We all know how Luke Skywalker took down the Death Star, how the Empire struck back, and how Emperor Palpatine was finally defeated. And yet this wouldn’t have been possible without the combined forces of the Rebel Alliance. Rogue One, the latest film in the Star Wars franchise, filled in some of the gaps, explaining how a group of rebel soldiers came to steal the Death Star blueprints, but still barely touched upon the scale of a resistance movement that had been several years in the making.
Enter Star Wars Rebels, an animated series set in the years leading up to A New Hope. Now just over halfway through its third season, Rebels has been expanding in scope throughout its run. Its first season follows the orphan Ezra Bridger as he meets the crew of the Ghost and joins a small group of rebels fighting against Imperial occupation on the planet Lothal. At the end of season 1, the Ghost crew join up with a larger rebel movement, allowing for the second and third seasons’ adventures to take on a wider scope and visit more planets.
As the operations of our heroes have expanded out into the galaxy, they’ve recruited more rebels to the cause and attracted the attentions of several dangerous villains, allowing the series to bring in characters both from the Star Wars movies and from elsewhere in the franchise. Here are 15 characters the rebels have encountered who you may well have seen somewhere before.
15 Princess Leia
From the moment she first appeared on cinema screens in 1977, Princess Leia, made iconic by the performance of the sadly departed Carrie Fisher, was a true rebel leader, unafraid to stand up to the likes of Darth Vader.
This authority was hard earned, as Leia had been a vital part of the Rebel Alliance’s inception. Her foster father, Senator Bail Organa, is a recurring presence in Rebels as he co-ordinates rebel cells across the galaxy, but the Princess herself appears in the season 2 episode A Princess on Lothal, dispatched by her father on an important mission to secretly hand ship over to our heroes in the Phoenix rebel cell.
Both the Rebels and the Empire expect Leia to be nothing more than a privileged royal on a charity mission, but she shows herself to be cunning, resourceful, and good in a fight. She’s also sympathetic to Ezra, who’s recently found out about his parents’ death. The rebels make a strong ally in Princess Leia and we won’t be surprised if she comes to their aid again.
14 Grand Admiral Thrawn
A fan favourite, Grand Admiral Thrawn first appeared in a trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, though these are no longer seen as canon since Disney rebooted the expanded Star Wars universe. The Empire’s master military tactician, he thoroughly studies the culture, philosophy and artwork of his enemies before waging war against them. He plays a long game but almost always wins in the end.
It met to great excitement when season 3’s first trailer revealed that the blue-skinned Chiss would be the new nemesis of the rebels. In the season premiere, Imperial higher-ups were worried about the potential of an organized galaxy-wide resistance and decided someone with an eye for the bigger picture was needed – enter Thrawn, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen (brother of Rogue One star Mads).
Since his introduction, Thrawn’s proved a dangerous adversary, often showing off the incompetence of other Imperial officers. Most notably, he pushed back the resistance on Captain Hera Syndulla’s home planet Ryloth, which saw a tense scene in which he uncovers a disguised Hera and Ezra through study of her family artefacts. Since then, he’s been building up clues as to where the Phoenix cell’s secret base is, and a full-on confrontation is inevitable – our heroes may have met their match.
“Beep bop boop beep beep beep”, as a hero of not one but three galaxy-spanning wars once said. The diminutive astromech droid has appeared in every Star Wars film (yes, including the Holiday Special), so it’s only fitting that he’s put in an appearance in Rebels.
At this point in the timeline, R2 and his long-suffering friend C-3PO, are owned by Senator Organa. In season 1’s Droids in Distress, the two of them are tasked by the Senator to oversee a weapons trade, and to ensure that the weapons don’t end up in Imperial hands. However, the Ghost crew try to steal the same weapons, and accidentally whisk R2 and C-3PO along with them.
This results in an adventure of high-stakes hijinks, the highlight being R2 sparring with his crotchety counterpart Chopper, but also brings our heroes to the attention of Rebel leader Organa. R2’s shown up once more since, picking up some Rebel intel from Sabine in season 2’s Blood Sisters, and will no doubt meet the gang again as Organa’s greater movement begins to form.
12 Darth Maul
The demonically tattooed Sith Apprentice may have seemed to bite the dust when he was chopped in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace, but viewers of previous TV series The Clone Wars know that he in fact survived, fuelled by his own hatred. That’s one way to treat a wound.
Kitted out with a swanky new set of cyborg legs and a healthy mindset of obsessive rage, Maul made it his mission to regain his lost power and wreak vengeance on the Jedi and Sith alike, who had wronged him. This led to him leading the Shadow Collective’s conquest of Mandalore during the Clone Wars and to another battle with Kenobi, but by war’s end, he was once again defeated.
