Star Wars Rebellion history: How the Rebel Alliance has been


From the moment the words “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire” appeared in the opening crawl of Star Wars, the minds of fans raced, imagining the circumstances surrounding that victory. While 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars story presents the canonical telling of those events, the intervening years are filled with different interpretations and tales of how the Rebel Alliance came together into a cohesive force in order to attain that first victory.

Now, with the release of Andor on Disney Plus, a series which promises to follow the development of Rogue One protagonist Cassian Andor from his days as a budding rebel to his death on the sands of Scarif, it’s worth looking back on some of the previous efforts to dramatize the words in the crawl and explain how the Rebel Alliance came to be, as well as examining how Andor is uniquely positioned to stitch some of those different narratives into a cohesive whole.

The Rebellion’s origins on radio

One of the first attempts to dramatize the opening crawl and provide more details about the nascent Rebel Alliance came via a vintage format. In 1981, NPR released a Star Wars radio drama based on A New Hope and produced with the blessing of George Lucas. It featured sounds and music from the movies, along with Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprising their cinematic roles. One of the fun things about the radio drama is it dramatizes scenes left on the cutting room floor (like Luke’s encounter with his old friend Biggs Darklighter on Tatooine) while also adding scenes which didn’t appear in the movie, notably in its second and third episodes, “Points of Origin” and “Black Knight, White Princess, and Pawns.”

In “Points of Origin,” Leia and her father (then called Prestor Organa, rather than Bail) are entertaining the odious Imperial Lord Tion on Alderaan. Leia learns about the existence of the Death Star and the plans acquired by Rebel agents after an attack on an Imperial convoy. When she lets slip this knowledge, Tion attempts to arrest her but is ultimately shot. This prompts Leia’s father to more directly help the Rebellion, and Leia convinces her father to let her take their ship, the blockade runner Tantive IV, to the rebels on the planet Toprawa to retrieve the plans.

In “Black Knight, White Princess, and Pawns,” Leia receives the Rebel transmission from Toprawa, but is detected by Darth Vader. She is pursued by Vader’s Star Destroyer as she attempts to reach Obi-Wan Kenobi and recruit him to the cause of the Rebellion, thereby bringing the radio drama up to the point where the first film begins. Obviously, the final act of Rogue One retcons away nearly all of that story, but the radio drama still represents a fun early take on the origins of the Rebel Alliance in a very different format.

Books and video games build out more of the Rebellion’s history




Thrawn, a person with blue skin, sits on a throne with steepled fingers in Thrawn Treason





Image: Del Rey


1991 saw a rebirth of sorts for Star Wars after a relatively fallow period following the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983. It began not in the form of new movies, but via new novels; specifically, the Timothy Zahn-penned Thrawn trilogy, (consisting of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command and named after its central antagonist, the captivating Grand Admiral Thrawn). The success of those novels would lead to a burgeoning “Expanded Universe” of semi-canonical stories told across multiple media, from books to comics to video games, over the next two decades.

While the Thrawn trilogy is set five years after the end of the Return of the Jedi, it does briefly play around with the origins of the Rebellion via the introduction of a new character, the Corellian Garm Bel Iblis. Zahn reveals that in the early days of the Rebellion, Bel Iblis was one of the leaders of three different rebel factions, with the other two being led by Leia’s father (now Bail Organa) and Mon Mothma (the political leader of the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi). In the story, Bel Iblis is credited with bringing the three groups together to form the nascent Alliance via the Corellian Treaty, though the more aggressive Bel Iblis often butted heads with the pacifistic Mothma and Organa (not unlike Saw Gerrera’s later relationship with the Rebellion). After the destruction of Alderaan and the loss of Organa’s mediating influence, Bel Iblis and forces loyal to him left the Rebellion to wage their own private war on the Empire (before returning in the Thrawn trilogy’s “present” day).

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A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, another book series from later in the Expanded Universe era, revisits the events surrounding the capture of the Death Star plans. In the final novel of the trilogy, Rebel Dawn, Han’s then-love interest Bria Tharen is revealed to have become a Rebel commando. She participates in the attack on Toprawa that ends with the Rebel agents there beaming the plans to Leia aboard the Tantive IV, just like in the radio drama. And in shades of Rogue One, all the rebels on Toprawa, including Bria, are killed in the process of getting the plans out.

The groundbreaking video game Dark Forces offers another spin on the acquisition of the Death Star plans, crediting their retrieval to its main character, Kyle Katarn, a former Imperial turned mercenary (and future Jedi Knight) hired by Mon Mothma to steal the plans for the rebels from an Imperial facility on Danuta. A later video game, The Force Unleashed, offers one of the most significant and eyebrow-raising looks at the formation of the Rebel Alliance up to that time, revealing that the game’s protagonist, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice Starkiller, was responsible for planting the seeds of what became the Rebel Alliance at the direction of Vader himself, who hoped to use the Alliance against the Emperor to his own ends.

