Why Rebels Makes Me Happy (Or The Philosophy of Religion in Star Wars)

Why Rebels Makes Me Happy (Or The Philosophy of Religion in Star Wars)


I tend to be a Star Wars film purist. Although I have loved the few Expanded Universe novels I’ve read, my knowledge of what exists beyond the films is limited and doesn’t reach far beyond my reading. I saw Star Wars: The Clone Wars when it was released in 2008 and anticipated The Clone Wars series with gusto. But the series didn’t hold my attention, and I reverted to watching the films over and over when I needed a Star Wars fix.

At one point, I thought I would read all of the EU novels in chronological order, put the entire SW saga into perspective and discover even more depth, but then I decided to go back to college. Yeah. My shelves are burgeoning with unread books of all genres.

This was all well and good relative to Star Wars because what made it onto the big screen was always what was most important, right? I didn’t “have” to explore the EU any further. But it seems that some of what was once considered EU is now Star Wars canon, and I should be paying more attention! A new film is just months away and Celebration 7, just weeks away, and I don’t want to be left out in the cold. I need to catch up, need to immerse myself in the GFFA, need to figure out what truly means something to the (new) makers of our beloved saga. There are characters with whom I must become acquainted and systems that call for exploration, ships to discover and brand new plot lines to follow. I have much work ahead of me!

Backing up, when the announcement came that Rebels would become a TV series, I was less than thrilled. Great, I thought. More animated characters who have nothing to do with Luke and Leia, nothing to do with the center of my Star Wars universe, Darth Vader. It wasn’t just about the animation. I am a child of the 1960’s and 70’s. Looking forward to Saturday morning cartoons got me through Monday thru Friday. I love good animation as much as the next kid! It wasn’t that. I was just afraid that it would be more of the same stuff that I didn’t like about what I saw of The Clone Wars, a different attitude and focus, a shift in what was, for me, the heart and soul of Star Wars.

As it turns out, I love Rebels! Things have shifted right back to where they belong.

On the surface, the cast of Rebels characters borders on kitschy along the same lines as the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, another production I was sure I wouldn’t like. You’ve got your basic wounded heroes with a past in Kanan and Star-Lord, and the rest of the two casts can be mixed, matched, and mashed (on the surface, mind you…don’t aim your blasters my way just yet!). Hera can be soulful while trading tips for caring for green skin with Gamora who can then turn to Sabine and dole out some hot girl hero advice. Zeb and Drax each brood and harrumph to the perky youngster’s enthusiasm in Ezra and Sabine and Rocket…

Okay so my comparison is a stretch, but you get the idea. Another band of oddballs comes together to right wrongs. I love Guardians of the Galaxy, and using a somewhat similar format, Rebels has recaptured the essence of Star Wars in a way that The Clone Wars couldn’t for me. Behind a gorgeous cartoon palette, Rebels reaches deep into the spirituality of the Jedi, and that is a presence I haven’t felt since…

I was born into a family of JFK loving Catholics in the months just before the 35th American president’s tragic demise. There are twenty-nine cousins in my generation, and every one of us went to Catholic school for at least part of our primary and/or secondary educations. I raised my five children in the Catholic Church and, until a few years ago, my children called me “strict.” After an incident that would take more space than I have here to explain, I found myself truly at odds with my faith for the first time. I have not been back to the Church except for a very few special occasions. I just don’t know how strongly I believe in the need for organized religion anymore yet I grasp at anything that will help me to connect with my spirituality and the God I love, the one I know the Church gave me. Star Wars always did that for me, too, made me think and helped me connect to the deepest parts of myself, sometimes the Darker parts, while also holding me to the Light to show me that it’s still there. At the core of Star Wars is a hope that never dies, a blind belief in the Light, and the ability to hold strong in the face of the Dark, possibly to succumb to it then find redemption. Darth Vader. Oh, how he fascinates me.

Darth Vader

The basest premise of Rebels taps into Star Wars’ spirituality. Kanan, a Jedi who escaped Order 66, and Ezra, a Force-sensitive boy who was born amidst the Order’s murder and mayhem, launch viewers directly into the saga’s heart just by their nature. The Jedi were wiped out, and yet they exist. The Sith tried to quell the spirit, but not only did they fail, the Force was rejuvenated by Ezra’s birth on the very day that the Sith tried to kill its Light side forever. The hokey religion lives on, and I feel a tweak at the fuzzy and confused spiritual part of myself.

