- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

George Lucas’ famed space fantasy universe comes to animated life again in Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One (Walt Disney Home Entertainment, rated TV-Y7-FV, $45.99).

This 2-disk, Blu-ray set compiles four cartoon shorts, the introductory movie “Spark of Rebellion” and 13 episodes of the inaugural season of the popular Disney XD series starring the motley crew of the space freighter Ghost.

In a story set 14 years after the fall of the Galactic Republic that saw the near extermination of the Jedi Order at the hands of the Emperor (reference “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”), the show excels at bringing fun back to the “Star Wars” universe.

Some new and familiar friends and enemies set the stage for the eventual emergence of young Skywalker in “Episode IV: A New Hope” as the Rebellion against the Empire begins to take shape around the galaxy.

This colorful space epic, while geared for the tweens, can be embraced by older “Star Wars” fans alike.

The key players are six rebels based on the mineral-rich planet Lothal.

Using the speedy, weapons-packed Ghost on missions, their job is to create maximum problems for the Empire while realizing sustainable profits from the cargo they pilfer.

They include Ezra Bridger, a 15-year old orphan and expert pickpocket who has a strong dose of the Force; Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi who will take on Ezra as his padawan; the female Twi’lek Hera Syndulla, the Ghost ship’s owner and pilot; Sabine Wren, a teenage, female Mandalorian graffiti artist; Zeb Orrelios, a muscle-bound, gruff but lovable Lasat honor guard; and a bucket of bolts droid nicknamed Chopper.

Appearances by R2-D2, C-3PO, Sen. Bail Organa, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), Grand Moff Tarkin and Lando Calrissian (voiced by the original actor Billy Dee Williams, no less) will thrill fans.

Villains such as the mutton-chopped, Imperial Security Bureau’s Agent Kallus and the Inquisitor (the Dark Side’s version of Count Orloc wielding a gyroscopic, duel-bladed lightsaber) along with the Keystone Cops of the Empire, the Stormtroopers, keep the rebels busy nearly every episode.

It’s also quite obvious that the production staff, led by creator and director Dave Filoni, are total “Star Wars” geeks.

For example, the design for some of the characters are very much based on the works of illustrator Ralph McQuarrie who was instrumental in the look of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Mr. McQuarrie’s R2-D2 is very much Chopper while Zeb Orrelios pays homage to his early renderings of Chewbacca.

The episode “Droids in Distress” features a shuttle that looks almost like the one used in the old Disney World ride “Star Tours.” The robot driver model is near exact to the original RX-24 and voiced just like the ride by Paul (Pee-wee Herman) Reubens. That’s digging pretty deep in “Star Wars” pop culture folks.

The digital transfer, presented in home theater screen-filling 1.78:1, excels at accentuating the excellent digital animation style and highlights the nuances of cartoony character designs that look like living action figures.

Sabine’s spray-painted armor and helmet are stunning, facial features of the green-skinned Twi’lek are near life-like, and the lightsaber battles are eye-popping.

The vehicles such as the often-used speeder bikes, T.I.E. Fighters or AT-ST Walkers are just as stunning with land attacks and space battles looking three-dimensional.

Equally important, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix allows viewers to appreciate a magnificent musical score from Kevin Kiner who blends the very best of all of John Williams’ original compositions.

The extras area is a bit light, but it does offer roughly 5-minute-long, behind-the-scenes featurettes for every episode, originally seen on the “Star Wars” web site, and delves into the production of the series as well as answers some trivia-type questions from fans.

Also, viewers get a 7-minute preview of Season 2 with Mr. Filoni and a totally irrelevant, 22-minute summary of the first season (I just watched all of the episodes, why do I need a summary?) narrated by Freddie Prinze Jr., the voice of Kanan.

My only complaint is that the 22-minute episodes went by far too quickly during a binge-watching event.

However, its conclusion sets up a thrilling second season, starting in mid-October, that will really set the tone for fan boys to cement their obsession for the series.

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