Star Wars Rebels is the best storytelling in Star Wars most people have never seen. As an animated TV show it didn’t receive the same media hype that the movies enjoy, and it pre-dated Disney+ so it didn’t benefit from the elevated status of premiering on a streaming service. Rebels did its entire four-season run on Disney XD, a kid’s TV channel, and was largely ignored by the casual Star Wars audience.
This is a shame, because Rebels is Exhibit A in the argument that Star Wars can be excellent in the Disney era. It’s also, with the recent Star Wars: Ahsoka streaming series, suddenly been vaulted in the live action lime light as Big Time Star Wars. Too many viewers, unfortunately, watched Ahsoka and thought, “Who are all these characters I’m apparently supposed to know?”
The good news is, Rebels is easily accessible on Disney+ and if anyone asks me what critical episodes they should watch to “get the gist of the show” I just say: all of them. Rebels is a brilliantly written series that builds from episode to episode and season to season, accomplishing the dual triumph of providing a complete, exciting story in each 22-minute show while building a meaningful mega-story that unfolds over time.
It’s hard to pick the Top 10 best episodes of Rebels, because so many of them weave into each other and there’s just so much going on at different levels. The 10 episodes I’ve chosen aren’t necessarily the “must-watch” episodes for a newcomer to the series – rather, they’re just the best individual episodes that can be savored by aficionados of the show.
But before we jump in, I want to tip my hat to the series opener, Spark of Rebellion (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2), and the series finale, Family Reunion – and Farewell (Season 4, Episode 15). It’s hard to compare any episodes to the ones that either started or completed the Rebels saga, and each of them is outstanding in its own right.
Spark of Rebellion immediately draws the viewer into the drama of street kid Ezra and these mysterious criminals who are fighting the Empire, and by the end of the two-episode arc I know I was hooked. There was no, “Oh, yeah, you have to suffer through the first few episodes and then it gets really good…” Rebels just pulls you in from the opening scene.
And Family Reunion accomplishes the monumental task of drawing four seasons of plotlines and characters into a single, high-stakes crisis that surprises and delights. I mean, when the Emperor himself makes an appearance, you know this story is epic!
Finally, I just want to acknowledge that people may have different opinions from me, and that’s totally okay. When I started making my list of top 10 best Rebels episodes, I basically started with ALL of Season Two on my list, and many other fabulous episodes from every season. But I had to make the hard choices, and here are my top 10 picks for best Rebels episodes ever.
#10 – Wings of the Master (Season 2, Episode 7)
This is a bottle episode (or stand-alone episode) that doesn’t tie in specifically to the series mega-story but instead explores a specific crisis and a unique solution. The first thing that makes it stand out is the fact that our heroes fail at the beginning of the episode: they’re trying to run supplies past an Imperial blockade and their shipment is completely destroyed. It’s not often in Star Wars that the good guys suffer such a complete defeat and this ups the tension for the whole story.
Hera, Zeb and Sabine seek out a mysterious engineer who has apparently built a new fighter but he’s hiding on a remote world where flying is very dangerous. They find him, and his prototype is a bizarre-looking ship that any Original Trilogy fan recognizes immediately as the B-Wing from Return of the Jedi – just painted hot-rod red! Hera takes the craft for a test flight and proves its capabilities, but technical problems delay their departure long enough that Kanan and Ezra, back with Phoenix Squadron, run out of time and have to attempt the blockade run without help. All seems lost until, at the last minute, Hera and Sabine arrive, strapped to the Phantom sporting a new hyperdrive, and unleash the B-Wing with devastating results. The supplies get through, the Imperials are vanquished and the B-Wing is sent to be mass-produced at a friendly shipyard.
There are a few things that make this episode stand out to me. First is the real sense of tension created by the initial failure. Second is the Original Trilogy nostalgia of seeing the B-Wing and learning that it has a cool back story. And third is the series of flying sequences when Hera takes the fighter up for the first time. The music in Rebels is frequently outstanding, but composer Kevin Kiner really outdid himself with an airy, fantastic score reminiscent of The Right Stuff or The Rocketeer in its sense of freedom, joy and exhilaration. The viewer really feels what Hera feels and this episode gives an amazing insight into who she is as a character.
