Why Watching Star Wars Rebels Before The Clone Wars Made Me Appreciate The Franchise More

Hera and Sabine in Star Wars Rebels
(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

The Star Wars franchise that was once exclusive to the big screen has since expanded to include some high-profile live-action TV shows, with The Mandalorian recently wrapping Season 3 just months before Ahsoka is set to debut for Disney+ subscribers. For me, the Star Wars TV journey started well before the Disney streamer even launched, and like many, it was with an animated show. Unlike others, however, my first animated show in the galaxy far, far away was Star Wars Rebels instead of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And while Clone Wars came first and is better known, I'm glad that I started with Rebels

This may not be the typical order to watch the first two Star Wars animated shows, with Clone Wars premiering (packed with prequel characters) in 2008 and Rebels not debuting the crew of the Ghost until 2014. Through a combination of timing, love for a film that can be left out of watching Star Wars movies in order if the focus is just on the Skywalker saga, and not getting more than a few minutes into the Clone Wars movie when it was available to Netflix subscribers, I watched Rebels first. 

For the reasons that I reflected on in honor of May the 4th, I don't think I'd be as big of a Star Wars TV fan as I am today if I hadn't started with the Disney XD show. Warning: spoilers for Star Wars Rebels are below!

Star Wars Rebels logo

(Image credit: Disney+)

The Origin: Why I Watched Rebels Before Clone Wars

Before anything else, join me in looking back to somewhat long ago, in a galaxy not far, far away: 2016, in the wake of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hitting theaters. The franchise's first standalone movie immediately became one of my favorites, and remains my favorite Disney-era movie of the saga. And I talked about it... a lot, to the point that somebody recommended that I check out this show called Star Wars Rebels that was set around the same era. 

I had my doubts. Rebels aired on Disney XD, which I – as an adult well outside of the network's usual demographic – had never even heard of before. I had also already (and very briefly) tried Star Wars: The Clone Wars before giving up. With the benefit of hindsight, I hope that even longtime Clone Wars fans can forgive me for not getting too deep into the 2008 movie, and I still don't love the animation style.

So, circa late 2016, Clone Wars wasn't for me, but my Rogue One love was strong enough for me to go back, give Rebels a shot from the beginning, and check to see if I even had Disney XD. At the time, Rebels was halfway through its third season – and therefore after the excellent "Twilight of the Apprentice" two-parter that I still think every Star Wars fan should watch – so the timing was pretty great once I caught up. 

Now, with Ahsoka on the way with some live-action versions of animated characters to validate every Rebels fan who ever insisted that it's as worthy as Clone Wars, here's why it made such an impression on me as my first venture into Star Wars TV. 

Star Wars Rebels Kanan screenshot

(Image credit: DIsney XD)

Rebels Was Set Close To The Original Trilogy

As a fan of the original trilogy since I was watching the VHS box set as a kid and defending Ewoks to my brothers, I was automatically partial to enjoy a story set closer to that era than the prequel trilogy era. The show feels like it belongs in the same world as the original trilogy, with a ragtag group of rebels that included: a former Jedi in hiding as a mentor, a teenager with Force sensitivity, an incredible pilot, a droid with personality, and an incredibly strong crew member with a special weapon. And also Sabine, and what's not to love about Sabine?

There was also a sense that everything would ultimately be okay, since the Empire would fall by the end of Return of the Jedi (and Rise of Skywalker hadn't released yet), even if the survival of most of the show's characters wasn't guaranteed. Throw in the animation style that struck me as more akin to the original trilogy than the prequels and the fact that I hadn't seen Clone Wars to give me any expectations, and Rebels had me hooked. 

Star Wars Rebels the ghost crew

(Image credit: Disney / Lucasfilm)

Rebels Focused On A Core Group Of Characters

Like the original trilogy, this TV show focused on a set group of characters against a larger backdrop of rebellion, telling their ongoing stories and building relationships over four seasons instead of jumping around as an anthology. Kanan Jarrus quickly became a favorite, which is saying something for me as somebody who often prefers non-Jedi characters! Why else would I love Rogue One more than 2/3 of the prequel trilogy?

Plus, for all the general similarities between the Ghost crew of Spectres and the likes of Luke, Leia, Han, and Co., they're not interchangeable to the point of feeling repetitive. The love story was between Kanan and Hera as the Jedi and the pilot. There was a multi-generation family dynamic, no secret twin reveals, and Chopper with a higher body count than R2-D2 and C-3PO combined. 

These characters and their serialized story had me hooked enough that I was happy to go along for the ride... and ignore what was almost certainly going to happen to Kanan as the Force-sensitive mentor who definitely wasn't around in the original trilogy.

Ahsoka Tano appears in the Season 1 finale of Star Wars Rebels.

(Image credit: Disney XD)

Rebels Introduced Me To Clone Wars Characters

Clone Wars fans who watched Rebels second might be appalled by this, but I had no idea who Ahsoka Tano was, and might not have suspected that she was a huge deal in her first Rebels appearance if the soundtrack hadn't swelled. And when the former clone troopers appeared in Season 2, I didn't have a clue that Captain Rex had a long history already. Rebels invested me in characters enough to want to check out their original series, and I therefore watched Clone Wars once I ran out of the story of the Spectres. 

Plus, given that I still vastly prefer serialized and even episodic television to anthology, knowing and loving Ahsoka and Rex helped get me through some of the rougher patches of The Clone Wars once I started that series. I've come to enjoy that show as much as anybody and was thrilled that Disney+ gave it the ending it deserved, but I hope we can all agree that for all the very high highs of Clone Wars, there were some very low lows. 

I would even argue that Rebels was better from start to finish than Clone Wars was, but that's an argument for a different day. Rebels set me up to enjoy its predecessor, and therefore make me appreciate the prequel era of Star Wars more than I did before. 

Hera, Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, and Sabine of Star Wars Rebels

(Image credit: Disney+)

Star Wars Rebels Was A Great Story

Were there some less-than-stellar episodes in Star Wars Rebels? Sure, but I would say that what the show did well was create a cohesive story that enriched the Star Wars universe with original characters instead of just filling in blanks with characters whose futures I already knew thanks to the movies. I'll go down with the (star)ship that Kanan got one of the coolest deaths of the entire Star Wars saga, and was an example of the franchise doing something fresh with a Jedi character... even if he did still follow the Star Wars tradition of Jedi mentors dying.

Plus, Thrawn is just a great villain, and I found the Grand Inquisitor far more menacing in Rebels than Obi-Wan. On the whole, I truly hope that the arrival of Ahsoka will motivate more people to try out Rebels, even if they can't watch it first like I did. Dave Filoni even shared his thoughts on whether the Disney+ show will just be Star Wars Rebels Season 5! You can also check out Star Wars Rebels now without waiting for Ahsoka with all four seasons streaming on Disney+ (opens in new tab)

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.