As audiences prepare for a whole new generation of Star Wars stories on the big screen, fans are also looking back at the last four decades of Star Wars stories across a variety of mediums. In addition to the now non-canonical Expanded Universe of books, video games, and fan films, Lucasfilm has also released official canonized spinoff tales that provide added exploration of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, in the form of animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels.
We already made it clear The Clone Wars and Rebels are essential to getting the full Star Wars saga story ahead of The Force Awakens; however, with over 130 episodes between the two series, and episodes that aired out of order, we've put together a viewing guide to help readers navigate the animated Star Wars series, with a roadmap to the best and most crucial episodes of The Clone Wars and Rebels.
The guide will begin with the Star Wars: The Clone Wars CGI animated movie from 2008; it will NOT include Genndy Tartakovsky's hand-drawn animated series that aired from 2003 to 2005. For those who are interested, that Emmy-winning hand-drawn miniseries is, in total, just over two hours long and easy to find on YouTube; but following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, the series was relegated to theLegends Universe (along with the Droids as well as Ewoks series) - and is no longer part of the official canon. For that reason, we'll be focusing our guide solely on the 3D animated installments that directly tie-into the larger Star Wars film series.
Background on Clone Wars & Rebels
Much like the upcoming Star Wars Anthology films, which will present solo adventures at a specific time and place in the Star Wars story, The Clone Wars and Rebels both chronicle previously unexplored events within the Star Wars canon.
Some viewers may already be familiar with where exactly the two series fit into the larger ongoing narrative but, for those who are unaware, we're going to break both shows down to their fundamentals.
The Clone Wars
When: The Clone Wars begins shortly after the events of Star Wars - Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and chronicles the three years of all-out galactic warfare between the Trade Federation and the Republic - leading directly into Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.
Who: Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano (Anakin's young Padawan) headline the series, but The Clone Wars was not focused on famous Jedi warriors alone. In addition to Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka, several other prequel characters were heavily featured (especially Padmé Amidala, high-ranking Clone Troopers, as well as the malevolent General Grievous) - allowing for a variety of perspectives on the Clone Wars (political maneuverings, humanitarian missions, and the struggles of people - both good and bad - caught in the middle). For that reason, many episodes sidelined Jedi heroes for a fresh look at The Clone Wars, which, despite unmatched influence from the Dark Side (via Darth Sidious), was not the tale of blatant good versus evil that some movie viewers might have assumed.
Production Background: After the success of Tartakovsky's hand-drawn Clone Wars TV miniseries, Cartoon Network and Lucasfilm teamed to create an episodic cartoon series (this time through 3D animation) that explored Anakin's planet-hopping adventures during The Clone Wars. The show ran for five seasons but was eventually cancelled following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm (a brief set of "Lost Missions" aka season 6 was released shortly after on Netflix). Instead of focusing on a storyline with roots in the divisive Star Wars prequel trilogy, Disney wanted to shuffle The Clone Wars team into launching a new animated series that would usher in a revival based on the Star Wars trilogy that all fans know and love (as well as plant seeds for ideas that J.J. Abrams could utilize in Episode 7). The result? Star Wars: Rebels.
When: Rebels kicks-off fourteen years after Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith (which is five years before Episode 4 - A New Hope) and chronicles the early formation of the Rebel Alliance following years of harsh military dictatorship under the Galactic Empire. Since Rebels is currently an ongoing series, it is unclear when the Rebels story will come to a close within the larger Star Wars canon.
Who: While Force-sensitive teen Ezra Bridger is the main protagonist in Rebels, the Jedi-in-training is joined by a crew of do-gooding smugglers (known as the Lothal Rebels): Hera Syndulla is the team's ace pilot (and owner of their ship, Ghost); Sabine Wren is a 16-year-old Mandalorian graffiti artist and explosives expert (who escaped the Imperial Academy); Zeb Orrelios is a survivor of an early Imperial massacre - a former Lasat honor guard with a gruff demeanor, he serves as the team's brutish enforcer; C1-10P (aka "Chopper") is Hera's astromech droid, cobbled together with scrap parts into an eccentric, brave, and sometimes crazy robot assistant; and Kanan Jarrus, the Lothal Rebels' roguish de-facto leader who has a dangerous secret known only to a few: he's a former Jedi who fled following the Great Jedi Purge in Episode 3. Even though the Lothal Rebels are at the center of the series, the group is also joined in their fight by several fan-favorite Star Wars heroes - and pursued by ruthless Dark Force-weilding "Inquisitors" under the command of Darth Vader.
Production Background: As indicated, despite critical success of The Clone Wars, Disney opted to cancel the series in favor of a new show that, while continuing select threads from the prequel trilogy plot, was more closely connected to the classic Star Wars saga (and straightforward tale of rebels versus fascist Dark Side control). Given that the series is still in its infancy, it remains to be seen how Rebels will tie into the larger Star Wars storyline - not to mention how the Lothal Rebels (and the Dark Force Inquisitors that hunt them) will connect with Episode 4 and become a significant part of Star Wars mythology - possibly influencing events in Episode 7 and beyond.