To mark National Aviation Day, StarWars.com salutes the captain of the Ghost.
Hera Syndulla stands beside Princess Leia Organa as one of the pillars of strength, both martial and moral, in the Rebellion. She’s a woman of many talents -- a master of flight, strategy, and bringing other people together in teams bonded by true care and affection so that they can do their best. But she’s mostly found behind the controls of a starship, her eyes to the stars. Those eyes have seen the saga of the Rebellion from some of its earliest days to the rise of the New Republic.
In celebration of National Aviation Day, let’s take a look at some career highlights of one of the galaxy's greatest pilots, both in and out of the cockpit.
1. Learning to fly.
Hera comes from a line of freedom fighters. As a child during the transitionary period of the Empire, she saw her parents imprisoned by Imperials. Luckily, she had some help in trying to save them -- Omega, the youngest member of the Bad Batch clone squad. Their job was to distract Imperial troopers, but they ended up doing a lot more along the way. Hera’s first flight -- in a stolen Imperial Rho-class transport shuttle no less -- is a bit rocky. But with Omega’s encouragement and Hera’s passion and knowledge, they take out the base’s cannons. Adventures like this prove to be as scary as they are exciting.
One of Hera’s earliest appearances, in the novel Star Wars: A New Dawn, shows her firm belief that people are more powerful when they’re together. In the course of trying to free the people of the moon Cynda, she meets her future partner Kanan Jarrus. He tends to be as cynical about others’ motives as his own, but as the two investigate the cruelty of the Empire they find it’s better to work together. Hera’s piloting skills are tested when she rescues Kanan (and herself) from an explosion in a life pod, showing her ability to fly anything with grace and skill -- and giving her the last word in the Cynda conflict.
3. Passing on what she has learned.
The Spectres, Hera’s crew aboard the starship Ghost, are a found family in more ways than one. While Hera eventually has a child of her own with Kanan, she also serves as a mentor to Ezra, Sabine, and Zeb in Star Wars Rebels. The episode “Out of Darkness” in particular shows her skill at imparting difficult lessons with kindness and calm. She illustrates that teamwork in the Rebellion requires some secrecy -- after all, they’re at war. Her practicality and familial love both shine through as she teaches Sabine the ropes.
4. B-wing test drive.
What makes a good pilot? Many of the starship stunts we see in Star Wars come from Force users. But without supernatural abilities, Hera has dodged Imperials hundreds of times, and excels at finding new technology to give her side a leg up. In “Wings of the Master,” she flies the prototype B-wing to prove it’s the best ship to break an Imperial blockade -- and that she’s the best pilot to fly it. After the engines cut out just as she’s taking off, Hera brings the prototype out of a free fall and tests it like a true professional. After all, Hera knows her ships.
5. Facing Grand Admiral Thrawn.
While Hera is great at fostering relationships between others, her connection with her own father is at times difficult. An aging freedom fighter, Cham Syndulla believes his daughter should have spent time fighting for her homeworld instead of for the rest of the galaxy. Hera’s loyalties are tested when Grand Admiral Thrawn invades her home. This isn’t a victory for her; she loses her most important family heirloom and only escapes because Thrawn allows the rebels to go. However, it’s still a great moment because it shows how Hera reacts when forced to make a difficult choice.
6. Establishing Chopper Base.
The establishment of a rebel base on the planet Atollon is a good example of Hera’s influence inspiring everyone around her to become the best versions of themselves. From Chopper Base, Hera coordinates a strike on Lothal to free the planet from the Empire. Even when she’s on the back foot as Thrawn attacks the base, she has a plan and carries it out calmly.
7. A friend to Ewoks.
During the Battle of Endor, Hera could be seen alongside other heroes of the Rebellion making supply runs. Like the Millennium Falcon, the Ghost was a modified freighter with more power under the plates than it looked like it had from the outside. Even with an unlikely crew of Ewoks at the guns, Hera lines up the shots and they take down pursuing TIE fighters for another victory. The rebels show time and time again that you don’t have to have the most high-tech weapons in the war to make a difference.
8. Safeguarding Project Starhawk.
Hera rose through the ranks in the New Republic military after the Rebellion became an official government. As the commander of the rebels in the video game Star Wars: Squadrons, she coordinated numerous victories. One major turning point was protecting the prototype Starhawk ships, a New Republic answer to Imperial Star Destroyers. Not long afterward, Starhawks developed from the plans of the prototypes would be used to great effect in the Battle of Jakku, the victory that secured the New Republic’s win against what remained of the Empire.
9. Team-building master.
Faced with the squabbling Alphabet Squadron, Hera thought they needed some time to get to know each other and become closer. And since her Ghost crew had been unified in part by Kanan and Ezra’s Jedi training, she chose an abandoned but peaceful temple as their team-building activity. Throughout the Alphabet Squadron series, Hera displays remarkable emotional intelligence and compassion, seeing the good in even former Imperials and gently guiding the conflicted squadron.
10. Piloting...a Star Destroyer?!
By the time of the Battle of Jakku, Hera was commanding a captured Star Destroyer. Those are supposed to be tended by a crew of thousands, but by the end of the conflict, everyone else has fled the wounded ship. Hera’s peerless resolve and sense of duty means she stays behind until everyone else finds some semblance of safety. It’s this kind of move that means her people know she’s a leader to count on. Then, she points the Star Destroyer at an enemy ship and makes her escape. It’s another narrow victory, but an important one -- as is the tradition of the Rebellion she saw grow. And after all, as Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron: Victory’s Price puts it, “Hera had always enjoyed a challenge.”