#9 – The Last Battle (Season 3, Episode 6)
This is another bottle episode where Ezra, Kanan, Chopper and Rex attempt to loot a derelict cruiser from the Clone Wars, only to discover that the Separatist droid forces are still active – and still looking for a fight! The super tactical droid in command captures our heroes and then challenges them to a live-fire scenario where the clone, the Jedi and the padawan must rescue the non-combatant (Zeb, because his species didn’t fight in the war). But before things get too far, the Empire arrives and the old enemies are forced to join forces against this new threat. In a desperate gambit they manage to hold off Imperial forces long enough for everyone to escape, with Rex and the super tactical droid finally feeling a sense of closure.
Okay, maybe this episode was total fan-service to everyone who loved Star Wars: The Clone Wars – which had been cancelled when this episode aired – but I don’t care. It was great fun to see the bumbling B-1 battle droids, the menacing B-2 super battle droids and the terrifying droidekas all in action again. The super tactical droid was a worthy foe, and not above a bit of wit, and their joint efforts against the evil Empire serves as a reminder that the whole Clone War was a tragedy. The concluding scene between former enemies carried an emotional poignancy that resonated, and the episode’s credits rolling to the old Clone Wars soundtrack was enough to bring tears to my eyes.
This was fun episode that progressed logically, offered great action scenes and allowed all our heroes to use their brains as well as their brawn. Its one big addition to the mega-story was the addition of a Separatist shuttle to the Ghost team’s arsenal, to replace the Phantom that was lost several episodes earlier.
#8 – The Forgotten Droid (Season 2, Episode 19)
Chopper isn’t the most likeable character in Rebels, and very often his role in a scene is either sharp comic relief or technical savior. I wouldn’t have thought that an episode centered on him would have worked, especially since we don’t even know what he’s saying! And yet, this episode is written so ingeniously that when I think back to it I swear I can hear Chopper’s words. But nope, his dialog just droid bleeps – full credit to writer Matt Mitchnovetz for crafting an entire script where the main character speaks gibberish and everyone else says just enough to make us understand the meaning behind the bleeps. As a writer myself, let me tell you that this isn’t easy.
The story begins when Chopper is told to guard the Ghost while the rest of the team attempt a heist. But Chopper abandons his post to go and oogle a new strut (or leg) at a nearby technical stall. There’s a brilliant moment when Chopper, so focused on the strut, completely misses his friends running back into the Ghost with their loot, laser blasts flying as the stormtroopers pursue. They make their escape and leave Chopper behind who, being the jerk he is, steals the strut and avoids capture by hiding in what he thinks is a storage compartment – except it’s the cargo hold of an Imperial transport that leaves dock, with Chopper aboard!
Chopper tries to hide but is found by another droid, the brilliantly sarcastic AP-5 who is an Imperial logistics droid. They become an unlikely duo pushed together by the antagonism of the human captain on board who treats all droids as lower life-forms. The banter between two cantankerous old droids is genuinely funny, but there’s a pain behind both of them that gives their relationship a surprising depth. By the end of the episode both are willing to sacrifice for the other in a quiet but powerful tale of redemption.
This episode also supports the mega-story by leading our heroes – through the bickering of the two droids – to what will become their secret base for the next season and a half.
#7 – Relics of the Old Republic (Season 2, Episode 4)
This is the second of the two episodes where the story re-introduces clone trooper heroes Rex, Wolffe and Gregor. The first episode is fantastic, but this second episode is where the drama really ratchets up. The tension between Order 66 survivor Kanan and the clones has already made things difficult, but the episode opens with a triple-down of problems: an Imperial probe droid has taken out the Phantom’s engines, there’s a sandstorm approaching, and the Empire has just arrived in force. With the Ghost helpless in orbit, our heroes have no choice but to face the overwhelming enemy.
