Star Wars Rebels launched in 2014 as the first Star Wars animated series following The Clone Wars, which was unceremoniously cancelled in 2013. Rebels ran for four seasons set in the final years leading up to the events of Rogue One. In fact, I discovered Rebels only after Rogue One released, and it didn’t take long for me to love the series. That said, Rebels has never gotten the attention it deserves, and I’m going to make the case that Rebels is better than The Clone Wars. If that strikes you as Star Wars blasphemy, just bear with me.
Rebels was arguably at a disadvantage to The Clone Wars before it even premiered, as this show wasn’t launched on the big screen before making it to TV. It also aired on Disney XD, which isn’t exactly known for programming with adult appeal and has a lower profile than Clone Wars’ Cartoon Network. Then, there’s the fact that Star Wars Rebels simply wasn’t The Clone Wars, and fans still smarting from the Clone Wars cancellation understandably might not have felt inclined to give a show that didn’t even look like Clone Wars a shot.
Now that The Clone Wars has ended for good and Rebels is streaming on Disney+, I have some reasons why I think Rebels is the better show. Don’t worry -- none of them have to do with the animation quality, since Clone Wars obviously has the edge in that department, although I do enjoy the softer style on Rebels. I genuinely like The Clone Wars and was oohing and aahing as much as anybody during the fantastic final season. My pro-Rebels reasons connect to storytelling, characters, and the overall Star Wars feel of the series. Read on!
Star Wars Rebels' Serialized And Consistent Storytelling
Star Wars Rebels is very much a serialized TV show. With the first season set in the last five years or so before Rogue One picks up and leads into the original trilogy, Rebels chronicles both the state of the galaxy under the Empire that could only be touched upon in the limited time of the films and shows how the Rebel Alliance rose to eventually score the victory on Scarif.
To compare, The Clone Wars is more of an anthology series comprised of brief arcs, and it can be difficult to get invested in journeys when those journeys don’t last. That’s not to say that arcs like Umbara and Bad Batch weren’t stellar, but they’re also more exceptions than the rule. For example, let’s not forget that Ahsoka’s walkabout took up a third of the final season just because it happened to be surrounded by the unforgettable Bad Batch and Siege of Mandalore arcs.
Star Wars Rebels' Original Characters
The main characters of Star Wars Rebels are entirely original to the TV show, and their cameos in the movies happened only after the show launched on Disney XD. The only real limits were that the Ghost team couldn’t score a victory monumental enough to overshadow Scarif and that there were no Jedi other than Luke running around the Rebellion in the original trilogy. Otherwise, all bets were off, the canvas was blank, and that raised the stakes.
As for Clone Wars, the heavy focus on existing and Jedi characters meant that it was pretty easy to figure out certain characters who 100% weren’t going to die and others who probably would once Revenge of the Sith rolled around, so there wasn’t really any suspense about them. Is it really a coincidence that Ahsoka Tano, the biggest original Clone Wars character whose future was unknown, is arguably the most beloved out of the series?
Star Wars Rebels' Unknown Endings
There was no saying how Star Wars Rebels stories would end other than what happened in Rogue One, and that created high stakes and suspense. Characters could die. Tragedies could happen. Space whales could come back with a vengeance. Rebels’ “Spark of Rebellion” was great because of the reveal. “Twilight of the Apprentice” (which everybody should watch) was fantastic because it was both the culmination of one Star Wars story and the beginning of another that would change everything. Thrawn was scary because he was an unknown. “Jedi Night” packed an emotional punch because of how it happened despite its inevitability.
While Rebels had to avoid anything that would undermine Rogue One, that was hardly a limit at all compared to The Clone Wars’ build to Revenge of the Sith. The Zillo Beast wasn’t going to destroy Coruscant. Maul wasn’t going to defeat Sidious. Anakin couldn’t even cross paths with Grievous because of a brief moment in Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi and Republic were going to fall, and that limited the story.
No Retcons In Rebels
Thanks to Star Wars Rebels’ focus on original characters and its placement ahead of the original trilogy rather than between installments of a trilogy, Rebels didn’t have to add any retroactive continuity. It continued the stories of some Clone Wars characters like Ahsoka and Rex, and Clone Wars technically retconned a Rebels plot point in its Disney+ series. Rebels filled in blanks without contradicting canon or regularly scraping by on technicalities.
Can even diehard Clone Wars fans make the same case for Clone Wars? Obi-Wan’s “Sith Lords are our speciality” in Revenge of the Sith doesn’t make a whole lot of sense considering the one and only Sith Lord he killed came back in Clone Wars. Anakin’s comment to Dooku in the movie about his powers doubling since the last time they fought wasn’t much when they’d fought multiple times since Attack of the Clones. Retcons don’t make Clone Wars a bad show, but they don’t help its case against Rebels.
Rebels Is The Rogue One Of TV Shows
If you haven’t been able to tell by this point in my defense of Rebels vs. Clone Wars, I absolutely adore Rogue One. To me, the final act from Jyn’s speech on Yavin 4 to the very end stand up against the very best of the Star Wars saga. And to me, Star Wars Rebels is the Rogue One of TV shows. It fits into and expands on canon without contradicting, it packs an emotional punch, and it ends on a hopeful note in spite of some heartbreaking losses.
While Rebels is arguably the Rogue One of TV shows, Clone Wars is Star Wars: Episode 2.5. It has to fit in with the prequel trilogy, in look and tone as well as storytelling for the most part. And honestly, does anybody really think that the prequels make up the best trilogy in the Star Wars saga? Sure, the movies may be some favorites among Star Wars fans, and I count myself as a fan of Revenge of the Sith, but what about Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones?
I doubt that the first two prequel films are counted by many as the best of the whole saga, and Clone Wars is very much a prequel installment: absolutely fantastic when it’s good, mediocre at times, and embarrassing when it’s bad. Remember Stinky at the beginning of Clone Wars? I know I remember Stinky, and I really wish I didn't.
What are your thoughts on Star Wars Rebels vs. The Clone Wars? Let us know in the comments! You can find the full series of both Rebels and Clone Wars streaming on Disney+ now, along with plenty of other Star Wars content. Season 2 of The Mandalorian is on the way, so be sure to check the Disney streamer out. For more upcoming viewing options, check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule.