With the December release of Star Wars: Episode 9 - The Rise of Skywalker nearly upon us, many fans gearing up for the final piece of the Skywalker saga by marathoning the entire franchise. Of course, this includes the non-saga standalones Rogue One and Solo, but for a truly complete experience, the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels should also be included.
While The Clone Wars slots firmly between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Rebels is a little bit more of a unique beast. Chronologically, it takes place five years before Rogue One (but after Solo), but it’s also a bridge between pretty much every part of Star Wars.
Assuming you don’t actually have time to sit down and watch the entire series as part of your marathon (which you should at some point, it’s excellent), the relatively short episodes make it easy to digest in batches. Plus, the entirety of Star Wars: Rebels is available to watch now on Disney+.
Below, we offer an episode guide for must-watch Star Wars: Rebels episodes. Depending on how you want to run your binge, there are a few different angles to take. For your convenience, the episodes below are grouped based on how they relate to different Star Wars elements. This is by no means the most comprehensive list, as elements of the franchise really bleed into episodes in all sorts of ways, but this provides a leaner guide to fit certain episode arcs into a bigger pre-Episode 9 marathon.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for pretty much everything Star Wars. This assumes that you've seen all of the related pieces involved and are only new to Rebels.
Season 1, Episode 1
"Spark of Rebellion," the first Star Wars: Rebels episode, establishes the major characters, the planet of Lothal, and the state of the galaxy. Most notable is that there is no Rebel Alliance at this point, only rogue factions that operate independently. Also, if you’re rolling your eyes at “yet another young man with untapped Jedi powers,” hang in there — Ezra Bridger is far different from anyone named Skywalker and his story is well worth your investment.
The Clone Wars/Prequel Trilogy
When Rebels first premiered, it felt like a clean continuity break from The Clone Wars despite the presence of Clone Wars' showrunner Dave Filoni at the helm. However, by the end of the first season, it became clear that Rebels shared more than aesthetic with The Clone Wars, and Rebels pulled off the nearly impossible feat of being both a sequel to The Clone Wars and its own series.
It's no wonder that fans of The Clone Wars often feel as much affection to Rebels, particularly since the latter series rewarded them by continuing the stories of several beloved characters.
Season 1 Episode 15, Season 2 Episodes 2 and 22, Season 4 Episode 13
"Fire Across the Galaxy" (S1), "The Siege of Lothal", "Twilight of the Apprentice" (S2), "A World Between Worlds" (S4): While all elements referencing the clone troopers relate to both The Clone Wars and the entire prequel trilogy, several Rebels episodes continue a storyline from Revenge of the Sith — namely, does Ahsoka Tano know what happened to Anakin, and is there still good left in him? Ahsoka pops in and out of Rebels, particularly in Season 2, but these tentpole episodes provide the bulk of her arc for the series.
Season 2 Episode 3 and Season 3 Episode 5
"The Lost Commanders" (S2), "The Last Battle" (S3): Though they weren’t given much characterization in the prequel movies, individual clones were a significant part of The Clone Wars. Some managed to escape Order 66, which is hinted at in the “lost episodes” season of The Clone Wars, and these episodes address their whereabouts directly. Like Ahsoka, Rex is actually sprinkled into a number of episodes.
Season 2 Episode 6, Season 3 Episode 1, Season 4 Episode 14
"Brothers of the Broken Horn" (S2), "Steps Into Shadow" (S3), "A Fool’s Hope" (S4): Smuggler Hondo Ohnaka has gained such a cult following that he’s a significant part of the experience at the Galaxy’s Edge theme park. These episodes show where Hondo’s been since the Clone Wars and how he starts weaving into the Galactic Civil War.
Season 4, Episode 15
"Family Reunion and Farewell" (S4): The fate of Ahsoka Tano and Rex through the original trilogy and beyond are explored in the series finale’s epilogue.
Everyone’s favorite acrobatic Sith Lord received far too little screentime in The Phantom Menace, but was brought back with resounding success in The Clone Wars. That series left him beaten and humbled after finally returning to face his old Sith master. Without any definitive end — and a surprise appearance in Solo, which takes place before Rebels — the second animated Star Wars series gives Maul an effective conclusion while also answering the question “If he survived, why isn’t he around in the original trilogy?” (Yes, this is all ret-conning, but still, work with us here.)
Season 2 Episode 21, Season 3 Episodes 3 and 10
"Twilight of the Apprentice" (S2), "The Holocrons of Fate ", "Visions and Voices" (S3): Maul left The Clone Wars at a point of weakness, and Solo brought him back as an underworld leader. This Maul is much different, and the gaps between appearances still have yet to be filled in. It's clear through in these episodes that Maul has ditched ambitions of influencing the galactic balance of things and is focused on revenge. This series of episodes detail not just Maul’s state of mind, but his approach at tempting others.
