Star Wars: Resistance Is What You Get When You Treat Star Wars Like ‘Kids Stuff’
Asking who Star Wars is “for,” is often the start of a very unpleasant discussion. George Lucas, the man from whose mind sprang much of this galaxy so far away, has been inconsistent on this. He usually says that his films were fantasy pictures for kids with laser swords and a good message. However, other times, he compares the movies to heavy, anti-authoritarian science fiction, like 1984. And a warning about creeping fascism. What’s great about this, however, is that it’s both things at once. Kids of all ages can enjoy the story on a surface level. Then, when they are older, they can find deeper meanings in things that used to frustrate them, like the Ewoks’ victory over the Empire. The canon is full of stuff like this. However, the just-completed first season of Star Wars: Resistance is what this franchise looks like if you strip away everything but the stuff for the littlest kids.
Here’s the thing, I want nothing more than to like this show. It comes from people who honed their creative talents on gems like The Clone Wars and Rebels. Even though these shows are animation for children, they tell amazingly mature stories with a depth to them that rivals the best of the canon. The former is still one of the best fictional allegories to the early war on terror ever made. The latter is the story about the pre-saga days of the rebellion that we all wanted Rogue One to tell. So, there is no reason that Star Wars: Resistance shouldn’t be equal to its peers in the story it tells about this new era. However, it doesn’t quite meet that standard, as I describe in my earlier piece about this show. I will not say that it’s not “good,” because that’s a subjective term which diminishes the attempt of making art. Yet, try as I might, I can’t even like this show.
Now, if any people involved in the creation of this series were reading this, here’s the part where they’d say: “Who cares? This show isn’t for you.” One of the biggest problems with so-called fandoms today is the idea that each new thing in the franchise should be for the original fans. Star Wars recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. The original fans of these series are all around middle-age now. They were grown adults when the prequel series came out, and they were so angry at the new directions taken that they missed the crucial point George Lucas tried to make with them. With the previous two canon cartoon series, the initial reaction from these “Ultra-Passionate Fans” (as Mark Hamill calls us) was that it was more shitty garbage for kids. At the time, I rejected this reading of these series and time has proven those UPFs wrong. So much so, that the announcement that the series would be revived was met with near-universal (pun intended) acclaim.
This is why it pains me that my gut-instinct reaction to Star Wars: Resistance is that it’s shitty garbage for kids. Perhaps your humble correspondent is just getting old, but so much of what this series does isn’t just bad but seems to cheapen the entire franchise for it. In the pilot episodes of Rebels and The Clone Wars the kid-friendly protagonists, Ahsoka and Ezra respectively, perform acts of simple heroism. Kaz, the protagonist of this new series, doesn’t. The most heroic thing he does is in the first moments of the episode when he tells his New Republic X-Wing squadron to report to base while he engages TIE Fighters. Then he inexplicably deserts from the New Republic Navy to become a spy for the Resistance, even though his only skill is being a fair-to-middling pilot.
The first half of the first season wasn’t the kind of heroic story Star Wars is known for. Instead of following characters who take great risks to save lives and face evil, Resistance was just a story about a bunch of jerks being dicks to each other. As the conflicts of the season, first with pirates and then the First Order, go on, Kaz does start to behave heroically. However, he and his cast of supporting characters are such cartoonish idiots that I found myself hoping they would be horribly killed so a new crop of characters could come in to avenge them. The Clone Wars expanded the stories of the prequels showing why our heroes were, in fact, heroes. Rebels captured the tone and feeling of the original trilogy films, showing us how a group of outlaw smugglers could become freedom fighters. I’m not sure what story Resistance is trying to tell us, other than “Aren’t these people silly?”
Let’s be clear, right now you are reading a lengthy piece of criticism written by a grown adult about a cartoon for second-graders. Unlike its predecessors, which were action-adventure cartoons, this series is a comedy first. Unlike some of the great children’s comedies of the past, there is very little here for the adult viewer to enjoy. If you don’t find the main character’s awkwardness or the sidekick’s obtuse literalism hilarious, there’s not much to like about this show. They will spend three minutes on an extended gag about how clumsy Kaz is, but they can’t turn it around to show real emotional moments. The season finale of the show caught up to the events of The Force Awakens, specifically the destruction of the seat of the New Republic by the First Order. The destruction of an entire solar system is horrific enough on its own, but this also happened to be the planet Kaz is from and where his entire family lived.
I like to hope for the best, and I thought this moment from the films would mark a turning point in the series. I thought for sure that this first season would be a zany romp until Hosnian Prime was destroyed. That incident would trigger a tonal shift in both the series and from the characters themselves. Ol’ “Whoops-a-Daisy” Kaz would have a deeply painful, personal reason to fight the First Order. Like any story with “war” in the title, the life-and-death stakes would start to feel real. But, that’s not what happened. Instead the moment is glossed over, and just a few minutes later they are all back to doing silly gags. Instead of drawing on the emotion of that moment, it was used like an Easter egg for fans of the films and then all-but ignored.
For a long time, people have called Star Wars “kids’ stuff.” To some extent they are right, because the most passionate Star Wars fans have loved it since they were little. Yet, what makes these movies so enduring is that beneath the gags, space fights, and laser swords, there are serious moral and social arguments being made. The entire political undercurrent of the films and series is about fighting against authoritarians, even when the authoritarians are on the good guys’ side like in the prequels. There are moral lessons about freedom, standing up for those in need, and embracing compassion, love, and the value of life. These things are present in Resistance, but they are not presented with the same depth as other entries in the canon. In fact, this seems to be by design.
When Disney+ debuts later this year, it will bring with it both a new season of The Clone Wars (which seems like a one-off, but might not be), and the live-action series The Mandalorian. These two series are certainly targeted for older fans. With both Rian Johnson and the The Game of Thrones guys (David Benihoff and D.B. Weiss) working on new trilogies, it seems likely the former will be family fare and the latter will skew towards older audiences. This new era of Star Wars has more to offer its fans than any before it. So, it makes sense that Lucasfilm might want a cartoon series that is just for kids. The previous animated series were aimed at both, but ultimately they tilted towards older viewers. Resistance might do the opposite, and keep its target focused purely on the youngest Star Wars fans. And as disappointing as that is to adult fans who like to treat Star Wars as “literature,” it’s not terrible.
Even as a purely kids’ show, I think that Resistance shoots for the lowest common denominator. The comedic foundation is tired and predictable: Kaz is awkward, Neeku takes everything the wrong way, and so on. It doesn’t really give kids much to aspire to or be inspired by. But, I fully admit that I might finally be too old to really “get it.” When I was younger, the Star Wars cartoons — Droids and Ewoks — were pretty bad. Yet, I enjoyed watching them and all they did was lead me to the better parts of the Star Wars extended universe. Now, that Star Wars is full-blown media empire, there is, arguably, a need for child-focused content like this and their YouTube series Galaxy of Adventures and Forces of Destiny. Still, I feel like even as a show for young children, Resistance could stand to improve. The biggest we mistake when it comes to children is underestimating them, and this is a show that seems to do that.
That being said, I watched every single episode this season, and I will likely watch next season as well.