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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 and free-spirited 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 herself.
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.
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. To that point, Lacus counts as an Expy of Leia Organa above.
- The Revolutionary Dragon aka Luffy's father, in the One Piece universe.
- In the final story arc of 20th Century Boys Kanna becomes leader of the armed resistance against Friend.
- 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.
- 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 Sally in the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics.
- John Freeman, Gordon Freeman's Brother and saver of humans.
- In Winter War, with the war lost, Seireitei occupied, and Yamamoto dead, this role falls to Captain Ukitake.
- 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 hard 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 in 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 there's any danger), he and his friends start teaching the other students how to defend themselves. In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Neville, Ginny and Luna take 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 Misérables - is this, down to the possibly questionable choices he makes during the barricades.
- From The Inheritance Cycle, there's Ajihad, the leader of the Varden. Also his daughter Nasuada after he is killed.
- Blake from Blakes Seven is a Rebel Leader of the genuinely dedicated but morally hazy variety.
- Babylon 5: Both Captain Sheridan and Mars Resistance leader Tessa Holloran.
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.
- 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 Mechquest, 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 StarCraft 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 AILA 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.
- 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.
- Tekken 6 has two people in this role: Lars Alexandersson and Baek Doo San. Both of them fight separately against the same enemy: the Mishima Zaibatsu, led by the (seemingly) Face Heel Turn-ed Jin Kazama.
- In 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.
- 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.
- Jet from Avatar: The Last Airbender seems to fit the typical rebel hero, right down to causing a love triangle, until the kids learn how far he's willing to go.
- In The Legend of Korra we have the Big Bad, Amon, who is leading an anti-bending movement.
- Caleb from WITCH. When he's 15.
- Lard Nar on Invader Zim, though he and the rest of the Resisty only appeared in one episode before the show got canceled.
- T.J. Detweiler from Recess for the rest of the students.
- 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.
- Mao Zedong was this before he became a power-crazed dictator.
- Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Cesar Augusto Sandino and Farabundo Marti in Central America. However, not unlike Mao some of them became what they hated in one way or another.
- Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of the Libyan rebels.
- Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the French rebels in World War II.
- Many, many, many organizers of anarchist movements, especially Nestor Makhno and Errico Malatesta.
- Adolf Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch.