This review contains spoilers.
Finally, Hera’s backstory. Although other episodes have teased it, this episode does a pretty good job of answering the biggest questions about the extraordinary pilot – and it does it by letting the story run its course.
Homecoming gets down to business quickly, showing the death of yet another member of Hera’s squadron in order to provide sufficient motivation for the Rebels. Sato thinks a larger ship will mean more safety, so he sends Hera to capture one from the Empire. That ship happens to have parked above her homeworld, and the best way to fight it is to get in touch with her father. Cham Syndulla will be familiar to fans of The Clone Wars as the resistance leader who pushed back against the Separatists. He’s still fighting now, but he and Hera are on tense terms even though they’re technically on the same side. He wants to destroy the Imperial ship as a sign of Twi’lek victory, but Hera needs it – and neither one is backing down.
It might be a stretch to say this episode is nuanced, but it’s certainly layered. Not every episode of Star Wars: Rebels ties characters’ personal motives into the main plot as well as Homecoming. First, we find out that Hera’s separation from her father stemmed both from her own choices and her mother’s death. (The off-screen death of the mother is dangerously cliched, but it affects Hera as much as it affects Cham, so at least it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.) Cham’s political beliefs keep him on Ryloth, which is understandable – he’s been fighting there since the Clone Wars, and has invested too much in the planet to throw that all away. Likewise, his disagreement with Hera comes from a different place, maybe one more familiar for children who aren’t at war: Cham sees Hera as unable to take care of herself.
I was glad that the show had her throw those emotions back at him. We see the damage Cham’s lack of faith has done to her – she closes up as soon as she has to talk to him, her expression and her voice becoming quiet and emotionless. (She also gains an accent, which is great – more on that in a moment.) Although she’s clearly an adult, to Cham Hera is a child coming home from an absence. It’s a more dramatic version of the same thing that happens when a person comes home from college. Their parents still relate to them as children, and the student is also liable to revert to their old ways of reacting to their parents. Because Hera’s attitude changes so completely, we can see how leaving Ryloth affected her.
As for Cham, the show never quite makes him a villain. He could have been – Star Wars is black and white enough that his confrontation with his daughter could have lead to a permanent, or at least nearly permanent, enmity in order to further the plot.
Likewise he could have been something in between, a begrudging ally. As I mentioned before, whether Hera and Cham’s relationship ended in an uncertain state might make all the difference between nuance and layers.
Cham’s fellow resistance fighters, Numa and Gobi, don’t have much characterization of their own. That is Numa from The Clone Wars, though, and the markings on her armour match those of the clone troopers. There’s more story in her costume and her very existence in the episode than in any of her dialogue.
Meanwhile, Kanan’s desire to make nice with Cham is a good excuse for him to make solid points about how similar Hera and Cham really are. His behaviour does feel a bit like a punchline without a joke – unless I’m reading the scene completely wrong, he acts like a man nervous to meet his girlfriend’s father, even though Kanan and Hera have never been definitively shown to be romantically involved. But we’ve also seen that Kanan respects other freedom fighters as long as they don’t cross the thin line into becoming soldiers, so his rapport with the older Twi’lek makes sense. They also bond over their recollections of Mace Windu, in a sweet and nicely timed conversation.
That conversation does in miniature what the rest of the episode also does well: it lets its story lead. Unlike the purgills’ attack on the refinery in The Call, the finale this week felt natural. The resolution of the Syndullas’ story isn’t actually the end of the episode, and the ensuing fight has its own interesting moments. I was surprised to find that I still didn’t quite trust Cham near the end. That means that his motivations were strong enough that they seemed like a truly integral part of his character, and that went a long way toward making him work.
Likewise, Hera’s connection to her family and her world is illustrated nicely. Her accent returns when she talks to her father, and fades when she feels – or intentionally wants to express – distance from him. The fact that it’s clearly a French accent is a bit silly, but it’s used well. Additionally, both Twi’leks have solid arguments about what fight they should be concentrating on: all of Cham’s experiences have taught him that Ryloth needs to continue its scrappy, flashy resistance. The viewers who have seen The Clone Wars have seen him fight first hand. But Hera is also right when she argues that Cham could be making a bigger difference if he helped the Rebellion. Hera clearly still cares about her people – she never accuses Cham of being short-sighted or wasting his time. Instead, he says those things to her, instantly linking their personal and political struggles.
One thing we don’t get in this episode is a clear-cut answer as to why Hera was so secretive in the first half of season one. Her estrangement from her family is a passable reason if you read between the lines, though, and just the way her voice changes in this episode shows that she has gotten used to putting on a false face for her father. It doesn’t take a lot to presume that she did the same with her crew.
This episode succeeds partially because it trusts its viewers to read between the lines. It also trusts its own story to play out: the Empire serves as a catalyst for the finale, enabling an ending in which every faction – the Imperials, the Rebels, and the freedom fighters – have their own clearly defined motivations. Even Chopper gets a moment to stand out and become something a bit more … wholesome than he was before. That may sound simple, but it’s done with an assurance that makes this episode stand out.
Hera and Cham’s reunion could have ended with more uncertainty than it did, and we’ll have to wait and see where Hera’s story goes next. More attention could have been given to the question of whether Cham was right – does fighting many small fights equal fighting one big one? It might not be possible to quantify effort (and lives) like that, though, even in Star Wars. Instead, both Hera and Cham get their say in this nicely balanced episode. The barely-characterized Twi’lek freedom fighters were one weak point in an episode that moved along nicely, trusting its own story to bring out the most important aspects of its characters.
Read Megan’s review of the previous episode, The Call, here.