WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Star Wars Rebels
When Disney bought Lucasfilm, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which at the time was airing on Cartoon Network, was cancelled. But Disney still wanted a Star Wars television series, so the creative team behind The Clone Wars rebooted the idea with a time-jump to 14 years after the establishment of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith. Keeping a few characters left over from the prequel trilogy and sprinkling in some cameos from the original films, Star Wars Rebels was born.
Ezra Bridger (voiced by Taylor Gray), an orphan on the planet Lothal, encounters the crew of the starship Ghost, who complete smuggling missions and have a growing connection to the fledgling rebellion against the Empire. Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), a former Jedi apprentice who survived Order 66, senses Ezra’s abilities with the Force, and recruits him as a padawan. Rounding out the crew are Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), the ship’s talented pilot, Sabine Wren (Tiya Sirdar), a Mandalorian former bounty hunter with a penchant for graffiti art, and Zeb (Steven Blum), a Lasat who is the last of his kind and the heavy combat member of the team. Imagine if Joss Whedon’s Firefly was set in the Star Wars universe, and you’d have a pretty clear idea of the type of story structure Rebels is working with.
Rebels is an in-between series, so it’s clear where the larger plot ends up, but it’s not as foregone a conclusion as everything going on in the The Clone Wars, which never properly wrapped up. Like almost every new story since Disney acquired the franchise, Rebels references and takes cues from core storylines, but is mostly concerned with fleshing out new characters who can take paths divergent from the main saga. The crew of the Ghost contributes to the rebellion but aren’t major players, and Kanan and Ezra continue the tradition of master and apprentice without the weight of continuing the Jedi Order on their shoulders. It’s a rather brilliant sidestep that keeps a younger protagonist at the center while appealing to older audiences with world-building content.
Sound interesting? Well, Season 3 of the series just started this past weekend on Disney XD. Here’s how to catch up on everything that came before.
Star Wars: Rebels
Number of Seasons: 3 (39 episodes)
Time Requirements: With 39 episodes (plus four web-only shorts on YouTube), the total running time of the first two seasons is a little over 14 hours. That’s totally manageable for getting caught up while the third season is currently airing.
Where to Get Your Fix: If you’ve got an applicable cable or satellite subscription, you can catch up via Disney XD’s website. Otherwise, episodes are available to purchase on Amazon Video, iTunes, and Google Play.
Best Characters to Follow: Kanan and Ezra. The prequel trilogy is so busy setting up the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker that it never fully covers Anakin’s training at Obi-Wan Kenobi’s side. The Clone Wars television series is so focused on telling abbreviated arcs of various players within the Jedi forces (and those lurking in the shadows) that while Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) is a major character, her development isn’t the main focus. In the original film trilogy, Luke Skywalker goes from a whiny farmboy to insanely talented pilot and skilled lightsaber duelist in two films. Star Wars Rebels offers the best long-form storytelling of any visual installment in the franchise on how one promising pupil develops into a powerful Jedi.
Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:
Season 0: Episodes 1-4, Preview Shorts Before Rebels aired its pilot, Disney XD showed four brief shorts introducing the major characters for the series. Precisely none of them are necessary viewing before the pilot. They set the stage for how the characters act initially, but they’re nothing more than comic beats that served as teasers for a new series, not anything informative.
Season 1: Episode 6, “Out of Darkness” The first season shuffles through combinations of characters in order to figure out which ones work so that all of them don’t have to be on every mission together. But not every grouping created a memorable installment. This episode, which pairs Hera and Sabine on a supply run to an abandoned Clone Wars outpost, is one of the unmemorable ones. When they discover a fuel leak, they’re stranded, and must withstand an increasingly hostile group of space creatures living within said outpost. It serves very little plot purpose, and doesn’t end up revealing much about either character. Sabine trusts Hera and the idea of rebellion, but that’s about it.
Season 1: Episode 10, “Idiot’s Array” Part of the appeal of a series set after Clone Wars but before Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope is that the series can draw on both prequel and original trilogy characters. But sometimes it feels like a total gimmick, such as this episode with Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams returns!), which functions as nothing more than a comedic trifle. Lando pulls a few tricks when maneuvering some merchandise, the crew ends up facing off against a gangster, and the only significant development is that Ezra reveals his personal lightsaber configuration can function as a blaster when sheathed.
