Definite Article: Story Arcs vs. Long-Form Storytelling

It’s easy to compare Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels and look upon the newcomer with a little disdain. Rebels came about because Clone Wars was cancelled, and many believe Clone Wars was doing everything right and that it was wrong to start over with Rebels. A prevailing criticism in the Clone Wars vs. Rebels debate is that Clone Wars took more time to tell its stories – they felt stronger, more mature, and well fleshed out. But is Rebels slowly starting to find that pattern and get it right?Clone Wars told tons of stories with new and interesting twists on the Star Wars formula. There were episodes centered on clones – most of whom go nameless in the films – that made us feel emotionally-connected to the not-so-identical soldiers of the Republic. Some episodes centered on the villains, giving us perspective the childhood of Boba Fett, deadly mercenary trials in The Box, and the ambitions of a former Sith abandoned by his master and left for dead. Rebels doesn’t always have strong stories like this. For every Ahsoka vs. Vader fight, Saw Gererra mission, and Mandalorian mayhem centering on the Darksaber, we get some filler – usually centered on what the droids are up to or someone getting captured again, or sneaking around an Imperial base/ship in Stormtrooper armor again. . .

While I make the comment about Stormtrooper comment to be critical of Rebels, Breaking Ranks (pictured first, Ezra Bridger on the right) is one of the best episodes of the show. However, reusing this tactic over and over has made the Empire seem stupid because they keep falling for it. It’s worked at least three times on Rebels (pictured above) and was revisited in Rogue One, somewhat cheapening the original moment in A New Hope. So how do you break a bad habit like this?

First and foremost, I believe Star Wars: Rebels benefits from the use of longer story arcs more akin to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Two recent storylines centering on Geonosis and Sabine acquiring the Darksaber have been a step up from normal Rebels ‘one-shots’ that resolve most of their new plot threads in the 22-minute time limit. While not as long as a Clone Wars story arc, some of which were four or five episodes long, these typically two-part stories are the real meat of the Rebels viewing experience. The characters have more to do and grow more when not cramped by the 22-minute time limit. Granted, there are other great episodes that don’t have ‘part 1’ or ‘part 2’ after their names, Saw Gererra and Sabine Wren benefited greatly from getting their own mini-arcs in season 3 recently. I know personally I wanted to know more about Geonosis ever since it was mentioned in season one, and I’ve been dying to know more about Sabine’s connections to the fall of Mandalore (and it’s about time since they’ve been teasing it for forever.)

However, there is no right answer to any of this. Ultimately if we keep watching, it doesn’t mean the show is better or worse, but it means we’re hooked and want to see more. I just mentioned that Geonosis wasn’t revisited since its appearance in season one, and the story their is nicely wrapped up while still introducing new elements such as Saw Gererra. Also, those two episodes of season three tie into the Darth Vader comics, featuring a certain Geonosian queen. So maybe the issue comes down more to taste and release schedule – is it better to have three episodes in a row that line up immediately and have a payoff in their finale, or is it better to have teases that might not pay off for seasons at a time? Rebels is starting to have more arcs, albeit short ones, perhaps as a way to test the waters for future multi-part stories. I think that’s the way to go, but I also welcome teases that pay off later on and make me want to rewatch the show to find more hidden details and references. Character-driven arcs will hopefully break up the pattern of filler episodes interspersed with brief moments of what could be great character moments.

Given the last two episodes of Rebels, which deal primarily with Sabine’s return to her family and Mandalorian politics, I’m more excited than ever to see where the show is going. ***(Spoilers ahead if you haven’s seen Trials of the Darksaber or Legacy of Mandalore yet!)***

Trials_of_the_Darksaber.jpg
Seriously. These last two episodes are good stuff. Credit: LucasFilm

These are the Sabine episodes I’ve been looking for, and frankly they’re the episodes that they’ve kept promising and haven’t really delivered until now. Sabine combats tremendous guilt and accusations of being called a traitor by her people. There’s references to the siege of Mandalore and the fallout from that as well as Gar Saxon appearing again to cement his political position in Empire-controlled Mandalore system. Fenn Rau helps save the day and combat the supercommandos, standing with Sabine and her clan. I make not of all these callbacks to previous stories because to me, Rebels sometimes doesn’t follow up on its great ideas. Where did Ezra’s conflicted darkness go? (Actually, where was it to begin with?) Where did the Inquisitors go? Were the ones killed on Malachor the last ones? And who is that voice that was inside Ezra’s holocron anyway? These don’t seem like the type of questions that should be unanswered, especially for so long. That’s two or three major plot points that have fallen by the wayside, and we’re nearing the end of season 3 now without any true closure.

Even though it is flawed, I enjoy most of what Rebels has built without the technical and financial advantages that Clone Wars had. The budget restraints that are often joked about do hurt the show in my opinion, and not having the asset library that Clone Wars had built over the years also shows. But I criticize because I love, and because I want the best Star Wars possible.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Rebels should go for longer story arcs or stick to hit-and-run tactics and see what stories and references stick later on? Share your thoughts here or on the new Empire’s Elite Facebook page! As always, thank you for reading. If you’d like me to speculate on something or have an idea for something you’d like to see, send me a message and I might do a piece on it!

-David

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