Good Ratings… Whadda You Know

WattoAfter posting some pretty dismal ratings last week with Fighter Flight, this week’s episode, Rise of the Old Masters bounced back strong, thanks in large part to ABC’s re-broadcast of the series premiere, Spark of Rebellion, this past Sunday.  Last week’s episode had only managed to attract some 580,000 viewers, surprising many Star Wars fans, and calling into question the long term prospects of the show.  However, this week’s installment on DisneyXD jumped an impressive 366,000 viewers, with a total of some 946,000 total viewers, nearly matching the DisneyXD premiere of Rebels.

It appears the airing of the series premiere on ABC had a significant effect in adding more viewers this week, despite Rebels being pitted against an NFL game that had run into prime time, the opening of Sunday Night Football, and the Pre-Game Show of the World Series.  According to Disney, Rebels posted its best numbers ever among kids 6-11.Kanan

Per the Disney press release:

Star Wars Rebels” (9:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.)

At 9 o’clock, “Star Wars Rebels” generated series highs in Kids 6-11 (359,000/1.5 rating) and Tweens 9-14 (322,000/1.3 rating) and near series highs in Total Viewers (946,000), Kids 2-11 (452,000/1.2 rating), Kids 6-14 (466,000/1.3 rating), Boys 6-14 (351,000/1.9 rating), Boys 6-11 (278,000/2.3 rating) and Boys 9-14 (227,000/1.8 rating).

Doing Math So You Don’t Have To

Disney of course muddied the waters with this weeks numbers by adding a new category of viewers, “Tweens,” covering the 9-14 year old demographic.  Unfortunately that creates some overlap with the standard 6-11 demographic, but by getting out my trusty calculator, and applying some math skills, I was able to find more interesting results again in these numbers, especially as it relates to young female viewers.

SabineWhile the press release focuses almost exclusively on boys there are some encouraging signs for fangirls. The DisneyXD series premiere, Droids In Distress, had nearly 112,000 female viewers ages 6-14, however this week’s episode saw nearly 115,000 young girls take the plunge and watch Rebels despite overall viewership being down some 86,000 from the premiere.  While Droids In Distress managed to attract some 73,000 girls age 6-11, this week’s broadcast brought in nearly 8,000 more young female viewers for a total of 81,000.  And despite the smaller viewer base from Droids, the 12-14 age demographic among young girls remained largely unchanged shedding only 5,000 viewers in that bracket.

Droids in DistressWhile girls 6-11 only made up 22% of all viewers in that demographic, young female Padawans ages 12-14 made up 30% of all viewers 12-14.  Once again the 12-14 demographic is very enlightening, and it appears male viewers in that age range are moving away from the show, with some 13,000 fewer boys taking in the show.  Meanwhile female viewership remains in the 12-14 demographic remains largely stable.  Boys 12-14 make up only 20% of all male viewers 6-14, while girls 12-14 still make up over 30% of all female viewers 6-14.  Again the show has demonstrated an attraction with young tween/teen girls, and Disney should be exploiting that.

Strategies

I would encourage fangirls to keep spreading the word about the show, and keep applying pressure on Disney, and the folks at Lucasfilm, to broadcast the show on a channel that more young girls are likely to watch, like the Disney Channel.  DisneyXD’s most successful animated show to date, Ultimate Spider-Man, just completed a highly successful run on the Disney Channel bringing in almost 2 million viewers and episode.  With the increased exposure of broadcasting on Disney Channel it is likely Rebels would perform as well, if not better.  Additionally, I think periodic broadcasts on ABC could expand the viewer base as well.

Considering how good Rise of the Old Masters was, there is every reason to believe Rebels will be able to hold onto viewers better than DisneyXD’s debut episode.  So keep spreading the word, and keep watching!

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May the Force Be With You

Rebels – Breaking Ranks

Fair warning: Rise of the Masters has yet to air on DisneyXD so there are SPOILERS ahead!!!

Episode 5 – Breaking Ranks – This IS Star Wars

Breaking RanksI approached the newest episode of Star Wars Rebels with a bit of trepidation.  After all, as I said in my review of Rise of the Old Masters, that episode was near perfection and rivaled many of my favorite Clone Wars episodes; Breaking Ranks had a lot to prove, and boy was it ever up to the task.

I don’t often throw around the word superlative to describe things. I usually reserve it for something that has had a profound effect on me, or resonated with me on some level.  While I loved every episode of The Clone Wars – Lost Missions, I have not had such a visceral thrill or wave of emotion come over me watching Star Wars since watching The Wrong Jedi, the final broadcast episode of Clone Wars.  To further make the point how moved I was by Breaking Ranks, when it was over I immediately Tweeted writer/producer Greg Weisman (who wrote this episode), and thanked him for this story.Greg Weisman

Breaking Ranks is a simple story, and that’s what makes it work so well, especially given its 22 minute run time.  As our episode begins, Ezra has been on a mission for the crew to infiltrate the Imperial Academy and pose as a cadet so he can get access to data files which include the coordinates of a convoy that is in possession of some incredibly potent weapon for the Empire.  Both Ezra and Chopper have infiltrated the facility and have been working on the inside for weeks when our story opens.  And while Kanan says he is confident in his young Padawan’s ability to complete the mission, he is clearly concerned Ezra is in over his head.

Eztra Jai and ZareEzra and his fellows cadets are lowered into an ominous Imperial testing facility known as The Well.  They are required to climb a series of moving platforms as quickly as possible while the Academy Commandant measures their stamina, physical prowess, and ability to think quickly and independently.  As the episode unfolds they are placed inside The Well multiple times, each time with a slight twist to the test.  What the cadets are unaware of though is that the Empire also uses this examine to determine the potential Force abilities of the trainees, for a purpose that will be revealed later.

One of the things I really appreciated about these sequences was how they felt familiar.  Season 3 of The Clone Wars began with a spectacular arc following a group of Clone Trooper cadets.  The testing facility has a similar look to the training facilities on Kamino, and even The Well feels eerily to a bounty hunter testing facility from the Season 4 Episode, The Box.  The episode does a spectacular job tying itself to the lore of Star Wars.

LothalWhile attempting to make communication with Chopper, who is in disguise as a black-painted (of course) old Imperial droid, Ezra unwittingly draws the attention of one of his fellow cadets, Zare Leonis.  Zare follows Ezra to Agent Kallus’ office, and watches as Ezra tries to steal the encrypted disc the crew needs to intercept the Imperial shipment.  Zare confronts Ezra over his apparent betrayal, but Ezra senses there is something off about his fellow cadet.  Zare warns Ezra that he is about to set off an alarm if he simply tries to walk out of Kallus’ office with the disc.  Finally, Zare admits he is under cover as well, looking for his sister who trained at this facility and never returned.  The two decide to join forces and find another way to steal the disc.

