This week’s selection from “The Honorable Ones,” though sparse, simple, and straightforward, is an obvious choice for Rebels Screenshot Spotlight. It acts as the final image for the episode, and it’s clearly designed to make a statement while humanizing one of Rebels‘s key villains. Agent Kallus’s body language and downcast face coupled with the camera’s position looking down on him sitting alone in an otherwise empty room work together to create a sense of intense loneliness. The glowing rock in the corner is the only evidence of humanity in the frame, and while not subtle or very complex, I found this shot to be an affective indictment of the Empire that also builds a fair amount of goodwill toward a previously detestable character.
“Homecoming” is another Rebels season two episode that focuses on developing the background of one of The Ghost’s core members, this time exploring the relationship between Hera and her father Cham Syndulla. This post’s shot is sourced from a private and emotionally charged conversation between father and daughter made all the more poignant by the scene’s soft lighting. There’s something mournful and almost nostalgic about the way the characters are lit, placing emphasis on the intimacy between these two characters, but also hinting that perhaps the relationship they’re attempting to mend is very much a thing of the past. We’ll see by the end of “Homecoming” that Hera and Cham are able to move forward with their relationship, but this scene’s lighting and muted colors communicate so much about what’s happening between the two of them in this exchange even without any additional context or dialogue.
The Purgill featured in “The Call” are creatively bold, both in how they live in outer space and due to the implications surrounding them and hyperspace travel. Most of the discussion surrounding “The Call” centers (and rightly so) on the Purgill, but I like to find less-noticed moments to focus on for these Rebels Screenshot Spotlight posts. The image below (from the starwars.com episode guide for “The Call”) is an example of a shot that speaks volumes about the design of Rebels even if it may have gone largely unnoticed.
My favorite aspect of this shot is the way it is able to capture the look of A New Hope while simultaneously adapting that aesthetic to Rebels‘s own style. The appearance of the yellow Mining Guild TIE is an immediate call-back to the original trilogy era that also pushes the classic design into a new direction. This shot also demonstrates the show’s ability to capture a cinematic look while remaining distinctly cartoony. The lighting, as always, is stellar and the contrast between the brightly-lit portions of The Ghost and those cast in shadow provide the weight and realism that help the image dance the line between realism and stylized animation.
I’ve been looking forward to a Zeb-focused episode of Rebels ever since it became clear that season two would devote time to exploring each member of the Ghost crew’s history. “Legends of the Lasat” is potentially the best of these character driven episodes as it both further develops Zeb’s background and offers considerable contributions to the lore of Rebels as well as the new Star Wars canon.
The episode’s climatic scene finds Zeb, his rebel friends, and two newly discovered survivors of Zeb’s people on a journey to a prophesied new home world for the Lasan. The shot above features Zeb using his bo-rifle to channel the Force/Ashla to safely guide the Ghost through a nebula as his friends look on in awe. The lighting in the shot is incredible, the energy emitting from the bo-rilfe is stunning, and each of the characters’ faces is wonderfully expressive. Zeb’s placement in the frame defines him as the clear leader here with the other characters supporting and contributing to his destiny.
But as much as the shot stands alone as a powerful piece of visual storytelling, the more I thought about this moment and the way it was presented, the more it reminded me of a similar scene in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. A climactic scene in that film features the lead character Zissou surrounded by his friends as his journey in the film is completed. As the scene progresses, each of the characters places their hands on Zissou’s shoulders in act of support not dissimilar to Ezra and Kanan’s support of Zeb in “Legends of the Lasat.” While the similarities in framing are not necessarily indicative of the Rebels crew having been inspired by Anderson’s film, they’re at least an interesting coincidence demonstrating that the show’s visual design is thoughtful and cinematic.
I’m throwing in this additional shot of the aforementioned nebula because it’s one of the most stunning environments composed for Rebels so far. “Legends of the Lasat” was a truly beautiful episode and, as always, I’d encourage you to check out the episode guide on starwars.com for more screenshots and information.
“The Protector of Concord Dawn” featured a number of compelling visual designs and shots including the half-destroyed planet of Concord Dawn and that system’s Mandolorian fighters and pilots. For me however, the above screenshot (sourced from starwars.com) is my favorite single image from the episode. The emphasis on the core themes of Rebels in “The Protectors of Concord Dawn” results in an episode with more emotional depth than I expected from a story focusing on hyperspace lanes, Mandalorian armor, and gunslinger showdowns.