Season 3 Episode 19
"Twin Suns" (S3): This episode works almost as a standalone, somewhat separated from the main Rebels story. It's something that can be viewed on its own if you’re in a rush, though it works much better with the aforementioned episodes. Without spoiling anything, this brings Maul’s journey to an emotionally satisfying and smart conclusion.
Rebels takes place shortly before Rogue One, which leads directly into the opening moments of A New Hope. That means Rebels is primed for all sorts of tie-ins with the standalone story of Jyn Erso (and in fact, there’s probably a good chance the upcoming Cassian Andor series has some threads related to Rebels). With both in production around the same time, various crossover elements were built in regarding story elements and characters.
Season 1 Episode 6
"Breaking Ranks" (S1): Early episodes of Rebels are more standalone and fun, and this one certainly fits the bill. The plot centers around Kyber Crystals and a mystery project run by the Empire to mine them, which eventually leads to the events of Rogue One.
Season 2 Episode 12
"A Princess on Lothal" (S2): One of the pivotal moments of Rogue One involves the use of Hammerhead Corvettes. This episode covers how Princess Leia was involved in acquiring those particular ships.
Season 3 Episodes 18 and 12, Season 4 Episode 3
"Secret Cargo" (S3), "Ghosts of Geonosis" (S3), "In The Name Of The Rebellion" (S4): When Rebels starts, the Rebel Alliance does not exist but the Imperial Senate does. At the center of the Senate are Mon Mothma, Saw Gerrera, and Bail Organa, all trying to accomplish their goals in different ways. This group of episodes demonstrates this fact, leading up to the eventual formation of the Alliance.
This is expounded upon in more detail in the epilogue of the series finale, "Family Reunion and Farewell", though the trio of characters aren’t really involved in that episode.
The Original Trilogy
A Star Wars show called Rebels would of course tie into the Rebel Alliance from the original trilogy, though it’s a lot more subtle than the pieces used in Rogue One. This makes sense given that Rogue One was a concurrent production compared to retconning into the original trilogy. Though in a way, the entire series is a nod to the original trilogy given that it covers the phase of Imperial control right before the Battle of Yavin.
Season 1 Episode 11
"Idiot’s Array" (S1): Everyone’s favorite smooth smuggler returns! Billy Dee Williams provides the voice of Lando Calrissian, giving a glimpse of what he was up to prior to The Empire Strikes Back.
Season 3 Episodes 14 and 19
"The Antilles Extraction", "Double Agent Droid" (S3): The origin of Wedge Antilles is explored in this pair of episodes. Remember that Rebels takes place roughly five years before the original trilogy, so this provides the starting point for Wedge to become the Rebellion’s ace pilot.
Season 4 Episode 15
"Family Reunion and Farewell" (S4): The series finale of Rebels wraps up a lot of things, including explaining why the main protagonist/antagonist of the series aren’t involved in the original trilogy, and who was in fact present for the battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor.
The Sequel Trilogy
Does Rebels — which takes place an entire generation before the sequel trilogy — have an impact on The Rise of Skywalker? Based on early trailer footage, we know that The Ghost is among the ships that assembles with the Resistance fleet.
The ship's captain and crew may not be covered in the film and instead left for ancillary material, though a shoutout with a single line is possible. Regardless, there are heavy favorites in the possible Ghost crew and it's all identified by the ending episodes of Rebels, along with other connections to the sequel trilogy and the Episode 9 lead-in book Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse.
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Season 2 Episode 21
"Twilight of the Apprentice" (S2): The two-part season finale holds much more significance for connections to the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy; however, there is also a cameo from a unique lightsaber style that is a big part of the sequel trilogy.
Season 3 Episode 11
"Visions and Voices" (S3): Much was made about the so-called ForceTiming done between Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi; this episode shows a similar connection between Ezra and Maul.
Season 4 Episodes 10, 11, and 15
"Jedi Night," "DUME," "Family Reunion and Farewell" (S4): Who is piloting The Ghost in The Rise of Skywalker? There are two likely answers, though the actual film may not address it. However, to understand who those probably pilots are, these three episodes provide the backstory and bridge about how and why it came together, all culminating in the epilogue of the series finale "Family Reunion and Farewell".
Bonus: The Old Expanded Universe
For those that have fond memories of Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy from the early 1990s and have largely ignored Star Wars animated series, then you’re in luck. Rebels brought the previously de-canonized Thrawn back into the franchise in a huge way. Thrawn is the primary antagonist of Seasons 3 and 4 of Rebels and he is written and performed exactly as you would hope. If all you want out of Rebels is to see how this is brought to life, watch the second half of the series.
Featured still from "Star Wars: Rebels" via Lucasfilm