I took a class entitled Philosophy of Religion last year in my final semester in college. In it, I studied the fundamental ideas of dozens of philosophers. I was drawn to so many of their ideas and thoroughly enjoyed the reading, papers, and exams for that class. As I binge watched Rebels a few weeks back in order to catch up before the season one finale, I was reminded of the philosophy of William James who queried, “What qualifies as a mystical experience?” James wrote about the nature of religion and its role in the personal quest for knowledge. Authority is for the masses, but personal experience can’t be quantified. In other words, we can all go to the church of our choice, recite the prayers, and find grace and peace in those tangible acts. But isn’t it possible that the deepest meaning of religion is personal and that the deepest connections we find to our spirituality are invulnerable to organized religion’s critique? Have you ever felt the sand under your toes or the kiss of brisk winter air on your warm cheek or smelled the tiny head of a newborn baby and known that God exists in the world? These experiences invoke that higher power as strongly as any psalm or rote response inside the confines of a building, and it is these types of experiences that the remaining Jedi, whose culture and gathering spaces had been destroyed, held onto in order to stay connected to the Force. Not unlike Sufi mystics in Islam, the post Order 66 Jedi connected to the Force through intense, personal experience.

In my class, we were asked what constitutes religion for us. As I watched season one of Rebels, I felt the stirrings of what does it for me just as the films did for me and still do. Rebels makes me think and feel and ponder. It tugs at the edges of my lapsed religion and awakens my passion to inwardly debate it. It plunges me deep inside what I have always loved most about Star Wars, and it does these things in the brief, beautiful blasts of witty dialogue and action of an animated TV show. What’s not to love about Rebels? It makes me happy.

As always, feel free to contact me at pamb@coffeewithkenobi.com and follow me on Twitter @pambruchwalski And remember…

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  1. Jon
    March 13, 2015 at 10:09 Reply

    Well said 🙂

    1. Pam Bruchwalski
      March 13, 2015 at 15:24 Reply

      Thank you so much, Jon!

  2. Erica Steinweg
    March 13, 2015 at 12:28 Reply

    One of my classes is on spring break so I actually have time to comment! Yay! You bring up so much in this entry.

    I am really enjoying Rebels more than The Clone Wars too. The thing that I always have trouble with in TCW is that there is this surface idea that the Republic is good and the Separatists are bad, but we know it is sooooo much more complex than that. So whenever a planet is “saved” and brought into the republic, I can’t really cheer because I know it’s Palpatine pulling all the strings. Even so, I am going back and watching all of the episodes I missed, because, as you say, it’s canon now, and if it’s canon I want to know what happened. Also, there are some really beautiful, amazing moments–spiritual ones too. I’m glad I’m watching it.

    I appreciate you pointing out the importance of a person’s direct experience. It really can teach us everything, and I think that’s what TCW series is missing for me–and it needs to miss it, given the time period it takes place in. Everyone in it is so blind. They’re missing all of these cues about the collapse of the Republic because they’re wrapped up in their big organization with its huge senate and its procedures, and the jedi with their temple and their rituals. It’s like they’ve mistaken their temple and rituals for the Force–sort of like when people mistake the church for God. In Rebels, you’re right, everybody is back to figuring it all out from the bottom up, so they have to go with what they feel. They don’t have any structure to get lost in, and they’re very clear and correct about the true threat to the galaxy.

    Also, thanks for reminding me that I need to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.
    Very thought provoking entry! Loved it!!!!

    1. Pam Bruchwalski
      March 13, 2015 at 16:05 Reply

      Yay for classes on spring break, Erica! I’m happy you replied. Thank you.

      I have to admit that I didn’t get far enough into the crux of TCW to even know the things you just mentioned, the cut and dried version of the Republic and the Separatists. Now that you mention it, however, I do recall thinking that its focus was on bigger, broader ideas and not the intense emotional depth of the films (for me, anyway). Jay gave me some hints about what to watch to capture more of Ahsoka’s story, and I do plan to do that though I won’t be watching the whole series any time soon. Ahsoka is already so much more fascinating to me than she was in the early days of TCW, which is all I saw. I’m going to love her in Rebels!

      I completely understand what you’re saying about the time period of TCW causing the phenomena of “mistaking the church for God.” Maybe I didn’t give TCW enough of a chance, but that heightened my need for some one to connect with, and I couldn’t find that, even in Anakin and Padme as they were depicted there. When Darth Vader appeared at the end of Rebels, though…wow. I immediately got a sense of that depth I had missed.

      Definitely watch Guardians of the Galaxy!!! And then tell me all your thoughts!

      Thank you for your comments.

  3. Scott Baughman
    March 13, 2015 at 14:00 Reply

    Isn’t it amazing how God can use something so seemingly removed from the church to reach out to us? I will pray for your return to a congregation where you feel more welcome…and I rejoice with you that we live in a world of rebirth – both for Star Wars and for ourselves. 😉

  4. Pam Bruchwalski
    March 13, 2015 at 16:10 Reply

    Thank you for your comment, Scott! It IS amazing how God appears in this world where we least expect Him and thrilling to feel the depth of a spiritual connection in something not inherently spiritual. I thank you for your prayers and shared joy.