The Revenge of the Sith’s deleted scene




Mon Mothma awkwardly smiling at a dinner party





Image: Lucasfilm/Disney


Originally, Genevieve O’Reilly’s Rebel leader Mon Mothma (introduced in Revenge of the Sith before making reprise appearances in Rogue One, the animated Rebels, and the upcoming Andor) had a much larger role in the final prequel movie (one which also would have given Padmé Amidala much more to do in the film aside from fret and die of a “broken heart”). That role lives on mostly in the form of the “Seeds of Rebellion” deleted scene (available as part of the Revenge of the Sith extras on Disney Plus) and the Revenge of the Sith novelization (which is based on an earlier draft of the movie’s script).

In “Seeds of Rebellion,” Mon Mothma is present for a meeting of senators, including Padmé and Bail Organa, in which they discuss the formation of a senate bloc opposed to Chancellor Palpatine’s ongoing manipulation of the constitution to his own ends. That scene represents a larger subplot Lucas had originally weaved into the film, which gets some play in the novelization. It involves the Loyalist Committee, a bigger group of Senators dedicated to preserving the Republic and limiting Palpatine’s power. One of their signature actions is the creation of the Petition of 2,000, a document urging Palpatine to give up the emergency powers he assumed at the start of the Clone Wars, signed by 2,000 senators. Many of those senators, like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, would go on to support or join the Rebel Alliance.

The canonicity of these events remains questionable, existing as they do in a weird sort of limbo — they’re part of an official film, but also not. Yet given the continuity Genevieve O’Reilly brings to the role and the time frame of Andor, it’s entirely possible the series could reference them directly as it develops Mothma into the leader of the Alliance we see in Rogue One.

Expanding the Rebellion’s story in television and recent Star Wars movies




Saw Gerrera looks down as Jedi enter his rebel camp in Star Wars: The Clone Wars





Image: Lucasfilm


Since the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012 and the relaunching of Star Wars canon, there have been numerous elements of a nascent Rebel Alliance introduced in various stories. This puts Andor, set in the same timeline as those stories and featuring the journey of a character from before he joined the Rebels to when he played a critical role in that crawl-teased “first victory,” in the unique position of being able to stitch all those pieces together.

The animated Clone Wars and Bad Batch series, for example, feature, to varying degrees, Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, one of many disparate rebel factions functioning in the time between the prequel and original trilogies. Solo: A Star Wars Story introduces Enfys Nest and her group of pirates/rebels as a way to tease Han’s future involvement with the more formally organized Rebel Alliance of the original trilogy. Obi-Wan Kenobi recently introduced “The Path,” a sort of proto-Rebel Alliance/underground railroad that provides safe passage to Jedi and Force-sensitive survivors of the Emperor’s Jedi Purge. Rebels, another animated series set before A New Hope, depicts the adventures of one very small rebel cell on the world of Lothal that slowly gets absorbed into the larger galactic rebel effort. It also introduces the concept of “Fulcrum,” a coded identity for a secret agent working to inform and coordinate different rebel cells (an identity once used by Cassian Andor), while later stories confirmed characters from that series would go on to serve in the larger alliance.

What it means for Andor

Stories set in the same “between trilogies” era as Andor are not uncommon. But given the critical role Cassian Andor plays in the climax of Rogue One, Andor is the first of these series to star a character who is there at the moment when the Rebel Alliance becomes what we know it to be in the original trilogy. Furthermore, the creative team of Andor has said the series will bring the character right up to the events of Rogue One, effectively putting his character development and the development of the Rebel Alliance in parallel.

In addition to the focus on Cassian, the confirmed presence in Andor of characters like Mon Mothma and Saw Gerrera (with Forest Whitaker reprising the role) provide further opportunities for the series to define the Rebel Alliance. Mon Mothma brings continuity between the early days of the scattered Rebellion slowly evolving from her group of loyal-to-the-Republic senators in Revenge of the Sith and the formalized Alliance of the original trilogy, while Gerrera’s Partisans can provide a look at what lines the Alliance won’t cross in its fight with the Empire, defining what it is by making a point about what it is not.

To be clear, there is little expectation that Andor will endeavor to connect all the disparate rebel factions hanging around in this era; it is first and foremost concerned with telling an entertaining story and not serving as a cinematic Wookieepedia entry. But by chronicling the development of Cassian Andor’s relationship with the Rebellion alongside notable guiding hands, it will hopefully be able to provide a framework that allows fans to connect the dots and see how the other different factions may fit together. Andor has its own story to tell, and it’s one with the potential to piece together a larger narrative, as the Rebel Alliance grows from scattered groups with their own agendas doing their best to strike small blows against the Empire into a cohesive whole that can coordinate their actions to achieve a collective victory against the evil Galactic Empire, fanning the flames of hope throughout the galaxy.