Star Wars Celebration Anaheim: Pulling Back the Curtain on Star Wars Rebels
In many ways, Celebration Anaheim marked the first full-scale introduction of Star Wars Rebels to the fandom at large. Rebels was highlighted in panels at a few previous general-interest conventions like New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic-Con, and individual members of the principal voice cast made appearances at Disney’s Star Wars Weekends in Florida last summer. Celebration Anaheim provided the opportunity to truly showcase the series to a massive gathering of Star War fans. Rebels received a premium panel on the arena-sized Celebration Stage on Saturday morning, a red carpet line and the world premiere of Season Two on Saturday evening in a packed Digital Stage, and a Sunday panel featuring behind-the-scenes insights into the show’s creation and development.
Saturday morning kicked off with the main panel, officially titled “New Allies and New Villains in Star Wars Rebels Season 2.” The panel was live-streamed and live-blogged by StarWars.com, not to mention thousands of fans packed into the Celebration Stage. Host James Arnold Taylor greeted all five members of the voice cast, as well as Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni. The wide-ranging discussion included the characters, the voice actors’ experience joining the Star Wars franchise, and the fan response to Rebels. The Season Two trailer revealed the return of Captain Rex, prompting huge cheers. Dee Bradley Baker and Ashley Eckstein then also took the stage to speak about what their fan-favorite characters from The Clone Wars bring to Rebels. Although the panel included some fun anecdotes, hysterical good-natured teasing among the panelists, and always-entertaining Q&A with the audience, two aspects of the panel really stood out. One is the genuinely great camaraderie among the voice cast. They’re clearly friends as well as professional colleagues, and it’s no wonder the same bonds shine through in their portrayals of their characters. The other is the unbridled enthusiasm of the cast and crew for their show. They are fans, too, and watching them speak about Rebels, and Star Wars as a whole, makes that fact eminently clear. The fandom couldn’t ask for Rebels to be in better hands.
The later events on Saturday showed off Rebels principally to the members of the press present to cover Celebration for the broader entertainment media audience. Some fan media, including Fangirls Going Rogue, received invites to conduct interviews on the Rebels red carpet. With many seats reserved for VIPs and press, the queue for general-attendee seating for the Season Two premiere was capped over three hours in advance – quite an impressive indication of the level of interest in Rebels from the broader fandom. By all accounts, the Season Two premiere launches right into the ramifications of the Season One finale, including some appropriately frightening displays of power from Darth Vader. StarWars.com interviewed Carrie Beck about her reactions to the fans seeing the Season Two premiere, where she provided further insight into Vader’s portrayal in Rebels.
The Sunday panel, titled “Star Wars Rebels: Past, Present, and Future,” delved much more deeply into the creation, development, and progression of the series. Digital Stage host David Collins moderated the discussion with Dave Filoni and Carrie Beck, two of the show’s co-creators, and Henry Gilroy, veteran of The Clone Wars and new head writer for Rebels. While the panelists spoke, the big screened scrolled images of concept art from the first two seasons; during the panel fans also were treated to four short clips of rough animation from Season Two episodes.
The panel elaborated upon previous information on the creation of Rebels. It was Beck who proposed a premise comparable to The A-Team: a vigilante team fighting injustice. Zeb, for example, is patterned off B.A. Baracus, including being the lone survivor of a special military unit and a memorable personality. Beck also wanted a female pilot from the beginning, to give the group a female character in a key leadership role. Filoni quickly gravitated to the idea. He also particularly liked the idea of exploring what happens to children born with the Force after the Empire has taken over and the Jedi Order is no longer around to identify and train them. Simon Kinberg sealed the concept with the idea that the characters should be not just a team, but a family.
The discussion also explored some of the characterization and world-building ideas guiding the show. Gilroy noted that Ezra, unlike younglings trained from a young age at the Jedi Temple, would naturally have some dark side tendencies given the emotions inherent in his painful and lonely childhood. Beck added that when Ezra tells the Inquisitor he’s “never heard of it” in reference to the dark side, he’s right – Ezra doesn’t know much about the Force, and certainly wouldn’t have heard terminology familiar to fully trained acolytes. In response to a fan question about Ahsoka’s new lightsabers, Filoni explained the Force philosophy behind the hue. As seen in the Ilum episode of The Clone Wars youngling arc, Kyber crystals are colorless until they become attuned to Jedi building a lightsaber. Ahsoka’s blade wouldn’t be red, of course, but neither would it be a Jedi blue after her departure from the Order. Her Rebels blades are mostly white with a bare hint of blue, representing her standing in the Force. Gilroy explained that the portrayal of Darth Vader in Rebels is deliberately modeled on George Lucas’ dialogue for Vader, and the choreography of his fight scenes also mirrors the Original Trilogy style even though Rebels is not limited by the physical limitations of actors and practical sets. Filoni also pointed out that most people in-universe wouldn’t even know the name Darth Vader. The Emperor can’t overtly rule through fear in the era when the Senate still sits in session – and most people who encounter Darth Vader don’t survive to tell anyone.
Perhaps some of the best moments of the panel, though, were the slightly less serious nuggets shared by the panelists. Filoni admitted to an obsession with a pilot-oriented Star Wars television series without Jedi characters, along the lines of The Right Stuff or Top Gun – perhaps even from the Imperial side of the war. He regaled the audience with the flabbergasting experience of encountering a Hondo cosplayer in the convention corridor, complete with an imitation of Jim Cumming’s unique voice for the character, who demanded to know when Filoni was going to include him in Rebels. Later Filoni joked that he had cosplayers in mind when designing the look of Rex in Rebels, because fans could “train at In & Out to play old Rex.” After Filoni explained that he had drawn a sketch of Rex fishing off the back of a Winnebago on a whiteboard at the Disney satellite office in Los Angeles where the cast records, Beck noted that the sketch is still there because no one is willing to erase it.
If you haven’t seen it, or you’re ready for another viewing, here’s the Rebels Season Two trailer:
B.J. Priester is editor of FANgirl Blog and contributes reviews and posts on a range of topics. A longtime Star Wars fandom collaborator with Tricia, he edited her novel Wynde and is collaborating with her on several future projects set in that original universe. He is a law professor in Florida and a proud geek dad.
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