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A Parent’s Guide to the Confusing World of ‘Star Wars’ Cartoons

From 'Droids' to 'Rebels', here is everything you need to know to dive into the animated world of Star Wars.

Even if you think of yourself as pretty hardcore Star Wars fan, there still a chance that the various animated shows are a little confusing. The biggest Star Wars news in the last few months (other than that big casting announcement) was the return of a cartoon series  — The Clone Wars — which was canceled four years ago. Plus, there’s a good bet most people don’t remember that Forest Whitaker’s character in Rogue One actually originated in that same cartoon. The point is that’s just one of several animated Star Wars shows either already out or in development. So what’s the deal? Do you need to know about these shows or not?

If your kid is into Star Wars, the answer is a big yes. If you’re into Star Wars, the answer is a maybe. The various animated shows aren’t essential to enjoying the movies at all, though lately, (particularly with Solo) what has happened in the Star Wars cartoons impacts the films more than it used to.

From the eighties show Droids to the just-completed show Rebels, here is everything you need to know to dive into the animated world of Star Wars.

Droids (1985)

Other than Boba Fett’s animated appearance in the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978, the first-ever ongoing Star Wars animated series was Droids. It ran for one season on ABC back in the eighties and, as the title suggests, the series was all about droids, the unsung heroes of the galaxy far, far away. Droids took place before the events of A New Hope and focused on C-3PO and R2D2 as they constantly get themselves in and out of dangerous situations that often involved the underground crime world of the Star Wars universe. The show only lasted 13 episodes and has been mostly forgotten. But, fans of the bad the Police will probably never forget that the show’s opening theme song was composed and performed by Stewart Copeland.

The show is not available on streaming but the DVD of the entire series can be purchased on Amazon. Here’s that sick Copeland opening theme right here.

Ewoks (1985)

Ewoks debuted the same year as Droids and managed to get a second season before it was also canceled by ABC. The show gave viewers a look at the lives of four Ewok families who face off against a rotating cast of villains, including one awesomely named Morag the Tulgah Witch, on the forest moon of Endor before the Empire chose it as their base of operation for their second fully-operational Death Star. Ewoks are among the most divisive parts of the original trilogy and, honestly, this show is pretty weird. But those who find the tiny bears more adorable than annoying will probably enjoy this show. Unfortunately, the show has essentially been erased from existence, as it can not be streamed or rented anywhere. However, full episodes are available on YouTube, so enjoy.

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Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)

After the joint failure of Droids and Ewoks, Star Wars took a nearly two-decade-long break from animation before finally returning with Clone Wars. Most of the episodes of this show were micro-short, sometimes less than five minutes. But, the animation was super-stylized thanks to the involvement Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack and Power Puff Girls fame.

The show specifically focused on the Jedi Knights, including film favorites like Obi-Wan, Anakin, Mace Windu, and Master Yoda, as they fought alongside the clone army to maintain peace in the galaxy. The show only had a limited run of 25 episodes over two seasons but received enough critical praise and enthusiasm from viewers to kick off the Star Wars animated renaissance. It even canonically depicted Anakin getting that little rattail braid snipped off by Yoda’s lightsaber.

Sadly, the show is not currently streaming online but can be purchased on Amazon. Also, nearly the entire thing is on YouTube, too. Here’s a link to “Volume 2” which had longer episodes and actually introduced the character of General Grievous way before he was on screen in Revenge of the Sith in 2005.

The Clone Wars (2008)

That’s right, there are two animated series that focus on the era between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The second series was launched by the 2008 movie of the same name, and its own unique series, separate from the other show that has almost the same name. (The big difference is this one has “the” in the title and the other one, doesn’t.) This show was also notable for introducing fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano, who was Anakin’s Jedi apprentice. This show also established that Darth Maul didn’t die in The Phantom Menace, and went on to become a crime boss. (Which is why he showed up in Solo.)

The show originally aired from 2008-2014 before it was announced at Comic-Con that The Clone Wars would be returning for a seventh season. All six seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix.

Rebels (2014)

Riding off the success of both Clone Wars, Lucasfilm decided to explore the time between the rise of the empire in Revenge of the Sith and Luke joining the rebel alliance and learning the ways of the Force in A New Hope. It’s an era of the Star Wars universe that, until recently, had only really been explored in the Extended Universe novels and in Rebels, we follow the earliest days of the rebel uprising, as a group of ragtag runaways, including Kanan Jarrus, one of the few Jedis to survive Order 66, try to stir up some chaos 14 years after the rise of the Empire. All four seasons of the critically acclaimed show are available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime. The show also featured the return of Ahsoka from The Clone Wars, and finally showed old Obi-Wan Kenobi face off against Darth Maul, again. Oh, Darth Vader and Yoda showed up on this show, too. In most ways, this show is a sequel to The Clone Wars as much as it is a prequel to A New Hope. Point is, if your kid liked The Clone Wars, they’ll love this.

Forces of Destiny (2017)

The newest Star Wars animated series is unique in a variety of ways, starting with the fact that it does not take place in a specific era in the larger story. Instead, Forces of Destiny is a series of two to three-minute shorts on YouTube, with each episode focusing on an adventure of a beloved female character from previous Star Wars shows and films, including Leia, Rey, Jyn Erso, Maz Kanata, and Padme. All 32 episodes are available to stream on YouTube, with more episodes expected to be made in the upcoming years. Most recently, Mark Hamill returned to play the voice of Luke Skywalker in a brief segment which happened during The Empire Strikes Back

Resistance (TBD)

One of the only eras of the Star Wars timeline that has not been explored (outside of the non-canonical Extended Universe) is the time between the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi and the rise of the First Order in The Force Awakens. Fortunately, Resistance will change all that. The upcoming animated show will take place a few years before the events of TFA and follow Kazuda Xiono, a pilot who joins the Resistance to fight against the growing presence of the First Order. Not much else is known about Resistance at this point but it is expected to air on Disney later this year.