Rebels may have started off silly and carefree but boy did it mature quick, providing a poignant ending with far-reaching ramifications.
Along the way were key episodes. Episodes that challenged the crew of the Ghost, bringing them together while also threatening to tear them apart. Below are the best of the best. Ten episodes that uniquely summed up what these characters were about, what they stood for, and why we viewers cared about them.
10. Empire Day (Season 1, Episode 8)
This is the first episode where we delved into Ezra Bridger’s past. Where we got a fuller understanding of his parents and why they’re no longer around. From the start, we knew Ezra was an orphan. That he was a street rat, but it wasn’t until this episode that we learned why.
Being a season one episode, this story had its over-the-top moments, like the crew’s plan to foil the Empire Day celebration. Not to mention the teenage angst and drama that came with the early drafts of the Ezra character. Still, through the subplot involving Tseebo, we experience some real humanizing scenes. Learning that Ezra was born on the first Empire Day, and that he lost his parents because they spoke out against the Empire. It’s a combination that would make any kid annoyed and bratty.
While this episode had its flaws, it started the character building necessary to make Ezra a fully fleshed out and central cog to the story.
9. Rise of the Old Masters (Season 1, Episode 5)
An even earlier season one episode, this story made a clear and compelling message. Any help Kanan was hoping to get in training Ezra isn’t out there. The two have to survive on their own. The Jedi Order has fallen and those who survived are not surfacing any time soon.
It was a sobering idea and one that began the shift from fun loving show to something more serious. Especially when it was confirmed that Jedi Master Luminara — a staple in the Clone Wars animated show — was indeed dead and — worse still — being used as bait to capture Jedi.
This episode also set in motion the struggle between Kanan Jarrus and Ezra on one side and the dreaded Inquisitors on the other. Throughout the first couple seasons it would be a repeated cat and mouse game, with Kanan and Ezra barely staying one step ahead while simultaneously trying to plan for the future.
8. Zero Hour (Season 3, Episode 21/22)
This two-part season three finale saw the Ghost crew up against their greatest threat ever — Grand Admiral Thrawn. Manipulated down a path of the grand admiral’s choosing and funneled into a no-win position, it looked like the good times were over. That the crew were going to be captured and the fledgling Phoenix squadron crushed. Yet, individual heroics saved the day.
First, Commander Sato sacrificed himself and part of his crew to destroy an Interdictor cruiser that had been keeping the Rebels from escaping. Then Sabine and her Mandalorian friends bombarded the other one, allowing the fleet to fully retreat. On the planet of Atollon, the enigmatic Force user known as Bendu bought the Rebels enough time to escape Thrawn’s ground assault. Before Thrawn could personally kill it, Bendu simply disappeared, leaving Thrawn with the sole defeat of his career.
While these episodes appeared like major losses, the fact that the Rebels escaped at all was a victory. It’s a mantra that’s often used thereafter. These episodes were also informative on how the Alliance worked in reality. While Mon Mothma was contacted to help, she refused, noting that to do so would endanger the entire operation rather than just a few cells. Harsh leadership, but necessary.
7. Fire Across the Galaxy (Season 1, Episode 15)
Where to start with this episode? The death of the Grand Inquisitor? The near death of Ezra? The introduction of Darth Vader? Of Fulcram? This episode had a lot happening in it. Almost too much, but across the boards, it delivered.
Finally — finally! — Ezra and Kanan were able to stop the Grand Inquisitor. After being hunted for most of season one, the finale saw their combined efforts succeed. While neither of them struck the final blow, the Inquisitor fell. Yet, it came at a cost. Ezra was wounded and almost died. Worse yet, an even greater threat emerged in the form of Vader.
Still, their stand was satisfying. And encouraging. While the bad guys saw reinforcements, so too did the heroes. From the shadows Fulcram emerged, revealed to be Ahsoka Tano. And with her, the backing of the Rebellion. For the Ghost crew, this is where the rubber began to meet the road. Where they had to decide whether they were going to fight with that growing fire across the galaxy or remain on their own.
