"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. His actions and ideas are so outrageous that he was christened as the "World's Most Wanted Criminal." His importance to the narrative wasn't made clear until Garp revealed to Luffy that his full name is Monkey D. Dragon, and that he is Luffy's father.
- 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.
- Star Wars
- 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.
- "Not the last of the old. The first of the new." ~the ghost of Obi-Wan. Luke 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.
- Malcolm Beech in Oblivion is the leader of the remaining free humans on Earth.
- 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.
- In The Shattered Kingdoms, two or three kinds of rebel leadership can be spotted. Daryan is heir to the Shadari kingship (a fact kept secret to the occupying Norlanders), but has a friendship and a romance which cross racial lines in a way that would be unacceptable to most Shadari if they knew, and doesn't really want the burdens of leadership anyway. Faroth, meanwhile, certainly intends to be in charge of the rebellion, but isn't particularly effectual, is obsessed with excluding other potential leaders, and is more like a gang boss than a hero. A third character, Harotha, has a significant role, but tends to manipulate and chivvy rather than lead (a fact which causes her problems when Daryan decides he doesn't want to be lead around by the nose any more). In the end, none of them are really the reason the rebellion succeeds, although they all had some impact on how it played out.
- Babylon 5: Both Captain Sheridan and Mars Resistance leader Tessa Holloran.
- Blake's 7: Blake is a Rebel Leader of the genuinely dedicated but morally hazy variety.
- Revolution: Commander Wayne Ramsey of the Resistance. He only appears in "The Stand", "Ghosts", and "Clue". He doesn't actually do all that much, and the episode "Clue" results in Jim Hudson killing him off. It is clear that the rebel leadership is sorely lacking in tactical and organizational competence and an extremely reluctant Miles Matheson has to step in and take leadership. Ironically, he is the one responsible for creating the situation that he is now rebelling against.
- The Revolution 2006: George Washington of the Continental Army.
Mythology & Religion
- Zeus, against his father Cronus and the Titans.
- Satan, in Paradise Lost and other works.
- King David, although supposedly partly by accident.
- 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.
- Alter A.I.L.A.: White/Hawk definitely qualifies.
- Bioshock Infinite: Daisy Fitzroy 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". However, the Burial at Sea DLC shows that she was faking the child-murdering part under the orders of the Luteces in order to goad Elizabeth into killing her, thereby strengthening her resolve and in truth was horrified by the idea of murdering children.
- Blaze Union: Pandra 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.
- Brutal Legend: Lars Halford.
- Devil May Cry: Sparda in this 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.
- Dragon Age II: Anders 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.
- 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 Ulfric 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.
- Empire Earth: Russian dissident Grigor Illyanich Stoyanovich and General Sergei Molotov.
- Final Fantasy VIII: Rinoa Heartilly leads the Forest Owls.
- Final Fantasy XII: Princess Ashe leads the resistance.
- Freedom Fighters: Has Isabella as the moral leader but Chris Stone (aka, the Freedom Phantom, aka the player) doing the work.
- Freelancer: Casper Orillion is the head of the Order, whose primary purpose is to oppose the Nomads in their plot to pit the four Houses against one another to weaken them.
- Grim Fandango: Sal Limones.
- Half-Life 2: Gordon Freeman, Alyx Vance, Barney Calhoun, Eli Vance, Kleiner, Magnusson, and Mossman.
- Halo 2: The Heretic, who is killed by the Arbiter. The Arbiter later takes this role, ironically.
- Jak and Daxter: Torn from the second game.
- MechQuest: Odessa Pureheart, 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.
- Mega Man Zero: Ciel from this series.
- Red Dead Redemption: Abraham Reyes 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.
- Re VOLUTION: The Resistance has one, and his name is Marcus.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Has Ronaldo Kuriki, ironically representing the Law alignment.
- StarCraft I: Arcturus 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 StarCraft II.
- Suikoden: Odessa Silverburg, until Tir (the hero) takes over. The protagonist in most, if not all, of the other Suikodens.
- Tachyon: The Fringe: Susan Bradley is the unofficial leader of the Bora in their fight against the corporate giant GalSpan. Far from being a merely a political voice, she personally leads an elite squadron of Space Fighters called Susan's Lance on some of the most daring strikes deep in "Spanner" space. Your Mission Control and Love Interest Anna Highfall (if you side with the Bora) is absolutely in awe of Susan.
- Tales of Symphonia: Yuan is one of the more cynical versions of this. He means well, but his methods are morally debatable.
- The Witcher 2: Saskia the Dragonslayer leads the rebels.
- 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.
- Cult Of Personality has a villainous example in the form of the oWn Medic. He formed oWn in an attempt to rebel against BLU, the company he used to work with and their rival, RED. He does so by assimilating mercenaries from both companies through propaganda or by defeating them in combat, proving his superiority. With a sizable enough army, he invaded numerous territories of RED and BLU, taking in defects from both companies.
- 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.
- According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Il-sung was an awesome guerrilla leader who single-handedly kicked the Japanese out of Korea. Actually, that was mainly done by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. In the West, it's generally believed that Kim was an actual anti-Japanese Korean guerrilla (of which there were many) whose importance in the war was wildly exaggerated by later propaganda. However, there's a somewhat fringe theory that Kim stole the identity of a dead guerrilla leader in order to boost his popularity.
- Gustav Vasa of Sweden started out as this. Daring escapes, peasant rallying and sufficient motivation. After kicking out the Danish occupiers he waged war with on the German merchants that paid for the rebellion to avoid having to pay his debts, broke with the Pope and beat down a dozen rebellions from the farmers that helped him take the crown.He used his 40 years on the throne to bring Sweden out of the middle ages.