image via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Resistance Is a Interesting Story, but a Weak Comedy

With the, arguably untimely, end of Rebels, the next animated series set in the Star Wars universe was always going to be hotly anticipated. Despite the deep (and dumb) divisions in the Star Wars fandom at the moment, the animation side of the house remains relatively well-liked. The Clone Wars was a marvel and helped fans of all generations better appreciate the prequel films. Rebels was the first official Star Wars offering in the Disney era, and while initially panned as a bit too “kids’ show-y,” it silenced almost all the critics. Some fans, by that I mean “me,” hoped that Star Wars: Resistance would do the same thing for this new era of films. It possibly might, but it has one big problem: it’s trying to be a comedy.

If you are a grown adult tuning into a cartoon about space wizards and cute round-headed robots, you should expect to encounter some storytelling aimed at younger viewers. The first seasons of both previous animated series helmed by Dave Filoni were unquestionably children’s stories. The successive seasons of the shows saw the storytelling mature, mostly out of necessity. It’s a story about war, after all. It’s baked-in with the title. However, while an executive producer, Filoni is less hands-on with this series. Most everyone is a veteran of Lucasfilm animation. If anything it bodes well for the future of the show, but also contributes to the comedy problem.

Star Wars always features gags, almost from the opening moments when a nearly identical droid to C3-PO walks behind the two droid characters in the opening. The humor varies movie to movie, and how funny things are depend on how old you were when you first saw it. However, reasonable critics say that The Last Jedi perhaps offered a few more jokes than it should have. Because while Star Wars can be funny, it’s not a comedy. There were successful, but forgettable, comedy cartoons made in the late 1980s, Droids and Ewoks. Yet they weren’t really part of the larger Star Wars universe. In fact, the only truly successful comedic Star Wars endeavors have been satirical remakes from Family Guy and Robot Chicken. Seths Green and McFarlane worked on animated Star Wars comedy series that (thank the Force) died when Disney bought Lucasfilm. As good as those parodies were, the footage of it that exists is painfully unfunny.

The only other attempt at a comedy-based narrative in Star Wars is the infamous holiday special. If Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and a multi-armed Harvey Korman as Space Julia Child can’t make Star Wars funny, nothing can. Yet, it appears that Resistance is going to be a comedy first, Star Wars drama second. This choice is regrettable. Christopher Sean plays main character Kazuda Xiono, a spy for the titular Resistance during the cold war between it and the First Order. His introduction is as a fuck-up New Republic pilot with heart who impresses Poe Dameron (voiced by Oscar Isaac). Why and how is never made clear. Because from the second he’s out of his X-Wing, Kaz is a stuttering, uneasy-in-his-own skin mess of a human being who completely forgets how to communicate like a person. He creates all his own problems out of base carelessness, and he actively endangers his and others’ lives because of it. It’s the Jar Jar Binks school of comedy.

The other characters are also strange stereotypes that seem almost half-realized. There is Neeku, a not-Rodian whose gag is that he takes everything literally and is utterly gullible. But he’s also somehow able to survive in a setting full of people who cheat and fight for no rational reason. There is Yager (an homage to Chuck Yeager?), a surly engineer who agrees to house Kaz for his spy mission. Yet, he also wants nothing to do with the Resistance and is needlessly cruel. Also, BB-8 is there for some reason (the reason being, of course, he’s cute and they need someone from the movies). It’s also a good time to remind everyone that this cartoon is meant to be suitable for seven-year-olds.

In a way, it makes sense that this is the youngest-skewing Lucasfilm animated series. The adult fans have the new Clone Wars series to look forward to. Also, since the events of The Force Awakens see a war begin, this slightly prequel series is set during peacetime. This wants to be a show about colorful pilots, fun capers, and fast ships that will all translate nicely to toy sales. Which is why it’s strange that this show is called Star Wars: Resistance. Even though the rebels in Rebels didn’t join the larger alliance until the second season, they were doing rebel shit on their own. The only resisting Kaz does is run from Stormtroopers after blundering right into them.

I have a feeling that the way they make Kaz “funny” on the show, which I find nearly unbearable, kills with little kids. Same with Neeku, because the joke is the same every time, but he’s very nice. Yet, I fear this will make it tougher for these characters to grow on older fans the way Ahsoka and Ezra did. Because the only thing this show has going for it are the characters. This first season of the show is very obviously just one long set up for some “Oh Shit” kind of reveal during the finale that will connect this show to the larger (animated) Star Wars universe.

Lucasfilm has been foolishly tight-lipped about things happening in-between episodes six and seven. That 30-year period is ripe for stories, including one about ace pilots aimed at little kids with no need to shoehorn the villains du jour into. Yet, they are keeping tight lids on those details, mostly because of the “it’s all canon” directive. They don’t want to step on other storyteller’s toes. (In fact, the Poe Dameron comic threw a line in about Poe “picking up” BB-8 before going to Jakku, giving Resistance free reign to use him until right up to the point it syncs with the first film.) You can feel this stranglehold on the universe in the show. They are literally out on a platform in the middle of nowhere on a planet in the middle of nowhere.

For whatever reason, Lucasfilm has been very reluctant to show more than a glimpse of any part of the timeline post Return of the Jedi. We’ve gotten a few stories about Leia, Han and Lando, and non-canon-ish Luke Skywalker stories. Other than that, it’s just been snippets of stories relevant to the characters we know, wrapped up in others’ stories (like Lost Stars or Shattered Empire). In most cases, this is fine. But for a show that’s called Star Wars: Resistance it surprisingly not about the resistance. Rather, it’s about a racing platform and fueling station whose economy doesn’t make much sense. Even worse, the mission Kaz is supposed to undertake makes no sense. He is a spy despite his apparent inability to speak without devolving into a mess of nerves. He also doesn’t travel anywhere nor has any freedom, and he just happens to stumble across First Order shenanigans.

Again, as a child’s cartoon that seeks to make the conflict of Star Wars funny, this perhaps works. Yet, as an animated chapter of the Star Wars canon set during a mysterious and important time, it struggles. Resistance does not do what The Clone Wars did. That series took the narrowly focused stories of the prequels and expanded that world. We grew to understand more about how the world and the war worked. We saw things from different perspectives, usually those affected by the war or determined to stay neutral in it. It made the world of the prequel trilogy feel more fully-formed and real. Resistance does not do that for this era of the saga.

Rebels, on the other hand, took the Imperial era and expanded our view but kept the focus on a family unit of badass criminals and fighters. The first season of that series also suffered from complaints of “filler” stories and skewing too much towards kid audiences. As a bunch of grown adults, we should always take this into consideration. Especially with all of the undue hate directed at new Star Wars, it makes fans like myself want to be extra considerate before we say something isn’t “good.” But, right now, Star Wars: Resistance is not at its best, but it’s poised to be the thing Skywalker-loving Star Wars fans turn to at the end of the current trilogy.

My dislike of the comedy in the show, specifically how they try to make Kaz funny, might simply be generation. As a child of the 1980s, my kid-heroes were brash, overconfident, and had a distinct problem with authority. Kas is just the opposite. Skilled as a pilot and definitely brave, he lacks confidence in his abilities. His boasting gets him in trouble, sure, but he always overperforms. All of the humor about him is insecurity based, and Kaz has it to an almost crippling degree. Perhaps it’s the father in me that is most troubled by this, because given a choice between the two ways to be a screw-up, I’d pick brash and overconfident anytime. But, then again, this is not for me.

Like all of its predecessors, this show will improve over time, as the writers get over-the-hump of teasing secrets and backstories. Once these things start being addressed in a purposeful way, the show will grow imminently more watchable. Remember, the events of the first two films in this trilogy transpire over no more than a month’s time. So that means that by midway through the second season, this will no longer be a prequel. Lucasfilm can use this show to set up the events of Episode IX. Once that’s done, it will give this show free reign to fill out the story of what happened between those final two films.

For now? Watch this show knowing what you are getting into. The previous two animated series could play on movie nostalgia, adding in characters from the films. This series is more concerned with introducing new things, and it’s hard to have nostalgia for something ongoing. The value it will give to the overall canon is what is important to most fans over the age of ten. You always love the Star Wars things you saw as children. Star Wars: Resistance will be a hit with them, this much is clear. However, if it will be lasting part of the series legacy remains to be seen. As of right now, it seems more on par with Ewoks and Droids than Rebels or The Clone Wars. No one wants to revisit those old cartoons, including kids who grew up with them.

Check back for another write-up about the show once the season is over. With the reveal of Ahsoka at the end of the first season of Rebels, it became pretty clear what the show wanted to be. I expect Resistance will follow suit.

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