6. Steps Into Shadow (Season 3, Episode 1/2)
After narrowly escaping Maul’s betrayal and Vader’s assault in season two, Ezra started to teeter toward the Dark Side. Feeling guilty for Kanan’s blindness and for Ahsoka’s death, he took to learning powers from a Sith holocron. Using those powers to free Hondo Ohnaka, Ezra undertook a mission to retrieve Y-wings from an Imperial junkyard. The only problem — the Imperials got wind of the operation.
Meanwhile, Kanan was summoned by the Bendu, where he learned he had more to offer despite his blindness. Especially in training Ezra. As Kanan focused, he could sense Ezra was in trouble and needed his assistance. Leaving Atollon, he arrived just in time to retrieve his Padawan, salvaging an operation that was destined to fail.
Unbeknownst to the Ghost crew, Grand Admiral Thrawn was called onto the scene by Governor Arindha Pryce — who had requested the presence of the Seventh Fleet. In typical Thrawn fashion, the crew was allowed to escape, winning a small victory as Thrawn built toward their ultimate defeat. Yet, small victories matter as these Y-wings were transferred to General Dodonna’s unit, setting the stage for the first Death Star’s destruction.
This episode was important because while nothing felt finished, plenty was begun. Story arcs with great payoffs had their origins here. And the mood perfectly shifted, taking the upped stakes from the ending of the previous season and building upon it. From this point on, Ezra was no longer just a bratty kid from the streets. He was a legit Jedi with dark undertones.
5. A World Between Worlds (season 4, episode 13)
For some viewers, this episode was a turn in the wrong direction. For some, the introduction of time travel was not a good thing. Especially in Star Wars. And generally that’s true. When time travel doesn’t have a purpose, when it’s done as a trick, it usually misses the mark. Here, however, the mark was struck. As a limited use tool, the World Between Worlds allowed for emphatic decision making and an unexpected return.
The unexpected return would come via the conclusion to an important episode, reversing the result of an epic duel. The beneficiary would be none other than Ahsoka. Pulled from imminent defeat at the hands of Darth Vader, Ahsoka was saved. Spared so that she could eventually find Ezra and return him from another galaxy. As for the emphatic decision making, that payoff would come on the heels of another dramatic episode, causing Ezra grief on whether he should save his master from his fate or allow him to die. Again.
The correct answer, as Ahsoka pointed out, was to allow Kanan to perish — as was necessary — and to not create a paradox. Yet, it was the pain on Ezra’s face, upon choosing that path, that made this episode such a gut punch. Not to mention a success for the time loop, by having caused the characters to face a dilemma and come away changed by it. Which, after all, is the mark of any good drama.
4. The Honorable Ones (season 2, episode 17)
This episode had a limited scope. For most of it, the only two characters involved were Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios and Agent Kallus. Both being marooned on an icy moon of Geonosis, the pair had to work together to survive. This with Kallus having a broken leg and Zeb resentful of Kallus for his part in destroying his home world and people.
The reason why this episode was so good was because of the little moments. Because of the conversations and the knowledge of what these two characters — mortal enemies, to be sure — were giving up in order to survive. Instead of violence they chose compromise. To trust in one another. A precarious situation, made even more so by the added understanding that whoever’s side showed up first would dictate what happened to the other. Thankfully for Zeb, his side arrived first.
It was because of this episode that Agent Kallus went from being an Imperial heavy to a Rebel Alliance sweetheart. After this episode, Kallus aided the Ghost crew on several occasions before eventually getting caught as a spy. Breaking free, Kallus would continue to aid the Rebels, even settling his score with the Lasat, making good on a promise to Zeb. Not too bad for a so-called bottle episode.
3. Twilight of the Apprentice (season 2, episode 21/22)
Story arcs don’t get much better than this. Action. Drama. Reveals. Betrayal. And best of all, a cliffhanger. Such were the ingredients of this amazing two-part episode. Taking nearly two years to fully resolve, this episode made a few things clear. Despite all their training, Kanan and Ezra were still outmatched. But more to the point, they needed one another to survive. Beyond that, Vader is very, very scary.
