It takes a few minutes of post-viewing reflection for the most radical thing about Star Wars Resistance to set in: no Jedi. There’s not one laser sword on display in the new Disney Channel series, no evidence of magical powers. Nobody tells anybody to use the Force, or even mentions that quasi-mystical energy field. Partly, that’s a function of the series’ setting, taking place as it does in the last months before The Force Awakens, when Luke Skywalker has already given up teaching and taken up his hermetic, milk-guzzling vigil on Ahch-To. But it’s also a philosophical distinction: Like 2016’s Rogue One, this is a story about the gritty edges of the Star Wars universe, and the people who don’t have a bunch of space-wizard powers or prophesied destinies watching their backs.
Admittedly, our new hero, rookie New Republic pilot Kaz Xiono (Christopher Sean), isn’t entirely without special privileges. As the son of a prominent senator, he’s been unhappily handed everything he has on a silver platter, which is why he jumps at the chance—courtesy of Resistance ace, spymaster, and certified blockbuster movie character Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)—to join the titular “extremists” and make a difference that doesn’t require his father’s influence. That need to prove himself helps Kaz break free from the typical fast-talking goofball kids’ hero mold he’d otherwise fall into, giving him a concrete psychological reason to stick his neck out for the Resistance. And if he’s a little too whiny, a little too cocky, and a lot too obsessed with his daddy issues, well, what franchise did you think you were checking into?
Under Poe’s only-here-for-the-pilot guidance (delivered with the worst voice work in the first episodes; Oscar Isaac sounds like he’s wearily reading his way through an Extended Universe audiobook), Kaz ends up on the Colossus, a racing-obsessed fueling station situated way out on a galactic backwater. There he’s tasked with sniffing around for evidence that the Imperial remnants of the First Order are planning some kind of attack on the Republic, yet another in a series of doomed goals handed off to the protagonists of one of these Star Wars interquel projects. (As the last scene of the two-part pilot makes clear, Starkiller Base is already close to ready to doing its ersatz Death Star duty.) Meanwhile, Kaz infiltrates the day-to-day life of Colossus in the least unobtrusive way possible, pissing off most of its colorful alien inhabitants, and getting himself locked into a potentially lethal air race with perkily condescending competitor Torra Doza (Myrna Velasco).
Said air race (and a legitimately kickass space battle that opens the series) are the biggest arguments in favor of the show’s striking, potentially divisive art style, a radical departure from the more traditional 3D animation Lucasfilm used on series like The Clone Wars and Rebels. Glossy, heavily shaded, and just a little bit blocky, the show’s look lends itself beautifully to scenes in motion, giving racing vehicles and X-wings a sense of movement and weight that sells the excitement of the moment. It doesn’t fare too badly with terrestrial action either—an early bar brawl is another visual high point—but struggles more in static scenes, where the eye is sometimes drawn to the vast, flat expanses of the characters’ faces. Worse, the detail-light luminosity sometimes undercuts the show’s storytelling: Colossus is supposed to feel grimy, oily, and claustrophobic, but it’s hard to buy it when everything looks bathed in a soft, white-shaded glow.
The writing, at least, helps pick up the slack. Although the series is populated with a handful of stock cartoon archetypes—especially alien sidekick Neeku (Josh Brener), who seems to exist mostly to cause cheerful complications and have “comedic” over-literal misunderstandings that’d have Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data rolling his synthetic eyes—it also reveals itself as being full of welcome little nuances. As with Kaz’s troubled relationship with his dad, every major character—from begrudging mentor Yeager (Scott Lawrence) to fiery mechanic Tam (Suzie McGrath), and even to the brightly irritating Neeku—all have just enough hints of inner lives and motivations to keep the plot’s occasional clichés from feeling out-and-out trite. Heck, even the lesson Kaz learns at the end of the pilot, about sacrificing personal glory for long-term benefit, is presented as a begrudging acceptance of reality, rather than some “Here’s what I learned today” epiphany.
At the end of its first hour, Resistance feels pleasantly primed with potential. Not necessarily for the deep dive into the origins of the First Order—or the relationship between the Republic and its black sheep Resistance—that canon hounds might have wanted from a show set during this period. This is still a kids’ series first and foremost, albeit one that takes its storytelling responsibilities seriously. But as an examination of what day-to-day life looks like out on the fringes of the galaxy, it has a lot to offer. In the past, Star Wars has only ever given us brief glimpses of what it’s like to pass through any given hive of scum and villainy (even one that’s been sanitized for kids’ TV). Resistance seems ready to give the little guy his shot, and for a franchise that’s always loved an underdog, it’s an idea that arrives with a lot of force.