This article is spoiler-free for Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – as you undoubtedly know already – tells the tale of the Rebel spies that stole the Death Star plans, just before the opening crawl for the original Star Wars movie, which nowadays is known as A New Hope. But as epic as this one act of defiance against the Empire is, it’s not the full story of the Rebel Alliance.
Countless yarns have been spun about this anti-Imperial organisation over the years (even The Force Awakens videogames had a pop at serving up a Rebel Alliance origin story), and it can be a daunting task as a fan of the movies to know where to start with this wider narrative web encompassing a galaxy’s worth of books, comics, TV shows and games.
But, if you watched Rogue One and want to see more of the Rebel Alliance’s struggle against the evil Empire, I can suggest one great place to start: with the Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels. All you need before starting Rebels is a working knowledge of the movies, and you’re in for a treat once you jump in. Here’s why…
Bridger of stories
Straight off the bat, in its first episode, Star Wars Rebels picks up a plot strand left dangling from Revenge Of The Sith that I’d barely even thought about before. To recap: just before he goes to fight Anakin on Mustafar, Obi-Wan visits the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to alter a coded transmission that was set up to lure any Jedi that survived Order 66 into a deadly trap. As it plays out in the movie, Obi-Wan rejigs the transmission off screen. Presumably, this is because Obi-Wan uncovering the hologram footage of Anakin murdering younglings was deemed a more important thing to show us at this point. Which is fair enough; Episode III is all about Anakin’s demise.
Star Wars Rebels picks up this story scrap that George Lucas left lying around, and lets us see Obi-Wan’s replacement message to the surviving Jedi. The Clone Wars alum James Arnold Taylor provides his voice, and the script by Simon Kinberg gives Kenobi’s message a mournful, almost poetic air. And there’s a big Easter Egg in there, too, for fans of nerdy references. You’ll have to watch the show (or, um, do a YouTube search) if you want to watch Obi-Wan’s message, but suffice it to say that this scene is what hooked me into Star Wars Rebels. This show is clearly made by people with a lot of love for the Star Wars canon.
Obi-Wan’s message isn’t the only discarded plot strand that Rebels picks up, either. We also get to see what Darth Maul got up to after his adventures in The Clone Wars animated series, with the fearsome former Sith Lord transformed here into a desperate outsider attempting to regain power and steady his footing in the universe.
This dedication to tying stories together, interweaving the whole canon, is felt in the background of the show, too. How did the Rebels get their fleet of ships, and the bombs that go with it? Where did the Imperials build the Death Star? Did the Empire have to train up children in order to build their galaxy-spanning army so quickly? These are all questions that Rebels takes an interest in, which adds context to the movies. In exploring how the galaxy of the prequels could become the warzone of Rogue One and A New Hope, this stellar series makes the whole picture clearer. Thanks, Rebels!
Iconic characters return
I’ve touched upon a couple of these already: as well as Sam Witmer’s Darth Maul and James Arnold Taylor’s Obi-Wan, fans of The Clone Wars animated series will also recognise the voices of Ashley Eckstein (who reprises Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s former Jedi apprentice), Dee Bradley Baker (who brings back his clone commander character Rex), Jim Cummings (whose smuggler character Hondo shows up regularly), Phil LaMarr (who returns to the role of Bail Organa) and Stephen Stanton (who voices Grand Moff Tarkin again).
Hearing/seeing this cast of characters back in action – often sharing scenes – is surely great fun for The Clone Wars’ loyal fans. And, to be honest, whether you watched Clone Wars or not, it’s hugely exciting when you’re watching an episode that you thought was standalone and then an iconic character like Tarkin shows up.
Actors from the movies sometimes appear in Rebels as well, which is even more thrilling, and a testament to the quality of the show. So far in Rebels, Frank Oz has reprised Yoda twice, Anthony Daniels has voiced C3-PO in one episode, Billy Dee Williams has brought back Lando Calrissian on two occasions and James Earl Jones has voiced Darth Vader in four episodes. It’s worth mentioning as well that Princess Leia popped up once, but Julie Dolan provided the voice instead of Carrie Fisher. Star Wars Rebels very much takes place in the Star Wars universe as you know it and love it, and part of that is familiar characters dropping in when the story allows.
The Darth Vader episodes, despite being quite spread out in the grand scheme of things, are always my personal highlights. Like certain scenes in Rogue One, Rebels makes Vader scary again, combining James Earl Jones’ iconic voice box with some excellent animation (inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art) and top notch storytelling. Rebels version of Vader is a force of nature, hunting Jedi and Rebels across the galaxy and taking no prisoners. The season 2 finale, in particular, provides some of the scariest Vader material ever produced.