Every aspect of this chosen shot communicates the importance of the familial bonds between its three characters. The vignetting effect of the central light above Sabine and Hera envelopes them (and to a lesser extent Kanan), obscuring the background and placing the viewer’s focus squarely on the characters and their connection to one another. It’s simple and straightforward, but it’s also a crucial and well-executed visual representation of the most important aspect of “The Protector of Concord Dawn.” Season 2 of Rebels has been very much about expanding the show’s lore by visiting new planets, introducing new characters, and providing backstory for existing ones, but my favorite moments thus far are those that center on the meaningful connections that make up the family at the heart of its story. In my mind Rebels is its best when it remains centered on the bonds between the members of the Ghost crew, so this episode worked most for me in these final moments when its storytelling circled back to the family at the show’s core.
Like so many episodes of Rebels, “A Princess on Lothal” features a number of cool callbacks to previous Star Wars designs. Much has already been made of Leia’s outfit and the fact that it references both the original and prequel trilogies thanks to its origins in a New Hope-era Ralph McQuarrie design and its inclusion of a symbol seen on Bail Organa’s clothing in Revenge of the Sith. But as much as Leia’s look for this episode is evidence of the brilliant design work on Rebels, it’s Kanan’s gravity-defying AT-AT assault sequence that I want to focus on here.
I’ve recently heard some complaints that Rebels is taking too many liberties in portraying its heroes as unrealistically powerful or lucky in increasingly dangerous scenarios. While I can certainly understand that perspective to a degree, I’m also happy to see a stylized and even slightly exaggerated approach to depicting the Star Wars universe in animation. Kanan’s attack on the AT-AT is so much fun to watch as he runs toward the massive walker while Ezra, Leia, Ryder, and finally the AT-AT pilots themselves all look on in awe at his ability to single-handedly take the transport down. The shot featured above is part of the first half of the sequence and it communicates most of what we need to know; the walker is a huge, hulking machine, but the momentum and confidence reside in the clearly outsized figure charging it at full-speed with his lightsaber extended.
These kind of set piece moments don’t happen constantly in the show; Kanan and Ezra routinely go multiple episodes without making much use of impressive Jedi abilities. But when the Rebels team does decide to go for a bigger moment like this one it almost always works for me where it couldn’t in film or other mediums. Rebels is smart and layered and even heavy at times, but it’s also a playground in which its creators can have fun with environments and scenarios that wouldn’t necessarily be possible outside of animation. The shot featured above is cinematic, but it also feels in some ways like wish fulfillment for a now-grown group of kids who spent the best years of their youths imagining Jedi disguised in stormtrooper gear slicing through the legs of towering walkers (or probably playing out those very scenarios with their Kenner action figures). It doesn’t make sense to see this kind of thing play out all of the time, or in every medium, but fantastic displays of Jedi power seem best explored in animation and I trust Dave Filoni and the Rebels team to do so tastefully and sparingly.
“Legacy” is one of the most memorable and moving episodes of Rebels yet, and its final moments are among my favorite in the show’s entire run. As stories that are in some ways produced for kids, both Clone Wars and Rebels are unafraid to explore weighty, emotional material, a trend that continues in “Legacy,” an episode the show has been building toward from the start. It provides closure for Ezra’s search for this parents and further explores the meaning of family, a theme that has always been a focus for Rebels, while also proving brave enough to supply answers that are neither easy nor safe.
As a mid-season finale, this episode needs to feel more important than an average one; it needs to be a small conclusion, wrapping up at least some plot threads and perhaps sowing the seeds for future ones. “Legacy” does all of this, but I was also struck by how much of the show’s DNA was present in its final scene. Thematically, it addresses fathers and sons, teachers and students, hope and loss, light and dark, but it also acts as a concise summary of the show’s visual mission with its beautiful, McQuarrie-inspired landscapes and carefully composed shots.
I usually try to write about just one image from any given episode of Rebels, but the final scene in “Legacy” is an extended moment that works best when considered as a whole. Ezra’s vision of Lothal and his parents is composed of multiple shots, first of Ezra alone before his joined by his father first, then his mother. As day turns to night, Ezra is for a moment again alone before being joined by Kanan. The two shots I’ve chosen as the primary images for this post feature first Ezra and his father looking out over the familiar Lothal landscape and Ezra and Kanan sharing a similar moment as the moons set (a clear, but subtle nod to “Binary Sunset”). These shots, and those that make up the scene that links them, are a poignant and lyrical way of saying goodbye to the family Ezra has lost while acknowledging the one he’s now joined. They also immediately call to mind the Ralph McQuarrie art that is so influential to the design of Rebels. It’s a touching ending to this episode and the first half of season two as well as an example of the incredible art, design, and composition of the show.
