings, plus the odd thought that their introductions could have been done after a little bit later in the series span, with more time for the Ghost crew themselves to have their mettle tested. Still, there's no doubt that fans are overall very, very happy to see their favourites back.

Princess Leia Organa comes to help in A Princess on Lothal.
A new look for Master Yoda, finally making a visual appearance in Season Two.
Republic or Empire, it's all good business for Hondo Ohnaka, back in animated humour.

Other notable visits from the ever binding Classic, Prequel and Clone Wars eras include Princess Leia Organa (young and feisty as ever in the lead-up to event of the original film, well voiced by Julie Dolan), and, previously seen in Season One, that charming rogue and adept freelance businessman Lando Calrissian, as delivered by the still super smooth Billy Dee Williams. Heard but not seen previously, Frank Oz's Yoda also makes a worthy visual appearance in a Season Two episode, finally communing with young Ezra Bridger whilst he, Ahsoka and Kanan investigate a discarded Jedi Temple on Lothal. And how could we forget the return of Hondo Ohnaka, the Weequay pirate boss who'd sell his own mother-in-law (if he had one!) for profit, making his first appearance in the new animated incarnation and a welcome bit of light relief.

Classic confrontation. Kanan and Vader meet in The Siege of Lothal.

But if anything, this is the season which everyone will remember for the return of Darth Vader, tasked with eliminating the building and alarming Rebel influence on Lothal, whilst concurrently discovering the truth about his former Padawan. After his two special cameos during Season One, Vader's amazing presence is much welcome in REBELS, of which great care has clearly been taken with the way he participates in the storytelling- his powers and overwhelming talents sparingly used in the best ways, whilst his visual realisation is superb (love the thin red lightsaber blade created by Joel Aron, and a mask that has lots of deliberate echoes to the Ralph McQuarrie design for the character on his 1976 book jacket for the original STAR WARS). Its nice to see the iron lung warrior back in action before his live-action lead-up return with ROGUE ONE, once more nostalgically accompanied by the wonderful and commanding voice of James Earl Jones.

The Seventh Sister-playful and deadly!

With his spooky Season One Grand Inquisitor henchman committing suicide, after having been beaten in action by Kanan, the remaining Inquisitors now vie for their once leader's power and Vader's respect, working across the universe to help their Lord find and destroy any and all potential Jedi threats. Their competitiveness in hunting and killing knows no bounds, including deadlier than the male Seventh Sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar, clearly having a great time in the recording booth) and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez as the crushing Fifth Brother (created from an unused character concept for THE FORCE AWAKENS), all thirsty for action and proving unique, fearsome opponents for our heroes on and off the season.

Darth Maul is back to cause more chaos.

Despite this clever mixing of old and new villainy, I remain in two minds about the resurrected Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer), who ultimately escaped the electro punishment of his former master Darth Sidious and is still out for revenge against the Sith for abandoning him- a quest and thirst for power that seems unending, just as cunning and unpredictable as ever, returning for the last two episodes of the season and now trying to convert Ezra to his own purposes with the rediscovery of the lost Sith world of Moriband. I personally felt that the character, despite his clear potential, should have stayed dead, cut in half in the Naboo reactor room years earlier.

Our heroes take on Imperial Wakers in Relics of the Old Republic.

Always best seen in HD Blu-ray, where the ground and aerial battles, lightsaber duels and sound design truly come to life, REBELS, though full of innovative action and adventure, clearly has its emphasis rooted towards the smaller scale, more personal level stories that DISNEY like, and this show overall definitely feels in that style. To their credit, the animation this season is much improved too, though it all still feels a little basic when compared to the overall sophistication of THE CLONE WARS later seasons, that animated epic saga told by George Lucas with Dave Filoni, whose benchmark remains unbeatable.

The Dark Side clouds everything...

Special Features wise, we get all the online accompanying Rebels Recon episodes, hosted by the ever gleeful it hurts Lucasfilm staffer Andi Gutierrez, talking to the series enthused main cast and crew about the continuing story developments whilst giving us weekly tasters of what that rogue droid Chopper is up to within the confines of the Lucasfilm premises. Plus an all too brief look (literally less than five minutes, and with a narrator literally speed racing through it all) at the special Easter Eggs and references linking the STAR WARS films and media universe to REBELS - there were at least three or four things I hadn't noticed before in Season Two, whilst also reminding us that the Lucasfilm Story Group are earning their weekly pay check. Finally, and again all too short, there's a Blu-ray exclusive five-minute featurette in which Dave Filoni, co-creator of Ahsoka Tano with Lucas, talks about the long-in-gestation plans, ideas and personal conceptual art for her to meet and fight against her former friend and mentor Anakin Skywalker, now Darth Vader, in an encounter originally planned for the Clone Wars but now making its way into REBELS during its impressive season finale, Twilight of the Apprentice.

At the end of the day, this set's Special Features are satisfactory in being designed for the general audience market, but devoted and truly dedicated fans of the series deserve something more substantial, especially with regards to audio commentaries on episodes, deleted scenes, character creation details and conceptual art.

Her final battle? Ahsoka clashes with Darth Vader, in Twilight of the Apprentice.

AFICIONADO RATING: The Lucas legacy proudly continues through Dave Filoni and his Team STAR WARS generation - though there's still lots more potential to be mined - within a much improved show run that will delight fans of all ages and keep them happy in the build-up to the next live-action film.

Overall Episodes: 8 out of 10. Special Features: 6 out of 10.

Get the Blu-ray here: Star Wars Rebels Season 2 [Blu-ray] [Region Free]: Amazon.co.uk: DVD & Blu-ray



STAR WARS REBELS continues its exclusive all-new Season Three screenings on DISNEY XD worldwide.

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