Conquering a Galaxy Far Far Away: Star Wars Rebellion

Star Wars Poster

In honor of #StarWarsDay, I want to take the time to reminisce about one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time. A game that you won’t see mentioned alongside your Rogue Squadrons, your Jedi Knight IIs, your Knights of the Old Republics. I’m talking about Star Wars Rebellion–a real-time strategy game that mysteriously came into my life and took over my imagination.

Star Wars Rebellion

I don’t know when or how Star Wars Rebellion ended up in my hands. I know it was sometime before my family’s move to Southern California. I mean, it had to have been at least 1998, as that’s when the game was released. But other than that, I have no clue who bought the game, placed it in a fuzzy, Velcro CD case, and made it part of our collection.

We had a computer that we kept in the den. While my dad used it mostly for work, my brothers and I were allowed to play games on it. We kept the boxes the games came in on a bookshelf in the den. I remember looking through the shelves; it was mostly full of odds and ends: the aforementioned PC game boxes, some books my dad read, a copy of the DOOM Hacker’s Guide (or something like that), and then this instruction manual for some game called Star Wars Rebellion. Next to the manual was a black, fuzzy CD case–the kind that has multiple “pages.” The Rebellion disc was its only contents.

Star Wars Rebellion screenshot

For a kid that loved the spaceships and battles in Star Wars more than anything else, Rebellion was perfect. Not only did you get to mess around with the galactic map–full of planets and star systems only mentioned in the Expanded Universe (EU)–but you also got to engage tactical fleet battles. Homeworld did this much, much better a year later, but for 10 year-old-me, it was like bringing my LEGO battles to life.

Part of Rebellion’s brilliance is that it let you maneuver your ships–glorious groupings of Mon Calamari Cruisers, squadrons of X-Wings, and formations of Imperial Star Destroyers–in three dimensions. Most other strategy games only operate on a 2D plane. But in Rebellion, you could order your ships to go above or below the enemy. I spent so much time, way too much time drawing battle plans and stuff in my notebooks at school while I waited to get home and put them into action in the game.

It’s Good to be Bad

Let’s be honest: the Empire was cool. Darth Vader (before the prequels) was cool. Yes, yes I know they were the bad guys. But I always wanted my own Star Destroyer. Star Wars Rebellion made that happen. This was the first Star Wars game I played that let you choose the Empire as your side. Finally! I was able to have Darth Vader hunt down Rebel spies. My admirals patrolled the galaxy with fleets of Star Destroyers, cruisers, and endless waves of TIE Fighters under their command. It was amazing.

Star Destroyer

I never actually won a game in Rebellion, but I certainly got close. I painted the galactic map that bright, almost neon Imperial green.

It’s Only Cheating if You Get Caught

According to the movies, books, comics the Empire is supposed to be powerful. It’s supposed to have hundreds of ships under its command. Unfortunately, in the interest of “balance” and “giving the Rebels a chance” (ugh), the Empire starts out with a pitiful number of ships. Enter the glorious world of game editors!

Much like my time with Red Alert and the Tiberium series, I spent many a happy hour tinkering with Rebellion’s innards. I’m not ashamed to admit I completely broke the game in my favor. Imperial Star Destroyers are supposed to have ion cannons according to the Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels? Okay! Mod them in! Of course they’re supposed to have more shields. You know what? I’m pretty sure all the Rebel ships should have no weapons. Sound good? Of course it does!

I wasn’t playing multiplayer–as far as I knew, nobody else had ever heard of the game–so what was the harm? Did I care about winning fairly? Absolutely not! Even though I completely unbalanced the game, it was still horrendously fun.

Talon Who? What’s a Bane Nothos?

Another one of the best parts of Star Wars Rebellion is the fact that it included a bunch of characters from the movies as well as the EU. For somebody who voraciously read any Star Wars novel he could get his hands on in elementary and middle school, playing a game where characters like Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and Borsk Fey’lya were included was a dream come true.

Sidebar: I played Rebellion before I ever saw any of the Thrawn trilogy graphic novels, so the game’s version of Talon Karrde is the one I pictured in my head. Seeing him bare-chested and long-haired in other media just weirded me out.

Darth Vader

All the characters in the game came with encyclopedia entries about them, so if you had no clue who Jan Dodonna or Pellaeon were, then the game was there to help you out. I loved the fact that I got to play around with people I recognized from the books in ways that didn’t have to follow established canon. I always paired up Thrawn and Pellaeon though. Couldn’t break up that duo.

Control a World. Command a Galaxy

Was Star Wars Rebellion a great game? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even rank it among the top Star Wars games. Parts of it were extremely boring. And aside from the space battles everything else happened via info cards. Still, the ability to spread fleets of Star Destroyers across the galaxy goes a long way toward winning my heart.

If you’re looking for a Star Wars game that’s more grand strategy than Empire at War, Galactic Battlegrounds, or Force Commander, then give Rebellion a try. Just be willing to sit through some outdated game design.