Later Zare attempts to distract Kallus while Ezra uses the Force to life the disc out of the office into a ventilation duct where Ezra is hiding.  After stealing the disc Ezra overhears an alarming conversation between the Commandant and the  Inquisitor; not only are the Imperials testing for Force abilities among the cadets, but those that do will be delivered to the Inquisitor for special training.  The two candidates the Commandant has eyed for this training are Ezra, and another cadet named Jai.

ZebEzra delivers the disc to Hera and Kanan, but informs his Master that he is staying behind to help his friends, much to Kanan’s dismay.  Ezra must help Jai and Zare escape, but Jai is reluctant, he appears to want to be given this chance at what he thinks might be a better life.  Both Ezra and Zare implore the young cadet that he will probably never see his mother again if he stays.  Jai agrees and their plan is set into action.

Meanwhile Hera and Kanan arrive at the coordinates for the rendezvous and find a group of three ships.  We then learn what the Ghost crew’s mission has been all along.  This convoy carries special cargo, a Kyber Crystal, and enormous crystal with incredible destructive power (give you a guess what it’s for…).  Hera and Kanan must locate the ship carrying the crustal and destroy it before the ship jumps into hysperspace.  The Imperials catch sight of the Ghost and the battle begins.

On Lothal, at the Imperial Academy, the cadets go through one last test in The Well.  Ezra, Jai, and Zare must win the competition, so they will be stationed in the facility’s enormous landing bay when their escape plan is launched.  Unfortunately one of the loyal students intervenes and stuns Zare before he can reach the top.  Thinking quickly, Ezra sacrifices himself, allowing Zare to be one of the final three contestants; Ezra will have to devise a new plan.

SabineFinally Zeb and Sabine launch their attack on the Academy, and Zare and Jai take control of a small AT-ST walker firing at troops and vehicles, creating a diversion for their escape.  Using his incredible powers Ezra jumps onto the walker as more troops approach.

Hera and Kanan are finally able to locate their target and begin their attack, however, waves of TIE fighters attack the Ghost.  All appears lost when the Imperials are about to jump to lightspeed, however, Hera’s fancy flying and a few well placed shots destroy the Imperial ship, and a enormous shockwave erupts from the vessel.  The Imperial ships are consumed by an enormous energy ball, but out heroes narrowly escape making the jump to lightspeed.

Back on Lothal, Ezra, Jai, and Zare are finally able to escape the Academy as Zeb and Sabine finish off the last of the Stormtroopers.  As they are about to leave Zare tells Ezra he’s not going; he must stay behind and keep searching for his sister and the Academy is his best start.    As out heroes escape Zare takes a couple of shots at their escaping speeder, to ensure the Imperials are not suspicious of his mutiny.Ezra wanted

As our story concludes, Zare is taken before the Inquisitor who asks asks the young cadet all he knows about Ezra.  Zare is trapped… for now.  Jai is sent off to find his mother so they can hide from the Empire who will surely try to track the young Force sensitive down. Finally, Kanan and Ezra are reunited.  Kanan finally comes to terms with the fact that his young apprentice is capable, and he should stop doubting him.

Ezra, like Daniel in the Bible, has emerged from the proverbial Lion’s Den with his faith tested and strengthened.  He’s no longer the Lothal street rat without purpose; he is becoming a man.

Quick Observations:

The Good:

The pacing of this episode is perfect, there’s absolutely no fat in this story, but there’s more than enough meat on the bone to sink our teeth into.  I never once felt cheated as a viewer, as if I were missing something, or the story needed to be padded… everything felt right.  There’s a growing tension throughout the episode as we wonder if Ezra will be caught during his mission, what are Zare’s intentions, will the Inquisitor finally get his hands on Ezra, and what exactly is the Ghost’s mission?  All of these questions finally culminate in a thrilling and dramatic conclusion.

PhantomYears ago, when Dave Filoni was still the Supervising Director of The Clone Wars, he once said in an interview that he was “learning how to make Star Wars from George (Lucas);” clearly Dave was a great student, and George was a brilliant teacher.  The tension filled finale with Ezra, Zare, and Jai trying to escape the Imperial Academy with their lives, cross cut with Hera and Kanan on the Ghost trying to destroy the Kyber Crystal, is nothing short of classic Star Wars.  It recalls the epic final battles from A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones as we cut back and forth between our heroes building tension and drama.  The stakes are enormous and there is a frenetic pace to the editing, that often leaves the viewer doubting, just for brief moments, whether our heroes will survive.  Composer Kevin Kiner’s score keeps the tempo and ends with just the right dramatic flourishes at the perfect moments.  For a few minutes I forgot I was watching a weekly animated kids show.

Taylor GrayTaylor Gray is nothing short of stunning as Ezra Bridger.  I was initially concerned about the character and his similarities to a certain Arabian Disney “street rat.”  However, in only a handful of episodes all of those concerns have been swept away.  He has brought a level of depth to the character that I never believed would materialize, and his performance as the young Jedi-to-be is filled with energy, compassion, thoughtfulness, and a sense of purpose.  Since Ezra has taken on the responsibilities of a Jedi Padawan, there is a seriousness to him and a sense that he is growing in confidence.  While he still has that roguish charm, and is quick with a sardonic joke, he is beginning to come into his own as a young man.

One of the things that really makes Ezra stand out to me is his growth.  When the series first began he was simply looking out for himself and very reluctant to get involved in the affairs of the crew.  But as the story continues we can see his maturation.  He is becoming a selfless warrior for the less fortunate around him.  In the final test at The Well he willingly sacrifices himself so that Zare can be a finalist and get a chance to escape.  He is beginning to realize that his gifts in the Force can be a benefit, not just to himself, but to those around him, and that he can use those abilities to help change other people’s circumstances.

He has a larger place in the universe…

The Bad:

I have nothing bad to say about this episode, except that it ended.  Oh, one little nitpick… If you haven’t watched the unfinished four part Crystal Crisis on Utapau arc (what are you waiting for) from The Clone Wars, you wont fully get the reference of the Kyber Crystal,  But even if you haven’t, the crystal still functions as a classic film MacGuffin, that thing the heroes are always in search for, but you never truly find out what it is.

Overview

Perfect pacing, perfect script, great voice acting, a solid score, terrific animation, and a thrilling conclusion make for a near perfect Star Wars adventure.  Breaking Ranks is right up there with the best Clone Wars episodes, and is equally as entertaining as the films that spawned both series.  I’m not sure how Dave Filoni and company topped Rise of the Old Masters, but they have.

Superlative Star Wars storytelling…

9.5 of 10 (Leaving room… just in case)

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May the Force Be With You

More Numbers… Now With 100% More Spin!

The Numbers… the bad and the good
So the early overnight numbers for the ABC rebroadcast of Spark of Rebellion were released this morning, and they were not good. In fact the raw number was pretty bad…

ABC       Star Wars Rebels               18-49 (0.6/2)                           Total Viewers  2.54 million

So Rebels managed to attract some 2.5 million viewers (half that of America’s Favorite Home Videos at the same time), and only pulled a 0.6/2 among all 18-49 year olds meaning 0.6 percent of all TVs in America were watching the show and only 2% of viewers in the 18-49 year old demographic were watching.  In terms of raw numbers that’s about 750,000-780,000 viewers give or take.  The show also once again performed dismally among boys 12-17 pulling in a 0.4 in that demographic.

