I’m pretty nerdy about a lot of things: turntables, vinyl records, barbecue, Game of Thrones, and yes, Star Wars. To a fault, I can be hard to shut up once my string is pulled, and lately, much of my blathering has been focused around a couple of Star Wars TV series — The Mandalorian and the upcoming Ahsoka, the latter of which I am super-excited for. But I’ve had a few conversations about these shows with friends recently that have been driving me nuts. The latest involved me gushing over a live-action cameo of the animated Star Wars: Rebels series character Zeb Orrelios in season 3, episode 5 of The Mandalorian. My friend exclaimed that he had no idea who Zeb was and that he’d never watched “that cartoon,” and here we are.
But a couple of notes before I continue: First, I know that Star Wars: Rebels and its precursor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, are “cartoons.” Second, I’m aware that I’m a grown man. The point is, I’m often amazed to learn that, for those and other reasons, many people have avoided these excellent animated Star Wars series — and this is a mistake. Much of what happens in The Clone Wars and Rebels has direct ties to shows such as The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, and especially Ahsoka, as they introduce incredible characters and crucial backstories. Do you need to watch them to know what’s going on? No. You don’t even need to watch every episode to get a better understanding of the live-action shows: We have great essential episode guides for Clone Wars and Rebels to set you up. But time and again I’ve been rewarded with excitement, a better understanding of characters and plotlines, and a more satisfying cathartic payoff because of watching these “cartoons.” Plus, they’re just really good.
And whether you’ve just started watching The Mandalorian or are, like me, waiting eagerly for Ahsoka in August, here are a few good reasons you should take the next few months and get caught up on some of the best cartoons you’ll ever see.
Note: There are Mandalorian spoilers ahead.
Ahsoka Tano gets her due
Making her live-action debut in season 2 of The Mandalorian, Ahsoka Tano began her journey as Anakin Skywalker’s tenacious young Padawan, and her adventures throughout seven seasons of the animated Clone Wars made her one of the most exciting and loved Jedi characters in the Star Wars universe. Not only does she endure betrayal through Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, but her arc connects her to the warrior Mandalorians when she helps Bo-Katan Kryze liberate the planet Mandalore from occupation. The series concludes when Darth Sidious issues Order 66, which triggered the betrayal and extermination of the Jedi, aligning the show with the film Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.
After 14 years in hiding, avoiding Vader’s inquisitors, and coming to terms with Anakin’s turning, Ahsoka would emerge to make her appearance on Star Wars: Rebels, which takes place in the five years leading up to Star Wars: A New Hope. Ahsoka, no longer aligned with the Jedi ways (hence the white lightsabers), gets involved with the burgeoning Rebel Alliance, more specifically the Rebel cell known as the Ghost Team that the show centers on. A few twists and turns aside (and one of the most epic lightsaber battles ever), the series ends with an epilogue that shows Ahsoka teaming up with Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian and member of the Ghost Team, as they set out to find their lost friend, the Jedi Ezra Bridger (more on him and the Ghost Team below).
If the official trailer for Ahsoka is any indication (as well as the Zeb cameo in The Mandalorian), this will very likely be the story arc of the new series. Consider yourself briefed.
Bo-Katan Kryze redeemed
The legendary Mandalorian warrior made her live-action debut in The Mandalorian in season 2, and to fans’ delight. the actress who voiced the character in The Clone Wars and Rebels series, Katee Sackhoff, was cast in the role. Her story arc in The Mandalorian is a big focus of season 3, but who is Bo-Katan Kryze?
The onetime-princess of Mandalore, former member of the extremist group Death Watch (more on that below), and for a time, the wielder of the legendary Darksaber, Bo-Katan has a history that is dark and winding. With a proud warrior family name, she believed in the traditional fighting ways of the Mandalorian, while her sister, and Mandalorian ruler, Duchess Satine Kryze, favored a more pacifist way forward. This wedge between the sisters would drive Bo-Katan and Death Watch to align with Darth Maul and his Shadow Collective of crime syndicates to take control of Mandalore in season 5 of The Clone Wars.
But Maul gonna Maul, and the former Sith lord soon betrayed the Death Watch, taking the Darksaber for himself and killing Satine (who was also Obi-Wan Kenobi’s secret love) to take revenge on Kenobi and assume control of Mandalore. Bo-Katan would return for the series’ explosive conclusion at the end of season 7, joining Ahsoka to take back her home world in The Siege of Mandalore, but things don’t go so well after that. Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan has an excellent arc in The Mandalorian, one that ties the show to the Mandalorian’s plight.
The Siege and Great Purge of Mandalore
The last four episodes of The Clone Wars’ entire series come in season 7, are some of its best, and collectively they’re known as “The Siege of Mandalore.” They not only detail the final events leading up to Order 66, but they follow Ashoka and clone commander Rex to the bitter end as she leads the Republic’s forces to take back Mandalore from Maul’s crime syndicate before all hell breaks loose. Although successful in their mission, Ahsoka and Bo-Katan’s Mandalorian Resistance victory was short-lived.
