As part of the annual May the Fourth Be With You celebrations, Disney is releasing every episode of Disney XD breakout series Star Wars Rebels, for free on Disney.com. This is the perfect time to catch up on the wonderfully inventive series, before it returns for a second season on June 20 (if the trailer for the new season is any indication, it’s going to be nuts). It will also scratch that Star Wars itch until The Force Awakens opens this Christmas.
For those of you who are entirely new to the Star Wars Rebels world, the series takes place 14 years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and five years before the original Star Wars. This is a pretty dreary time for the Jedi Knights of the Old Republic; they’ve been nearly hunted to extinction and the Rebellion is still very much in its infancy. The series follows a band of merry outlaws, led by Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), a young street tuff and fledgling Jedi, who joins forces with the crew of the freighter Ghost: Hera (Vanessa Marshall), the pilot and owner of the ship, roguish Kanan (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Sabine (Tiya Sircar) a graffiti artist and weapons aficionado, and hulking brute Zeb (Steven Blum). Oh, and there’s also Chopper, a spritely droid in the R2-D2 mold.
If you aren’t familiar with Star Wars Rebels but have watched some of the other recent animated Star Wars programming, then you’ll know that it’s the spiritual successor to the long-running and well-loved Star Wars: Clone Wars series: it’s got a similar design aesthetic, shares key creative personnel (led by animation director Dave Filoni, now joined by Simon Kinberg, who is helping with the new Star Wars films) and, in the last few episodes, even introduced characters that link the series.
So strap on your commemorative TIE fighter helmet, fire up your lightsaber, and get ready to blast off to a galaxy far, far away, as we rank every episode of Star Wars Rebels. And if you need any more, you can watch Star Wars Rebels: Ultimate Guide, a half-hour special debuting on Monday, May 4 on Disney XD at 8 p.m. May the Force be with you!
14. “Fighter Flight” (Episode 2, Original Air Date: October 20, 2014)
Well, they can’t all be winners: the second episode to air in the main run of the season was a bit bogged down by cumbersome action sequences and an emphasis on the unlikely team-up of young Jedi Ezra Bridger and the Chewbacca-like Zeb (we do love his accent). It’s not that this episode, which features the duo stealing a TIE fighter, is bad, per se, but “Fighter Flight” just doesn’t measure up to what was an unfathomably excellent first season. It’s slight. But chances are any Star Wars Rebels fan under the age of 15 will probably deem it one of the show’s very best episodes.
13. “Breaking Ranks” (Episode 4, Original Air Date: November 3, 2014)
Star Wars Rebels works best when it’s about the team; episodes about individual characters tend to suffer, which is what happened with this early episode that largely concerns itself with Ezra and an incredibly elaborate plot to find a powerful crystal that the Empire possesses (and has the ability to fuel a lightsaber). The stuff with Ezra in the Imperial Academy is fun and has a nice Ender’s Game vibe, but the tone is unusually dour and the central mystery leaves much to be desired. Still, like pizza, even the most lukewarm slice of Star Wars Rebels is pretty good.
12. “Gathering Force” (Episode 7, Original Air Date: November 17, 2014)
The second half of a two-part mini-arc (we’ll get to the first section in a minute), the episode starts with a bang, with our heroes dodging TIE fighters and ends with a whimper. In between these two extremes, we’ve got a lot of filler, with Ezra raging against a former family friend who may hold the key to discovering what happened to Ezra’s parents and eventually coming to terms with the truth of the situation. At his best, Ezra is a lovable, Dickensian scamp; at his worst he’s an emo teen. And unfortunately, “Gathering Forces” features a whole lot of the latter.
11. “Empire Day” (Episode 6, Original Air Date: November 24, 2014)
Now we’re talking. The first half of the mini-arc that concluded with the comparatively limp “Gathering Forces,” “Empire Day” had a nifty conceit, with our titular Rebels vowing to destroy a new type of TIE fighter on a day when the Empire celebrates its unlawful rise to power. What makes the mission even more fraught with intrigue is the fact that they also come across Tseebo, who is the same alien race as fan favorite Greedo (from the original film). Tseebo knew Ezra’s parents and who may know what happened to them …
10. “Call to Action” (Episode 11, Original Air Date: February 9, 2015)
One of the more delightful elements of Star Wars Rebels is the fact that it keeps introducing fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy, in new and surprising forms. In “Call to Action,” the series introduced Grand Moff Tarkin, the Empire higher-up so memorably essayed by Peter Cushing in the original Star Wars. Tarkin comes to the planet of Lothal, the sleepy planet that has become an Empire stronghold, to up the response to the Rebels. Coming towards the close of the season, “Call to Action” does a great job of intensifying the action, upping the stakes, and setting the stage for a truly spectacular final few episodes (the last three episodes consist of their own little arc).
9. “Path of the Jedi” (Episode 8, Original Air Date: January 5, 2015)
Not only does Star Wars Rebels tip its hat to fan-favorite characters from the franchise, but they also harken back to particularly poignant story beats from the original films. Both are present in “Path of the Jedi,” which is basically an episode-long version of the vision quest that Luke goes on in Empire Strikes Back. Ezra goes into a mystical temple and is confronted by some of his greatest fears, which he has trouble differentiating from the actual threats around him. This includes a particularly barbed exchange between him and Kanan and the very real danger of Empire hound The Inquisitor (voiced by wonderful British actor Jason Issacs). Oh, and as an added bonus, the episode featured a cameo by Yoda, who was voiced, once again, by the legendary Frank Oz.