The initial numbers were not great, but there does appear to be a glimmer of hope…

If you subtract adults 18-49 and boys in the 12-17 range (about 180,000 viewers) that potentially leaves a pretty sizeable chunk of pie among kids 6-11 and even girls in the 12-17 demographic.  When the final numbers come out in a day or two we should have a better gauge of the show’s performance.

Also, there were a number of outside factors which contributed to the lackluster numbers.  The Steelers vs. Colts game ran late on CBS and cut into the same time slot, in addition the show was facing Game 5 of the World Series, and finally, there was the opening of Sunday Night Football.  A kids show, and a rerun at that, is simply going to be hard pressed to compete against those forces.

How these figures impact the ratings of tonight ‘s episode of Star Wars Rebels remains to be seen, but it could have a positive effect.

Spinning the night away

I really hate corporate spin as it really serves no function other than to make execs feel good about themselves and preventing investor panic.  And speaking of spin, ABC/Disney was in full spin mode today.  ABCs numbers last night, throughout most of primetime, were down… pretty hard.  So ABC went into full blown spin cycle, and included this brief announcement about Rebels:

Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion (7-8pm – 2.5 million and 0.6/2 in AD18-49):  During the 7pm hour opposite the start of the World Series and a highly rated NFL overrun, ABC’s special encore airing of Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion – a television movie – drew an average audience of 2.5 million viewers.  Prior to last night’s ABC broadcast, the animated movie had already reached an audience of nearly 16 million unduplicated Total Viewers in the U.S. on Disney Channel and Disney XD since its early October debut (10/3/14). 

Holy crap!!!!  16 MILLION UNIQUE VIEWERS IN THE U.S. HAVE SEEN REBELS!!!  WE’RE SAVED!!!

Not so fast Sparky…

To understand the language of “TV speak” you need to know the definition of a few words.  “Reached,” as defined in the world of broadcast television, means the show was broadcast, rebroadcast, or made available by means which potentially made it available to 16 million viewers.  Whether or not those 16 million potential viewers actually watched is an entirely different matter altogether.  The original broadcast of Spark of Rebellion reached 2.7 million viewers during its premiere on the Disney Channel, and since then, rebroadcasts on Disney Channel and DisneyXD have not registered a blip on the ratings radar.

If we are to believe these numbers from ABC, how is it possible for a series that was so well reviewed in the press and received so much good buzz among Star Wars fans to drop to just 1 million viewers the following week on DisneyXD, and down to 580,000 the next?  That’s only 3.5% of these “unduplicated total viewers.”  Are we honestly expected to believe that people simply hated the show so much that they turned off by a tune of 15.4 million people?  If 16 million viewers watched the premiere, even taking into account the limited access of DisneyXD, the network should be setting ratings records.  The simple fact of the matter is Spark of Rebellion never had 16 million viewers; it’s corporate spin.

So many numbers… what does this all mean???

Since my original post about Rebel’s dropping ratings I’ve been hit with a ton of question, I’ve been a guest on a podcast (thanks Rob), and been the subject of discussion on another (thanks to the folks at Full of Sith).  Some have accused me of being a Chicken Little and crying “The sky is falling,” in hopes of getting hits, or stirring up trouble within the fan base.  Still others have shared my concern and asked me how they can help, or have been very supportive of my efforts to get fandom engaged, and to them I am extremely grateful.

So I’m going to get a little controversial here again… so hang on:

I think Star Wars fans have gotten incredibly fat and lazy (figuratively speaking) in the 15 years since The Phantom Menace… we’ve gotten complacent.  For 15 years we’ve enjoyed nonstop merchandise, a never ending gravy train of media to consume, and a social forum, known as the internet, where we can talk about our mutual love nonstop.  We’ve lived in an insulated bubble of fandom, protected by Lucasfilm and licensees willing to put out endless amount of product, never once asking the question: “What happens if things go south?”

George Lucas was willing to spend untold millions of dollars to see his vision of The Clone Wars realized.  According to some, on average most episodes cost in excess of $2 million and some even approached much larger numbers.  Lucas was willing to experiment and fail because it was his money on the line; he was willing to foot the bill to ensure his animated television dreams came true.  But that’s not the case anymore…

Sure, Disney appears to have endless coffers, and they have invested $4 billion dollars in the franchise.  But the even the execs at Disney and Lucasfilm, and the folks running DisneyXD have bosses to answer to called investors… and they expect a return on their money.  The days of Uncle George’s endless cash supply are over.  If investors feel a show is failing, or if they can find a cheaper show that will pull in the same numbers they will apply monetary pressure.

A number of people have been quick to jump on the “it’s all about the toy sales” bandwagon.  Forgetting the fact there really aren’t a lot of Rebels toys on shelves right now due to a Hasbro screw up, if viewership for Rebels is low, then why should anyone expect Rebels toy sales to be any better?  A kid is not going to invest in action figures for a show they don’t watch.  Discount/Close Out racks are littered with toys from failed kids’ shows.  So basically it will be the same old crowd buying the toys… collectors.

While that’s all well and good, but the investors’ expectations about the brand are completely different.  They were sold, by Iger, on the notion that Disney could expand the Star Wars brand and keep it profitable for the next 40 years.  However, I’d recommend fans go listen to the investors’ conference call the day following the Star Wars purchase, or go and read the transcript.  There’s a lot of doubt in that room; many of the investors were genuinely puzzled.  There’s concerns about profitability of the franchise over the last few years, the perception (created in the media) that the Star Wars Prequels were a failure, and concerns how it might impact the Marvel brand.

When you add those concerns to the faltering ratings of Rebels on DisneyXD, it could create a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the brand may be soft; that Bob Iger may have oversold its long term prospects.  And those kinds of feelings could lead to an early demise to Rebels if ratings don’t improve down the road.

Again, to reiterate, Star Wars Rebels is not going anywhere for two seasons.  Disney will want some kind of presence on the air leading up to Episode VII, so unless the ratings positively crater it will not be cancelled.  However, what happens after Season 2 is another matter altogether.  If the show continues to falter and the Rebels toy line doesn’t sell it might create a climate which could lead investors to question the future of Star Wars animated programming.  And that would be the ultimate punch to the gut, especially on the heels of the cancellation of The Clone Wars.

Star Wars Rebels is a great show, and it deserves to be seen by as many fans and new viewers as possible.  The show has heart and a great cast of characters, and it would be a shame if the plug is pulled before its time…

May the Force Be With You

 

 

Hey, it’s me… on a podcast? And cool Freddie Prinze Jr. interviews!