After Order 66, the Jedi run for their lives, and the Emperor (revealed to be Darth Sidious), knowing he’ll never be able to rein in Mandalore, orders its destruction in what would later become The Great Purge of Mandalore, aka The Night of a Thousand Tears. The surface of the planet was carpeted with fusion bombs, cities were destroyed, the beskar mines and the Great Forge laid to ruin, and the Mandalorian people scattered throughout the galaxy. This is referenced by Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian and is the reason the planet is inhabitable.
Why is this mysterious weapon so important to the Mandalorian people? The legendary black lightsaber is more than 1,000 years old and was created during the Old Republic by Tarre Vizsla, who was the first Mandalorian Jedi and ruler of Mandalore. After his death, the saber was kept in the Jedi temple until members of House Vizsla took it back. It stayed in House Vizsla for hundreds of years, was used to take the lives of countless Jedi, and would became the symbol of rule for Mandalore. As per Mandalorian tradition, if its wielder could be bested in one-on-one combat, the blade, and the rule of Mandalore, would be the winner’s.
So, let’s get up to speed with it: During The Clone Wars, Darth Maul kills the saber’s wielder, Pre Vizsla, and assumes rule of Mandalore. We won’t spoil Maul’s ultimate fate in The Clone Wars and later in Rebels, but suffice it to say that the Darksaber was lost until, in Rebels, Sabine Wren finds it in Maul’s lair on the planet Dathomir. With the Mandalorians in disarray and scattered, Sabine passes the blade back to a reluctant Bo-Katan, who many believed to be the rightful ruler, to try to unite the Mandalorians. Bo-Katan loses the Darksaber in the Purge, which, it’s explained, is how Moff Gideon comes to possess it in The Mandalorian. You’ll have to watch the show for the rest of its story.
The Ghost Team
Now we’re getting deeper into Star Wars: Rebels territory, which will help lay some groundwork for the upcoming Ahsoka Tano series. Rebels starts to show the building blocks of the Rebel Alliance, with many small cells acting independently to fight the Empire. Rebels follows one of those cells, known as the Ghost Team, which was named after their ship. The six-person crew was made up of Hera Syndulla (who’ll be played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Ahsoka), the commander and pilot of the Ghost; Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi who survived Order 66; Zeb Orrelios, a brute of a fighter and one of the last of the Lasat species; Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a Mandalorian warrior and weapons expert with a dark cross to bear; the feisty droid Chopper; and finally, a young orphan from Lothal named Ezra Bridger, whom Kanan trains as a Jedi.
A ton of big canonical events and characters appear in Rebels that may or may not affect the current Star Wars TV series, including an epic showdown between Ahsoka and Darth Vader, the Inquisitors and their continuing hunt for Jedi, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul’s conclusion, and some insane Jedi time travel. But as far as Ahsoka is concerned, we’re excited for a few things, the least of which is another showdown between her and Vader, who will be again played by Hayden Christensen who donned the black helmet once already in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series last year. But for Rebels fans, with Sabine and the Ghost crew showing up in the trailer, we’re hoping it’s Ezra and Thrawn time.
Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn
A hero of the Rebellion, Ezra Bridger liberated his home planet of Lothal at the conclusion of Rebels by defeating the Empire’s military genius, fan-favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn, the diabolical blue-skinned Chiss with piercing red eyes who was masterminding the Empire’s victory.
Ezra’s abilities to communicate with the strange, whale-like creatures known as the Purrgil (more below) would prove instrumental, as the young Jedi called on them for help, and in the process Ezra and Thrawn were jettisoned across the galaxy in hyperspace, seemingly lost forever. Thrawn and Ezra’s whereabouts is one of the biggest burning questions of the Rebels series. And as there have already been several references to Thrawn in The Mandalorian, Ahsoka could be the closure we’ve been waiting for or the beginning of something deeper.
The Purrgil are huge whale-like creatures that migrate at hyperspace across the galaxy. During Ezra’s encounters with them in the series, he learned to use The Force to communicate with the massive beings, and it was them he called upon to help defeat Thrawn and liberate Lothal. The Purrgil arrived in the nick of time, ramming Thrawn’s ship during the battle. With Ezra on board keeping Thrawn at bay, the Purrgil’s jump to hyperspace took them both.
The Purrgil’s surprise appearance in The Mandalorian season 3 premiere, when Din and Grogu are traveling through hyperspace, has many wondering if it’s a sign of Ezra’s (or Thrawn’s) return. Or perhaps they’ll be found by Ahsoka and Sabine. Young actor Eman Esfandi has been cast as Bridger, and in another excellent casting coup, Lars Mikkelsen, who voiced Thrawn in Rebels, will assume the live-action role in Ahsoka, too. So it’s definitely on.
And while this is a lot to digest as it relates to some of the current roster of live-action Star Wars shows, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and to a lesser extent, The Bad Batch, are deep wells of story and all have their role to play in the Star Wars canon. They shouldn’t be dismissed just because they’re “cartoons” as they have tremendous value both as individual pieces of entertainment to be enjoyed and as parts of the larger Star Wars narrative canon.
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