Now that the animated series has ended, we take a look at why it’s important to the franchise’s lore.
Update: Now that the final episode of Rebels (read our review) has aired, we’ve updated this story with all the latest info on how the animated series connects to some of the most important aspects of the Star Wars canon.
The Emmy award-winning Star Wars Rebels has reached its series conclusion, leaving an indelible mark on Star Wars mythology. The animated series continues the legacy of powerful storytelling, unforgettable characters, and thrilling action Star Wars is known for. But, one thing you may not be aware of is how important Star Wars Rebels is to the franchise’s lore. Executive-producer Dave Filoni and the animation team at Lucasfilm have created a crucial piece of storytelling that adds elements which have changed the galaxy far, far away forever.
Rebels has added to and deepened several iconic characters’ back stories while also building up the mythology that connects the Prequels with the Original Trilogy. Read on for why you need to add Star Wars Rebels to your pop culture resume… Full spoilers for everything leading up to the finale follow!
Maul and Obi-Wan
The Dark Side force wielder previously known as Darth Maul made a return to Star Wars in the previous series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (where he would eventually lose the Darth moniker). Angry, vengeful, and methodical, Maul made his Rebels debut in Season 2’s finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” He was found on Malachor (the home of an ancient Sith temple that Jedi are told to avoid) attempting to steal a Sith holocron. The holocron (think of it as an object containing much of the universe’s secrets) contained knowledge invaluable to Maul: the location of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Maul’s insatiable desire to eradicate Obi-Wan Kenobi’s existence – you will recall how their encounter in The Phantom Menace ended for Maul – leads to a number of calamities for our main Rebels characters Ezra, Kanan, Hera and the rest of the crew of the Ghost. But ultimately, Maul gets his wish. In Season 3’s penultimate episode, “Twin Suns” (perhaps the best episode of the entire series), the two reunite on Tatooine, where Kenobi is watching over a young boy you may have heard of named Luke Skywalker. The old Jedi Master and the former Sith Lord face off for the last time, and it’s a testament to the genius of Filoni and his team at Lucasfilm. It’s a character-driven episode and provides an unexpectedly beautiful ending for the tortured Maul. It also opens up a fan debate over the identity of who the chosen one actually is (which is officially addressed on the Season 3 Blu-ray).
Ahsoka and Vader
Perhaps the most famous Star Wars character not to appear in a Star Wars film, Ahsoka Tano appeared in the Season 1 finale, “Fire Across the Galaxy.” The former padawan of Anakin Skywalker is revealed to be known as Fulcrum (literally and figuratively) for the burgeoning Rebel Alliance; she was instrumental in its growth. Famously turning her back on the Jedi Order after some grave injustices occurred in the Clone Wars episode “The Wrong Jedi,” Ahsoka never went away from the light side and continued to fight the Empire behind the scenes. After all, while she wasn’t officially a Jedi, there was no way the Emperor would want Anakin Skywalker’s padawan to interfere with his plans for Vader and the galaxy.
So naturally, that’s exactly what happened. In Season 2’s premiere episode, “The Siege of Lothal,” Darth Vader, in his TIE Advanced, takes apart Phoenix Squadron single-handedly until only two A-wings remain. Even Maverick would be impressed. Remember, this is the first time we really see Vader in his prime on screen (as this debuted before Rogue One). But, at the end of the battle, Vader senses Ahsoka and – with James Earl Jones once again voicing the character – he bellows, “The padawan lives!” It’s an unforgettable moment in Star Wars lore; besides Obi-Wan, as far as Vader knows, this is the Sith Lord’s only connection to his former self.
Then, in the previously mentioned “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano face off for seemingly the last time. Vader is, well… Vader, and is a deadly opponent. However, Ahsoka is a force to be reckoned with in her own right and duels him to a standstill, even fracturing his mask, exposing Anakin Skywalker to the world. To be clear, Ahsoka has no possibility of redeeming him (that’s Luke Skywalker’s job), but he does appear potentially vulnerable. While that will be the last time we see him like that until Return of the Jedi, it is a very important chapter in Darth Vader’s history.
