Star Wars Rebels’s second season will be coming soon, but not soon enough. I’m still blown away by how great the story is—I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it all that much considering that Ahsoka, my favorite character ever, is hardly in it, and Asajj has yet to make an appearance either. Rebels gives us an entirely unique cast, and I wasn’t sure how much I would love them since I’m so invested in other characters. I needn’t have worried, because Rebels does such a wonderful job: the story is interesting, and its main characters are all well written.
One of these characters is Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek ship pilot with connections to the rebel movement against the Empire. Hera is the first Twi’lek character in either the movies or the televisions shows to have a huge role. We’ve seen other Twi’leks, such as Aayla Secura, in supporting roles, but Hera is a main character. I was both pleasantly surprised and super excited for Rebels when I first saw Hera, because Twi’leks have been a longtime favorite species of mine, and that love has only grown in recent years. Hera has solidified that love.
When we are first introduced to Hera, we discover that she’s both the leader of a rebel cell and the pilot of the ship Ghost. Under her leadership are the Jedi Kanan, the Mandalorian Sabine, a Lasat called Zeb, and eventually a young Force-sensitive boy named Ezra. We don’t know much about Hera’s history right now, though we did meet her father back during The Clone Wars when our main characters took a trip to Ryloth, the Twi’lek home planet. From what we’ve seen of Ryloth, the Twi’leks live in small huts, don’t have modern conveniences, and seem to lack access to decent education. So it’s entirely possible that Hera grew up in poverty.
What we do know about her is that she has strong leadership capabilities and is an amazing pilot. Not only did she build up the rebel cell that works for her, she is quite possibly the only person who is capable of keeping her ragtag team in line—the group literally wouldn’t be able to function without her, and at any given time, she’s seems to be the only one who knows how to get things done. Hera also has a motherly relationship with most of the members on her crew—she and Kanan often call Zeb, Sabine, and Ezra children, and she’s the person they go to when they have a problem.
I love everything about Hera. I love her personality, I love her relationships, and I love her role in the story. I also really do like that Hera is the one in charge and not Kanan. In The Clone Wars, leadership positions on the front lines were always given to the Jedi, even though the Jedi were probably not the best candidates to run a war by acting as generals. The Jedi were “keepers of the peace”, and they lacked experience in wartime. Many of them knew how to fight, but not how to lead. Mace Windu and Qui-Gon both said at one point that the Jedi are not soldiers and cannot run wars. Despite that, the Jedi were still put in charge of the Clone Wars. And though some of them knew what they were doing, others clearly did not.
That is not the case in Rebels. Despite a Jedi being on the crew, Hera’s the one in charge. Kanan might technically have dual leadership with Hera over the crew, but when it comes down to it, Hera is still the one who leads. She’s also the one who contacts the rebels and plans missions for the crew. Kanan often only acts under Hera’s discretion. He doesn’t have the same leadership capabilities as she does, which the show actively addresses in his relationship to Ezra. Kanan can hardly train Ezra properly, let alone run a cell. Hera’s character goes to show us that someone without magical telekinetic abilities can be just as competent and badass.
One thing that I really wanted Rebels to address with Hera’s character is the Twi’lek slavery issue, which is does. At one point, our characters meet Lando and decide to help him make a deal with another criminal, Azmorigan. Once arriving on Azmorigan’s ship, Lando cryptically tells Hera that if something goes wrong, she should use an escape pod to get off the ship. He also tells her and Kanan to play along with whatever he says, before trading Hera to Azmorigan for some cargo. He didn’t warn Hera or Kanan about what he was going to do; he just did it, and it was creepy as hell.
This scene also goes to show how oppression against the Twi’leks is still alive in the galaxy. No one on Azmorigan’s crew even questions whether or not Hera could be traded, and though she clearly is not a slave—by either her demeanor and clothing—Azmorigan doesn’t notice. Hera eventually plays along, and her new master doesn’t think to question her complete change of attitude, from the cocky pilot to the submissive slave, which happens right in front of him. Hera thankfully makes her escape, helped by Azmorigan’s and his crew’s complete underestimation of her, and then she punches Lando for being a fucking douchebag.
This isn’t the first time the animated series have touched on slavery. The Clone Wars had a slavery arc when Aksoka’s people, the Togruta, were kidnapped. Those episodes had a lot of things going on—Ahsoka’s feelings for her people, Anakin remembering his own childhood—and we even see some Twi’leks there as well. One of the Twi’lek slave girls, who was probably a sex slave, commits suicide by jumping off a balcony in order to escape. Her owner is hardly fazed at all by her death.
I think both The Clone Wars and Rebels do a really good job when talking about this issue and showing just what oppression does to people, and how it continues to affect people who aren’t slaves. Unfortunately, I also think it’s a problem that we still have to use a nonexistent alien species to talk about issues real minority groups have faced. As much as I like how Rebels has handled Hera’s character, alien species do not make for the best representation. It also doesn’t help that Hera is voiced by a white actress.
Despite those complaints, Rebels does a really good job with what it does have, and I look forward to the show further addressing the social oppression Hera has to deal with for being a female Twi’lek. I also look forward to seeing how her relationship with Ahsoka and her crew progresses and what challenges they’ll face in the future, since the first season concluded with Darth Vader’s introduction. Season 1 was all kinds of amazing—hopefully Season 2 will do just as well.