I’m including a gallery of a few more individual shots I grabbed while prepping this post here too. Each of them is wonderful and would’ve been memorable enough to act as the primary image for the post, but viewed together I think they communicate most of the scene’s narrative and demonstrate how the Rebels team is staying true to George Lucas’s visual storytelling philosophy.
Rebels has been on a bit of a break for the past month or so, but I’d actually fallen behind on these Rebels Screenshot Spotlight posts a few weeks before the show’s brief hiatus started. With a new episode set to premiere in just a few days, I thought I’d better take the opportunity to weigh in on my favorite shots from the episodes I’d missed.
First up is “The Future of the Force.” The most compelling image in Rebels season two’s tenth episode features the show’s new villains the Seventh Sister and the Fifth Brother attacking the passengers of a dimly lit shuttle. The “Red Blades” (as the passengers refer to them) show up in the episode’s first scene to abduct a force-sensitive baby for unclear, but clearly nefarious, reasons.
The shot I’ve pulled from this scene is comprised of the grandmother of baby Alora in the foreground with her back to the camera attempting to both sooth and protect her granddaughter. She’s looking down a corridor populated by a few fearful passengers but her gaze, like theirs, is on the approaching Inquisitors exiting an airlock bathed in red light. The camera is tilted at a Dutch angle which contributes to the sense of dread and tension permeating the shuttle. This scene is one of a number this season featuring these new Inquisitors that focuses on fear and borrows from the language of horror films to clearly communicate that these villains are dangerous, evil, and worthy of taking up the Grand Inquisitor’s role as the show’s chief antagonist(s). Writing, design, voice actors, and music are of course all part of successfully presenting these imposing characters, but I’ve found this kind of horror film framing to be an excellent contribution to their development as well.
I’m looking forward to posting in the next few days about a beautiful and moving moment in “Legacy,” one of my favorite episodes this season, and then getting back on schedule when Rebels returns with “A Princess on Lothal” on January 20th.
“Stealth Strike” stands out as an episode of Rebels that features a plethora of visual call-backs to the original trilogy (not unusual for the show, but at an even higher volume here), but also at least one key and noticeable reference to the The Phantom Menace.
Actually, I’m sure there are many smaller examples of artistic influence from the prequels throughout Rebels; though the concept art generated by Ralph McQuarrie for the original trilogy is clearly the visual foundation of the show, Dave Filoni and crew are no doubt drawing inspiration from George Lucas’s more recent vision of the Star Wars universe in more subtle ways as well.
This shot of Ezra sabotaging the reactor core of The Interdictor seems to be an example of that kind of approach. While the room and structures are most noticeably similar to the scene in A New Hope in which Obi-Wan shuts down the Death Star’s tractor beam, the design also draws on the Theed generator complex from The Phantom Menace. The verticality of that structure led to an incredibly dynamic scene, and the Rebels crew takes full advantage of that aspect of this reactor core room in “Stealth Strike,” with Ezra moving up and down between platforms as he reflects blaster bolts back at the Imperial troops above. In one of the best episodes of the season so far, this reactor core scene is able to pay tribute to both the original trilogy and prequel trilogy eras while creating an exciting new sequence of its own.
I love Sabine and I was as excited to learn more about her background as any member of the crew of The Ghost, but unfortunately this week’s episode of Rebels didn’t completely work for me (which is something I don’t think I’ve felt about any other episode of the show). I think my disappointment in “Blood Sisters” is directly linked to Sabine’s bounty hunter friend Ketsu Onyo, whose development was too quick and too tidy to resonate with me.
Still, though “Blood Sisters” probably holds the distinction of being my least favorite episode of Rebels (the worst episode of one of my favorite shows ever isn’t such a bad place to be), there is still a lot to enjoy here.
My favorite shot of this week’s episode comes from Sabine and Ketsu’s initial reunion, and it’s one that harkens back to the cinematography of classic Westerns. The shot I’ve posted here lingers on Sabine’s hand reaching for her blaster, suggesting an impending shootout, and the spotlight on Ketsu in the background clearly designates her as Sabine’s target. It’s a brilliant moment in the episode in the way it evokes the cinematic language of the Western, but it’s also incredibly effective here as a single shot. Everything the audience needs to know about this moment is conveyed in the composition of this still and it’s the kind of visual storytelling that has always been a part of Star Wars at its best.