WHOWARSlgAfter my Disney rant spread across the interwebs, podcaster and Star Wars & Doctor Who superfan, Rob Irwin reached out to me to discuss Rebels and ratings.  Due to time zones (he’s based out of Sydney, Australia), I couldn’t do the show live, but he was kind enough to send me a series of question that I hope shed some more light on the ratings for Rebels.  If you are a Star Wars and Doctor Who fan (like myself), I highly recommend his podcast Who Wars.  You can listen to this week’s episode by clicking on the logo.

Freddie-Prinze-JrAnd speaking of podcasting, if you don’t want to hear me drone on, you can listen to a couple of great interviews with Rebels star, Freddie Prinze Jr., who plays Kanan.  He’s got some great stories to tell about his own fandom and interest in Kung Fu movies.  He’s been making the rounds this week on a number of fan podcasts.  So, far I’ve listened to him on Rebel Force Radio, and in a great in depth discussion with the fine folks at Coffee With Kenobi.  Give them a listen!

RebelForcecoffee with kenobi

Disney and Rebels: Math Can Be Hard

So after my epic rant about Disney’s handling of the launch of Rebels, and the dramatic drop in viewers since its debut on DisneyXD I’ve been hit with a lot of question about why the drop, is the show in danger of being cancelled, are you being just a wee bit of an alarmist?

Let me state right up front; I do not believe Rebels’ cancellation is imminent, and I fully expect Disney to proceed with Season 2, but after that who knows?  The whole purpose of my article was to point out to fans that there were some not so good trends going on in the numbers, and fans needed to show their support for the show to ensure the series has a long run.  Also I wanted to examine why the numbers dropped, and what Disney should be doing to expand the Star Wars brand.  My conclusion was that Disney needed to consider moving the show to another network like Disney channel, or at least change the broadcast date and time.

After a day or so of fielding questions and talking with fellow fans I decided to dig even more into the numbers and break down demographics… that’s when I uncovered a trend that blew my mind and really demonstrated how out of touch Disney was when it came to fangirls.

The Numbers Are the Numbers

As of this moment we only have detailed demographic break downs of the Nielsen numbers for Spark of Rebellion and Droids In Distress.  Even though the numbers for Fighter Flight have been available to Disney since Tuesday, they have chosen to remain silent, and have not even issued a press release about Monday’s numbers.  So for the purposes of this examination I decided to stick with the number for Droids In Distress since the show now resides on Disney’s boy-centric network and it gives us a snapshot of what the demographics were that evening, and might reflect in the future.

Droids In Distress had  1,030,000 total viewers, and of those viewers, 481,000 of them were kids ages 6-14.  That means 549,000 viewers were outside the target demographic of the show, which of course means parents of young fans, and hundreds of thousands of late teen and adult Star Wars geeks tuned into the show.  Obviously the late hour had a negative effect on the target demographic.  Now let me break down these numbers:

481,000 all kids 6-14

356,000 kids 6-11   74% of all kids

125,000 kids 12-14   26% of all kids

So, as you can see the show clearly had more viewers 6-11, but the representation of slightly older kids is nothing to sneeze at.  But it was at this point where the number got REALLY interesting… in a way completely contradictory to how Disney is promoting the show.

Boys Demographics… Solid

Of the 481,000 kids ages 6-14 who watched the show, 369,000 were boys and made up 76.7% of all viewers 6-14.  Their numbers break down further like this:

283,000 boys 6-11 76.7%

86,000 boys 12-14 23.3%

Clearly younger boys have a deeper connection to the show and stayed up late to watch.  The number is a little surprising considering Ezra should be right in the wheelhouse of boys 12-14 as he’s the same age range.  So of ALL boys, fewer than a quarter of them are watching Star Wars Rebels

Girls Demographics… Mind Freak

Finally, we arrive at the numbers for female viewers.  According to Nielsen, a total of 112,000 girls ages 6-14 watched Droids In Distress. Overall they made up 23.3% of total viewers ages 6-14.  But here’s where the numbers flip, and where Disney should be paying close attention.

73,000 girls 6-11 65.2%

39,000 girls 12-14 34.8%

Yes, you read that right… Girls 12-14 made up a higher percentage of viewers in their respective demographic.  They outpaced boys by almost 12% by demographic.  While 39,000 viewers may not be a lot compared to 86,000, the fact that older girls were more willing to sit down and watch the show compared to their male counterparts shows there’s a lot of room for growth among early teen girls.  And this isn’t really surprising as you have one female teen on the show, Sabine, and you have Hera, an older female role model.

I’ll be honest, if I were at Disney, and I was looking at these numbers, I’d really begin wondering why this show isn’t on the Disney Channel.  There’s more visibility, and there’s clearly more potential growth in the 12-14 year old girl than there is among boys in the same age bracket.  It’s something to consider….

May the Force Be With You

 

Remember Kids to Set Your Dial to ABC…

STAR WARS REBELSJust a quick follow up to my post yesterday. If you really want to show your support for Rebels and demonstrate to Disney executives that Star Wars Rebels can be a mainstream hit, then pass the word on and watch the rebroadcast of Spark of Rebellion on your local ABC station on Sunday the 26th at 7/6 PM Central Time.

I’d also really encourage female fans in the Star Wars community to get the word out about the broadcast to their fellow fangirls who may not be watching the show.  Disney needs to see that the Star Wars brand can reach beyond the traditional “boy” demographic.

Hera and Sabine are two fantastic addition to the pantheon of Star Wars heroes and can be great role models for young female fans.  But they need to be able to see the show, and Disney’s decision to relegate Rebels to DisneyXD (their “boys” network) really limits those opportunities.

If the female demographics are good enough maybe Disney will consider moving the show to the Disney Channel, or at least broadcast it more frequently on the Disney Channel when girls are more likely to watch.

http://abc.go.com/shows/movies-and-specials/listings/star-wars-rebels-spark-of-rebellion

May the Force Be With You

Disney and Rebels – You’re Killin’ Me Smalls

SandlotGonna get a little controversial here so buckle up…

When Disney finalized the purchase of the Star Wars license they made the controversial decision to cancel the hit series, The Clone Wars, on Cartoon Network.  Disney execs decided they needed a new show with closer ties to the Original Trilogy which would play a vital part in the upcoming Sequel Trilogy hitting theaters in December 2015.  Supervising Director of The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni, and his creative team were tasked with developing a new series which would broadcast on Disney’s boy-centric DisneyXD network.

Exit Clone Wars Enter Rebels

For the past two weeks Disney was busy touting the viewership numbers for Star Wars Rebels, with good reason.  The 1 hour movie premiere on Disney Channel had an estimated 6.5 million viewers worldwide, with another 75,000 watching Spark of Rebellion via the Watch DisneyXD app or iTunes.  When the show made its move to DisneyXD with the broadcast of Droids In Distress, it still managed to bring in some 1.03 million viewers in the US making it the biggest animated premiere on DisneyXD, and its biggest animated show of the new Fall season.  Despite what appeared to be impressive numbers, there was something nagging at me.  The numbers looked soft.