And then... in the Rebels season 2 finale, Ezra found Maul searching for a Sith holocron in an ancient temple. Maul took a shine to the young rebel and tried to take him on as an apprentice. This has led to one of season 3’s most exciting storylines, as Ezra flirts with the dark side during further meetings with Maul.
11 Lando Calrissian
He’s a card player, gambler, a scoundrel, and we like him. Long before he comes to own Cloud City, Han Solo’s suave partner in crime has an operation smuggling mining equipment onto Lothal. This brings Calrissian into an encounter with the crew of the Ghost in season 1 episode Idiot’s Array, in which Zeb loses Chopper to him in a game of sabacc.
Calrissian agrees to give the droid back if the rebels help him with a smuggling run. Though the charming entrepreneur impresses Sabine, he doesn’t earn everyone’s trust, and it’s no massive surprise when he ends up trading Hera to crime lord Azmorigan. But this is all part of his plan, as Hera escapes, allowing Lando and the Ghost crew to overpower Azmorigan together.
Lando and the rebels would go on to become uneasy allies, with him later helping them escape Lothal – in exchange for some illicit cargo, of course.
10 Captain Rex
A character created for The Clone Wars, Rex served in the clone army’s 501st Legion alongside Jedi heroes including Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. Unlike many of his comrades, however, Rex learned to question orders, and removed his inhibitor chip so he didn’t have to kill his Jedi buddies once Order 66 was issued.
After the war, the clone army was decommissioned and Rex exiled himself to the planet Seelos, sharing a converted AT-TE tank with fellow clone soldiers Wolffe and Gregor. But when the Ghost crew came to recruit his expertise, Rex had no qualms about picking up arms again and taking on the Empire.
After this re-introduction to the Star Wars galaxy, early in season 2 of Rebels, Rex has accompanied our heroes on many of their most dangerous missions. An initial storyline focused on Kanan’s distrust of the clone, due to the whole Order 66 thing, but Rex is now an accepted and useful member of the team, who’ll no doubt have a big part to play in the coming conflicts.
9 Grand Moff Tarkin
Darth Vader may have been the most iconic villain spawned by Episode IV, but Grand Moff Tarkin almost matched him in the evil stakes. Cold and commanding, it’s Tarkin who ordered the destruction of Leia’s home planet Alderaan. While the Imperial officer’s return in Rogue One may have put off some fans with its dodgy CGI reconstruction of the legendary Peter Cushing, Tarkin has made a less controversial return in several episodes of Rebels.
His role here is in fact similar to that in Rogue One, as he shows up from time to time as the superior officer to the main villain characters – a boss even Imperial governors are afraid of! He first shows up in season 1’s Call to Action, investigating the growing rebel presence on Lothal, and returns in that season’s finale, bringing his flagship into the battle over Mustafar. Tarkin returns in the season 3 premiere, recruiting Grand Admiral Thrawn to seek out the rebel threat.
8 Hondo Ohnaka
Another character making the jump from The Clone Wars, Hondo led a notorious pirate gang who once captured Count Dooku. By the time of Rebels, however, he’s lost his crew and is now a small-time criminal out to make whatever buck he can.
So far, this has brought the slippery Weequay into contact with the Ghost crew no less than four times. In season 2’s Brothers of the Broken Horn, he tricks Ezra into helping shift some stolen power generators, suggesting the kid join him as a ‘pirate Jedi’. As tempting as that idea sounds, Ezra refuses, but they soon meet again when Hondo tips off the rebels about some refugees who need their help, only to end up in prison himself. In season 3, the rebels break him out, and they meet for a fourth time in The Wynkahthu Job, forming an uneasy alliance with him in order to lift some Imperial cargo.
Now a recurring presence in Rebels, whenever the crew of the Ghost get involved in shady underworld dealings, you can bet Hondo’s not far away.
Other than his constant companion R2-D2, the petty protocol droid is the only character to have appeared in every Star Wars film to date, plus he had recurring appearances in The Clone Wars.
C-3PO has only made one appearance in Rebels, however, getting swept along on the adventure in Droids in Distress and irritating the rebel gang. But as the Phoenix cell builds more ties with the greater Rebel Alliance, leading up to them being stationed on the Yavin IV base as can be seen in Rogue One, there’s a good chance we’ll see more from old Goldenrod.
He’s one of the few characters – along with Lando and some more characters further down this list – to retain the same actor as in the films, which is a key part of his comic appeal, as Anthony Daniels’ take on the nervous and overly polite droid is as funny as it is iconic.
6 Wedge Antilles
An overlooked hero of the Rebellion, Wedge Antilles is a crack pilot who flew in all three major battles of the Original Trilogy, playing a key role in taking down two Death Stars. But now we know how he came to join the Alliance.
