"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
It can be a cruel life in a typical fantasy story. The Empire
rules the land with an iron fist, the Evil Overlord
is slowly but steadily taking over the world, or a new government
ruthlessly takes power. The people are oppressed and overtaxed, but the enemy is just too powerful for anyone to overcome. What can they do?
Never fear, the Rebel Leader is here! Swinging into action (sometimes literally) with their band of loyal followers
, they lead the charge against evil and fight to free the people!
Almost every rebel group has one of these, a heroic
person with rugged good looks
and a perfect grin
. Sometimes a series bucks the trend by having a Plucky Girl
lead the rebels, or perhaps someone who was the legitimate ruler
and is trying to get back their country.
Usually the Rebel Leader
becomes an ally to the main cast, using their expertise and resources to distract the enemy
, promise to help out at the final battle
or band together
against a common goal. There's also a chance of a Love Triangle
with the hero's Love Interest
as she swoons over the Rebel Leader
's good looks. If the Rebel Leader
is female, on the other hand, there's a high probability of her becoming the hero's Love Interest
However, in other series things may not be as they seem
. Sometimes the rebel leader may make questionable choices
in the fight against the empire, perhaps they're just using the rebel cause to further their own agenda
, abuse the very people they're trying to help
, or are willing to take down the enemy no matter what the cost
. Sometimes the Rebel Leader
will be just as bad
as the Evil Overlord
he's trying to take down, often leading to Meet the New Boss
once they've taken over.
Other variations of this trope include a Dark Messiah
, a leader who is a very questionable 'savior', or perhaps a Doomed Moral Victor
if the odds are really
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Anime & Manga
- Lelouch from Code Geass leads the Black Knights, but plays the facade of a grand rebel leader when he's actually using them for his own ends.
- Well, is it that huge a difference, when the Japanese just want freedom for Japan, while Lelouch wants to cause the downfall of the Britannian Empire occupying it? "You used us!" sounds pretty hollow in the series, when Lelouch essentially uses them not only to get what they want, but to help all the other oppressed people on the planet, as well.
- And really, the Black Knights "used" Lelouch just as much as he used them. Without his charisma and his strategic skills they would all be separate rebel cells. Not to mention that he did save the lives of the first members at Shinjuku. Their right to claim they were "used" was lost as soon as they stopped wondering what was behind Zero's mask, and he did tell them he was not Japanese, so they must have known he had ulterior motives then.
- Lacus in Gundam SEED was the leader of a resistance group fighting against the leader of her own country.
- Kamina in Gurren Lagann. Simon and Kittan also show signs of this, although Simon doesn't become the official leader until Team Dai-Gurren are done rebelling.
- The Revolutionary Dragon, in the One Piece universe.
- In the final story arc of 20th Century Boys Kanna becomes leader of the armed resistance against Friend.
- Magic: The Gathering's Mercadian Masques block had a creature type called, well, Rebel. Basically, it involves bringing creatures out from your library. Lin Sivvi, who rebelled against the Phyrexians on Rath, fits this trope, and was actually a bit of a Game Breaker back in the day. More recent Rebel leaders aren't quite so broken: Koth, Jor Kadeen, Melira, and Kemba had so game-breaking about them in the Scars of Mirrodin block.
- Princess and Senator Leia Organa. The Rebel Alliance has a number of leaders, from political leaders (Mon Mothma, Bail Organa) to military leaders (General Dodonna, Admiral Ackbar, and others), but there's no doubt, especially after Alderaan's destruction, who the symbolic flame of the Rebellion is.
- Leia's mother, Padme Amidala, probably counts as well, seeing as the deleted scenes from Revenge of the Sith have her forming the Rebellion with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma.
- To a point, Luke Skywalker—destroyer of the Death Star, founder of Rogue Squadron, not to mention last of the Jedi—qualifies as well.
- Later becomes Jedi master in the EU.
- There really is irony in the fact that the two people who become the driving force of the Rebellion/Republic are the children of the guy who put them in that position in the first place.
- Nigel "The Torch" in Top Secret!.
- Subverted because he is really The Mole.
- Mariana from The Rundown, who leads a group of rebels against the Corrupt Corporate Executive Hatcher and his forces.
- Kelsier from the first Mistborn book. He has the rugged good looks, defiant grin and questionable end-justifies-means morality, and is also something of a Dark Messiah and a self-styled Doomed Moral Victor.