The title of this episode had many meanings. There were multiple apprentices at play. The primary concerned Ezra and his attempt at finding his way as a Jedi. Based on what he’d learned before, his path led him (along with Kanan and Ahsoka) to Malachor, a Sith world. And on that planet a temple, in which was found a holocron. To get it, however, Ezra had to team up with a former apprentice, Darth Maul. This tested Ezra because Maul was trying to take him on as his own apprentice and supplant Kanan. It enticed Ezra because he wanted answers and Maul appeared to have them.
Unsurprisingly, Maul wasn’t forthcoming — not without getting what he wanted. Which was Ezra and the holocron. After blinding Kanan, Maul fought off Inquisitors before being bested by Kanan and Ahsoka. While able to escape, Maul didn’t achieve what he wanted because Ezra stayed with Kanan and walked away with the holocron. But the victory was pyrrhic for the good guys because waiting for the group was Darth Vader.
This is when the story switched over to yet another apprentice (Ahsoka) and her unresolved issues with her former master. This is when she realized Anakin had become Vader — and that there was no turning back. The cliffhanger was whether Ahsoka truly died at the end of her duel with Vader, which the episode left unclear. What was clear — how awesome the writing had become to provide such overlapping drama in under an hour. And how a later episode only increased that drama, providing a whole new layer of choices and consequences.
2. Jedi Night (season 4, episode 10)
Kleenex were mandatory for this episode. In this entry, the tears came because one of the main characters — an original staple of the Ghost crew — departed. Kanan Jarrus, Jedi Knight, instructor to Ezra, and father to Hera Syndulla’s unborn child, sacrificed himself so the remainder of the team could survive. It was a heroic event, one that sent chills down the spine.
And it was only necessary because of Thrawn. Having taken over the defense of Lothal, the grand admiral was again toying with the Ghost crew, baiting them into a losing position. Were it not for Governor Pryce’s eagerness (read arrogance) and Kanan’s sacrifice, the attack on the Imperial garrison would have ended with their deaths or capture. Instead, Kanan provided his own answer to the no-win situation.
This episode provided a culmination to many story arcs and provided a meaningful ending to a character who was thrust into turmoil and had to make sense of it on his own. Kanan was born into the Old Republic. He had barely enough time to learn the Jedi way before having that snatched from him by Order 66. But instead of pouting, he grew up quick, resolving to do what he could to restore goodness. In the end, he died a true hero and this episode did right in its send off.
1. Family Reunion — and Farewell (season 4, episode 15/16)
The only episode that could possibly outdo Kanan’s sacrifice was the one that ended the show. In this two parter, the stakes were even higher. Thrawn was at it again, relentlessly forcing the Ghost crew to make a decision. Their lives or the lives of everyone on Lothal. In the end, Ezra made that decision an easy one.
What was most amazing about this episode was the cliffhanger. For so many years fans wondered — what happened to Ezra and Thrawn? Where’d they go? Were they alive or dead? Of course, thanks to the Ahsoka series, we now have an answer, but for half a decade that mystery fueled an ever growing discourse. All because of an incredible everlasting scene. Ezra, his arm outstretched, holding Thrawn against a purrgil’s tentacle as the two of them blipped into hyperspace.
It was a perfect finale because the crew finally accomplished what had become a core mission. Sure, it took two Jedi sacrifices to achieve it, but they finally managed to free Lothal. And those who survived, they went on to assist the Rebellion, freeing many other worlds. Intertwined with the bigger Rebellion, they became even more relevant and important, fueling a cause for freedom an entire galaxy wide.
This episode helped solidify Rebels as a show not just for kids. It was now a show that could bring laughs as well as tears. While this two parter didn’t fully resolve the Ghost story, it did bring all the characters to their most mature point, leaving us with hope about their futures as well as the worlds they inhabited. Much like Return of the Jedi with the original series, this finale brought us closure as well as a wish for it to never end. For these characters to be around long after the screen has gone blank.