We all felt a great disturbance in the Force December 18, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in joy. Yes, that was the day of the Season 2 finale of “The Mandalorian,” which brought a glimpse of Luke Skywalker at the height of his Jedi powers unlike anything we’ve ever seen of the character before.
But what if you’ve never watched a “Star Wars” TV show before “The Mandalorian”? All the previous shows have had one thing in common: they’ve been in animation. And maybe you thought they weren’t canon (wrong about that, you were) or were just for kids (doubly wrong about that, you were) or just weren’t important (no bounds, your wrongness knows), but there’s a good chance you hadn’t watched any of them. This writer has extolled the virtues of the seven-season “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” at length in this column (Dave Filoni has now been making great “Star Wars” for 12 years, and the world is only just realizing it), but its successor series, “Star Wars Rebels,” set during the five years leading up to “A New Hope” is just as crucial. And both of these shows together are essential for getting the most out of “The Mandalorian.” The Darksaber wouldn’t mean nearly as much without watching them — and there’s the matter of several characters these shows introduced who popped up in “Mando” Season 2. Want to watch the key episodes of these previous shows to learn more about Bo-Katan, Grand Admiral Thrawn, et al? You’ve come to the right place. And it just so happens that all of these episodes are just a click away on Disney+.
Bo-Katan isn’t the first Mandalorian introduced on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” That would be her sister, the planet’s pacifist leader, Duchess Satine, who… well, was Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ex-girlfriend. Or pretty darn close to it, anyway. Their romantic feelings for each other certainly test the boundaries of the Jedi Code forbidding attachment. Satine (voiced by Anna Graves, and named by Filoni, a “Moulin Rouge” fan, after Obi-Wan actor Ewan McGregor’s doomed love interest in the Baz Luhrmann film) first appears in Season 2, Episode 12, “The Mandalore Plot.” That whole thing Boba Fett mentioned in Chapter 14 of “The Mandalorian” about the Mandalorian Civil Wars? Satine was the leader who finally brought peace to her planet after years of infighting. But some Mandalorians felt her pacifist ways went against their heritage; one violent sect called Death Watch was led by Pre Vizsla, who — guess what! — was voiced by “Mandalorian” showrunner Jon Favreau. And Satine’s sister, Bo-Katan, in a massive family squabble, had joined Death Watch to fight for the “old ways” despite her sister’s policies.
The main way to understand Bo-Katan in this period is that she’s rebellious, and doesn’t quite fit anywhere. Bo’s first episode is Season 3, Episode 14, “A Friend in Need.” From the start, and voiced by Katee Sackhoff, she seems like someone who would insist upon winning the Darksaber in combat, as she threatens Din Djarin at the end of “Mando” Season 2. Of course, Death Watch proves a poor fit for her after a while — we’ll get to that — and she finally stands up for her sister.
Key Bo-Katan episodes to watch from “The Clone Wars”:
“The Mandalore Plot”
“Voyage of Temptation”
“Duchess of Mandalore”
“A Friend in Need”
This has been a plot element since that episode we mentioned that first introduced the Mandalorians on “The Clone Wars,” way back in Season 2 called “The Mandalore Plot.” It was wielded by the Death Watch leader voiced by Jon Favreau, Pre Vizsla. But my, what a journey it takes! Bo-Katan begins to break with Death Watch when Vizsla aligns himself with Darth Maul (never killed, but driven mad by being cut in half and finally restored to his wits by the Dathomiri magic of the Nightsisters, a group of witches — did I mention “Clone Wars” rocks?). Bo-Katan doesn’t like outsiders meddling in Mandalorian affairs, hence even her snotty reaction to Boba Fett on “The Mandalorian” itself. That her leader aligns himself with an ex-Sith Lord who now wants to become a crime lord, a kind of third party faction in the Clone Wars that have engulfed the galaxy, is not something she likes. She likes it even less when Maul turns the tables on Vizsla, and beheads him, in a less-graphic though no-less-dramatic moment worthy of “Game of Thrones,” and claims the Darksaber for himself. He rules Mandalore now. All this occurs in a stunning three-arc episode of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Season 5: the episodes “Eminence,” “Shades of Reason,” and “The Lawless.” In the last of these episodes, he kills Satine with the Darksaber, a way to both claim Mandalore’s throne and get revenge against a now-heartbroken Obi-Wan. (He wants payback for being cut in half!)