What follows is one of the most suspenseful episodes in all of Rebels, as this rag-tag band of clones, Jedi and warriors try to survive in their clunky AT-TE against three Imperial AT-AT walkers. Hiding in the sandstorm our heroes desperately try to stay hidden from the behemoths, finally using clone ingenuity and Jedi powers to score a single blow and take out one of the walkers to give them a path to flee. The tension is taut, and any fans of The Empire Strikes Back know well the unstoppable, relentless power of the AT-AT’s, but this time we actually get to see a slim victory.
After the battle, the episode steps squarely into the mega-story and the series gets a big boost as Rex decides to join the Ghost crew and become a semi-regular character in the show. This is cool, but the icing on the cake is definitely when Rex first arrives to Phoenix Squadron and he and Ahsoka Tano see each other for the first time. Even someone who’s never seen The Clone Wars can appreciate the tender reunion of two old friends, but for all of us who loved the other animated show this is a seminal moment in Star Wars lore. Rex’s initial greeting of, “You got old,” is genuinely funny, strangely affectionate and perfectly captures the banter of the old days.
But Ahsoka’s reaction is one of the deepest character moments we ever get of her. She tries to remain cool and good-humored, but then throws her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. Rex is one of her only friends in the galaxy, and for just a moment we see beneath the Jedi “no-attachments” facade she so often displays and glimpse the caring woman she really is. Their reunion is one of the most frequently screen-capped moments in all of Rebels, and with good reason. Fans love Ahsoka, and we love seeing her true nature shine out for even just a moment.
#6 – Out of Darkness (Season 1, Episode 7)
This is a bottle episode that packs an awful lot into 22 minutes, and comes pretty close at times to being a horror movie. Hera and Sabine take the Phantom to collect supplies from an abandoned base, but they quickly discover that there are dangerous creatures lurking nearby. With the Phantom out of fuel and darkness falling, Hera and Sabine have no choice but to stand and fight until Kanan and the rest of the team can arrive in the Ghost.
This episode is a master class in efficient writing. It manages to capture humor, suspense, ingenuity and growing friendship within a clearly defined mission while also providing a clearly defined threat, obstacles that flow naturally from unrelated events, and a glimpse at the mega-story of the entire first season. Wow. Not bad for a kids show.
The character throughline is driven by Sabine’s discontent at not being told more about the shadowy network that supports them, countered by Hera’s professionalism forcing her to take the position, “the less you know, the safer we all are.” This creates realistic tension within the young, rebellious Sabine railing against what she sees as unfair restrictions and lack of trust. Hera, meanwhile, shows the depth of her affection for her crew by wanting both to protect Sabine but also give her what she wants. In the end, they have to work together to solve the more immediate threat of the creatures and that trial by fire deepens their trust in each other.
The comedy comes early as Chopper, Ezra and Zeb muck about while they do routine maintenance on the Phantom, playing pranks on each other and squabbling in a way that’s entirely consistent with their characters. But it isn’t just for slapstick that this scene plays out. In all their fooling around, the boys don’t notice that the Phantom is leaking fuel – a minor error that causes big problems later on.
The suspense is delivered by the creatures – genuinely sinister, dark beasts with gleaming teeth that cannot come out into the sunlight. Tension builds initially as these creatures stalk Hera and Sabine, who are too wrapped up in their personal drama to notice the threat until it’s almost too late. The ladies wisely decide to abandon their mission and flee, but can’t because the Phantom has leaked out all its fuel. This drives them to use their wits to keep the creatures at bay, first using sunlight and then using Sabine’s knowledge of weaponry. Rebels puts our heroes in perilous situations all the time, but the design of these creatures and the reactions from all the characters facing them really help to built the tension.