Season 2: Episode 5, “Brothers of the Broken Horn” There is an episode in the first season that mostly strands Ezra on his own and is one of the best in the entire series. The same cannot be said for this one in which Ezra takes Chopper to answer a distress signal and meets Hondo Ohnaka, a smuggler acquaintance of Vizago from Lothal. There’s no honor amongst thieves, and Ezra once again learns he likes his new life better than his old lonely one. But he learned that lesson better elsewhere, so skip this.
Season 2: Episode 18, “The Forgotten Droid” Executive Producer Dave Filoni has said, “The easiest way to sum up Chopper … is if R2-D2 is your favorite dog, Chopper is a cat.” Instead of a droid with purpose who is hardheaded about accomplishing a mission, Chopper has a bad attitude. Sometimes, that can be charming. Most of the time though, it makes Chopper the droid most fans hate. Which is why a Chopper-centric episode all about him ignoring a mission in order to get a new leg makes for one of the worst episodes of the series.
Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:
Season 1: Episode 1, “Spark of Rebellion” For all the standard reasons, don’t skip the pilot. It sets up the crew of the Ghost and why Lothal is the central location for the first season, as well as teasing out why Kanan chooses to recruit Ezra due to his abilities with the Force.
Season 1: Episode 4, “Rise of the Old Masters” The major villain of the first season is a new rank in the Empire: Grand Inquisitor (voiced by Jason Isaacs). Kanan struggles to teach Ezra from the very beginning, going so far as to send the crew on a mission to rescue another Jedi who could be a better teacher for him—making Ezra feel even more abandoned. But the mission turns out to be a trap (of course), leading the two to work together and form a stronger bond.
Season 1: Episode 5, “Breaking Ranks” There are a bunch of tie-in books and comics that spin out of Rebels episodes, including this one, which introduces Zare Leonis, an Imperial Academy cadet who, like Ezra, is infiltrating the ranks in order to find out secrets about the past. Zare is the protagonist in Jason Fry’s junior novel series Servants of the Empire, but here he’s Ezra’s ally on the inside as the crew of the Ghost works to stop an Imperial supply shipment.
Season 1: Episodes 7 and 8, “Empire Day”/“Gathering Forces” Ezra discovers more about what happened to his parents before the beginning of the series. His anguish over their fate fuels his potential to fall victim to the temptation of the Dark Side. When Kanan and Ezra face off against their recurring Imperial nemesis Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo), Ezra proves both his growing power and uncertain commitment to the righteous path of the Jedi.
Season 1: Episode 9, “Path of the Jedi” Some of the strongest episodes of the series involve a hidden Jedi temple on Lothal. This is the first, where master and apprentice go in order to re-emphasize to Ezra that he should not be tempted to embrace the Dark Side. Ezra hears the voice of Master Yoda, and confronts his fear of being alone and losing the new family he has formed. Importantly, Ezra’s path leads him to discover a kyber crystal, which he uses to build his own lightsaber.
Season 1: Episode 14, “Fire Across the Galaxy” The final three episodes of the first season depict the crew of the Ghost becoming more heavily involved in the rebellion and broadcasting a message of protest from Lothal to other planets and systems. The rebel known as Fulcrum, who recurred unseen throughout the first season, is revealed to be Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s apprentice from The Clone Wars. And Kanan defeats the Grand Inquisitor, but that only causes Grand Moff Tarkin to bring in someone a bit more trustworthy when handling rebels: Darth Vader.
Season 2: Episodes 1 and 2, “The Siege of Lothal”/”The Lost Commanders” If the first season of Rebels was just about setting up the main characters, Season 2 was about giving them a lot to handle—fast. This two-part premiere with Darth Vader taking action to force Lothal to give up the rebels proves the show isn’t just a silly flight of fantasy with Jedi training. Characters can and will die, and the evil forces attempting to quash the rebellion are not bumbling adversaries. This also kicks off the most dramatic subplot of the season, as Ahsoka and Darth Vader sense each other during an aerial battle, having not seen each other since before the end of the Clone Wars.
Season 2: Episode 4, “Always Two There Are” When the Grand Inquisitor died, the crew mostly assumed that was the end of the pursuit from Force-sensitive foes wielding lightsabers. But the Fifth Brother (Philip Anthony-Rodriguez) and Seventh Sister (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar) appearing at an abandoned medical base reveals that there are more former Jedi fighters who have been somewhat reprogrammed by the Empire. They all wield a special dual-blade lightsaber than can also spin, making it incredibly difficult to defend against but aesthetically wonderful to watch in combat.
