This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 2, Episode 6
At long last, Hera flies into the spotlight in an exciting episode of Star Wars Rebels. The Twi’lek pilot has taken a back seat this season despite occupying the literal front seat of the show, and “Wings of the Master” changes that, plus giving us a tantalizingly small glimpse at her backstory.
It seemed inevitable to me that any episode focused on Hera had to address one of her defining traits: her secrecy. When Sabine accompanied Hera to Fort Anaxes in season one, Hera’s unwillingness to share information frustrated Sabine. “Wings of the Master” doesn’t quite do that, but the trait it does focus on — an ordered, calm determination — helps make the episode one of the most breathtaking this season.
The episode both begins and ends with Phoenix Squadron, the Rebel fighter pilots attached to Commander Sato. They attempt to get through an Imperial blockade in order to deliver supplies to starving colonists, but, as usual, Kallus is in the way. With the Imperials holding the planet, Hera goes to visit one of Rex’s contacts, an engineer who designed a new type of starship.
That engineer, a grandfatherly Mon Calamari named after the artist Ralph McQuarrie, has been waiting for the perfect pilot to test out his new design — and that person is Hera.
Although it does show off her skills as she pilots both the Phantom and the new ship through a deadly atmosphere, the episode doesn’t build its conflict around Quarrie’s almost mystical vision of a pilot for the B-Wing. Instead, the conflict remains with the Ghost, and Hera gets some beautiful scenes of joyful flying. Those scenes, plus the red B-Wing itself with its racing stripes, imbue this episode with George Lucas’ love of fast cars. That’s the same love that created the pod racing and speeder bike scenes in the movies, and it’s all over this episode.
As Hera, Vanessa Marshall maintains a sense of distant calm, while injecting intensity into lines like “Turn me loose.” Both the voice acting and some of the fight choreography in this episode seem more restrained that they could have been — Hera shouts more in the first battle than in the second — but it doesn’t distract from the episode. (Some repeated voices and repeated character models among the Imperials, however, do.)
Hera’s best moments have her at the helm of the B-Wing, but another good one comes when Quarrie asks her why she flies. Although it’s her skill that gets her keys to the B-Wing, it’s this conversation that puts her in the pilot seat in the first place, and she has the right balance of distance and intensity to show that she’s casting back into her memories.
Unfortunately, those memories offer us little more solid information than we had before. The image of a young Hera looking up at starships fighting overhead while her family hides in wartime is a sympathetic one, and her description of her own confidence thriving even in the harshest battle does explain some of why she chose to be a pilot. There isn’t anything revelatory here, though, and I’m torn on whether there needs to be. We know that Hera was the daughter of the revolutionary Cham Syndulla and fought the Imperials in the early days of the Empire, so more might just have been confirmation of what we already knew. That confirmation could give more depth to a character still defined in part by secrecy, though.
One thing has definitely changed between season one and season two: Hera and Sabine trust each other. They say as much when Sabine takes the gunner’s seat in the B-Wing, and it’s great to see these two working together again. Although Sabine doesn’t know any more about Hera’s backstory than she did before, she does know that Hera trusted her to improve the B-Wing’s weapons. Flying a ship they both had a hand in operating is as effective as a confession when it comes to building trust.
On the other hand, the Hera-Kanan relationship took an odd tone in this episode. While their maybe-romantic partnership gave weight and color to their conversations earlier this season, Kanan is unusually brusque in this episode. He volunteers Hera for the mission to find the B-Wing, and while he assumes that she would volunteer herself — and ends up basically being right — her lack of input seems out of place in an episode otherwise devoted to her. Likewise, a dramatic moment in which Hera expresses her concern about her own safety is followed by more brusque words from Kanan, and comedy in one of Ezra’s few scenes.
After acknowledging how much the show has focused on Kanan and Ezra, it seems odd to say that Kanan is the one whose characterization is uneven here. His anger could be explained by desperation, but that doesn’t quite cover what could have been a touching moment between him and Hera. Kanan makes an interesting decision between running the blockade again and waiting for Hera, and for perhaps the first time we see him driven mostly by fear – and he nearly tells Ezra as much. Maybe, like Ezra, Kanan was more freaked out by the Inquisitors than he first appeared.
Their story is just the secondary part that adds drama to Hera’s, though. The B-Wing’s explosive fight against the Imperials brings some more fun action scenes, although they’re still without the excitement and intensity of the best of the show’s melee fights. The distance between the ships is one factor, but the cutting and direction could also have made these scenes even more breathless.
At the end of the episode, the status quo has changed yet again. It remains to be seen how Phoenix Squad will be handled going forward. With both Rex and Quarrie added to the Rebels’ arsenal, the show is doing a good job of showing how the Rebellion as a whole, the part of it that’s even bigger than Fulcrum and Phoenix Squadron, is slowly gathering enough personnel to post a bigger threat to the Empire. Unlike last week, we also get to see the faces of the people the Rebels help, albeit briefly. “Wings of the Master” definitely established Hera as a master pilot without making her uncharacteristically forthcoming.