Season 3 episode The Antilles Extraction sees Wedge as a cadet in the Imperial’s Skystrike Academy, being trained up as an expert TIE pilot. However, Wedge and two other cadets (including Hobbie, previously seen in The Empire Strikes Back) secretly hope to defect to the rebels, and so Sabine infiltrates the academy to help them escape. They’re almost caught but, commandeering a TIE bomber, Wedge, Sabine, and Hobbie make it out.
Now a member of the Phoenix rebels, Wedge has briefly reappeared in the episode Warhead and will no doubt have a bigger part to play when the battles to come require talented pilots.
5 Ahsoka Tano
Ahsoka was the eager young Padawan assigned to Anakin Skywalker near the start of The Clone Wars. She quickly matured into a capable leader, but left the Jedi Order after being framed for a bombing. With her fate left open-ended, it was inevitable that she’d be back.
Her role in Rebels was planted right under our noses across season 1, with Hera being in contact with a mysterious informant named Fulcrum, revealed to be Ahsoka in the season’s finale. She plays a larger role in season 2, reuniting with old comrade Rex, helping Kanan and Ezra take on the Inquisitors, and investigating whether the Sith Lord known as Vader is in fact her former master.
After a climactic duel between her and Vader, season 2 ends with Ahsoka trapped inside a Sith temple as it collapses. But you can never really be sure a character is dead until you’ve seen the body, and so we may not have seen the last of Ahsoka Tano.
In exile on Dagobah he may be, but made his presence known in Rebels, Yoda has. The old and wizened Jedi Master, or at least a vision of him, has appeared in the two episodes in which Kanan and Ezra have visited a Jedi temple on Lothal.
In the season 1 episode Path of the Jedi, the two Jedi are brought to the temple by a vision in the Force. Here, Yoda speaks to them both individually, convincing Kanan he is capable of training Ezra and helping Ezra overcome his fear and anger. They return to the temple along with Ahsoka in season 2’s Shrouds of Darkness, and Yoda advises them on how to take on the Inquisitors. It’s vague and mystical advice, of course, but it works out.
His appearances in the series may be limited by him being stuck in a remote swamp and supposed dead by the Empire, but Yoda played an important role in Ezra’s personal development – only he could be so integral to the series without actually leaving his hovel!
3 Darth Vader
One of popular culture’s most iconic villains and one of the most recurring characters in the Star Wars franchise, it would be surprising if Darth Vader hadn’t shown up in Rebels.
After the Grand Inquisitor is defeated and killed in season 1’s finale, Vader is sent in by the Emperor to deal with the pesky rebel Jedi. He sets up an elaborate trap and, in the season 2 premiere The Siege of Lothal, they fall right into it. Kanan and Ezra take on Vader and barely escape with their lives. The dark lord isn’t seen again until his fierce confrontation with his former apprentice Ahsoka, in season 2’s finale.
It’s wise of the Rebels creators to use Darth Vader sparingly, as repeat appearances could see him being defeated too easily and losing his power as a villain. As it is, Vader’s few confrontations with the heroes, complete with heavy breathing and James Earl Jones’ resonant vocal tones, have been truly edge-of-the-seat scary moments.
2 Saw Gerrera
The only Star Wars character to be created for an animated series but later appear in a live action film, Saw Gerrera was first seen in The Clone Wars as a leader of the local revolutionary forces on the jungle planet Onderon. And yes, he is named after Che Guevara. He then appeared in Rogue One, played by Forest Whitaker; by this point, he’d been cast out of the Rebel Alliance for his extremist tactics.
Rebels capitalized on Rogue One’s release by bringing Whitaker in as Gerrera in recent two-parter Ghosts of Geonosis, set during his Rebel Alliance days. He joins Ezra, Kanan and Rex on a mission to find out why the insect-like Geonosians have died out. His aggressive tactics don’t go down well – he throws the only Geonosian left alive across the room before almost destroying the egg that holds the future of the entire species. You can tell why they decided to get rid of him.
1 Obi-Wan Kenobi
He’s another of Star Wars’ incredibly iconic characters, but Obi-Wan Kenobi is, like Yoda, in exile during the period in which Rebels is set. Season 3 takes place two years before A New Hope, and yet Obi-Wan shows up in the latest trailer for the second half of the season.
How does this work, then? Well, the current storyline with Maul has seen the former Sith seeking information from a Jedi holocron and learning that a certain someone is alive and well on a desert planet with two suns. Meanwhile, Ezra is seeking to learn how to fight the Sith and has been given similar information as to Obi-Wan’s whereabouts. It’s almost as if the only advice holocrons can give is ‘find Obi-Wan’.
Both these storylines are seemingly leading to a Tatooine-set climax for the season, including a rematch between old enemies Maul and Kenobi. What with this and Grand Admiral Thrawn on his way to finding the rebels’ base, there’s certainly a dramatic finale to come.