- Given a twist with Quellion, a character from the third book who is in many ways a dark shadow of Kelsier, who shows that it's not always pretty when one of these guys actually succeeds in taking power. In his attempts to eradicate all traces of the old system, Quellion becomes just as tyrannical as the decadent nobility ever were. Of course, it didn't help that the Big Bad was prodding him in that direction.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix When Umbridge actively sabotages any chance of the students learning to defend themselves (not because she's working for the villains, but because the Ministry refuses to believe Voldemort's back), the title character and his friends start a secret defense group. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Neville, Ginny and Luna take up the role after the villains really take over the school, turning the group Harry started into a full-fledged resistance movement against the Carrows.
- Henri Tod in The Story of Henri Tod, part of the Blackford Oakes series.
- Florian in Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy seems to be genuinely concerned with what's best for the people, but is willing to be ruthless when necessary. His lieutenant, Justin, goes further into Well-Intentioned Extremist territory.
- Enjolras - the leader of the Friends of the ABC, the student revolutionaries from Les MisÚrables - is this, down to the possibly questionable choices he makes during the barricades.
- From Inheritance Cycle, there's Ajihad, the leader of the Varden. Also his daughter Nasuada after he is killed.
- Hereward (and Edric) in Marcus Pitcaithly's The Hereward Trilogy. (Obviously, both are drawn from history.)
- The Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green has some wonderfully reluctant rebel leaders — notably 1) the title character, a historian named Owen Deathstalker, who got dragged into leading a resistance by his dead father's plotting and the evil empress's overreaction, and 2) Jack Random, professional rebel, who's led so many valiant-but-failed resistance movements over the years that he's ready to quit and fade into the shadows. He's still got it, though.
- Hard To Be A God features Arata the Hunchback, a professional rebel leader. He was merely Arata when he led his first rebellion, but despite leaving bits and pieces of himself all over the empire, through many, MANY failed uprisings, he's still willing to shoot as many dogs as necessary to make Arkanar a slightly less Crapsack World.
- Babylon 5: Both Captain Sheridan and Mars Resistance leader Tessa Holloran.
- Blake from Blake's 7 is a Rebel Leader of the genuinely dedicated but morally hazy variety.
Mythology & Religion
- Zeus, against his father Cronus and the Titans.
- Satan, in Paradise Lost and other works.
- King David, although supposedly partly by accident.
- Gordon Freeman, Alyx Vance, Barney Calhoun, Eli Vance, Kleiner, Magnusson, and Mossman.
- The Heretic in Halo 2, who is killed by the Arbiter. The Arbiter later takes this role, ironically.
- Odessa Silverburg in Suikoden, until Tir (the hero) takes over. The protagonist in most, if not all, of the other Suikodens.
- Saskia the Dragonslayer leads the rebels in The Witcher 2.
- Sparda in the Devil May Cry series rebelled against the demon emperor by allying with the humans. In Devil May Cry 4, long after he is gone, he is worshipped as a God by the people of a city he supposedly ruled after said rebelling.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, Rinoa Heartilly leads the Forest Owls.
- Princess Ashe leads the resistance in Final Fantasy XII.
- Ciel from the Mega Man Zero series.
- Sal Limones in Grim Fandango.
- Lars Halford in Brutal Legend.
- Torn from the second Jak and Daxter game.
- Yuan from Tales Of Symphonia is one of the more cynical versions of this. He means well, but his methods are morally debatable.
- Freedom Fighters has Isabella as the moral leader but Chris Stone (aka, the Freedom Phantom, aka the player) doing the work.
- Odessa Pureheart from Mech Quest, the leader of the Soluna Defense Forces and part of Slugwrath's Elite Guard, who takes up arms against the Kingadent after Slugwrath, who is actually a Quisling for the Shadowscythe, had her ship sabotaged, causing it to malfunction.
- StarCraft: Mengsk originally when he lead the Sons of Korhal against the Confederacy, but later took over as The Emperor. Raynor later takes this role in Star Craft II.
- Pandra in Blaze Union is one of the nastiest varieties of the trope; he may have originally rebelled out of the people's interests, but has degenerated into being worse than most bandits. As he intends to thieve, pillage, and rape his way through the country, he has a tendency to get curbstomped by the heroes quite often.
- Abraham Reyes of Red Dead Redemption is a negative version of this, being an egotistical Glory Hound whose talents solely consists of using fancy words to rile up peasants. Of course, John doesn't care as long as Reyes can get him to Bill Williamson and Javier Escuela (which he does). In the epilogue, as Presidente he does not improve Mexico in any way and becomes just another dictator.
- White/Hawk in Alter A.I.L.A. definitely qualifies.
- 7.62 High Calibre has Tanya Tormens as the leader of the rebel group trying to overthrow the coup-established government of Algeira, and you can choose to support her efforts, put her down, or play her against the government until you're forced into choosing sides. Interestingly, she's the daughter of the dictator of Palinero, the neighboring country that was the location of the previous game in the series, who himself came to power in a military coup.
- Russian dissident Grigor Illyanich Stoyanovich and General Sergei Molotov from Empire Earth.
- The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim brings us Ulfric Stormcloak. Of course how evil his enemies are and how moral he is is up for debate. While the Thalmor are Obviously Evil and The Empire signed a peace treaty, they hardly did it by choice, the conflict Ulfric started weakened them further (and gave the Thalmor an excuse to ensure the ban on Talos worship, something Ulric complained about and was initially ignored, was being enforced) and the non-Nords (particularly the Dark Elf refuges and Argonians) of the city are freely abused with Fantastic Racism (especially those who don't want to take sides in the war). His treatment of the Forsworn also echoes his complaints about the Empire and it's implied the Thalmor have manipulated him into starting a civil war (while he was a POW, after being captured while serving in the Imperial army) to weaken Skyrim.
- Meanwhile, the Forsworn has their own in Madanach, the King in Rags, who wants to see the Reach and its people granted independence. However, it's quite a stretch to call him a good guy, seeing as he's fully willing to commit genocide on the Nords if he gets his way. The game also implies that his warriors are cannibalistic rapists who wear the skin and bones of their victims as their armour.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 has Ronaldo Kuriki, ironically representing the Law alignment.
- Anders in Dragon Age II wants mage Hawke to be this since s/he is a charismatic individual and one of the most influential people in the city. Hawke can work with him without quite assuming the "leader" bit, actively oppose him, or joke that they just want to watch with snacks. In the endgame, siding with the mages turns Hawke into a worldwide symbol of resistance against Templars.
- Daisy Fitzroy of Bioshock Infinite is the leader of the Vox Populi, who fight against the xenophobic Founders. However, whatever idealistic motive she had has since been worn down by the time of the game to simply blind hatred, to the point that she'll justify killing the children of her enemies as "pulling weeds from the roots".
- The Summoner and the Sufferer from Homestuck lead two major upheavals in Alternia and are also Tavros and Karkat's ancestors. The former is responsible for Alternia becoming a Teenage Wasteland while the latter is so infamous even mentioning the symbols of his rebellion in one's private journal is grounds for execution. Not that this stops Mindfang from talking about it.
- In The Order of the Stick, the paladin Thanh is 'nominated' to lead the resistance in Azure City.
- The position originally belonged to Haley, until she and Belkar had to leave in order to resurrect Roy.
- Older Than Feudalism: Spartacus is a classical historical example, as well as Boudicca and Hereward the Wake.
- In that context Assyrian history springs to mind, which mostly consisted of very brutal conquest and the invariable (and even more brutally quelled) rebellions afterwards. Marduk-apla-iddina II, known as Merodach-Baladan from The Bible was particularly tenacious.
- The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, especially Patrick Pearse and James Connolly.
- George Washington during the American Revolution.
- Latin American Libertadores, such as Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Bernardo O'Higgins, Francisco de Miranda and Antonio Jose de Sucre.
- Comrade Lenin during the Russian Revolution. Even if that didn't turn out so well...
- Henk Sneevliet and Paul de Groot during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands very nearly got the entire Communist Party of the Netherlands to rise up against the Nazis. Sneevliet was captured and executed, De Groot became a successful politician after the war.
- Che Guevara, though not a very good one in fact.
- He was a very good doctor though.
- Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Cesar Augusto Sandino and Farabundo Marti in Central America.
- Mao Zedong was this before he became a power-crazed dictator.
- Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the Libyan rebels.
- Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the French French Forces in World War II. They were considered as rebels by the government of Vichy.
- Many, many, many organizers of anarchist movements, especially Nestor Makhno and Errico Malatesta.
- Adolf Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch.
- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution.
- Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan. Against the Soviet invasion first, then against Mullah Omar's Taliban regime.
- Spartacus during the Third Servile War in Rome, Italy.