Updated 12/29/19: Replaced an irrelevant episode from number 2 with a more relevant one.
Influenced by Buck Rogers, Akira Kurosawa, and swashbuckling tales, Star Wars is a franchise deeply rooted in serialized storytelling. The main series, a trilogy of trilogies dubbed the “Skywalker Saga”, is a continuous story told through episodic films. However, Star Wars is also perfect for the small screen, comic books, and video games — as we’ve previously discussed. Today, two months away from the end of the Skywalker Saga, and two weeks away from the premiere of The Mandalorian, I want to delve into the previous small screen Star Wars series — The Clone Wars and Rebels — to outline what I believe to be the best story arcs of this pocket of the current canon.
Honorable Mention: Kanan Jarrus, Knight of the Rebellion (“Star Wars Rebels”)
Episode(s): “Rise of the Old Masters”, “Fire Across the Galaxy”, “Twilight of the Apprentice”, “Steps Into Shadow”, “Trials of the Darksaber”, “Rebel Assault”, “Jedi Night”
Dave Filoni really knows how to make a character stick the landing. Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), the “cowboy Jedi”, was one of the best characters to come out of Rebels — if not the best. Feeling survivor’s remorse after his master, Depa Billaba’s, sacrifice during Order 66, Kanan — known then as Caleb Dume — left the Jedi life behind. While he kept his lightsaber and carried his master’s teachings with him, he learned to adapt to a galaxy without the Jedi as peacekeepers. He learned to survive, and eventually met — and fell in love with — Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), captain of the Ghost. Over time, they formed a crew, and he became a leader of the ragtag group of rebels. Then he met Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), a Force sensitive teenager, on Lothal.
Through Ezra, Kanan learned that he needed to return to the path of the Jedi. He reluctantly agreed to teach the boy, believing himself worthy of neither the responsibility nor the respect. However, over time, Kanan trained Ezra to be a capable Jedi and Rebel commander in his own right, and earned the right to Knighthood through Master Yoda (Frank Oz) himself. He led many missions with the Ghost crew, facing down the likes of several Inquisitors, Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), even Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). He didn’t always walk away unscathed; on the contrary, Maul blinded him in their first encounter. But he learned to trust in, and rely on, the Force as his ally, and to let it guide him through his final moments. With his final act, he sacrificed himself to save his family, his apprentice, and his lover.
9) Saw Gerrera, Rebel of Onderon (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” & “Rebels”)
Clone Wars Episode(s): “A War on Two Fronts”, “Front Runners”, “The Soft War”, “Tipping Points”
Rebels Episodes(s): “Ghosts of Geonosis”, “In the Name of the Rebellion”
The Onderon arc is low-key one of the most consequential arcs in the franchise. During this arc, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Knight Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Padawan Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), and Clone Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) are dispatched to the planet Onderon when they request aid from the Republic. Due to Onderon’s neutrality, they cannot directly interfere, despite a Separatist occupation and the new “puppet” king’s allegiance to Count Dooku (Corey Burton). This arc shows our heroes training an insurgency to fight a cold war against the Separatists. Ahsoka also has a romantic rival in the eventual leader, Steela Gerrera (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), who seems to be in a relationship with the Padawan’s long standing crush, Lux Bonteri (Jason Spisak). Steela later died freeing her people, inspiring the rebels to continue the cause with the help of the Republic.
Onderon is important because it gives us Saw Gerrera (Andrew Kishino in Clone Wars, Forest Whitaker elsewhere), Steela’s brother who eventually made his way into Rogue One, Rebels, and the upcoming video game Fallen Order. Saw’s desire to lead in his sister’s stead, as well as his reckless streak, is on full display in this arc. His eventual descent into cynicism and extremism makes perfect sense. After all, he was trained by the man who became Darth Vader, and aligned with a government that eventually became the Empire. I think he’d become radical after all that.
8) Holocron Heist/Children of the Force (“The Clone Wars” & “Rebels”)
Clone Wars Episode(s): “Holocron Heist”, “Cargo of Doom”, “Children of the Force”
Rebels Episode(s): “Future of the Force”
During the Clone Wars, bounty hunter Cad Bane successfully steals a holocron from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Anakin & Ahsoka are dispatched to retrieve it. While the ensuing journey leads them across the galaxy, Bane proves capable enough to capture Ahsoka and nearly stalemate Anakin before fleeing the scene. Part of their mission takes them to Mustafar, where they discover kidnapped Force-sensitive children being used for experiments by Darth Sidious.