  5. Jay Krebs
    March 13, 2015 at 21:56 Reply

    So much to say…

    As you know form our may conversations about religion, Catholicism, and faith in general, I have many of the same feelings and ideas as you. That being said, I find myself, even as a “lapsed Catholic”, finding solace and peace in the rote behaviors and teachings that made up my childhood. Why? Because it gave structure to my world. I never truly understood what it meant to “be Catholic,” even at my confirmation, but I find myself returning to the roots of my religious upbringing in times of strife. When my mom passed away, I found a connection to her though the practices of the church; those that were so much a part of my upbringing. Although I don’t directly associate my own “faith” or “spirituality” with those practices now, I still feel that deep connection…as you so poignantly put it: it “tugs” at the edges of that religion…

    “But isn’t it possible that the deepest meaning of religion is personal and that the deepest connections we find to our spirituality are invulnerable to organized religion’s critique?”


    I feel those stirrings whenever I lay beneath the night sky. it’s a feeling I cannot explain. It doesn’t matter if it’s the warmest of summer eves, or the absolute, most frigid of winter nights, I feel that deep meaning.

    Star Wars does the same thing for me, as I know it does for you, and for all of us who hold the saga so dear. Is it blasphemy against God to feel this way? No. It’s a way to further supplement the soul…

    I also applaud you, Erica, for making the connection between TCW and the idea of “spirituality” getting lost in “the church”. Brilliant. Rebels is definitely the return to the soul, the essence of what constitutes the universe as a whole.

    Whew – heavy stuff for a Friday night! 🙂

    Love this entry…just love it!

    1. Pam Bruchwalski
      March 15, 2015 at 20:09 Reply

      Thank you so much for your comment, Jay. I have so much more to say about this. You bring up a very valid point about the connection of childhood rituals of the church to your mom and the way you find comfort in that. My experiences with my mom’s death are different, but I completely get what you’re saying. It makes sense, and I hadn’t thought of it quite that way.

      I love to think of you laying beneath a starry night sky and feeling a connection to God and family and all things beautiful. 🙂

  6. Gretchen
    March 15, 2015 at 11:21 Reply

    Interesting! I think that’s part of the beauty and wonder of God – I find connection and inspiration in nature (Transcendentalism anyone?!) and in the confines of my church’s walls. My Sunday morning experiences comfort me, bolster me, connect me. Your words truly resonate today because our priest was talking about us and the church being the light in an often dark world.

  7. Pam Bruchwalski
    March 15, 2015 at 20:13 Reply

    I’m glad that you find a connection to God when you go to “early church,” Gretchen. I would be interested in hearing what your priest had to say about the Church as a light in an often dark world. Thank you for commenting.

  8. Becca Benjamin
    March 21, 2015 at 07:09 Reply

    Yes, REBELS Rule! This is just a “Feel Good” entry and I smiled as I read each heartfelt sentiment 🙂 Just knowing you LOVE the nostalgia that REBELS provides makes me so happy that I can’t wait to hug in …. less than 4 weeks!! 🙂

    Awesome article, miss you! xo

  9. Pam Bruchwalski
    March 21, 2015 at 13:22 Reply

    I’ll see you for that hug very soon, Becca! Nostalgia is a great word to reference Rebels, and yet it makes my fandom feel brand new as well. Just such an awesome show!!

  10. Melinda
    April 2, 2015 at 12:24 Reply

    “… isn’t it possible that the deepest meaning of religion is personal and that the deepest connections we find to our spirituality are invulnerable to organized religion’s critique?”

    Yes. 🙂

    I’ve never been a believer in “blind faith”. I have trouble with that concept. But I do believe in faith. From my own point of view, there is something greater “out there” — I see the proof every time I see one of my daughters, hear someone’s laughter, see the grand beauty of a delicate flower or the majesty of a sunset. There are examples all around us that help us make those connections to our faith (whatever that might be for each individual). I am not a Church-goer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a spiritual side.

    You really got me thinking here, Pam. Thank you. 🙂

    I understand what you had to say about “The Clone Wars” animated series. For me, it helped me appreciate a group (the clones) on a deeper level. The series wasn’t devoid of the essence of Star Wars, the Force, etc., especially given the arcs that revolved around Anakin and Yoda, in particular. Very, very interesting. Have you watched them?

    “Rebels” is great! 🙂 That first Monday evening that a new episode did not appear in its regularly scheduled spot was rather sad. 😉 I will have to exercise some patience as I wait for Season 2. 😉 Always that “P” word coming into play. lol

    Have fun at CVII!!! 🙂 MTFBWY 🙂

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Pam is a writer, editor, mother, fangirl, and self-proclaimed geek from Pittsburgh, PA.

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