The Recruit: Star Wars’ Most Unique Opener

As my podcast, Jaig Eyes and Jedi, is starting its Star Wars Resistance coverage, we recently recorded for the first episode “The Recruit” (it will be out in a few weeks). I was blown away by how truly unique this series opener is in this franchise. In my opinion when it comes to character introductions and worldbuilding, it’s the strongest opening to an animated series thus far.

Resistance faced many challenges out of the gate. Unlike the previous two series, Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, Resistance didn’t get the same marketing blitz. Granted, Clone Wars started under Cartoon Network’s banner. Star Wars Rebels is a fairer comparison in the Disney era. Rebels had animated shorts come out before the show to help introduce the characters and new animation style. A New Dawn, which introduced Kanan and Hera, was the first canon novel of Disney’s generation. It helped warm up new fans to the upcoming show. The marketing was everywhere from commercials to print. I used to manage a comic book store. I constantly saw promotions in Marvel comics for Rebels. It even had its own series, Kanan: The Last Padawan, running alongside it.

Resistance didn’t get the same treatment. There was barely any promotion other than the trailers. It had a few animated shorts that ran during the series which were not strongly pushed. The show had only a couple of comics that were under IDW’s banner and not the main Marvel line. Finally, it has a few mentions in the canon books so far.

Check out my previous article about how Resistance can be worked back into the rest of the canon.

I do think the lack of promotion is due to Resistance’s unique situation. It was in production prior to The Last Jedi, and the show was completed as The Rise of Skywalker was still being written. Clone Wars and Rebels didn’t have this problem. Both of those series were based on two trilogies of movies that had been out for years. They had fanbases already in love with those time periods. Resistance was stuck in a limbo where the story was still developing in a constantly changing narrative.

This ended up being the series’ strength making for a unique experiment in storytelling.

Clone Wars serves as the bridge between Episode II and III. Its function is to tell that narrative as a plot focused show. Star Wars Rebels, while character driven at times, serves to explain the beginning of the Rebellion in the Original Trilogy. These two series have a specific function in the fabric of Star Wars. While they were able to dive into the mythos of the Force and create memorable characters that now play in the realms of live actions, they were created to fill in the timeline between the movies.

Resistance doesn’t follow this formula. I know myself and many fans were expecting the show to function in the same way as its predecessors. This is where more promotion could have helped it prior to its release to better explain this new story formula. That’s because it is a completely character driven show. Its function is not to tell the plot prior to The Force Awakens. Its purpose is to tell the story of normal people, and how the “Wars” of “Star Wars” impact them. Sure, over time we get nods here and there to the bigger story. But that’s not what Resistance is doing.

We wanted to give a slice of life in a part of the galaxy that wasn’t about the Jedi. How do people who are maybe not as connected with the Force, or at least they don’t think they are, how did they respond to these threats? What do we do in the meantime when there isn’t really a war going on?”
-Justine Ridge, Executive Producer of Star Wars Resistance

It wasn’t until the series was completed and I looked back on it as a whole that I was able to see this new kind of formula in Star Wars animation. Resistance actually functions like other modern animated shows. For example, Amphibia is about slice-of-life adventures that build the world and characters until the plot kicks in season two. Amphibia and Resistance have incredibly similar season one finales in terms of story, character betrayals, and a shift in tone. The first season of Steven Universe and Star vs. The Forces of Evil both functioned this way too. They were adventure of the week shows until their season one finales. It makes me wonder if we’ll continue to see this type of plot in future Star Wars animated series. The Bad Batch could follow a similar format to these shows.

Resistance also feels more like the plots of Star Wars novels than the previous animated shows. Take a book like A New Dawn. It’s a compelling story within one tiny pocket of the galaxy. But the story of that book doesn’t impact the directions of the Star Wars galaxy. Same with Lost Stars. Thane and Ciena don’t change the galaxy. The war changes them. Resistance tells a similar story. The previous shows impacted the galaxy as a whole. Here, the galaxy impacts Resistance’s story and forces the characters to decide their paths.

We see the groundwork for this laid out expertly in “The Recruit,” the strong opening salvo for the show. While I revisited “The Recruit,” I was particularly impressed by how they wove together the groundwork for the overall character arcs. This really stands out with Kaz and Tam.

Kazuda is a senator’s son that comes from a place of privilege. In the opening conversation with his father, Hamato, we learn that his father usually bails him out of situations. This is what drives the plot of the first episode. Kaz, now working as a Resistance spy, comes to the Colossus and gets roped into a race. He spends a good chunk of the episode trying to find a way out of it. But Yeager points out to him that no one is bailing him out this time. He has to fix his own mistakes going forward. This is the first piece of Kaz’s character journey.

The second piece is introducing his character flaw which has been rooted in him probably his entire life. Kaz struggles early on to take accountability for his own actions. He pins most of the events of “The Recruit” on Neeku and blames him for the mishap. While it can be grating at times early in the show, it’s an important flaw in Kaz’s character. His privilege has protected him from these kinds of situations. Before, his father was there to save him. Now on the Colossus, Kaz has to learn to take accountability for his own actions.

These two points are subtly set up for him in the first episode which launches him on his series long character arc. It really hits home after the season one finale. Tam leaves because of Kaz’s actions. While it was his job as a spy, his lying and endangering everyone she loves is what makes her leave for the First Order. This sets Kaz on his path for season two. He spends the rest of the show making up for his mistakes. He takes the blame for Tam’s absence and fights to not only save her, but he also fights to better himself.

