This review contains spoilers.
3.5 Hera’s Heroes
Last week, I said that the Sabine-centric episode of Star Wars Rebels didn’t do enough with the young Mandalorian’s background. This week’s Hera’s Heroes shows exactly what last week’s episode could have done, tying a suspenseful story inextricably to Hera’s family history. It did so in a lot of ways, most spoken out loud by the end of the episode, but some left to the audience to consider. This exposition, smoother than usual, and dialogue that shows how solidly characterised the Ghost crew has become makes this another episode that shows that season three might be the best of the series.
In Hera’s Heroes, Hera’s father Cham is under attack. Rescuing him leads Hera and Ezra on a mission to recover a family heirloom and do some damage to the Empire. Cham was a well-to-do politician in the Old Republic, so his house is a mansion now used as an Imperial control center. Hera grew up during the Clone Wars, though, not in luxury, and Grand Admiral Thrawn uses that to his advantage in his longest scene yet.
We get to see Thrawn both as an interrogator and as a dignified Imperial strategist, and part of what is frightening about him might be how little difference there is between those two modes. His voice is sibilant, and now that I’m more used to it and he speaks more freely, it isn’t as jarring to hear Lars Mikkelsen’s voice coming out of the blue face.
Appropriately enough for an actor who played a villain in BBC’s Sherlock, Mikkelsen’s Thrawn has a Holmes-like ability to read Hera. I would have liked for him to use more of the art when he did it – most of the information he uses could be a matter of public record about the Clone Wars, and we don’t get to see what meanings the interesting doodads on the family totem actually have.
Thrawn is not so much holding his anger in check as constantly fizzling with it, which we see in his interactions with the less cerebral Imperial Captain Slavin. Keeping Thrawn a mystery for several episodes – indeed, he still is to a large degree – makes him more frightening and more intriguing too. For all that I think Rebels relies too much on established characters, he has fit right in to the themes swirling around the Ghost crew, and I look forward to more.
For Hera, the strongest theme in this episode is about how to keep family history alive in war time. “War is in your blood,” Thrawn says, and he isn’t wrong. She uses the abilities she has gained from growing up during the Clone Wars throughout the episode, and while she spends a lot of time captured, she’s never helpless. We also get to find out a little more about her connection to Chopper. The episode builds very well on previous episodes, making me more attached to both Cham and Hera than before. At the same time, Hera’s characterization is still consistent in that she hesitates to take on a personal mission or even to admit that it was important, a defense mechanism that can be connected directly to her secrecy in the first season.
She doesn’t beat herself up over taking the mission, though, and that’s another way in which this episode captures Hera’s personality nicely. Even if she’s going against her instincts, she has an endless supply of love for her new Rebel family too. Some of the moral lessons in the episode were wrapped up a little too neatly, but that’s par for the course, and didn’t take away from any of the interesting hints at deeper conversations going on about Hera’s themes of trauma and loss. Even Chopper becomes more sympathetic in this episode.
Writer Nicole Dubuc made her debut in Rebels with Hera’s Heroes. She has done a lot of work on the Transformers franchise, and I’d love to see her take on Star Wars again at some point.
The b-plot could have felt intrusive, like last week’s did. This was such a personal story for Hera that at first I thought it didn’t need to return to the other characters, even if their adventure also put them in the Imperials’ way. However, the rest of the crew never felt extraneous. Cham Syndulla’s perspective allows the Rebels to see how much the Twi’leks’ home planet has changed: several times he notes that certain areas are cut off or that he knows the area well, only to have the Imperials show up where he didn’t expect them. The planet begins to feel infested with Imperials, and with no where to go, the tension rises for our Rebels.
Ezra and Zeb are back in full season one mode, acting very brotherly; Zeb asking whether Ezra has a scout trooper helmet was darkly funny and made me think of Ezra as a Star Wars action figure collector just like any fan. It’s good to see Ezra used in a quieter role here, one which includes him but doesn’t let his story overwhelm Hera’s.
The episode is paced well, spanning two days and allowing plenty of time for conversations that feel longer than the few lines allotted to them. Especially Thrawn obviously has more going on than he lets on, but the dialogue is efficient with the way it conveys Hera and Thrawn as two intelligent, secretive people working on a battlefield they know very well. Episodes like this make me think that season three might be the episodic season I’ve wanted the show to do all along, deepening the characters while giving new looks at how the Empire operates.