There's a bigger "Star Wars" universe out there than you may realize.
If you are only familiar with the 11 feature films and "The Mandalorian," the Baby Yoda-happy live-action series, you may be missing out on some of the best storytelling in a galaxy far, far away. And it's all in cartoons.
"Star Wars" has a long history with TV animation, from terrible 1980s projects like "Droids" and "Ewoks" to the latest Disney+ series, "Star Wars: The Bad Batch," a glossy action series unveiled this month with an epic, 75-minute premiere (new episodes streaming Tuesdays).
The modern run of "Star Wars" animation, which began with Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: Clone Wars" in 2003, has none of the hacky, cringeworthy awfulness of the older cartoons. While some of the series are designed for children, all are smart and mature enough to be enjoyed by fans young and old. Characters and ships introduced in some have wound up in the "Star Wars" films and "Mandalorian," and the series have dedicated fan followings and rich histories and mythologies.
For those who don't know "Star Wars: Rebels" from "Star Wars: Resistance," we offer a guide to the modern animated series. All episodes are available to stream on Disney+. "Ewoks" and "Droids" are there too, if you really want to see them all.
'Star Wars: Clone Wars' (2003-2005)
Bold, visually stunning and like nothing else in the "Star Wars" universe, this short-lived animated series from "Samurai Jack" creator Genndy Tartakovsky is something to behold. The precursor for the computer-animated "Clone Wars" series, this show is set in the timeline between "Attack of the Clones" (2002) and "Revenge of the Sith" (2005), and aired on Cartoon Network between their theatrical releases.
While the plots in its short episodes are not as sophisticated as some of the others, its animation is unique and striking, offering a visual feast for those who miss the thrill of "Star Wars" on the big screen.
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' (2008-2020)
The longer running, more widely seen iteration of "Clone Wars" is also a superb series that looks very different from its traditionally-animated predecessor. The first to use the CGI animation that would come to dominate the world of "Star Wars," the series, created by George Lucas, is also the first from writer-director Dave Filoni, who went on to work on the rest of the shows, as well as "Mandalorian."
This "Clone Wars," which kicks off with a feature-length film directed by Filoni (also called "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," and available on Disney+), is a more ambitious telling of Anakin and Obi-Wan's adventures between the "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith," offering a boots-on-the ground look at the war that ends in "Revenge." It introduces more worlds, more characters and adventures, with a great depth of emotion and some truly stunning lightsaber action sequences.
The fan-favorite series was shelved in 2014, but returned for a seventh and final season in 2020 that gave fans some much-needed closure. ("Bad Batch" revisits clone trooper characters first introduced in "Clone Wars."
The series is also notable for introducing characters who have made their way into the live-action world: Saw Gerrera, brought to life by Forest Whitaker in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016); and Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson in the second season of "Mandalorian," who will get her own live-action series on Disney+ soon.
'Star Wars: Rebels' (2014-2018)
Without centering big-name film characters, "Rebels" became a favorite of many "Star Wars" fans who fell in love with the rag-tag team at its center. The series is set in the timeline between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope," and follows the rebel crew of the ship Ghost, an unlikely family of compatriots wronged by the Empire. They do anything they can to thwart the Imperial forces, while robbing and doing odd jobs to make cash between their noble pursuits.
Although it starts off focused on its youngest cast member, Jedi-in-training Ezra (Taylor Gray), the series becomes one of the most intellectually and morally complex of the animated shows, asking big questions and not always offering black and white answers. "Rebels" arguably captures the spirit of the original trilogy better than standalone film "Rogue One," which was set during the same time period.
'Star Wars: Resistance' (2018-2020)
"Resistance" is one of the few "Star Wars" stories, especially outside the novels, to feature non-Jedi protagonists. Set six months before the 2015 film "The Force Awakens," the series follows Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono a rookie pilot in the Resistance, who's working with fellow pilot (and movie character) Poe Dameron to take down the First Order.
What makes "Resistance" stand out is its distinctive animation aesthetic, which married anime style with more modern techniques. It made the many space action sequences particularly beautiful, and feels more emotional and personal than the computer-generated style of most of the shows.
The series has a diverse cast and fun storytelling, but ultimately didn't last long.
'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' (2021- )
The newest "Star Wars" animated series is a sequel to "Clone Wars" focusing on a crew of genetically imperfect clone troopers. They may be a "bad batch" of clones, but they have special abilities and enhancements because of their defects, including the ability to resist the submissive programming that made the clone army loyal to the Republic that turned into an Empire.
The series is sett in the immediate aftermath of the fatal "Order 66" from "Revenge of the Sith," in which the Emperor ordered the clones to murder all the Jedi. But Clone Force 99, powerful and able to think independently, rebels against the new fascist government, and runs away with a mysterious young girl named Omega.
Based on the first two episodes that have been made available, "Bad Batch" is another great series, slightly more violent than earlier projects. It offers fans a peak at a new period in the "Star Wars" timeline and a brand new perspective from which to see it.
A few other modern animated series set in the "Star Wars" galaxy feature mostly short episodes aimed at younger children. "Star Wars: Forces of Destiny" (2015) is a collection of shorts highlighting the female characters from the franchise. Over on the "Star Wars Kids" YouTube channel is "Star Wars: Rollout," a very kid-focused micro series that started in 2019. The YouTube channel also includes "Star Wars: Galaxy of Adventures" (2018-present) which reenacts some of the major moments from the films for kids.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' and the best 'Star Wars' animated TV series