A look at Lucasfilm Animation’s 2D animated web series released through Disney’s YouTube channel that focuses on female protagonists from different Star Wars eras.
With the second half of the Star Wars: Forces of Destiny season starting up on October 1st and continuing on October 29th with two half-hour television specials, I thought it would be an apropos time to look at the first part of the season.
The Star Wars crew has released a new cartoon series and this time it is female centric. Announced back in April of this year, Forces of Destiny was touted as giving the Star Wars fan base a much needed boost in regards to female-centric stories. For decades Star Wars was generally seen as a “boys property” despite the huge numbers of female fans, but luckily that is starting to change. One of the changes associated with that was Forces of Destiny, which was slated to be a series of short, animated features starring the females of the Star Wars franchise.
But the main question is did they deliver? Was this what the fans needed or even wanted? I eagerly waited each day as a new episode was released and I sat and watched each 2-3 minute short (frequently in a car) with my 7 year old daughter each day as they were released (which happened to be sporadically throughout the day). My daughter absolutely loved them. She could even recite the opening “crawl” after the first few episodes. So, if anything, the cartoons got my daughter just a little bit deeper into the Star Wars universe.
For the first part of the season, Lucasfilm (the Disney subsidiary in charge of the Star Wars franchise) released 8 cartoons shorts that were each 2 to 3 minutes, for a part one season total length of about one half hour cartoon episode. So, despite this being a “major” contribution to the Star Wars mythos, it is still only about 22 minutes of new TV content. But one of the most exciting things about the series was that the voice cast from the movies and other cartoon series were mostly returning for the series including Daisy Ridley (Rey), Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Lusitania Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), and Tina Sircar (Sabine Wren). The most notable absence from that list is of course Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) who we lost late last year, although it is likely Lucasfilm would not have used her as a voice actor for Rebellion Era Leia, since they had used another actor for her appearance in Rebels already.
Each of these episodes focused on a different female character and many of the episodes took place within gaps in the movies; times when we could just assume the main characters went from Point A to Point B, but in “actuality” had these mini-adventures. The model for this series is the DC Super Hero Girls model, another series consisting of very short episodes with a female centric plot. I don’t know why they aren’t worthy of full length episodes but this is what we have. The animation is also a contested point with fans; to be honest, it looks a little cheap. But it was also likely cheap to make. Could it be better? Sure. Does it bother me overly much? Not really. There are a lot of cartoons out there with far better animation and those with far worse animation. Overall, it’s fine.
Here is a breakdown of the episodes (Click here to watch the first 8 episodes on Youtube):
- Episode 1: Sands of Jakku
- The first two episodes were about Rey shortly after her rescue of BB-8 during the events of The Force Awakens. These are (currently) the only two episodes that are linked together. They both star Daisy Ridley as Rey and BB-8 as… BB-8. The episode focuses on Rey and BB-8 being attacked by a “Giant Nightwatcher Worm” and their eventual escape. Since this was the first episode of the series, it gave us a feeling for how the series would play out. Each episode is introduced by Maz Kanata (whose voice I actually love) and it creates a unifying opening credits for the series. My biggest issue with this episode is the design for the Nightwatcher Worm. I pretty much hate it. It’s stupid and I don’t see how an animal like that truly functions. But other than that, the episode itself is cute.
- Episode 2: BB-8 Bandits
- Following the previous episode we have BB-8 and Rey being chased again. This time by Teedo (the guy Rey got BB-8 from in the first place) and a bunch of bandits. I actually like this episode because I always felt that Rey got BB-8 away from Teedo a little too easily. This helps cover up that gap. And eventually we get the return of the Nightwatcher Worm, which is now Rey’s friend due as a result of her feeding the animal at the end of the last episode. Yay?
- Episode 3: Ewok Escape
- This is likely the episode I like the least. It takes place during Return of the Jedi after Leia heads back to the Ewok Village with Wicket. During the journey back they run into some Stormtroopers harassing some Ewoks and Wicket goes to the rescue. Eventually Wicket almost fails and needs help and Leia steps in. I felt like Leia was almost ancillary to the episode. If this is supposed to be about the female heroes of Star Wars, let it be about them. Not Wicket with his sidekick, Leia. Also, the voice — I get no Leia from the voice actor. Sorry, just not feeling it. Also, we sort of get the answer to the question that was never asked (at least not by me) of where did the dress come from that Leia wears after the Ewok capture. Well, we at least see her get the dress.
- Episode 4: The Padawan Path
- This is the first episode not focused during a gap in the movies. Instead it takes place during a “gap” in the Clone Wars TV show. It shows Ahsoka racing to a ceremony to obtain some more beads on her Padawan braid while saving some aliens from being attacked by a malfunctioning droid. Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s nice seeing Ahsoka being a badass. And she definitely can hold her own in the episode.
- Episode 5: Beasts of Echo Base
- We return to a gap within the movies with Leia during the Empire Strikes Back or at least shortly before the movie. I believe this is meant to be the prequel to the the cut scene from The Empire Strikes Back where C-3PO removes the warning on the door and a wampa arm reaches out and grabs a Stormtrooper. This is a weird one though. It starts with Chewie being “cuddled” by a wampa somewhere within a cave connected to Echo Base. Unlike the previous Leia episode we have Leia performing a bit more action here trying to divert the wampa while Chewie is the sidekick fixing the door. Same jarring Leia voice but at least she gets to do something here.
- Episode 6: The Imposter Inside
- This is another episode taking place during The Clone Wars tv series, this time with Ahsoka and Padme. This is a cute episode where both Padme and Ahsoka get their moment in the spotlight thwarting a clawdite assassin. Really Padme? Another clawdite assassin? What did you do to them that was so bad?
- Episode 7: The Stranger
- This in an interesting episode with our protagonist from Rogue One, Jyn Erso. Likely taking place before the main part of the movie, after his time with Saw Gerrera, Jyn helps to rescue a girl being harassed by Stormtroopers because she has a pet. Even though it’s a sweet episode, it kind of goes against everything we see in the book and the movie since she calls herself “Jyn Erso” at the end and we know she avoids using that up until the end of Rogue One.
- Episode 8: Bounty of Trouble
- The final episode for this half of the season sees another Leia episode, this time with Sabine from Rebels. Taking place during the Rebels TV series, Sabine “captures” Leia in order to get a data tape. In the process they are hunted by IG-88, a bounty hunter made famous by The Empire Strikes Back. Again, another cute episode. And by now, not only doesn’t the animation bother me, I actually really like it. Sabine looks great in this animation style. It’s like it was made for her and her paint bombs.
Overall, the series grew on me. I am actually really looking forward to the next set of episodes in the second half of the season premiering sometime in October 1st. The animation, while not the most cutting edge animation ever, actually fits in with “what all the kids are doing these days”. And the storylines, although not earth shattering, are “cute” for the most part. They aren’t epic, but they aren’t meant to be. With only 2-3 minutes an episode, what can you do that would be epic? Would I prefer longer episodes in this style? Yes, definitely. But for what I am given, I am loving it so far, and with my daughter at my side I be eagerly anticipating the next set. Hopefully this next half of the season with their two 30-minute blocks takes advantage of the longer time period to really give us something great.