Obi-Wan is not the one who ultimately keeps up the fight against Maul. That would be Ahsoka Tano. The former Jedi Padawan of Anakin Skywalker is recruited to lead an assault on Maul’s forces during the last days of the Clone Wars, just before Order 66. This is what makes her close enough to Bo-Katan that Bo would recommend Mando seek her out decades later. And these episodes from Season 7, about Ahsoka fighting to remove Maul from the throne of Mandalore once and for all, just debuted on Disney+ in April 2020. These episodes are “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” “The Phantom Apprentice,” and “Shattered.” We’ll get back to Ahsoka in a minute.
Fast forward to the years of rule under the Empire. A violent junta in support of Emperor Palpatine has taken over Mandalore. Bo-Katan helps liberate the planet from the Empire in the two-part Season 4 opener of “Star Wars Rebels,” titled “Heroes of Mandalore.” At the end of that episode, Bo-Katan inherits the Darksaber, meaning she is the rightful ruler of Mandalore. But their actions in kicking the Empire off the planet seem to invite the horrible retaliation against Mandalore hinted at on “The Mandalorian”: something called the Purge. And it’s during the Purge that Bo-Katan apparently loses the Darksaber to Moff Gideon.
Key Episodes from “The Clone Wars” to Watch:
“Shades of Reason”
“Old Friends Not Forgotten”
“The Phantom Apprentice”
Key Episode from “Star Wars Rebels” to Watch:
“Heroes of Mandalore,” Part 1 and 2
My colleague Tyler Hersko has written an excellent primer on Ahsoka Tano here, so I’ll just keep this short to the episodes you should watch to hit the character’s highlights:
The “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” movie — Yes, it bombed in 2008 in theaters. It’s important to see her introduction.
The four-part Second Battle of Geonosis arc from “Clone Wars” Season 2:
“Landing at Point Rain”
“Legacy of Terror”
Two part arc from Season 3:
Four-part arc about her departure from the Jedi Order in Season 5:
“The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”
“To Catch a Jedi”
“The Wrong Jedi”
“Victory and Death”
Key Episodes from “Star Wars Rebels”:
“The Siege of Lothal”
“The Lost Commanders”
“Relics of the Old Republic”
“Twilight of the Apprentice”
“Wolves and a Door”
“A World Between Worlds”
“Family Reunion — and Farewell”
Grand Admiral Thrawn
This is a character that’s been beloved by diehard fans of “Star Wars” books since Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire” in 1991. However, he only made his canon debut in the Season 3 premiere of “Star Wars Rebels.” Zahn always described him as “a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Erwin Rommel” and that characterization survives very faithfully on “Rebels.” A master tactician, Thrawn is way, way smarter than any other Imperial officer you’ve ever seen. A native of an apostrophe-loving species from the Unknown Regions called the Chiss (Thrawn is just the shortened version of Mitth’raw’nuruodo), the blue-skinned Grand Admiral can determine an enemy race’s strengths and weaknesses based on the art they produce. Voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, Thrawn wasn’t defeated at the end of “Star Wars Rebels” so much as taken off the field of play, spirited away against his control to a part of the galaxy no one’s been able to find yet. With him, though, was the young Jedi apprentice Ezra. More than likely, Ahsoka wants to find Thrawn in Chapter 14 of “The Mandalorian” so that she can find Ezra. Fans speculate that that search will be the subject of the spinoff “Ahsoka” series starring Rosario Dawson.
Key Thrawn Episodes on “Star Wars Rebels”:
“Steps into Shadow”
“Family Reunion — and Farewell”
Of course, Boba pops up on “The Clone Wars”! Whereas Temuera Morrison plays old, grizzled Boba on “The Mandalorian,” the young kid who played him in “Attack of the Clones,” Daniel Logan, voiced him once again as a teenager on “The Clone Wars.” First up, in Season 2, he tries to get revenge against Mace Windu for having beheaded his dad, Jango. Then he begins his career bounty hunting career in Season 4. It is not auspicious (though that episode, “Bounty,” is this writer’s second-favorite episode of the entire series).
Key Boba Fett Episodes on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”:
“R2 Come Home”
These episodes, all currently available on Disney+, expand the universe of “The Mandalorian” and hopefully will hold you over until we get more live-action “Star Wars” TV. But know this: animated “Star Wars” has been every bit as good, and in some cases better, than live-action “Star Wars.”
Click to the next page for the archive of new releases to Disney+ from previous months.