Some Bad Signs…

Star-Wars-Rebels-CrewFrom its premiere on the Disney Channel to DisneyXD the show dropped over 62% of its total viewers.  That number may appear a bit alarming at first glance, but when you consider the Disney Channel is available on approximately 90% cable/satellite providers while DisneyXD is only carried by 68% of all providers, the drop off appears to make some sense, but if you looked deeper into the Nielsen numbers by demographics there were some very bad trends.

According to Nielsen, of all kids 6-11 who watched the DisneyXD premiere, Droids In Distress, approximately 25% of them were girls.  A number of fans touted the number as a good sign that the franchise was making inroads with young female viewers.  Unfortunately the actual number is far less impressive… Of all viewers ages 6-11 only 73,000 of them were girls.  What’s worse is the total number of female viewers from week one on Disney channel to week two on DisneyXD had cratered dropping about 78%.

Then the news got worse…

Wait, Star Wars Is On?

InquisitorLate last night, Amanda Kondolojy, reporter for TV BytheNumbers. posted the overnight Nielsen ratings for Star Wars Rebels, and they weren’t good:

STAR WARS REBELS DXD 9:00 PM 581 0.1

Not only had Rebels shed over half of its viewers from week one to week two, but now the show had shed another 40% of its total viewership.  Now to be fair these numbers are up about 100 thousand viewers from the same time last year (and I’m sure Disney will spin them as such), but this is Star Wars we are talking about, and this is supposed to be a franchise you were using to lure large numbers of viewers to the DisneyXD network.  Even adding the total number of viewers from the Watch DisneyXD app and iTunes only adds around another 70 to 80 thousand viewers to the total numbers.

So What Happened?

The Network – I’ll be honest, before Rebels was announced I had only watched a handful of shows on DisneyXD over the years, and this is coming from as big a Disney fanatic as I am a Star Wars fan.  The programming is just fairly generic and not terribly original.  For years the network had struggled but over the past couple of years the network has produced a small number of hits like Kickin’ It and Pair of Kings.  With the purchase of the Marvel and Star Wars licenses network executives hoped to lure new viewers with both properties.Disney XD

However there’s one slight problem.  As I mentioned before, many cable/satellite carriers refuse to pay Disney’s expensive prices to broadcast all of their cable channels.  Most providers seem fairly content to simply offer the Disney Channel and ABC Family and be done with it.  The lack of available viewers could really hurt the shows’ prospects long term.

The Time: Star Wars Rebels airs at 9PM on Monday evenings… incredibly brilliant.  Air a show aimed at younger fans late on a school night?  Good call.  I’d really like to know what genius at Disney thought this was a good idea.  While The Clone Wars briefly had a 9PM time slot as well that was on Friday evening… big difference.

Ties to the Past – Rebels has been trying to find this balance as a functioning bridge between the two Star Wars trilogies.  However, the show is steeped, too much in my opinion, in the lore of the Original Trilogy.  Again, to be fair, it is only natural as we are much closer to the events of A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith, and the nostalgia trip is great for older fans watching the show.  However, for younger fans the inside jokes and call backs to old Ralph McQuarrie designs and Kenner toys probably fall a little flat.  For the past 15 years fans 20 and younger grew up with the Prequels and The Clone Wars… to them, that is Star Wars.  The show’s creators probably would have been better served by having one of the crew members of the Ghost be a character from The Clone Wars, or have a recurring character from that show be a link for younger fans.

The Gender Gap – Finally, we come to the 800 pound Gundark in the room… Star Wars and gender.

As a child of the 70s, Star Wars was definitely geared toward boys back in the day.  Sure there were female fans who loved the feisty Princess Leia, and to a large degree boys liked her too (I had a really cool Princess Leia t-shirt myself), but most kids at the time saw Star Wars as “for boys.”  The toys were geared toward boys, the books, the comics, all of it was meant to appeal to young boys 6-14 years old.

FanBut that started to change with the growth of the Expanded Universe which featured far more female leads like Mara Jade, and Jaina Solo.  Some of the novels catered toward female readers like Dave Wolverton’s, Courtship of Princess Leia.  Female fans became a much more vocal and active part of the Star Wars fan community.

That trend continued with the Prequels and The Clone Wars with the additions of strong female characters like Padme Amidala, Ahsoka Tano, and Jedi Masters Luminara Undulli and Shakk Ti.  Many of the popular authors of the Expanded Universe now included women like Karen Traviss.  The Saga was changing along with fandom, and now it was no longer uncommon to see young girls at conventions dressed as their favorite Star Wars heroine.

The powers that be within Lucasfilm plan to continue this trend of expanding the franchise to draw in more female fans.  In fact two of the leadership positions within the company are women; Lucasfilm is run by producer Kathleen Kennedy and the Star Wars Story Group is supervised by writer/producer Kiri Hart.  Hart has made it very clear that she views the Saga as gender neutral:

I haven’t experienced “Star Wars” being for boys, because I loved it from seven years old.  I was so powerfully influenced by Princess Leia as a kid. I remember being transfixed by her — she was so empowered and smart and funny.

There are a lot of different types of characters. “Star Wars” should be diverse because it’s a big galaxy. – Kiri Hart, Wall Street JournalKiri Hart

Well, she might try telling the folks at Disney that..

If you are trying to expand the brand to include more female viewers, then why in the world stick it on DisneyXD?  From DisneyXD’s own mission statement:

DisneyXD is a basic cable channel and multi-platform brand showcasing a compelling mix of live-action and animated programming for kids age 6-11, hyper-targeting boys and transporting them into worlds full of humor, unexpected fun and inspiring action-filled adventures. DisneyXD-branded content spans television, online, mobile and VOD platforms. The programming includes series, movies and short-form, as well as sports-themed programming developed with ESPN. In the U.S., DisneyXD is seen on a 24-hour, advertiser-supported network that reaches over 80 million households via its basic cable and satellite affiliates. There are 30 DisneyXD channels available in 25 languages around the world.

Not necessarily the smartest decision there, and easily explains the drastic drop Rebels experienced among female viewers.  The network specifically caters to young boys, and that’s fine, but if your stated goal with Star Wars is to attract more female fans wouldn’t it have made more sense to place the show on a network like Disney Channel, ABC or ABC Family?

Silly Rabbit, Star Wars Can Be For Girls Too

Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. – Yogurt Master of the Schwartz

Jedi AcademyUnfortunately this all points to a total disconnect between what Lucasfilm is trying to accomplish with the Saga, and what Disney wants from the brand.  While Lucasfilm is attempting to attract more female and minority fans, Disney seems content to continue catering Star Wars to young boys in an effort to expand the Disney brand among that market.  You want proof, go to your local Disney Store.  Star Wars products are proudly on display in the boys section of the store with virtually no products featuring female Star Wars heroes.  The lack of representation of girls sparked a bit of an outrage among a number of fans when the Disney Store Star Wars merchandising section debuted.  Luke, Han, Chewie, the Droids, and Vader could all be found in the store… but Princess Leia was conspicuously absent.  Even Hasbro fell on its face when the first wave of Rebels action figures was announced; a wave which failed to feature even one of the two female leads on the show.