Season 2: Episodes 9 and 10, “The Future of the Force”/“Legacy” The Inquisitors are in the process of hunting down Force-sensitive children and kidnapping them so that no one else can be trained to become a Jedi. But the big reveal is what Ezra learns about his parents.
Season 2: Episode 14, “The Call” This episode has space whales (called Purrgil) that can travel as fast as a ship equipped with a hyperdrive. You should watch this episode because of the space whales.
Season 2: Episode 16, “The Honorable Ones” It’s a small miracle that Rebels counts David Oyelowo among its voice cast. The show doesn’t feature Agent Kallus very often, since the franchise is not typically sympathetic toward Imperial officials, especially ones named for a dominant negative character trait. But this “bottle episode,” which strands Kallus and Zeb on an icy moon of Geonosis (a planet featured in Attack of the Clones), is a clever twist on the old sitcom trope of trapping two characters who don’t like each other in a freezer until they reach a point of mutual respect.
Season 2: Episode 17, “Shroud of Darkness” The second episode that takes place mostly at the Lothal Jedi temple is even better than the first. Kanan encounters a vision of the Grand Inquisitor, who was once a Jedi Temple Guard. Ahsoka has a vision of Anakin, and finally accepts the truth that he has become Darth Vader. And Ezra interacts with a vision of Master Yoda, who senses fear in him and directs him to “find Malachor,” a planet Ahsoka knows how to find.
Season 2: Episode 20, “Twilight of the Apprentice” Nearly everything in this episode is perfect, from the way it reveals former Sith apprentice Maul (who played a significant role in the Clone Wars series) as a trickster figure to Ezra, to the showdown with three Inquisitors, to the last images of Ahsoka and Darth Vader battling atop the temple. There’s also the gorgeous animated architecture of the Sith temple, the soaring music in the final act, and the most complex and compelling lightsaber duels of any animated Star Wars series. It all comes together to make the best episode of Rebels so far.
Season 3: Episode 1, “Steps Into Shadow” Disney made a giant miscalculation when jettisoning the Star Wars expanded universe, rendering decades of material fans loved as non-canon. But little by little, in response to the uproar over long-beloved characters and storylines being disavowed overnight, the franchise has begun to draw on the wealth of content in what is now designated “Legends.” Rebels has now wisely tapped Grand Admiral Thrawn, the major villain of Timothy Zahn’s book trilogy, to return to canon status. (Casting Mads Mikkelsen’s brother to voice him is also an inspired choice.) Ezra working with the Sith holochron has the potential to turn him into the worst combination of Luke’s sniveling, whiny attitude and Anakin’s dangerously overprotective impulses. But figuring out a way to make Kanan the blind master who can succeed where Obi-Wan and Anakin failed will determine how annoying Ezra’s flirtations with the Dark Side become.
Why You Should Binge:
The episodes are short and it’s easy to determine whether an episode will tie into the larger plot of the Empire quashing the rebellion or Kanan and Ezra advancing as Jedi. It’s also some of the best extra material on Darth Vader to be found in the new canon. With Vader’s appearance in Rogue One looming, it’s useful to see how the character is depicted post-Revenge of the Sith but before the original trilogy.
Best Scene—Lightsaber Battles on Malachor:
The Inquisitors against Ahsoka and Kanan. Ezra and Maul joining the fight. The battle up the pyramid. The helicopter saber technique. Maul’s betrayal. Ahsoka wounding Vader’s mask. This is just the best minute-for-minute episode of Rebels, hands down, with the coolest and most unsettling backdrop and best fight choreography for a lightsaber duel possible. It’s very hard to do one of these scenes in live action, and it looks goofy with too much CGI. But animated duels look incredible, and these are the best.
When Clone Wars was prematurely cancelled, many people were upset that a new show seemed to be introduced just so it could air on a Disney-owned television network. But in its second season, Rebels went from an intriguing curiosity to an essential story in the Star Wars universe. It also introduced several new fan-favorite characters, gave cameos to the best of the prequel and original saga characters, and offered up more time to tease out the training of one Jedi apprentice than a film ever could.
If You Liked Star Wars Rebels You’ll Love: Anything from the previous series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Also check out the thematically similar Tron: Uprising and Firefly as well as other animated classics like Samurai Jack and Avatar: The Last Airbender. You might even enjoy other large ensemble franchise-adjacent series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
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