The Return of Familiar Faces, Voices, and Thematic Elements
Speaking of Vader, a hologram of his fearsome visage is the very first thing seen in the premiere episode of Star Wars Rebels. It is here that we learn some Jedi escaped Order 66, and Darth Vader sends out Inquisitors to finish the job. We also learn that there are a number of Force-sensitive children the Emperor wants eliminated. This sets the stage for many stories later revealed in the timeline (such as the comic book series Kanan as well as the novel Ahsoka and more).
In the recent episode “A World Between Worlds,” Ian McDiarmid returns to voice the Emperor, who is trying to unlock the secrets of a Jedi Temple on the planet Lothal (where much of the series takes place). In this temple, we learn that an extremely enlightened Force user may potentially alter time and space for good or evil. This episode also features the astonishing return of Ahsoka, two seasons after her mysterious exit at the end of “Twilight of the Apprentice” (that’s the third time I’ve mentioned that episode, and with good reason, because it’s amazing!). “A World Between Worlds” is thematically something of a bridge between the cave in The Empire Strikes Back and Rey’s exploration into the unknown in The Last Jedi (which also features a Jedi Temple, by the way). #connectivity
James Earl Jones and Ian McDiarmid are not the only returning actors from the Star Wars films. Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Frank Oz (Yoda), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma) voiced their iconic roles on the show, as did Star Wars: The Clone Wars stars James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Stephen Stanton (who plays Grand Moff Tarkin and the Alec Guinness version of Ben Kenobi). We even get an appearance from Princess Leia (voiced by actress Julie Dolan). And that’s just the tip of the (Hoth) iceberg. The participation of these Star Wars veterans added even more gravitas to the series, which certainly translated to the stories themselves.
The Formation of the Rebellion
We haven’t even mentioned Grand Admiral Thrawn, the blue-skinned Chiss made famous in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy of books in the early ’90s. He became part of the canon during Rebels and was a major thorn in the side of the growing Rebellion. He is an unprecedented strategist and could have conceivably eradicated the Rebellion before the spark of hope that is Luke Skywalker emerged. Naturally, he does not appear in the Original Trilogy anywhere, but the series finale explains why that is, while also answering a more poignant question: Where is Ezra Bridger?
It’s a fairly important point to ponder considering that Ezra is strong in the Force and, it could easily be argued, is a Jedi Knight (although he was never “officially” knighted). After all, in Empire Yoda does tell Luke that he is the last of the Jedi, but he also tells Obi-Wan Kenobi that “there is another.” What if Ezra is the Jedi being referred to? We’d always assumed it was Leia, but… Let the debate commence!
Regardless, in the Rebels finale Ezra, with the help of the hyperspace traveling purrgils, holds Thrawn at bay as they vault off at lightspeed via unknown coordinates. Dave Filoni has confirmed that the two are still alive, but that story remains untold. Either way, it explains the huge absence in the time after Rebels of these two integral characters who played a crucial part in the history of the Rebellion.
We also learn via an epilogue that all of the remaining characters of the Ghost crew (Hera, Zeb, Chopper, and Sabine) survive the OT and that Hera and clone trooper Captain Rex fought in the Battle of Endor. Not only that, but with the Empire destroyed, Sabine appears to leave with a much wiser, stoic Ahsoka Tano to find Ezra and bring him back to the known galaxy.
The Rebels we encountered in Rogue One are the result of a number of myriad Rebel cells that finally unite in Season 4 of the series. The Ghost crew is a major reason for helping to unite this “pitiful little band” into a force for good ready to liberate the galaxy. Filoni and the Lucasfilm Story Group are among the incredibly talented individuals who have woven many legendary and iconic moments, characters, and scenes from the Star Wars universe into Rebels, incorporating so many crucial aspects of what makes this mythology such a rich, complex, and endlessly entertaining universe.