Star Wars Resistance, the newest Disney animated series set in the world-famous franchise, has an interesting pedigree working for it. Its story takes place between the original trilogy and the new one, occurring prior to the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while also keeping the fringe feel and outsider perspective that has made the entire franchise so successful. It also hails from Star Wars animation veteran Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels) who gets a fresh page if not a blank slate on which to tell this slightly younger-skewing story. And, perhaps most surprisingly, Star Wars Resistance captures that same can-do spirit and blue-collar attitude of one of the best and most redeeming aspects of the prequel trilogy: the podracing subplot.
Star Wars Resistance follows Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono, a young pilot recruited by the Resistance for a top-secret mission to spy on the growing threat of the First Order … but it’s going to take him a little bit to get going on this mission, because he has a race to win. In the recent series premiere, Poe (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8 assigned newly-appointed spy Kaz (Christopher Sean) to the Colossus, a massive aircraft re-fueling platform on an outer rim water planet and home to colorful new aliens, droids and creatures. There, an undercover Kaz works as a mechanic and lives with Poe’s old friend Yeager (Scott Lawrence), a veteran pilot who operates a starship repair shop run by his crew: Tam (Myrna Velasco), Neeku (Josh Brener) and their old battered astromech droid, Bucket. In order to keep his mission a secret, and to protect his newfound family from the First Order, he and new pal BB-8 will have to risk life and limb to compete in dangerous sky races. Some spoilers follow.
That plot synopsis played out in highly entertaining fashion in the two-part premiere, “The Recruit.” It very much had a “The Fast and the Furious in space” kind of feel to it, owing to the protagonist’s nature as an undercover racer working for a greater cause, but instead of investigating Yeager’s crew, Kaz is trying to ferret out a First Order mole in the tough and dangerous floating city of Colossus. This bustling backwater marketplace is full of all kinds of creatures, aliens, and droids, and any one of them could be the spy that Kaz and the Resistance are after.
But we don’t really get to that in this first episode; instead, it’s all about the sky racing. Sure, Poe may drop a couple of references to other Star Wars stories like Rogue One‘s Battle of Scarif or the war-ending Battle of Jakku that ultimately finished off the Empire, but that’s all just framing. We soon learn that Kaz is the son of a not-yet-identified senator who has provided anything and everything for Kaz but does not approve of his rebellious lifestyle. In just a few lines, we know everything we need to know about Kaz, a talented pilot who is following in the footsteps of Resistance heroes like Poe Dameron in search of fame and glory. We get a decent smattering of character moments for the rest of the supporting characters along the way, but in the premiere, the focus was really on Kaz, who’s got a long way to go to reach Poe’s level of renown.
In the meantime, Kaz will get into all sorts of trouble on Colossus, running afoul of the local merchants and bar-frequenting toughs, only to wiggle his way out of trouble by his quick thinking. You can see where this one is going: Kaz will eventually endear himself to his new friends on the crew of the broke-down racer, the “Fireball”, until they become his new family. The sky racing plot and the Resistance mission will inevitably cross paths a number of times, forcing Kaz and his crew to make difficult choices along the way. And, hopefully, we’ll get to see Kaz & Co. upgrade the “Fireball” into something spectacular, starting from a bucket of bolts and eventually becoming a prized flying machine through sheer grit and determination and hard work, similar to its big brother, the Millennium Falcon. (I’m really pulling for this last plot line because it’s about as close as we’ll get to seeing the N64 game Star Wars: Episode 1: Racer get a narrative adaptation.)
The only thing that brought me up short before checking out Star Wars Resistance was the animation style; it looked a little too kidsy, a little too cartoonish. But while this style may take some getting used to, once you’ve acclimated to it, it’s incredible. The use of color to both shade and highlight everything from instrument panels, to costume characteristics, to gritty and lived-in settings is fantastic. The level of detail achieved is impressive, especially since this style is often seen as a way to achieve quick and dirty cookie cutter animation when simpler character designs are used. And the range of emotional expression seen on the faces of each and every character–human, alien, and droid alike–really adds to the storytelling. I quickly became a convert and I can’t wait to see what the animation team does in the future, especially as the races and battles become even more intense.
Star Wars Resistance is a promising start to a new, high-flying adventure shepherded by the talented Filoni and his team, and it’s one that I hope long-standing fans and a new generation of Resistance fighters alike will come to love.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Two additional new episodes are available via the DisneyNOW app and Disney Channel VOD, giving kids and families access to the series wherever and whenever they want to watch. The voice cast also includes Donald Faison as Hype Fazon; Jim Rash and Bobby Moynihan as Flix and Orka, respectively; Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma; and Rachel Butera as General Leia Organa.