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.
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.
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