And finally, the mega-story contributions. This is one of the first episodes that addresses the fact that our heroes aren’t fighting on their own but are part of a larger rebel movement. The mysterious Fulcrum is introduced, a thread that eventually leads to the appearance of Ahsoka Tano at the end of the season. It also sets the stage for a much darker episode later in Season 1 when Kanan and Ezra return to this world and face the Grand Inquisitor himself in a battle that is basically lost before Ezra makes a Force connection with the shadow creatures and saves the day.
#5 – Jedi Night (Season 4, Episode 10)
This episode picks up where its predecessor left off, with Hera captured by the Imperials after a failed Rebel attack on Lothal. Kanan leads the Ghost crew on a rescue mission against overwhelming odds. After many adventures everything works out for our heroes… until suddenly it doesn’t, and Kanan sacrifices his life to save his friends.
The story seems at first to be a standard rescue episode, like several before in the series. But very quickly the tension rises as we watch Hera being interrogated and tortured by the Imperials. We see that this isn’t just the witty banter sort of prison sequence where a bit of Force trickery will fool the bumbling guards. The Imperials, led by Grand Admiral Thrawn, Governor Price and the odious assassin Rukh, are no longer playing around: they recognize that the burgeoning Rebellion is a serious threat and they’re taking serious measures. By this point in the series we know how tough Hera is, and to see her being broken is shocking.
The rest of the Ghost gang sneak into the Imperial base using an ingenious trick of using one-person gliders that resemble the giant bats that are always over the city. Kanan fights a desperate hand-to-hand battle against Rukh and the others each play their part to secure the escape. Kanan and Hera have a really nice few moments as a couple which (unbeknownst to us in that moment) is their last scene together and a sweet conclusion to their oft-hidden romance. They get to the top of a fuel tank and are just getting picked up by the team in a stolen Imperial gunship when Governor Price, enraged at being bested again, gives a shocking order: blow up the fuel tank.
Kanan holds back the fireball with the Force, giving the rest of our heroes the seconds they need to escape, and in the last moments of his life we see that he’s found his peace. It’s an outstanding moment, and a worthy death for one of the series’ main characters. And it plays perfectly. Governor Price is consistent throughout the episode as an enemy not only ruthless but desperate – her insane decision makes sense dramatically. Similarly, Kanan and Hera have the chance to wrap up their relationship and they both emerge as heroes in the moment. It’s a terrible, awful, tragic moment – but brilliantly so. This is Rebels at its dramatic best.
#4 – Always Two There Are (Season 2, Episode 5)
Any episode that takes a famous Yoda quote as its title is bound to be epic. For fans of The Phantom Menace, this title speaks immediately to the Dark Side of the Force. And the episode delivers in spades. What starts as a routine supply run to an abandoned Clone Wars medical station becomes a terrifying life and death struggle for Ezra, Sabine, Zeb and Chopper. And into the mega-story are introduced Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister, two of the most evil characters in Star Wars.
The show plays out initially like a classic monster movie, with our heroes wandering around a dark, spooky, abandoned space station looking for supplies. They hear things just around the corner. They see things for a moment in the shadows. And they get separated. The two Inquisitors live up to their hype, both dangerous and dynamic in their own way as they easily overcome our heroes – Chopper is left for dead while both Ezra and Sabine are captured. It’s down to Zeb to figure out a plan to rescue his friends and escape.
Fifth Brother is huge, powerful and menacing, but it’s Seventh Sister, voiced by no less than Sarah Michelle Gellar, who really steals the show. She interrogates Ezra with the certainty of a person in complete control and despite all his brave quips Ezra has no chance against her. She’s diabolical, but also strangely alluring as she flirts with Ezra a bit before threatening to dismember him. Credit to the animators and voice actors: the fear in our heroes throughout this episode is palpable.
But even amidst all the horror, this episode manages to insert real humor. Zeb gets stuck in an air vent and needs to be rescued, and when he attempts his rescue plan he calls himself Commander Meiloorun, which is a callback to a very funny episode in Season 1 where Hera sends a squabbling Zeb and Ezra on a quest to find her favorite fruit: the rare meiloorun.
