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Star Wars Resistance premiere offers gentle, beautiful introduction

Review: This cel-shaded animated series premiering Sunday is surprisingly calm.

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Kazuda Xiono is sent to spy on the First Order by Poe Dameron in Star Wars Resistance.

Lucasfilm

It's hard to know what to expect from Star Wars Resistance, Lucasfilm's latest animated show, even after watching the premiere. 

The series, which takes place just before The Force Awakens, has been overshadowed by the news that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is making a return and the post-Solo Star Wars fatigue has resulted in little buildup.

However, we saw the first action figures from Hasbro at this weekend's New York Comic Con -- a big moment for any Star Wars project and a signal the hype train is leaving the spaceport.

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As you'd expect, BB-8's charm is present and correct.

Lucasfilm

The two-part premiere, which airs Sunday night, has a surprisingly sedate opening compared with the typical fast Star Wars pace and takes its time in establishing its characters and world.

We're introduced to Kazuda "Kaz" Xiono (voiced by Christopher Sean), a New Republic pilot who's desperate to join the Resistance and sees his chance in Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).

It's great to see Poe again, with Isaac bringing his easy charm from the silver screen to the voiceover, and the ever delightful BB-8. The pair are the only truly familiar aspects of the show, but this lovable duo is always a welcome sight.

Poe "sees something special" in Kaz and tasks him with getting intel on First Order spies he reckons are hiding on the Colossus, a refueling platform and hangout for pilots on the Outer Rim ocean planet Castilon.

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Kaz, Poe and BB-8 go to the world and we meet jaded mechanic Jarek Yeager (Scott Lawrence) and his overly literal assistant Neeku Vozo (Josh Brener), along with the Fireball, a typical Star Wars "bucket of bolts" ship you just know will end up amazing.

Neeku is easily the comedic highlight, even if he isn't the most plausible contact for the Resistance. His belief Kaz is the best pilot on the platform, based on an offhand comment, essentially drives these first two episodes and the silliness of that makes the events feel a little lightweight.

To prove himself, Kaz has to fly the Fireball in a race in which he must pass through floating rings. The setup is quite different from the race in The Phantom Menace, but it's impossible not to make that comparison (keep your ears open for a very familiar sounding announcer). It's beautifully shot, and really drives home how stunning this show looks.

Resistance isn't as tonally dark as previous Star Wars shows The Clone Wars or Rebels -- those were set during bleaker times for the galaxy, and here we're only on the cusp of another dark era. 

The striking cel-shaded aesthetic visually reinforces that brighter tone. The animation is a bit stiff, but not to the point where it's off-putting. There's a lot going on in the background in every crowd scene on the Colossus, and it's fun to look at.

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Star Wars Resistance looks beautiful.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Michael Tavera's score is quite subtle (to the point where it seems a little low in the mix) and lacks the bombast of Kevin Kiner's work on The Clone Wars and Rebels. It has a few standout moments, like the closing of the second episode, where it hints at the villainy our new heroes will soon encounter.

Ultimately, the show's lack of a clear villain is a problem -- there's little sense of threat beyond the tomfoolery Kaz gets involved in. We get brief glimpses of First Order pilot Major Vonreg, who's voiced by Lex Lang, but he isn't a constant presence.

The episodes are charming and end on an intriguing note, but the series will need to pick up the pace quickly if wants to keep its audience engaged.

Star Wars Resistance premieres this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Disney Channel and DisneyNOW, with encore runs on Disney XD. Two additional new episodes will be available on the DisneyNOW app and Disney Channel VOD.

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