Rebels treatment of Vader certainly makes the laughable “NOOOOO!” of Episode III feel like a long time ago. This version of Vader has his groove back, and fits perfectly with the Dark Lord as he appears in Rogue One. Timeline-wise, Vader’s appearance in the season 2 Rebels finale takes place a couple of years before he shows up in Rogue One, but they totally feel like the same character.
Also, early next year, Forest Whitaker will return to Star Wars to voice Saw Gerrera in a Rebels episode set some time before his appearance in Rogue One. That’s one fairly obvious reason for fans of the film to check out the show! Info, footage and images can be found here.
You’ll care about the new characters
I’ve tried to structure this article so you discover Rebels in a similar way to how I did – you hear about all the iconic characters you love that are in it, you see what the writers did with the Obi-Wan message and you think, ‘Gee, these folk know what they’re doing.’ And then you’re in. But a spin-off show – especially one like this, where the familiar characters from before aren’t in every episode – lives and dies on its original characters and how much you like them.
Thankfully, Rebels has no problems in this department, because creators Simon Kinberg, Carrie Beck and Dave Filoni have filled the show with awesome new characters, from the bantering heroes to the chilling villains to the loveable background players.
The show revolves around the crew of The Ghost (think the Millennium Falcon but with a detachable second ship), including Twi’lek pilot Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), furry Lasat warrior Zeb Orrelios (Steve Blum), Mandalorian weapons expert/aspiring graffiti artist Sabine Wren (Tiya Sicar) and former Jedi Padawan Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze. Jr), along with their droid chum Chopper (think R2-D2 but more unhinged, and with more rotating). In the pilot episode they pick up young orphan Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), who’s been causing a lot of trouble for the Empire on his home world of Lothal.
Right from the start of the show (so I wouldn’t say it’s a spoiler), Kanan attempts to train the Force-sensitive Ezra in the ways of the Force. But Kanan’s own lack of training – Order 66 stopped him from earning Jedi Knight status – means he lacks confidence and struggles to impart what he knows. When the series starts, Kanan is the one that grabs your attention, but over time the entire crew of The Ghost grow into characters that you really care about. The show explores the cultures and worlds and traditions that they all herald from, making the Star Wars universe feel bigger and adding new elements to the mythos.
There’s no shortage of cool villains in Rebels, either, even when Vader, Maul and Tarkin aren’t around. (Hello to) Jason Isaacs voices Imperial Jedi hunter The Inquisitor, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez showing up later as his reinforcements. All three of them have spinning, double-bladed lightsabers to help them slice and dice the Jedi.
My personal favourite villain is Agent Kallus, though, who’s voiced by David Oyelowo and pictured above, facing off with Zeb. Kallus starts off as a generic Imperial careerist, but grows into something far more interesting over time. Lars Mikkelsen’s Grand Admiral Thrawn is the newest villainous addition (and a character pulled over from the old Expanded Universe canon) – he has my attention, having showcased an unmatched tactical cunning in his early appearances.
You’ll have fun spotting the guest stars, too: Paul Reubens, Clancy Brown, Bret Spiner and Tom Baker are among the geek-friendly actors who’ve popped up briefly on the show so far.
The spirit of Rebellion
“We’ll take the next chance, and the next” – it’s a line from the Rogue One trailers that, unexpectedly, brought a tear to my eye when I first heard it. I think that happened because it made me think about this Rebels Vs Imperials section of the Star Wars saga as a whole: from The Ghost crew of Rebels, to the band of misfits from Rogue One, to the Skywalker children and their chums in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. What they’re all doing is taking one chance at a time – one inexplicably long shot, which droids are quick to point out has very poor odds of succeeding.
Both Rebels and Rogue One embody that same spirit of the Rebellion that made us admire the original Star Wars’ heroes; that courageous desire which sends characters jumping into danger to try and save lives. In one episode of Rebels, The Ghost crew risk everything to liberate a few battered old Y-Wings from an Imperial scrapping facility. It sounds like a tiny mission, but it’s actually a vital chance. And, when the odds are stacked against you this badly, you have to take each chance as it comes.
And those Y-Wings, as far as I know, are the same ones that show up in the films later on and help the Rebels capture the Death Star plans and ultimately destroy the Empire’s planet-killing weapon. They take the next chance, and the next, and the next – it’s all connected.
This, ultimately, is why I think Star Wars Rebels is the ideal companion to Rogue One, and the perfect series to binge now that the first cinematic Star Wars spin-off has reached screens. There’s never been a better time to expand your Star Wars fandom, and if you’re after more cool new characters, daring tales of rebellion and occasional guest spots from the most iconic characters in the canon, Rebels is the perfect place to start…
May the Force binge with you.