The best Star Wars is animated Star Wars.
You still here? Okay, good. The live-action acolytes have left. Let’s get to business.
This truth was not always the case. It took time for the franchise to understand its place in the cartoon space. Droids and Ewoks were important experiments, and they each have their charm, but honestly, that charm runs thin.
The best animated Star Wars moments didn’t start firing off until 2003 when George Lucas partnered with Samurai Jack‘s Genndy Tartakovsky. Their Star Wars: Clone Wars saga is an exhilarating adventure that connects Attack of the Clones to Revenge of the Sith, and while many of the best Star Wars animated sequences certainly come from it, we’ve already ranked those.
And I wanted to keep things canon for this endeavor. Good or bad, Star Wars: Clone Wars got booted outta Lucasfilm. So, that means for this ranking, we’re only talking Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Lucas’ 2008 do-over), Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars: Resistance, and Star Wars: The Bad Batch.
Each show has its own vibe, but they all pick up concepts originating within the movies, run with them, and in most cases, improve on them. Before The Mandalorian, Star Wars found its first elongated form with the cartoons. They initially hit in less-than-thirty-minute bursts, but they stack atop each other quite well. After The Clone Wars‘ first few seasons, the purpose and horror of the Star Wars prequels finally appeared evident. The Jedi Knights were blind fools, the clones were tragic puppets, and the greatest Jedi wasn’t a Jedi at all. Also, Jar Jar ain’t that bad. He’s actually pretty rad.
The series developers (Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, Carrie Beck, Kiri Hart, and Jennifer Corbett) use our knowledge of Star Wars Episodes IV through IX against us. Dread palpitates throughout, but beneath all that Imperial/First Order gloom, we find heroes rejecting inevitable evil.
Naming the best moments from these four Star Wars animated shows was an arduous, difficult task. And no doubt, you’ll take issue with a few — maybe several — selections. It’s a personal thing. However, my desire with this ranking is to showcase the narrative and emotional depth found within the animated Star Wars realm. You’ll find winks and nods, but mostly, the best moments are the ones that wallop.
25. Howdy, Cad Bane
As important as Jedi Knights and Stormtroopers are to the Star Wars aesthetic, so too are bounty hunters. And with Boba Fett still a child, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars required a new gunslinger stand-in. Enter: Cad Bane. The Duros cowboy first appears in the Season 1 finale, “Hostage Crisis,” and he proves his action figure might by besting Anakin Skywalker on his home turf.
Hired handsomely by Ziro the Hutt to bust him out, Cad Bane humiliates the Jedi, accomplishes the jailbreak, and nearly kills a bunch of Senators, including Anakin’s beloved Padmé. It’s just one more horrendous ego-smashing moment propelling Anakin further down his path toward the Dark Side.
24. Hunter Surrenders
Are we to blame? During The Bad Batch‘s first season, the question continuously rattles inside Hunter‘s head. He and his Clone Force 99 mates were mostly spared from Order 66’s deadly command. Their genetic aberrations having hindered the effect of The Emperor’s inhibitor chip. Although, Crosshair’s betrayal may suggest that the chip still holds some sway on their brother.
In “War-Mantle,” Clone Force 99 is tasked by Captain Rex to rescue Gregor, a fellow Clone who has also rebelled from the Empire. The encounter is further evidence that soldiers choose to follow orders. Maybe they can no longer blame the technology implanted in their noggins. When Hunter surrenders to Imperial forces, he’s placing himself in direct contact with Crosshair once again. He needs proof that his brother makes his own choices.
23. That Kowakian Ape-Lizard’s Got A Gun!
Set six months before The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Resistance operates in an emotional headspace slightly removed from the other three animated series. While they don’t lack hope, they tend to dwell on impending doom, the rise of the Empire, and its Death Star apocalypse. Resistance, on the other hand, is all about its title: a group of youths joining together to stand against an established tyranny.
But that has little to do with the moment we’re highlighting here. That Kowakian Ape-Lizard’s got a gun! Poe Dameron and his protege Kaz catch the Salacious Crumb cousin during what was meant to be a routine training session. When they investigate a freighter adrift in space, they discover that pirates attacked its crew, and the Kowakian Ape-Lizards ate the pirates. Normally these guys are just a nuisance, but this gang happens to have a mutant giant amongst their ranks. “Signal from Sector Six” swings rapidly between comedy, thrills, and downright terror. It’s a perfect Star Wars snack.
22. Grand Admiral Thrawn Steps Out of Shadow
During those dark, dry years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, Timothy Zahn’s The Thrawn Trilogy served as one of the few bright spots in Star Wars entertainment. Despite his lack of cinematic recognition, the main Imperial baddie who gave those three books its moniker became a massive figurehead within the fandom. The introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Rebels Season 3 episode “Steps Into Shadow” operates as a tremendous validation for those of us who still cling tightly to our Zahn novels. We’re now ready for him to appear in live-action.
21. A Second of Bliss for AP-5
Expelled into space, AP-5 drifts into oblivion. He should be scared. He should cry out for help. But peace swells through his system as these pink little creatures swarm around his floating droid body. AP-5 begins to sing. At long last, he’s free of both the Empire and those troublesome Rebels. Ugh, then Wedge and Chopper show up to the rescue.
When a scene can elicit laughter and sorrow simultaneously, you just have to break out the golf clap. “Double Agent Droid” from Rebels Season 3 proves AP-5 to be one of the best, minimally used characters in Star Wars canon. That’s probably how we should keep him, but I wouldn’t complain if he were to pop up a few more times in whatever future spin-offs.
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