Disney really needs to get its act together here.  Hera and Sabine have become two fan favorites on Rebels, and Hera voice actress, Vanessa Marshall, is an amazing ambassador for the Star Wars brand.  There’s a real potential to attract new, younger female fans here, if Disney will get its messaging straight.  It’s simply staggering how tone deaf Disney is being here when Hera and Sabine can easily be used to shepherd more female viewers to the show. Lucasfilm has been in the merchandising and fan outreach business for so long this might a good time for Disney to loosen their grip and let Lucasfilm handle that part of the business.

What to Do?

Well, if your a fan, get your friends to watch.  Keep pushing the show on your Twitter feeds, Facebook and other social media outlets.  Hopefully the special broadcast of Spark of Rebellion on ABC (with new Vader scene) will generate some more interest for the show.  As for Disney’s part, if this downward trend continues they should seriously consider moving the show to another day and time or even move it to another Disney/ABC network.  The show deserves better… Star Wars deserves better.

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May the Force Be With You

Canon Wars

Expanded Universe1This past April, Lucasfilm announced, via the Official Star Wars website, that going forward, only the six films of George Lucas’ Star Wars Saga, and The Clone Wars television series would be counted as official canon (meaning they are a part of official Star Wars history).  Additionally, all future comics, books, short stories, television projects, and films would now be part of a cohesive whole and conform to that canon.  They also established that all books and comics previously released would now carry the moniker of “Legend” status, and would no longer be considered any part of Star Wars lore.  Lucasfilm was free to use characters, ideas, and stories from those releases for future projects, but from the perspective of the new Star Wars Story Group (responsible for shepherding the Saga going forward), these stories were now apocryphal.

The news was met by fans with a mixture of ambivalence, elation, shock, and horror depending on what side of the Expanded Universe as canon argument you fell on.  Some within fandom saw the announcement as a good thing, giving Lucasfilm and Disney a fresh start to tell new stories without the baggage of previously established stories.  Others saw the announcement as the ultimate betrayal of fans of the Expanded Universe who had loyally followed their favorite characters through hundreds of adventures told in books and comics, and were now being dumped on their heads.Star Wars #7

What became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (meaning stories told outside of the movies) began with issue #7 of the Marvel Comics Star Wars series which began to tell stories of what took place to our heoric Star Warriors following the Battle of Yavin.  1978 saw the release of the first spin off novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was followed shortly by a series of Han Solo novels written by Brain Daley.  A series of Lando Calrissian novels came later after the release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Guide to Star WarsAt the time there was really no need to consider the continuity between the novels and the comics since there were only a handful of stand alone novels which had no bearing on what Marvel was doing with the comics.  However, in 1984, following the conclusion of the Original Trilogy, author Raymond L. Velasco tried to put all of the information collected in the films, novels, and comics into one guide book of the Star Wars Universe.  A Guide to the Star Wars Universe was the first attempt to gather the history, people, and places of that far away galaxy in one place.  But the universe was about to explode in 1987.

For the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars roleplaying design company, West End Games, released the 1st Edition of their Star Wars Roleplaying Game, along with the Star Wars Sourcebook.  The era of the Expanded Universe was born.  In the years that followed West End released books revealing the inner working of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the aliens and planets that made up the universe.  The game became an instant hit with gamers and non gamers, and the Star Wars sourcebooks that were released became required reading for serious fans.  WEG - Star Wars Sourcebook

However, 1991 would go down as probably the most important year in the history of the Expanded Universe with two seminal releases that would change how Star Wars stories were marketed and revive the series among the general public.  Heir to the Empire, written by science fiction author Timothy Zahn, to the story of Han, Luke, and Leia years after their victory at the Battle of Endor.  A New Republic had emerged, and the Star Warriors were once again called to protect the universe from the Empire, under the direction of the evil  Grand Admiral Thrawn.  The book became an instant bestseller, and sparked a wave of more adult novels.  Meanwhile, later that year, Dark Horse Comics secured the Star Wars license and launched their own post-Jedi story, Dark Empire, which saw Luke Skywalker taking on a resurrected clone Emperor Palpatine.  The six issue miniseries (which was originally intended as a Marvel release) became Dark Horse’s best selling title to date, and Dark Horse immediately commissioned new comic titles.

For the next 20 years both Dark Horse and Bantam/Del Rey books released hundreds of stories which all became part of a larger Star Wars experience known as the Expanded Universe.  Lucasfilm tried to keep it all under control ensuring that continuity was maintained between various comics, novels and video games.  Eventually, the company attempted to set some firm rules about what constituted official Star Wars lore, and what was part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity.  Lucasfilm devised a muti-tiered program with the movies, and later The Clone Wars television series being called “G-Level canon,” meaning official Star Wars canon coming directly from creator George Lucas. Comics, most novels, and video games became a separate part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity and were intended not to conflict with each other.  Finally, other projects like The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Ewoks movies and cartoon series, the Droids animated show, and other projects were their own animal.

Zhan Trilogy

The two main continuity lines appeared to live together, but separate for a number of years, rarely intersecting or conflicting with each other.  However, that began to change as The Clone Wars animated series began to explore ideas and characters that creator George Lucas was interested in. Of course with hundreds of books, comics, and short stories telling new adventures, or filling in gaps left by the movies there were bound to be contradictions.  The first big salvo was about to be fired over the backstory of the Mandalorians.Mandalore

Lucas first devised the name Mandalorian when working on The Empire Strikes Back. According to the novelization they were a group of super commandos who hunted down the Jedi Knights.  Following the release of Jedi, it did not appear that Lucas would be revisiting Boba Fett’s backstory, or the history of the Mandalorians, so comic authors and novelists felt safe digging into the mysteries of Boba Fett and the Mandalorian people.  That changed with Attack of the Clones when Lucas first revealed the origins of Boba Fett and his bounty hunter father, Jango Fett.

Following that film’s release, author Karen Traviss authored a series of Clone Trooper books which went into great detail about the Mandalorians, their culture, history, and language.  Her writing on the subject was so in depth that it gave rise to a subculture of the Star Wars fanbase that was dedicated to all things Mando.  Unfortunately, the reality of Star Wars canon and what was considered the “real” history of Star Wars would be at odds with Traviss’ work when Lucas decided it was time to visit Mandalore itself in The Clone Wars.  Instead of a noble warrior culture as Traviss envisioned, Lucas saw Mandalore as a pacifist world that had turned its back on its warrior past and was trying to find peace in a galaxy at war.  In a three-part arc, the current ruler of Mandalore, the Duchess Satine, is trying to quell a rebellion by Death Watch, descendants of the Mandalorian warriors, while trying to keep her homeworld out of the Clone Wars.

SatineNeedless to say, the reaction among fans of Traviss’ Mandalorians was extremely negative.  Some accused Lucas of violating canon and implied that Traviss had created the “official” history of the Mando culture.  Others suggested Lucas was nothing more than a hack, strip mining Traviss’ good ideas, while injecting his own “crappy” ones.  It was at this point that I realized that Lucasfilm was simply in an untenable position.

George Lucas has always been very clear what constitutes official Star Wars canon, and what is considered “part” of the Star Wars universe, but outside of his Saga:

There are two worlds here. There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe—the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.” George Lucas Cinemascape, July 2001

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Lucasilm’s representatives who muddied the waters with statements like this:

We’ve stuck to a very clear branding strategy for the past decade. This is Star Wars. Individual movies come and go, as do TV shows, video games, books. They all contribute to the lore of Star Wars, but in the end it is one saga and that saga is called Star Wars. We’ve wanted to send a clear message to our fans that everything we do is part of that overall saga.”  Howard Roffman, President, Lucas LicensingTales of the Jedi

Lucas Licensing Editor Sue Rostoni tried to elaborate on this, but only added to the confusion:

Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas’ Star Wars saga of films and screenplays.

Long time fan and contributor to Lucas Online, Pablo Hidalgo and and Lucasfilm Continuity Database Administrator, Leland Chee were tasked with getting the Star Wars licensing behemoth under some sense of structured order.  They made it clear that there were essentially two hierarchies of Star Wars canon; George’s vision of the Star Wars Saga which included his films and The Clone Wars, and and Expanded Universe canon which included the six films. The Clone Wars, and the comics and novels.  Chee further clarified that the only “official” Star Wars story was George’s:

“Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.

Of course fans would continue to bicker endlessly  about canon and the Expanded Universe’s place in the Star Wars legend.  Some argued that The Clone Wars was not canon, others devised their own hybrid canon including some portions of the EU as part of the “official” Star Wars story.  However, the Disney purchase of the Star Wars license changed everything.

Finally, a definitive answer was given when Lucasfilm announced that going forward all comics, books, and stories would now be part of the official Star Wars timeline and would be supervised by the new Star Wars Story Group.  All Expanded Universe products released in the past would be rebranded as “Legends,” apocryphal stories that were no longer considered canon.  However, Lucasfilm reserved the right to use elements of the old EU in future Star Wars projects.  This outstanding video explains the policy changes:

Unfortunately this announcement was met by a lot of push back.  Fans had become attached to many EU characters like Luke Skywalker’s wife, Mara Jade, or Han and Leia’s children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo. Other fans were immersed in the ancient history of Star Wars told in the Old Republic series.  The EU was a rich and diverse universe with many memorable characters of its own, and suddenly being told that these stories “don’t count” had to be a little jarring.  Naturally there was bound to be some disappointment, but some fans took things to a bit of an extreme.

New Jedi OrderFrom my own point of view, I’m happy with the change.  I never really viewed the hundreds of comics and books as having any impact on the stories George Lucas was trying to tell.  I never once considered him sitting down to write the treatment for Episode VII, then reading a copy of  Heir to the Empire and quietly saying to himself, “Dammit, Han and Leia have twins? What am I going to do?” As a long time Star Trek fan who read the comics and most of the novels during the 80s, I was intimately familiar with the concept of canon and ancillary merchandising.

I guess my backgound in film studies helped me grasp the idea that while all of these new characters and adventures can be exciting, in the grand scheme of things they really don’t amount to much to the filmmaker and his creative process; they are nothing more than a revenue stream.  I know it’s a somewhat cynical attitude, but it’s true.  I doubt in the 30 plus years that Lucas controlled the Star Wars empire that he ever cracked open a Star Wars novel or seriously read one of the many comic series.  He simply did not have time for that.

Over the years the sheer volume of books coming out from Bantam/Del Rey had led to a very spotty track record.  For every Kenobi, or I, Jedi, or Allegiance, there were a handful of books which were painful to read.  Concepts like the Yuzzan Vong, a clear attempt to cash in on the Star Trek Borg craze fell flat, and simply didn’t feel much like Star Wars.  Lengthy book series like The New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi were mix of good and awful novels which tested the reader’s patience.Kenobi

Now to be clear, I’m a huge fan of many of the Star Wars novels (I consider John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi to be one of the finest Star Wars stories ever), and I’ve read every issue of the comics produced by Marvel and Dark Horse.  If you even dare to visit the Jedi Council Forums at theforce.net you can find me there posting as Gallandro (a nod to Han Solo’s nemesis, the villainous gunslinger created by Brian Daley).  I LOVE a lot of the EU, but it was time for a change…

And I understand that change is hard; I really sympathize with EU fans who feel betrayed by Lucasfilm/Disney.  There are a lot of fans out there who were introduced to Star Wars through the EU, so these stories hold a special place for them.  To them Jaina Solo is just a vibrant and real as Luke and Leia.  But the reality is these characters aren’t going anywhere, as long as you stay invested in them.  Sure there wont be any new licensed adventures featuring the heroes and villains of the EU, but its clear they are not being totally abandoned.  Del Rey is re-releasing many of the classic EU novels with the new “Legends” banner, and even Marvel will be releasing collections of selected series of Dark Horse Star Wars comics as part of the “Legends” series.  There’s no reason EU fans can’t introduce other Star Wars fans, or non fans to many of these classic stories.  The EU hasn’t gone anywhere… it’s just taking a different path.

A New DawnI would urge any EU fans out there who have given up on the new continuity to give it a chance.  The first official novel released under the new canon, A New Dawn, by longtime Star Wars author John Jackson Miller is an outstanding book (I’ll post a review soon) and a worthy successor to the long line of EU classics.  James Luceno’s Tarkin has also been receiving great advanced reviews. Additionally, a couple of the upcoming Marvel comics sound intriguing like the Kanan spin off comic and the upcoming Leia miniseries.

While the era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe has come to a close, there appears to be a bright future ahead for quality books and comics that fans can enjoy while we wait for the latest big screen Star Wars adventure.

May the Force Be With You

Rebels – Rise of the Old Masters

Fair warning: Rise of the Masters has yet to air on DisneyXD so there are SPOILERS ahead!!!

Episode 4 – Rise of the Masters – The Dark Side Rises and a Journey Begins

Rise of mastersWhen Star Wars finds the right balance of exciting story, mixed with humor, great action scenes, and heroes and villains pulled from classic archetypes it elevates itself beyond just popcorn entertainment to telling modern myth.  Rise of the Old Masters is just such a story.

