In the original Star Wars trilogy, the existence of the Rebel Alliance was a fact. It simply was there and nobody asked where did it come from. We could let our imaginations wander.
Now, however, with the footage of the prequel trilogy, Rogue One and, last but not least, Star Wars Rebels, we can put together some of the most significant on-screen moments during which we could say the Rebellion was formed. Because it was not formed all at once. And that is good to know, because movements like that are not a matter of one, authoritarian decision. Rebels are, after all, against centralised authority. The Rebel Alliance (the word “Alliance” already betraying something about its nature) are rather a conglomerate of many smaller movements put together, as especially Rebels and Rogue One have showed us. So, what are these moments when we could say “the Rebellion is formed?”
1. The Senators’ Secret Meeting
In the final days of the Galactic Republic, senators Mon Mothma of Chandrila, Bail Antilles of Alderaan and several others started meeting in secret. They had been the strongest opponents of Palpatine’s authoritarian policy, but by the end of the war, they saw that the official ways would no longer suffice to stop him. They had intended to include senator Padmé Amidala in their conspiracy – but given her proximity to Anakin Skywalker, who in turn was close to Palpatine himself, they were not sure if that was a safe idea, and neither was Padmé. Eventually, senator Amidala solved the problem for them by refusing to know more – doing a great service to all of them, in retrospect. If not for that, they would have probably ended up dead at the hands of Darth Vader. The meetings between young Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, Padmé and other senators is part of the material that was cut from Episode III and was included as bonus material with some of the film’s releases.
2. The Lothal Broadcast
“See what the Empire has done to your lives, your families and your freedom? It’s only gonna get worse unless we stand up and fight back. …Stand up together. Because that’s when we’re strongest: as one.”
Ezra Bridger’s message broadcast via the communications tower on Lothal hit only the few nearest star systems. However, it was the first time Rebel messages made it into official broadcast, even if just in one sector. This concerned only one Rebel cell – the crew of the Ghost – and other cells across the Galaxy had their own moments like this at other times: the moments when they stepped out of shadows and so it became possible for them to connect to the larger movement. The Lothal broadcast had consequences, its direct result was the fact that the Specter cell from Lothal became aware of the broader scope of the anti-Imperial activity, just as well as the local citizens became aware that resistence was possible. This was one of the first impulses which started bringing various Rebel cells together. This moment was featured at the end of the first season of Star Wars Rebels, in the episode “Call to Action”.
3. Mon Mothma’s Call
Another missing piece of the puzzle has been provided in Star Wars Rebels season 3, in the episode “Secret Cargo”. In an open speech in the Imperial Senate, senator Mon Mothma accused Emperor Palpatine himself of being responsible for the massacre of civilians on the planet of Ghorman (incidentally, this event dates back to the old Star Wars lore, where it referred to the massacre when Moff Tarkin, with Palpatine’s approval, landed his shuttle on top of a crowd of protesters).
Mon Mothma was brave to say in public, on an official state meeting no less, what others would not dare to voice out loud except in private. Criticism against the government’s decisions here or there could be met only with a frown, this, however, marked Mon Mothma as a traitor. She knew it, but she had believed this particular atrocity could not remain without answer. Following her speech, she had to go into hiding. However, her decision was not to crawl under a rock and disappear. She then made a speech calling all sympathising forces to convene on Dantooine, and this was the birth of the official Rebel Alliance.
4. The Attack on Scarif
The Episode IV opening credits start like this: “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.” The first actual victory the Rebel Alliance can claim as their joint military victory, of significant proportions and of even more significant consequences.
Rogue One shows the Rebel Alliance as one body with many heads, not all of which believed in open war against the Empire. The scene in Rogue One just before Jyn Erso’s mission shows this better than anything. It was the threat of the Death Star, the need to go all-in, which made the Rebels act as one. After this, there was no turning back, but this was also the moment needed for the Rebellion to acknowledge its strength. A major victory at Scarif has proved that a smaller, less well-equipped force can fight and win against the big foe such as the Empire. It showed that the Empire was not invincible.
Is There More?
Even this list still leaves many spaces blank: there is still much we do not know about some important stages of the Rebellion’s formation. All these blank spaces also do not need to be filled exclusively on-screen: there are books, comics or other media these moments can appear in. Nonetheless, each of these moments is a major landmark on the road to the Rebel Alliance we know from the original trilogy.