This would later come to fruition in Rebels, where Darth Vader and the Emperor have continually kidnapped Force-sensitive children to train as Inquisitors — Dark Side warriors who operate as enforcers in their quest to snuff out the remaining Jedi. Kanan, Garazeb “Zeb” Orrellios (Steve Blum), and Ezra Bridger attempt to keep the Inquisitors from kidnapping more children until they get an assist from Ahsoka herself.
7) Obi-Wan Undercover (“The Clone Wars”)
Episode(s): “Deception”, “Friends and Enemies”, “The Box”, “Crisis on Naboo”
You wanna push Anakin’s “berserk button”? Touch someone he cares about. He’ll torture you, kill you, whatever it takes to exact retribution — man, woman, or child. When Obi-Wan, his former master and surrogate father, fakes his death, it shakes the young Jedi to his core, unleashing his anger. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is tracking the operations of Cad Bane and other bounty hunters under Separatist employ. It takes him, under the guise of Rako Hardeen, to Serenno, where Dooku is putting together a crew for a mission on Naboo. This arc is fun because it shows Obi-Wan continue his sleuthing like he did in Attack of the Clones, but doing so while pretending to be dead. This drives Anakin insane, and he goes full on rage mode for most of the arc, drawing him ever closer to the Dark Side. Ironically, he ends up fighting the undercover Kenobi along the way.
6) Yoda’s Journey (“The Clone Wars”)
Episode(s): “Voices”, “Destiny”, “Sacrifice”
When Yoda begins hearing the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), he initially thinks he’s going crazy from the stress of the ongoing Clone Wars. Over time, however, he begins to realize that he isn’t, and embarks on a journey that shows Dave Filoni and George Lucas attempting to rectify the midichlorian mystery. In all seriousness, however, Yoda begins to learn about the Living Force, and is guided by Qui-Gon and a planet of midichlorians in the process of attaining eternal life. He also realizes the inevitability of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, and his confrontation with Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith.
5) Umbara (“The Clone Wars”)
Episode(s): “Darkness on Umbara”, “The General”, “Plan of Dissent”, “Carnage of Krell”
Clone Wars was great at developing the side characters of the prequel trilogy. Jedi Council members often got more screen time, and lines, than they did in any of the films. Audiences got a sense of who they were and their relationship with each other and their troops, the Clone Troopers. You get to know the various Clones, such as Rex, Fives, Cody, and Hevy, and see their distinct personalities shine through. This makes Order 66 more painful on repeat viewings, and makes stories like the Umbara arc more impactful.
When General Pong Krell takes over the 501st Legion from Anakin, the Clones begin to have a dilemma on their hands. His reputation for results precedes him, as does his high casualty rate, presenting them with a genuine mystery. As their ranks are thinned in battle and they are seemingly stranded, they begin to realize they’ve been set up: Krell used them as pawns to slaughter each other from the jump.
4) The Miseducation of Ahsoka Tano (“The Clone Wars” & “Rebels”)
Clone Wars Episode(s): “Cloak of Darkness”, “Storm Over Ryloth”, “Brain Invaders”, “Wookiee Hunt”, “A Friend in Need”, “Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi”, “The Wrong Jedi”
Rebels Episode(s): “Fire Across the Galaxy”, “The Siege of Lothal”, “The Future of the Force”, “Shroud of Darkness”, “Twilight of the Apprentice”, “A World Between Worlds”, “Farewell”
When we first met Ahsoka Tano, she was an annoying teenager coming up with corny nicknames for Anakin and R2-D2. Over time, however, she matured into a battle-hardened soldier and a powerful Jedi. She became an adviser to younglings, she trained rebels on Onderon, worked security for several political gatherings, and eventually led the Siege of Mandalore (which will finally debut in February). Ahsoka grew into a hero of the Clone Wars, facing down Asajj Ventress, General Grievous, and Pre Vizsla, among many others. Eventually, however, she realized her true path in life was not tied to the Jedi Order.
Through her battles, Ahsoka learned the grey morality of the Jedi and the toll the war took on the people around her. After being framed for murder, she was cast out of the Order and forced to clear her own name. Disillusioned, she left and never returned in full. She later resurfaced to aid the burgeoning Rebel Alliance, and to advise Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger on the path of the Jedi. She would eventually face her old master in combat, going out in a blaze of — wait, never mind. Time travel shenanigans saved her. She’s still alive, actually, living out her days with Sabine in search of Ezra and Grand Admiral Thrawn, who disappeared after the Battle of Lothal.
Ahsoka’s journey is a parallel one to Asajj Ventress and Darth Maul. Each of them are cast out of their respective Orders, and duel their masters, ending in defeat. Ventress becomes a bounty hunter and dies for love she develops for Quinlan Vos. Maul is consumed by anger and vengeance, dying at the hands of Obi-Wan. But Ahsoka, despite her issues with the Jedi, never strayed from the Light.
3) “Formerly ‘Darth’. Now, just Maul” (“The Clone Wars” & “Rebels”)
Clone Wars Episode(s): “Brothers”, “Revenge”, “Revival”, “Eminence”, “Shades of Reason”, “The Lawless”
Rebels Episode(s): “Twilight of the Apprentice”, “The Holocrons of Fate”, “Twin Suns”
Nobody thought that Maul would ever truly return. There were whispers, sure. Some old comics that didn’t actually make it into canon, too. But when the fourth season of Clone Wars ended up using his brother, Savage Opress (Clancy Brown), as a major player again, it quickly turned from rumors to rewards.
What happened was simple: Darth Maul returned and did exactly what you thought he would: he sought out Obi-Wan Kenobi. After giving him hell, he decided to go after Palpatine and Dooku. But to do so, he needed an army. So, he decided to gather the criminal underworld under himself and Savage, and joined forces with Pre Vizsla (Jon Favreau) of the Mandalorian extremist cell Death Watch. When he finally took over Mandalore, he killed both Viszla and the Duchess before Palpatine — and, eventually, Ahsoka — brought him to heel.
After escaping, he met Ezra Bridger on Moraband, and went on a killing spree. He tempted the fledgling Jedi with the Dark Side, blinded the boy’s master, and haunted the Ghost crew until he finally found his former nemesis, who put him down for good.
2) Mandalore (“The Clone Wars” & “Rebels”)
Clone Wars Episode(s): “The Mandalore Plot”, “Voyage of Temptation”, “Duchess of Mandalore”, “Corruption”, “The Academy”, “Eminence”, “Shades of Reason”, “The Lawless”
Rebels Episode(s): “The Protector of Concord Dawn”, “Imperial Supercommandos”, “Trials of the Darksaber”, “Legacy of Mandalore”, “Heroes of Mandalore”
Mandalorians are essentially the Vikings of the Star Wars universe. They’re a very proud people, they respect power, and their traditions are steeped in family and combat. Their armor represents them and their culture wherever they go. However, during the Clone Wars, the government of Mandalore attempted to not only maintain the system’s neutrality, but to make a concerted effort towards diplomacy over warfare. This didn’t sit well with some of the clans, especially that of Pre Vizsla (Jon Favreau), the governor of a Mandalorian moon who led the extremist cell Death Watch.
Over time, Vizsla sparred with Duchess Satine Kryze (Anna Graves) and her former lover, Obi-Wan. He even crossed blades with Ahsoka. But his fate became intertwined with that of the newly resurrected Darth Maul, who would wind up ruling Mandalore after killing both the Duchess and the ambitious terrorist. Maul’s reign would have repercussions throughout the planet, plunging it into civil war for nearly two decades and forcing its people into either a life of servitude to the Empire or nomadic bounty hunting.
Years later, Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), a Mandalorian rebel of the Ghost crew, reclaimed Vizsla’s Darksaber and used it to free her family, and her homeworld, from the Empire. Uniting the clans and houses to fight with them, she eventually restored the weapon and leadership to Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), the reformed former second-in-command of Death Watch and Duchess Satine’s sister.
1) Mortis (“The Clone Wars”)
Episode(s): “Overlords”, “Altar of Mortis”, “Ghosts of Mortis”
When anyone talks about the Mortis arc, they will likely tell you that it is the most important arc in the expanded universe. There is so much to learn from this arc: the nature of the Force, the origins of the Chosen One prophecy, how powerful Anakin truly was in his prime. This arc also showcases the growth and development of Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, and Anakin, as they are faced with the weight of the Force hanging in the balance, and the eventual destruction of the Jedi Order.
Mortis is important due to how it effectively sets our heroes on their respective paths. For Anakin, he learns (and unlearns; thanks, deus ex machina) his destiny as Darth Vader and the truth about bringing balance to the Force. For Ahsoka, she is revealed to be a capable warrior, and hates being treated like a child rather than given the respect she deserves as a Republic officer and a Jedi. For Obi-Wan, he must learn how to let go of his apprentice, and to accept his eventual turn to the Dark Side. He and Anakin also get to commune with Qui-Gon Jinn, however, allowing them to reflect on their current situation. Ironically, both Anakin and Obi-Wan are faced with the challenge of loss, but only one truly learns their lesson as we later see in Revenge of the Sith.
How do you feel about the list? What does yours look like? What are some of your favorite storylines? Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters December 20, 2019. The Mandalorian premieres November 12, 2019 on Disney+! Star Wars: The Clone Wars season seven debuts February 2020!