As our story begins, Ezra has started his Jedi training, and it is clear both he, and his master, Kanan Jarrus, are struggling with his studies.  Ezra lacks the focus Kanan feels his student needs, and after a series of failed tests, cracks in their Master/Padawan relationship begin to show. While Kanan may outwardly be showing disappoint in Ezra, the person he is most disappointed in is himself.  Kanan feels he is completely unsuited to train Ezra properly,

Later, the crew of the Ghost gathers on the ship to watch an Imperial news report that is interrupted by rebel agents who claim that Jedi Master Luminara Undulli is being held prisoner at a castle on Stygeon Prime (a nice nod to The Clone Wars arc turned comic Son of Dathomir).  Kanan hatches a plan; the crew will infiltrate the facility and rescue the Jedi Master.  As a bonus Ezra will now have a proper master to train him.  It all sounds too good to be true…Luminara

And it is…

After arriving at Stygeon, Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, and Sabine make their way into the prison facility to rescue Undulli.  The group realizes the schematics of the old building are out of date, requiring the group to alter their plans.  Zeb and Sabine grow increasingly concerned this may be a trap, or they may be unable to escape once they have rescued the Jedi prisoner.

Meanwhile Ezra and Kanan work their way deeper into the prison. The pair finally arrive at Undulli’s cell, and after a quick Jedi Mind Trick on a couple of unsuspecting Stormtroopers, Master and Padawan find themselves face to face with the Jedi captive.  But it is only an illusion which dissipates to reveal a casket holding the remains of the fallen Master.

From the shadows emerges the Inquisitor, a tall and gaunt looking Utapauan tasked with hunting down remaining Jedi, or those Force users the Emperor deems to be dangerous.  As he draws his red bladed lightsaber, the Inquisitor reveals this has all been a plot to draw Kanan and Ezra out from hiding… His terrible trap is sprung.

Inquisitor vs KananKanan quickly draws his own blade as he and the Inquistor exchange blows and verbal jabs.  The Inquisitor feels Kanan’s doubt and begins to play on that fear of his inadequacies as a teacher.  However, as the battle ensues Kanan and Ezra slowly begin to work as a team, each realizing they need each other in order to survive.

Eventually, after some quick thinking by Kanan, the pair briefly escape finding Zeb and Sabine along the way.  The group quickly makes their way to the landing bay with Stormtroopers and the Inquisitor in hot pursuit.  When they arrive at the docking bay they find the large bay doors shut, preventing their escape.  Meanwhile the Inquisitor is cutting his way through door to the hanger… they are running out of time.

Kanan turns to Ezra and tells him to concentrate on the locking mechanism, and in his mind, push it away.  Together, Padawan and Master are able to lift the bay door.  Dozens of Stormtroopers wait for them on the other side, and in an epic gun fight the motley group makes their way through the Troopers to the other side of the bay where Hera waits in the Ghost’s attack shuttle, The Phantom.

The Inquisitor watches as the crew of the Ghost escapes…

Back on Lothal, Ezra and Kanan ponder their future.  Kanan has finally come to terms with the fact that he may not be the best teacher for Ezra, and he might make mistakes along the way, but this is his task.  Their journey down the path of mentor and apprentice finally begins.

Quick Observations:

The Good:

Henry Gilroy is one of my favorite Star Wars writers… he just gets Star Wars.  Gilroy was responsible for some of the best episodes of The Clone Wars such as The Ryloth arc, the Children of the Force arc, and Slaves of the Republic arc.  He really has an understanding of George Lucas’ style of storytelling and using metaphor and myth to tell a very rich story, and that’s certainly the case here.  Gilroy uses a lot of the same elements of the Luke/Yoda relationship to help bring the audience an instant connection of what was underlying Ezra and Kanan’s initial struggles.  Kanan sees right away that Ezra lacks focus and patience, but Ezra’s struggles bring out Kanan’s own doubts in his ability to train his young pupil.  It’s great stuff.  Gilroy’s writing is definitely the best of the series so far, and I’m thrilled that he’s staying on board the production as a writer and producer.

Jason Issacs

In just his 10 minutes or so of screen time, The Inquisitor has already taken his place among the pantheon of great Star Wars villains, largely due to Gilroy’s fantastic dialog, but also in large part due to the brilliant character design, and outstanding performance by Jason Issacs (of Harry Potter and The Patriot fame).  Issacs is incredibly mesmerizing in role.  There’s a physicality to his voice work which gives the character additional weight; he almost feels like a cobra waiting for the right time to strike.  My only problem with the character was how abrupt his introduction was… he simply appears in the episode.  I felt a little cheated like there should have been some build up for his appearance in this episode.

One of the things I love in the Star Wars films is the use of alien creatures to establish a reality to the universe.  There are a couple of great Star Wars moments with flying creatures on Stygeon who create a nuisance for Hera and her rescue plans.  She eventually uses the creatures as an impromptu air force to help her save the day.  The creature design are based on some old Ralph McQuarrie designs from The Empire Strikes Back.

A special nod to Mr. Data, I mean Brent Spiner who turns in a great little cameo as the voice of the Rebel opposition on Lothal, Gall Trayvis.

The Bad:

The opening starts out with Kanan training his young apprentice on top of the Ghost while in flight.  There are some nice moments harkening back to Luke’s Jedi training on Dagobah with Kanan urging Ezra to remain focused while Chopper and Zeb egg the young Padawan on.  Unfortunately the scene degenerates into a moment so obvious and predictable that I simply sighed and rolled my eyes.  Kanan, becoming increasingly frustrated with Ezra’s lack of concentration, decides that some lightsaber practice is in order and orders Ezra to begin deflecting pieces of trash being hurled at Ezra by Chopper.  As he struggles to deflect the refuse he staggers back toward the edge of the ship.  Of course we all know what’s going to happen… Chopper gets a little too rambunctious with his task and Ezra slides over the edge of the ship, falling to his certain death.  Of course Ezra is saved by Kanan’s use of the Force.  Isn’t their some kind of Jedi policy against endangering young Padawans during training sessions?

InquisitorGoing to get a little geeky here, and I’m probably going to be on an island among Star Wars fans, but I find the Inquisitor’s lightsaber fairly silly.  I loved the use of the dual blades when the saber was in its “half moon” configuration, it has a vaguely East Asian look giving it a real world feel.  But when the Inquisitor transforms the saber into the full circle Cuisinart of Doom it takes what should have been a fear inducing moment and turns into silly spectacle.  It’s really completely impractical as a weapon in it’s spinning configuration… I guess maybe as a thrown weapon it might work.  Unfortunately as soon as he activated the function all I could hear in my head was the old Kenner announcer:  “The new Inquisitor action figure, with spinning saber of doom action!”

Those two quibbles aside, this is a brilliant episode.

Overview:  A great episode with solid writing by Henry Gilroy.  The story is engaging, exciting, and has a tight story laced with emotional resonance that really captures the growing pains of the Master/Padawan relationship between Ezra and Kanan yet still gives us a glimpse of their potential down the road.  Star Wars Rebels is definitely starting to find its stride.  There are certainly a few hiccups here and there, but the show is certainly growing into a worthy successor to The Clone Wars.

9 of 10

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