Book Review – Star Wars Rebels: The Art of the Animated Series

Although many Star Wars fans focused their attention this “May the 4th” on the series finale of The Clone Wars, I found myself fondly recollecting Rebels. My copy of Star Wars Rebels: The Art of the Animated Series arrived over the weekend, and I eagerly read it.

More accurately, I looked at it—at every one of its 200-plus, lavishly illustrated pages. Dark Horse Books has published a gorgeous volume, packed with concept art paintings, character development sketches, and views of vessels and props from every angle.

The book is divided into four sections, one for each of the animated series’ seasons. To leaf through it is to remember the show’s chronology, from the more-or-less standalone episodes of season 1 to the increasingly intricate and epic arcs of seasons 3 and 4.

Its greatest strength is its representation of the show’s varied environments. From the rolling grasslands of Lothal to the menacing Sith temple on Malachor to the rugged horizons of Concord Dawn, the scenic art in this book brings the Galaxy Far, Far Away much, much nearer. Even locales we’d seen before, like Tatooine and Yavin IV, seem fresh and fascinating. I appreciated all over again how deftly the show’s creative team succeeded at making Rebels feel like a Ralph McQuarrie production painting brought to life.

Several of the vehicle illustrations also arrested my attention. I don’t think I was ever particularly enamored of the A-wing before seeing the painting on page 98, for instance, and the sleek Shadow Caster caught my eye because it successfully marries the Star Wars and Star Trek spaceship aesthetics. And, of course, there are plenty of closer looks at the Ghost, our heroes’ true home—including areas we didn’t see much of, like its engine room.

The character artwork is most intriguing when it shows us rejected concepts. The fact that, in almost every case, you can look at the “what might have beens” and feel relief they weren’t testifies to the extreme care the creative team took designing characters who instantly looked and felt authentic. (I still don’t think they got Yoda quite right, even though the chart laying out how his Rebels look evolved makes sense. Oh, well.)

Besides being a delight to look at, this book is a joy to hold. It’s a compact, tall folio, in contrast to the oblong and unwieldy “Art Of” tomes produced for the Sequel Trilogy and anthology films. Perhaps the different format is an acknowledgment that Rebels was, ostensibly, children’s entertainment, though the work collected here shows the creative team never treated it as “just a kid’s show.”

Unfortunately, the text in the book is mostly bland and uninformative. I found some interesting factual nuggets here and there—I would not have known Kanan’s look owed a debt to The Breakfast Club, for instance, or that Clan Wren’s throne room resembles the main meeting room at Lucasfilm’s Big Rock Ranch—but this is not a “Making Of” book, so not too much space is spent on the artists’ thought processes or on behind-the-scenes trivia. 

Apart from that small quibble, I think Star Wars Rebels: The Art of the Animated Series certainly deserves a spot on the shelf of any fan who enjoyed the series. It showcases the intelligence, attention to detail, and obvious love with which Dave Filoni and his collaborators constructed the series, and the images it contains will continue to fire Star Wars’ fans imaginations for years to come.

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