Tam’s story is also set into play in “The Recruit.” The seeds are planted in probably the most important character scene of the episode. When Yeager introduces Kaz to Tam, she’s clearly not happy with the newcomer. Pointing out their shop is barely scraping by as it is, Kaz is a threat to her financially. Kaz is also given the Fireball to fly in the race. It’s supposed to be her ship. Sure, it still belongs to Yeager, but it’s promised to Tam in the long run. Kaz doesn’t help by immediately calling the ship a piece of junk. This is Tam’s baby. She’s put in the work and probably her spare money into the Fireball. We later learn her dream is to be a pilot. Kaz’s presence and taking her ship is threatening what she sees as her future.

Then the lying comes into play. Again, Kaz and Yeager lie to Tam in order to protect her. But that lie is easy to take advantage of. Tam values honesty and doesn’t like vague situations. She bluntly points this out to the kids from Tehar. In her point of view, her father figure is lying to her, showing favoritism to a newcomer, and possibly ruining her future. From this one scene in “The Recruit,” the driving force for the entire series is set into motion through Tam and Kaz.

Resistance is a show that makes you think deeply about the story being told because it is so unique in its presentation and worldbuilding. Everything is wrapped in subtleties. It also has so much social commentary.

As I’m revisiting the series in my podcast, I’m interested in viewing Neeku through the lens that he’s the voice of the Colossus’ society. “The Recruit” might present him as a comedic character on the surface. But as I closely watched the episode, I realized Neeku was the one setting up the groundwork for the world.

Two scenes stand out in “The Recruit” with Neeku. The first being when he explains to Kaz why he should be an Ace Pilot. The Aces have better food, money, power, clean living conditions, and status on the platform. The second scene is when Torra comes to Yeager’s garage to introduce herself to Kaz. Neeku specifically says, “We never see you down here.”

Through Neeku, the social hierarchy is established for the show. There is an “Us and Them” mentality between the Aces and the common people. This point is explored more through season one, especially in the episode “The High Tower.” It’s a unique dynamic that has been nodded to on occasion in Star Wars animation. Padmé struggled with this topic in Clone Wars and feared the upper-class Senate was losing its connections to everyday people. Neeku lays out this dynamic to explore for the rest of season one.

Season two then rips down the entire social hierarchy as the characters put their differences aside. Money and power don’t matter anymore on the Colossus, because they’re being hunted by the First Order. Resistance so expertly explores how wealth, status, and power effects both the upper-class and the everyday people. Then it knocks it down to expose everyone to the dangers of war. Each character responds to the threat in their own way. Everyday people become heroes. This narrative is set up from the start in “The Recruit.”

The world building also gets a boost from visual storytelling. Again, Clone Wars and Rebels had two trilogies that had been around for years to build on. Resistance had to create a show in a new era that was still being developed. So visually, it brings in a lot of familiarities the audience is used to. We open with an X-Wing and Tie Fighter battle. It’s old Star Wars with scenes of astromechs that make us reminiscent of R2-D2.

“The Recruit” then moves into setting up the era by showing the audience different but similar kinds of scenes, locations, and characters. We meet new species, the Gozzo, with Flix. There’s no big explanation. He’s simply existing with his partner, Orka. This is another new for Star Wars by giving us the first on-screen queer couple in the franchise. The Colossus is clearly lived in with its low lighting, dirty cantina, and mix of all types of people. The market is bright and vibrant, but the awnings are patchwork fabric held together with huge stitches. It’s full of life in every corner.

Then there are the quiet moments that lay the stage for the world. A couple of shots particularly stands out to me. In part two of “The Recruit” on the morning of Kaz’s race against Torra, there is a shot of some of the residents sleeping outside on the docks. This codes them as being homeless which helps show poverty on the platform. In another, Aunt Z opens the door to her cantina where Al, the older man who is always shown drinking, is waiting for entry. Al’s arms wrap tightly around his body as he waits. While Al is usually played for laughs, there is an underlying sadness in this time period that’s supposed to be peaceful. As someone who has had family members struggle with alcoholism, I’ve seen people hold themselves like Al between drinks.

It’s visual shots like these that are choices by the creators. “The Recruit” introduces these subtle yet important stories that will be told over the next two seasons. This show has a lot to say about our real world. It focuses on mental trauma and PTSD from war. It looks into refugees through the Children from Tehar. During the episode “the Disappeared,” the show uses Holocaust imagery as the First Order locks the alien characters in shipping crates to send them off to work camps. As mentioned, it shines a lens on privilege and social structures colliding with wars. This kind of story was set up in “The Recruit.”

Star Wars Resistance is a show that makes you think hard about the stories of this franchise. It is not a plot driven show. It’s not made to function in that way. Instead, it makes you think about the world and the people living in it. It builds empathy for individuals from various backgrounds, truly taking its time to let the audience get to know them. It’s not only a character study, it’s a study of the galaxy as a whole on a social level.

So don’t go into “The Recruit” expecting some grand plot that will give a background story to the Sequel Trilogy. Instead, enjoy the nuance world and characters being built in one of the most unique entries in Star Wars.

 

Read my past articles about Star Wars Resistance here.

This website doesn’t run without you. Servers and hosts cost money. If you like what I do, maybe buy me a coffee sometime?

Liked it? Take a second to support Hope Mullinax on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *