Wow. Watched it last night. Waited by the door for my girlfriend to get home so I could force her to watch it with me. Felt like a kid waiting to go to the theater to see Star Wars in '77.
I won't spoil the plot of the show, but I will give my detailed impressions on the feel of the show and some of the characters.
I felt it. I felt the magic. When I saw The Clone Wars movie in theaters, it wasn't like this. There were tingles. Star Wars was back. If this is a taste of how Episode VII will feel, I'm sold already.
Now, to complain a bit, Ezra's face is stupid, yeah, the close up shots of him are just bleh; there are also some detail problems as far as hair and characters go (some look great, like Hera, even Kanan, but others don't look that great in terms of quality, like Ezra and Sabine), but considering The Clone Wars underwent a massive facelift itself at one point, I wouldn't be surprised to see the animation and detail on Rebels improve a lot over the course of the show. And outside of the characters, the show is gorgeous. As a 3D artist myself, you see all kinds of specular things, reflections, bloom, and other little details that are a dead giveaway of quality and it's all there.
It's incredible to see stormtroopers again. Not to mention Star Destroyers and walkers. Everything makes the correct sounds. The blaster bolts are lifted straight from the OT and the lightsaber (THE lightsaber, there's only one so far) looks like a cross between McQuarrie concepts and Jedi Outcast (which is awesome).
To focus on that saber a bit, it wasn't used willy-nilly at all. And, frankly, it was awesome to see it. It felt like a relic, something you weren't supposed to see or know about. Like something that people didn't know or understand, like those that understood knew that it carried a certain gravity, and it was a weapon to be treated with reverence, and the use of which carried a certain price.
The prequel references were slim to none. All the aliens were established OT aliens. I feel like you could drop the PT entirely and watch Rebels and keep that mystery about The Clone Wars alive. So far, at least.
There were so many nods to McQuarrie and Johnston concepts that I lost track of all of them.
Most importantly about all the characters is that I cared about them. They were real. I was invested in their stories and how they reacted to things. They felt like they belonged in Star Wars. Some of the humour was a bit goofy (often not in a bad way), but it is a kid's show and the majority was spot-on.
Kanan is a good character. He's a sarcastic wit, but he's a serious leader as well. It seems like he and Hera have a relationship already, which is nice, because we don't have to go through that annoying "will they won't they" thing they always have to do.
Ezra is like a smaller, less controlled, more rebellious Kanan. And it works. Sure there's a little Aladdin in him, I guess, but I didn't sense a complete copycat.
My reservations about Sabine are gone. She's actually... cool... so far. Like... legitimately cool. I was shocked, because I was ready to not like her at all.
Now, it did felt like the version I saw was a PAL version or something, because the cuts and transitions felt rushed; I felt like I didn't have much time to react to what just happened before we were onto the next thing, but other than that it was pure Star Wars. In fact, this was more Star Wars than Star Wars has been in a long time.
But overall, it followed the OT recipe perfectly: action, adventure, mystery, discovery, destiny. Close escapes, firing at enemies while backing up the ramp to the ship, breaking into Imperial bases, stealing secret intel, and mean bad guys. But also wit and dialogue. I feel like the Ghost is much more of a character in its own right than The Clone Wars' Twilight ever was.
The music was new takes on recognizable themes which put me right into the universe. The lilting Force theme when Ezra felt the Force tug at him seriously gave me tingles every time, like I was feeling the Force right there with him. It brought me right back to watching the OT as a kid, I kid thee not.
No musical numbers, either, for those legitimately worried about that.
We're only one episode in, so there could be changes for the worse as we progress and learn more about the characters, but this start is so much stronger than The Clone Wars (rewatched that recently and have no idea WHY they chose the episodes they did for the premiere movie). I'm very optimistic and cannot wait to see where they take this. Star Wars is alive and well, folks.