Star Wars Rebels, which came to a close three years ago today, left a huge impact on the galaxy far, far away as we know it. Questions its finale raised back in 2018 are still being tackled by the Star Wars media that came after it, and its characters have become icons of the wider series at large. But there’s one character that still strongly evokes Rebels’ spirit above all.
Rebels fans have spent each year since “A Fool’s Hope,” “Family Reunion,” and “Farewell”—which saw Lothal saved and Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn disappeared to parts unknown—choosing to mark March 5 as “Rebels Remembered” day. It’s a chance to share memories of the show’s best moments, highlight fan experiences and creative endeavors, and in general reflect on what the show meant and still means to them. It’s a level of eulogy that’s not exactly maudlin but feels like it invokes something long absent. It’s a testament to Rebels, then, that just three years on, it grew out of the shadow of its successor series in Clone Wars to become its own, proud chapter in the Star Wars saga that we treat as an old, departed friend.
It also feels odd in part because the hooks Rebels left in our hearts still feel so raw and unexamined. Ezra and Thrawn’s disappearance has sparked countless speculation, as has “Farewell”’s parting epilogue—which saw a white-cloaked Ahsoka Tano recruit Sabine Wren to find their absent ally—in the years since. But now the shuddering boom of Thrawn’s name as Ahsoka appeared in The Mandalorian’s second season suggests Star Wars storytelling itself is just as inquisitive as we are, and the promise of more of Ahsoka’s story to come seems to hint that we’ll see Rebels’ young hero—although maybe not so young, at this point—again in the future.
Thrawn’s influence since has been more retroactive, as his Rebels resurgence has allowed creator Timothy Zahn a most triumphant return to Star Wars literature to retell the backstory of the Grand Admiral’s rise through Imperial ranks, and before that in his latest trilogy, his time as a commander in the shadowy fleets of the Chiss Ascendancy. But while their mystery might be the question on the tongues of many fans as they mark Rebels’ final anniversary, it’s not Rebels’ primary young hero or its grandest villain that is keeping the spirit of the show alive the most in the Star Wars of today. Instead, it’s perhaps aptly the figure who embodied the show’s spirit of Rebellion most above all: Hera Syndulla.
We’ve written in the past about just what a remarkable character Hera was on Rebels, first as the gutsy captain of her adorable found family on the Ghost, and then increasingly stepping up as a burgeoning leader as myriad cells of resistance sparked into the Rebel Alliance. But it’s been just as remarkable to watch her trajectory after Rebels has progressed, and see what it really means for her to have become part of Star Wars as a whole.
There were obvious hooks, like Hera, now General Syndulla, appearing in the female-character-focused Forces of Destiny, or an auditory cameo in Rogue One marshaling her and the Ghost into action. But it’s likewise been fascinating to see her role grow as the Alliance became the New Republic, appearing as conflicted but still somehow hopeful (and seemingly perpetually exhausted) in the pages of Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron trilogy, or the reaction to her appearance to help save the day in the story campaign of Star Wars Squadrons.
It almost feels weird that it’s been Hera to carry Rebels’ mantle as the connective tissue in Star Wars’ still-burgeoning exploration of the New Republic’s rise between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and yet, it makes the most sense. Ezra and Kanan’s bond may have been the heart of Rebels, its most enamored focus, but it was Hera who truly believed in the good of the Rebellion, the rallying figure of the Ghost crew—the one whose shoulders they all leaned on in moments of crisis. Hera may not have been spiritual in the sense of the Force’s mysticism, a topic that Rebels was fascinated with, but she was the spirit of the Rebel Alliance in ways unlike any other character on the show.
When we see the Ghost soar into view as Lando and the rest of his gathered citizen’s flotilla jumps into the battle above Exegol in The Rise of Skywalker, we never get to see if it’s Hera behind the controls of her beloved ship, or even if it’s perhaps her son Jacen. If Jacen, it could be that Hera’s rebel spirt, like her father Cham before her, carried her across the stars to the galaxy’s most fateful battle. But given the moment—this gathered energy of hope, a light in the darkest hour of the Resistance’s battle that there is more of those who believe in good and justice than there are those who dominate with fear and cruelty—I like to think it’s her.
After all, there are few rebels who could lead that charge quite the way that Hera could.
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