28 May

It doesn’t matter what I say. Either you are the sort of completist, like me, who voraciously consumes any narrative tangentially connected to Star Wars; or else you are the sort of person who only reluctantly acknowledges that the franchise continued beyond 1983 and would no more watch a spin-off cartoon series than you would buy a Wookie a comb for Christmas if he already had one.

Other shades of grey are available.

I thought that Star Wars: Resistance was a great deal of fun. I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed at the ease with which I slipped from “watching a kids’ show out of academic interest” to “actually caring that — oh no — poor well meaning Kaz has gone and made a complete and utter wally out of himself. Again.”

The premise is pretty simple. Kaz is a young — very young — pilot in the New Republic navy. Poe Dameron spots his potential, and recruits him to the Resistance. There is a big independent star base on an ocean planet at the edge of the galaxy: all manner of space ships stop off there to refuel. The First Order (boo!) would like to take it over; and there are probably already spies on board. Kaz is to take a job in a garage, sorry, starship repair shop; try to find out who the spies and sympathisers are; and send reports back to Poe.

Resistance is much more concept driven than either Clone Wars or Rebels. The former had a large ensemble cast engaging in a large number of different kinds of stories against the general background of the prequel universe. The latter was a series of mission based adventures focussed on the crew of a single star ship at the time of the Rebellion against the Empire. Resistance is somewhere between Babylon 5 and a situation comedy. Nearly all the adventures are set on board the Colossus; we get to know the place pretty well. Most stories involve an outside threat — First Order, Pirates or even Sea Monsters — coming in and disrupting the status quo. The place is pretty well drawn: the greasy hangar where Kaz works; the cantina-bar where the space pilots hang out; the spare-parts store run by two very camp aliens; the posh tower where the officer class live; the under city where tortoise shaped technicians keep everything running. The characters are mostly strong and, in the jargon, relatable. Kaz’s boss, Yaegar, does the same job as Kanaan did in Rebels, the sometimes severe but mostly wise adult mentor figure. The head of the station, Captain Doza, is a convincingly compromised authority figure, forced to make a pact with the First Order to see off the pirates. Kaz’s pals in the space ship repair shop work well enough. Neeko is one of those aliens who is a bit Spock and a bit Data: never quite understanding what is going on and prone to take human idioms literally if he possibly can. Tam manages to stay sympathetic despite thinking that the First Order might have a very good point. There are a number of show-off ace pilots who defend the station and engage in dangerous races. The Captain’s daughter, who becomes pals with Kaz, is one of them. Kaz’s romantic interest is a young woman who he isn’t bright enough to spot is a pirate. Etcetera, etcetera.

With the exception of Poe Dameron, very few movie characters appear in the cartoon: Leia gets a cameo and Captain Phasma appears a couple of times. Kylo Ren is name-checked in passing. Poe loans BB8 to Kaz but asks for him back before the final episode.

The whole thing is much more consciously juvenile than either of the other cartoons. Kaz is meant to be 20 — he’s been in the navy — but is coded as a kid. Where Ezra was a wide-eyed anime character, Kaz knows that he is in a western cartoon. His arms flap up and down when he runs and he does that Road Runner skid when he stops. He is prone to only notice that objects are heavy a moment after he has picked them up; and even does a double take before falling over when he bumps into things. He’s a hopeless spy, perpetually inventing weak excuses for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Tam insinuates that he is only pretending to be an idiot, but he pretends very well.) Many of the plot-lines are Saturday morning staples, turning on honesty being the best policy and it being a good thing to trust and stand up for your friends. A fairly typical one involves Neeko adopting a noxious alien creature as a pet: initially Yaegar wants him to get rid of it, but everyone ends up supporting their friend’s choice of animal companion. Shortly afterwards a terrifying sea monster attacks the Colossus and all the space aces, including Kaz fly daring missions against it. Gradually it becomes clear that the monster is after Neeko’s pet and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — he makes the difficult decision to return the critter to its mum.

I like the way that the story is about (relatively) ordinary people a long way from the main story. The movies presented the First Order as pretty much a fait accompli, doing all the things the Empire used to do but with a slightly different livery. The cartoon puts us in a world where the Pax Novum Republican (as it were) is taken for granted, but facing a threat which most people don’t recognise. If Clone Wars takes place in a noble, heroic past, Resistance feels almost contemporary: there are space ships and aliens, but the kids play with computer games and watch TV shows. The word “Jedi” is hardly ever spoken.

I like the way the story arc is constructed: not quite a seven hour movie, but certainly a TV novella. Other TV shows based on established franchises, mentioning no Chris Chibnalls in particular, could learn a good deal from this. One episode deals with a simple “moral dilemma” plot about shielding two children from First Order bounty hunters; but once the fugitives have been lodged with the shell-people beneath the city, they are available as friends and allies in future episodes. Kaz’s friendship with Synara, the young pirate, pays off in the final instalment. The story becomes less and less about Kaz pretending to be an engineer while gathering information, and more and more about the community resisting a First Order occupation.

I like the inventive use of the movies’ visual vocabulary. The chase scenes may be a bit too Scooby Doo, but the space sequences feel very like Star Wars. The opening shot of Kaz in an X-Wing cockpit pretty much sells the whole series to me, as doubtless it was supposed to. Kaz may be a shocking Mary Sue but what Star Wars fan can resist imagining themselves to be a rather hopeless posh boy who flies X-Wings, races star ships, is mates with Poe Dameron and gets introduced to Princess Leia?

In Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker has a headstrong apprentice named Ahsoka, who quits the Jedi because they are so useless. In Rebels, our heros rebel contact Fulcrum turns out to be a much older Ahsoka. And it appears that she is going to make the jump to live action and appear in the second season of the Mandalorian. Star Wars is hardly the first movie to have had spin-offs; but I can’t think of another franchise which interweaves the different media strands so skilfully. It is mentioned a couple of times, early in the story, that Kaz comes from the planet Hosnian Prime, and that his parents are senators. Alert readers will know that Hosnian Prime, not Coruscant, became the capital of the New Republic. As the story rattles along, Po comes and takes BB8 back: they have to go to a mission on a planet named Jaku. Our heroes go to a lot of trouble to get a message to Princess Leia: but she can’t come and help the Colossus. Rebel Forces are involved in a different battle somewhere else. And then (spoilers) the First Order activate their ultimate weapon and destroy the Republic in one fell swoop. Hosnian Prime is one of the planets that gets zapped in The Force Awakens along with (we assume) Kaz’s entire family. This personalizes the catastrophe in the main movie; and it gives the adventures the Colossus an added, mythos-heavy significance. And it is all done with a surprisingly light touch. The kids are assumed to know their Star Wars lore.

It isn’t very profound. It doesn’t have a lot of depth. It’s quite silly. If you weren’t going to watch it anyway I wouldn’t bother. But people who like this kind of thing are going to find that it is very much the kind of thing they like. People who don’t won’t.

A comment on IMDB writes: “This is hollow and weak. I only watch because i have to just to get the canon. “

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