Sacrifice. Leadership. The story of Hera is the story of the rebellion.
Child of wartime, an alien freedom fighter, a rebel hero before she rubbed shoulders with Leia Organa and Han Solo -- Hera Syndulla’s life story places her in a critical role in the growth of the rebellion. With her crew on the Ghost flying at the forefront of the rebellion's work as an organized force instead of smaller splinter groups, Hera had to transform from a pilot to a leader over the course of the Galactic Civil War. Her command of Phoenix Squadron demonstrated the rebels’ ability to team up, and by the time of the Battle of Scarif she was a general. In this way, Hera’s rebel path parallels the rise of leaders like Leia Organa and Mon Mothma and the growth of the rebellion as an organization.
Like Cassian Andor, Hera started out as a lone rebel operative. While she was especially skilled in the cockpit of the Ghost, she also investigated Imperial corruption and was competent with a blaster. Far from Mon Mothma and Bail Organa’s work recruiting senators to their cause in their high society world, Hera gathered a scrappy group of self-trained Jedi and one misanthropic droid.
Hera’s presence on both Hoth and Endor is a consistent narrative line through different stories of the Rebellion (capital R during this timeframe). As a way to organize stories and tie different parts of the franchise together, she becomes a character fans can latch on to. That’s good for fans who want to recognize their favorites, and also functions as a narrative touchpoint within the story. We see that the Rebellion is small, and that familiar faces are present at each base as the Empire pushes the Rebellion from one secret outpost to another.
At the time Ezra Bridger first joined the team, the rebellion needed to act underground. Hera hid her crewmates behind code names just as Ahsoka Tano did with the alias Fulcrum. As the member of her crew who knew rebel protocol the best, Hera was in charge of keeping them safe -- but sometimes sacrificed trust in order to do so.
Her reticence to share information caused conflict between Hera and Mandalorian prodigy Sabine Wren, leading to a crash course in dealing with difficult personnel issues. Because Sabine and Hera had a strong rapport, their relationship was tested but not broken at Fort Anaxes. Hera learned that she had to trust her crewmates to help her, but she also learned how to tactfully handle a team without giving out dangerous information. The level of trust between a commanding officer and their subordinates -- but also friends -- continues to play a role in the Resistance when Poe Dameron clashes with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.
Throughout the early rebellion, Hera clashed with Grand Admiral Thrawn. When she sneaks into her childhood home to retrieve an heirloom from the occupying Imperials, Thrawn identifies her family name and her motive very quickly. “War is in your blood,” Thrawn tells her, and he’s right: her father Cham Syndulla defended Ryloth’s freedom against the Separatists while also keeping a watchful eye on Ryloth’s senator in the Republic. Her childhood might have involved plenty of political rhetoric from Cham, teaching her the history of the Twi’lek people and the importance of their freedom.
Thrawn might also know something about occupation. As an alien Chiss, he understands being part of a species humans might not understand. While the Imperial Captain Slavin dismisses her heirloom as useless, Thrawn intuits what motivated Hera to get it, both on a personal level and because it could inspire the Twi’lek troops.
Like the rebellion as a whole, Hera also grapples with the role of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans in the fight. When Saw clashes with Mon Mothma, Hera puts on a brave face and supports Mon’s patient expansion of the rebellion. But in private, Hera expresses her fears that Mon Mothma isn’t doing enough. “I’m not even sure I know what the right thing is any more,” she says to Kanan. Mon Mothma also faces her own fears, worrying what might happen if the Empire snuffs out the beleaguered rebellion. Hera’s conversation with Kanan is not just one person to another -- it is a pilot talking to a Jedi, a strategist used to the heat of war and the distance between starships talking to a rough-edged mystic who has learned to be patient and crafty. Hera’s crisis of faith sums up the rebellion, as it is shortly before the battle of Scarif, brave and bold but unaware of the force the Empire is about to bring to bear against them.
By the time of the battle of Scarif, Hera would have seen the way the type of kyber crystal her crew once encountered on Lothal was used in the Death Star. After witnessing the explosion of just one kyber crystal, she might have experienced a pang of recognition and terror to know that an array of similar crystals was at the heart of a weapon now aimed at the Rebellion.
At the Battle of Hoth, starship activity was carefully restricted due to the Empire’s search for the secret rebel base. Unable to use her piloting skills in the sky there, Hera was still a pivotal part of the rebellion’s work. She helped Han Solo and Leia Organa find power generators that would let the rebels live on the inhospitable planet. Her work here shows she learned to trust the people -- and creatures -- around her, as she encouraged Leia to calm her tauntaun.
As Hera’s responsibilities change, we see how she has become more essential to the rebellion. Instead of the more romantic work of sourcing supplies and flying them in front across the galaxy, or setting up connections between rebel agents who may not even know one another’s real names, she’s at the center of the rebellion. She’s still flying the Ghost, but also shares ration bars with Han Solo when he needs them to placate the hungry Ewoks. She knows Leia Organa and Han Solo by both face and name, showing how much trust the rebellion has in her and how her early alliance with Leia carried forward.
From secrecy to openness, Hera has journeyed a long way. She remains a cornerstone for the rebellion’s pilots, a symbol of the skill and endurance that took her from Yavin IV to Endor. From a childhood where she grew up fast to her work as a mentor to Sabine and Ezra, she plots a course along the history of the rebellion.
See Hera's journey continue when Star Wars Rebels returns for its final episodes on Monday, February 19, on Disney XD.
Megan Crouse’s work has appeared in Den of Geek, FangirlBlog, and Star Wars Insider. She podcasts on Western Reaches and Blaster Canon and can be found on Twitter at @blogfullofwords.