The two Inquisitors are the main antagonists of Season 2 and they appear multiple times – always as a genuine threat. They build on the antagonism of the Grand Inquisitor in Season 1 and they play key roles in the concluding drama of Season 2. They demonstrate just how dangerous the galaxy is for our heroes and they personify the ruthless might of the Empire at large. Although this episode serves as a stunning introduction for them, their power and threat continue to grow as the season progresses.
#3 – A World Between Worlds (Season 4, Episode 13)
Jammed right in the middle of the climactic arc of the entire series, this episode takes the story in an astonishing direction. With Kanan dead and Lothal in ruins, Ezra and the Ghost crew are desperately trying to fight back against overwhelming odds, even as Ezra tries to uncover the mystery of the Loth-wolves. He and Sabine discover an Imperial archeological dig that has uncovered strange, ancient stone artwork that means nothing to them – but to fans of The Clone Wars is clearly the Father, Son and Daughter of the epic Mortis arc.
Sabine is captured and forced to help interpret the carvings, but with the Imperials distracted Ezra manages to manipulate the art and open a portal into the World Between Worlds – a previously unknown dimension where time and space act differently. Ezra cautiously explores, until he stumbles upon a portal showing Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel to the death (a direct tie-back to the concluding episode of Rebels Season 2). Seeing Vader with the upper hand, Ezra yanks Ahsoka through the portal, saving her and bringing her into the World Between Worlds.
This episode takes Star Wars into a new frontier of Force power, to a place no Jedi knew existed. One can’t help but wonder if it took two ronin like Ezra and Ahsoka to uncover it: clear adherents to the Light Side of the Force but neither one of them constrained by the Jedi Order. But they’re not the only ones searching for answers, and they finally discover a portal through which Darth Sidious is trying to reach into the World Between Worlds. He can’t get in, but he manages to unleash a Force attack that causes Ezra and Ahsoka to flee back to their own portals in time and space. Ahsoka leaves Ezra with the promise to come and find him.
The only adjective that properly describes this episode is epic. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The mystery couldn’t be grander. The featured villain couldn’t be more evil. The call-back to the Season 2 finale (which, if you haven’t guessed, is still to appear on this list) is stunning. Bringing back Ahsoka was breathtaking, and mind-blowing in its implications. This is an episode that has to be watched more than once to be appreciated and it surely ranks in the Top 5 Most Important Force Moments anywhere in Star Wars.
#2 – The Wynkahthu Job (Season 3, Episode 9)
What, you may be asking, could top A World Between Worlds? My pick for the second best Rebels episode ever might not first occur to you, because it’s just a bottle episode featuring a couple of recurring comedic characters and a heist. What’s the big deal?
The big deal is the execution of this episode. It is magnificent. And it is so completely in the spirit of the original Star Wars. It’s high fantasy and pure adventure, with comedy, betrayal, action, companionship, danger and derring-do all rolled into the fastest and most enjoyable 22 minutes you’ll ever see.
Classic Clone Wars villain Hondo Ohnaka returns for another romp around the galaxy with the Ghost crew, dragging his sometimes arch-nemesis Azmorigan along as a partner. The criminal duo convince the Ghost crew to help them steal from an Imperial freighter that has been caught in a gravity well and is slowly spiraling down to destruction in a planet’s atmospheric storms. They manage to board the abandoned freighter, under the command of Zeb as mission leader, and accidentally rescue the Ugnaught Melch, one of Hondo’s former partners. The ship’s security droids are awakened and a running battle breaks out, with our heroes frantically trying to transfer their prize of proton bombs across a pair of long lines strung between the Ghost and the cargo ship, with the storm’s upper clouds getting nearer and nearer.
The comedy between Hondo, Melch and Azmorigan is Star Wars gold, as is the mocking banter between Zeb and Ezra as the former struggles to make good decisions and complete the mission before they all go down in the storm. The action is thrilling as the cargo is transferred along wind-blown cables, with each piece of cargo precariously loaded and painstakingly winched across to the waiting Ghost. The tension rises even as the comedy spills forth, the character growth blossoms and the action gets bolder by the moment. The winds howl, the lines snap, the characters bicker and the droids are relentless as both ships get dragged inexorably down to destruction… It’s daredevil action of the highest order and thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining.