8. “Rebel Resolve” (Episode 12, Original Air Date: February 23, 2015)
Darkening storm clouds amass in “Rebel Resolve,” the second part in the three-part finale to the first season. Like Empire Strikes Back, the middle part of the original three films, this is by far the darkest and most intense chapter in this mini-arc, with the baddies (including The Inquisitor and Grand Moff Tarkin) coming together to torture and interrogate a recently captured Kanan. The other members of the team are out searching for him, which includes a moment when they take over an AT-AT (another callback to Empire Strikes Back). While this isn’t the most fulfilling episode, on a narrative level, it should be applauded for its tone, mixing somber moments with more lighthearted fare, the beautifully moody animation, and how perfectly it sets up the gangbusters season finale.
7. “Out of Darkness” (Episode 5, Original Air Date: November 10, 2014)
There are a number of notable mysteries that have been sprinkled throughout the first season of Star Wars Rebels (and been paid off well); one of them involved the identity of Fulcrum, a Rebel informant. In “Out of Darkness,” a wonderfully atypical episode focused on female characters Hera and Sabine, intensifies this mystery without giving away the secret. But it’s the focus on the female characters that make “Out of Darkness” so special. The characters follow a Star Wars tradition of strong female characters and their interaction gives weight and dynamism to an episode that, had it featured the rest of the crew, could have felt a little been-there-laser-blasted-that.
6. “Rise of the Old Masters” (Episode 3, Original Air Date: October 27, 2014)
Three episodes into the season proper and this episode set the tone for the entire series. What makes Star Wars Rebels so special is that this is about a bunch of characters that don’t survive until the events of the first Star Wars. This is an episode that subtly underlines that without giving any of the younger viewers intense nightmares. The Ghost crew goes looking for a missing Jedi Master, only to discover that a) it was a trap set by the Inquisitor and b) the missing Jedi Master had died years ago. It’s powerful stuff, bleak and uncompromising and with a wonderful silver lining, with Kanan agreeing to really train Ezra in the ways of the Force. This episode reiterates one of the credos of Star Wars Rebels: Sometimes survival is enough.
5. “Vision of Hope” (Episode 10, Original Air Date: February 2, 2015)
Another lingering mystery of the first season of Star Wars Rebels was the location of Senator Gall Trayvis (voiced by Brent Spiner), a powerful figure who has been broadcasting messages to stir up the Rebellion. Finally, our heroes find Trayvis and the results are crushing: he’s actually an Empire stooge. Like “Rise of the Old Masters,” the episode really establishes the stakes and the how their missions could easily end in heartbreak. The pace is breakneck, the action sequences spectacularly staged, and the series’ signature mixture of uplift and devastation even more perfectly calibrated.
4. “Idiot’s Array” (Episode 9, Original Air Date: January 19, 2015)
This might be one of the first season’s slighter episodes, but you have to remember: this is the episode with Lando Calrissian (voiced by original actor Billy Dee Williams). We cannot stress that enough. It’s so awesome. “Idiot’s Array” is full of warmly lovable wackiness; everything from the reveal of the Lando character (he’s playing the card game that supposedly lost him the Millennium Falcon to Han Solo) to the fact that he smuggles a creature that puffs itself up like a giant beach ball, is just totally awesome and hilarious. This episode was a welcome break from the darker episodes of the season and Williams slipped back into the role like it was an old pair of shoes. While the series is typified by the more intense episodes, the funny episodes are often just as affecting, just in an altogether different way.
3. “Droids in Distress” (Episode 1, Original Air Date: October 13, 2014)
Speaking of wacky episodes and cameos from amazing older characters, “Droids in Distress,” the first episode aired in the regular slate of the season, not only features C-3PO (played by mainstay Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 but also Rex, the plucky droid who starred in the original version of Disney Parks favorite Star Tours (once again voiced by the immensely talented Paul Reubens). As any fan of Star Tours can attest, the inclusion of Rex in this episode was just as exciting as seeing C-3PO and R2-D2 shuffle around comically. This, like “Idiot’s Array,” is another goofy episode of Star Wars Rebels, involving a runaway shuttle and mistaken identities, but it’s also one of the most purely pleasurable episodes of the entire season. Hopefully there will be more episodes like this in season two, just to cut through the tension and add some levity to the galactic goings-on.
2. “Fire Across the Galaxy” (Episode 13, Original Air Date: March 2, 2015)
For the season 1 finale, Star Wars Rebels pulled out all the stops. This features the conclusion of the mini-arc, with the crew of the Ghost finally rescuing an imprisoned Kanan, the Inquisitor getting offed (in a particularly shocking moment) and, best of all, the last minute introduction of two huge characters: Darth Vader (in his original, Ralph McQuarrie-designed visage) and Fulcrum’s true identity, Star Wars: Clone Wars Jedi Ashoka Tano. (Bail Organa, Leia’s father, also appears in hologram form.) This was pure Rebels excellence, from start to finish, playful and intense, full of shocking surprises and genuinely edge-of-your-seat moments. It also set the bar incredibly high for season 2, although by the looks of the trailer, it’s totally going to deliver.
1. “Spark of the Rebellion” (TV Movie, Original Air Date: October 3, 2014)
Although technically a television movie, this super-sized episode (running 43 minutes) still remains the very best the series has to offer, made all the more exciting because it felt so new and fresh. This was, after all, our introduction to everything that makes Rebels so special: the jaunty action sequences, the bold design aesthetic (influenced largely by early illustrations that designer Ralph McQuarrie made for the first film), and the colorful cast of characters that, despite the fact that they all speak an earthly English (a holdover from the prequels years), capture the soul and spirit of the original trilogy better than anything has in the years in between. With the crew of The Ghost, Filoni, Kinberg and their extremely talented cast of collaborators, have given us a band of feisty Rebels that we can see ourselves following for years to come.