This episode isn’t the deepest or most important entry in Rebels, but it’s the one that perhaps captures everything that is best about Star Wars as a whole.
#1 Twilight of the Apprentice (Season 2, Episode 22)
To be fair, this story arc is Episodes 21 and 22 – and both are phenomenal. They could arguably be #1 and #2 on this list but it’s reasonable to consider them a single unit. But, if we have to pick just one, in my opinion Part 2 (the season finale) is the single greatest 22 minutes of Star Wars ever made.
Ezra, Kanan and Ahsoka arrive on Malachor in Part 1 to explore an ancient Sith temple. They find evidence of a battle between Jedi and Sith from thousands of years ago, and are set upon by Inquisitors. Ezra is separated from the others and meets up with a mysterious figure who we realize is Darth Maul, former lord of the Sith and now rogue Dark Side user out for revenge against the galaxy. Together Maul and Ezra navigate a creepy Sith deathtrap and recover a Sith holocron before meeting up with Kanan and Ahsoka just as three Inquisitors corner them. Maul joins our heroes and battle commences.
That’s Part 1. And Part 2 doesn’t let up for a moment. After a dazzling, seven-person, twelve-bladed light saber duel which sees Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul fighting on the same side, the Inquisitors retreat and our heroes make their way to the Sith temple. But Maul has already been seeping into Ezra’s mind, slowly winning his trust and turning him away from Kanan. Kanan sees the trickery and tries to warn Ezra, but the stubborn youth clings to the notion that they need Maul in order to unlock the secrets they seek. Maul tempts Ezra to use his anger to defeat Seventh Sister and while Ezra resists, it begins his Season 3 journey toward the Dark Side. Maul slays the Inquisitor without hesitation and sends Ezra to the temple top alone while he helps Kanan and Ahsoka defeat the two remaining Inquisitors. And then Maul turns on Kanan, blinding him with his light saber. He would have killed him if Ahsoka didn’t step in, as the music hints at the Duel of the Fates for a single, delicious moment as Maul reveals his full treachery.
The race to control the Sith holocron continues… Until Darth Vader arrives, standing on the top of his frickin’ TIE fighter as it descends, cape billowing in the wind. He easily dispatches Ezra, destroying the boy’s light saber, but is interrupted in killing him when Ahsoka arrives. And the moment every Clone Wars fan has waited for happens: Anakin and Ahsoka face off as enemies. He mocks her with one of his own former teachings: “Revenge is not the Jedi way.”
To which she replies, in one of the most awesome moments in Star Wars: “I am no Jedi.” And ignites her blades.
The duel is everything we’d expect, both physically and emotionally, and while Ahsoka keeps Vader busy, Ezra and Kanan recover the holocron and escape. The temple collapses, Ahsoka and Vader both vanish, and our two heroes escape in the Phantom. Ezra sobs against Kanan’s shoulder as the Jedi looks down with ruined, unseeing eyes. It’s one of the most emotionally intense moments in all of Star Wars.
They return to their friends. But they’ve failed their mission. Ahsoka is gone. Kanan is blinded. Ezra has let the Dark Side into his heart. It’s the worst outcome since Revenge of the Sith. It’s both powerful and shocking. But as the music swells we still feel a glimmer of hope, and we know that despite everything, our heroes will endure.
Star Wars Rebels: Worth the investment of time for every Star Wars fan
If you’ve seen Rebels, you know what I’m talking about. But so many fans have just never heard of it, or dismissed it as a children’s show. I hope that the recent Star Wars: Ahsoka will build some interest in this animated classic and I encourage everyone to tell their casual Star Wars fan friends to give these four seasons of awesomeness a try.
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning, best-selling author and ghostwriter of science fiction and space fantasy series. His newest novel is coming in Spring 2024.