Welcome back to The Women of Star Wars. Now that we’ve discussed the character of Ahsoka Tano, an all-around badass and leading lady of The Clone Wars, I’d like to take a look at the female characters of Star Wars Rebels. While Rebels isn’t quite the masterpiece that Dave Fioni and co. achieved with The Clone Wars, it introduced some great characters and concepts. Rebels had a different goal than its predecessor to begin with, anyway. The Clone Wars filled in the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, as well as expanding paper-thin side characters (as well as main characters, to be honest). On the other hand, Rebels exists to introduce and develop its own original characters and show the transition from small, ragtag rebel cells into a larger, connected rebellion.
For most of season one, the characters in Rebels seem pretty basic and go on lots of light, filler-y adventures. However, beginning in season two, the story becomes very character-focused, with several episodes each season dedicated to particular characters. Each of the main six characters in Star Wars Rebels could warrant their own think pieces, but as this is The Women of Star Wars, we’ll be focusing on Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) and Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), as well as some of the background players across the series. The next installment will focus on the women of Mandalore, so I’m sad to say that, for now, I’ll be talking about characters like Bo-Katan Kryze and Ursa Wren as little as possible.
Of course, Ezra is introduced to the entire Ghost crew in season 1, episodes 1 and 2, “Spark of Rebellion” parts 1 and 2. Hera is very much a mother figure amongst her team, and it’s primarily her idea to offer the boy a place among them. Ezra’s first impression of mysterious Mandalorian Sabine Wren is one of attraction and intrigue, although she doesn’t feel the same way, and they grow to have more of a sibling relationship. Dave Filoni remarks in various bonus features and interviews that Sabine is supposed to be as much of a main character as Ezra. I think this becomes more evident as the series progresses, as several of those character-centric episodes I mentioned go to Sabine in particular. Although Sabine’s mother Ursa is alive, for much of the series, she feels abandoned by her entire family, including her. As such, Sabine naturally views the Ghost crew very much as her new, chosen family. For the most part, unlike Ezra, Sabine has no trouble following Hera’s orders and gets on quite well with her surrogate mother. However, in season 1, episode 7, “Out of Darkness,” Sabine expresses frustration at not knowing who Fulcrum is. Hera frequently confers with the voice-distorted, shrouded figure over hologram throughout season 1. The mysterious nature of Fulcrum represents the secretiveness of the Rebellion as a whole, something that troubles the young woman who wants more trust and honesty. Although it makes perfect sense, this is somewhat ironic given Sabine’s own enigmatic nature. Hera responds in the best way possible: with empathy. She can’t give Sabine this information, as it would compromise Ahsoka’s anonymity, Sabine’s safety, and the Rebellion as a whole. But she can level with Sabine about the gravity of the situation, show understanding to her feelings, and offer guidance. Of course, this issue is laid to rest when everyone meets Ahsoka and learns her identity in the season finale, “Fire Across the Galaxy.” Throughout season 1, Sabine establishes the duality to her personality in subtle ways. As a Mandalorian, she is a warrior at heart and wields dual blasters. She has a more violent response to the evils of the Empire compared to Hera’s militaristic disposition. Sabine paints a Rebel insignia at all of their mission sites before she leaves, displaying her artistic interest and skill, as well as a bold confidence. Her appearance is also different in every season, and sometimes more than once in one season. She changes her hair color as well as her armor, and it’s an interesting way to show the development of her emotions and personality.
Hera is the Ghost’s pilot, strategist, and often the voice of reason. She frequently advises against direct violence, always seeking ways to make peace and help suffering people. Kanan possesses the wisdom of the Jedi, but Hera is very much the heart and soul of the team. Season 2, episode 7, “Wings of the Master,” is the first episode to focus specifically on Hera. The Spectres (the codename for the Ghost crew) are sent by the Rebellion proper to obtain a ship capable of breaking an Imperial blockade. They meet a Mon Calamari named Quarrie, who has just such a ship but insists he’s saving it for just the right pilot. As he and Hera talk, her passion and backstory begin to win him over. Hera was only a child during the Clone Wars, but was inspired by the way her father fought for the Twi’Lek people. She left Ryloth to learn flying and ultimately became a champion for all people subjugated by the Empire. In season 2, episode 13, “The Protector of Concord Dawn,” Hera takes Sabine and others on a mission to recruit the Protector himself, Fenn Rau. To put it lightly, this encounter does not go well; negotiations sour, and Hera insists the other pilots go into hyperspace while she covers them. When she does return to base from hyperspace, her ship is wrecked, she’s unconscious and severely injured, and Sabine is pushed into action. She feels guilty for going before Hera and accordingly seeks vengeance on her fellow Mandalorian Rau. Sabine follows Kanan’s guidance to do as Hera would wish and pursue the Protector with mercy, kidnapping him rather than killing him. This pays off in the long run as Rau eventually sees the evils of the Empire and joins the Rebellion. The episode ends when Hera wakes up, and Kanan is the only person as happy to see her as Sabine.
Episode 16 of the second season, “Homecoming,” again builds on Hera’s backstory and character. The Spectres are forced to work with Twi’Lek revolutionary and hero of the Clone Wars, Cham Syndulla. Not having seen each other in years, Hera’s reunion with her father doesn’t go so smoothly at first. Both are freedom fighters, and both seek to remove an Imperial ship from the Ryloth system. However, whereas Hera would like to capture the ship and use it for the Rebellion’s purposes, Cham wants to blow it up for all of Ryloth to see. He also has no interest in the welfare of people outside of Ryloth, a short-sighted selfishness his daughter cannot abide. In their argument, Hera’s native accent comes out for the first time in the series. Despite a betrayal on Cham’s part, Hera is nonetheless able to prove her mettle and passion for her cause. The two come to a compromise, and though not all wounds are mended, they’re on speaking terms again.
Episode 8 of season 2, “Blood Sisters,” introduces us to Ketsu Onyo (Gina Torres), Sabine’s once and future friend. Ezra and Sabine are on a mission to collect a droid with information for the Rebellion, but Ketsu, a bounty hunter, is on the same trail. Bits of dialogue reveal that the two were once as close as sisters and that Sabine was also a bounty hunter. The two are forced to work together when their fighting draws Imperial attention, and they decide to be friends again. Ketsu is not ready to join the Rebellion just yet. However, in later episodes, she does indeed aid the cause, showing that she too has a heart, despite calling Sabine “soft.” Sabine’s next big adventure is season 3, episode 4, “The Antilles Extraction.” This episode is very much what it sounds like: Wedge Antilles is extracted from an Imperial training base, and Sabine is the one sent to entice him to join the Rebellion. This is also the first time we see Governor Arihnda Pryce of Lothal, a principal villain in seasons 3 and 4, along with Grand Admiral Thrawn. This provides Sabine with the rare opportunity to employ diplomacy and it pays off. Season 3, episode 5, “Hera’s Heroes,” again concerns Hera’s homeland and family. She and the Spectres are taking supplies to the people of Ryloth when things become personal for the Twi’Lek pilot. She goes to her home planet’s surface to retrieve her Kalikori, a family heirloom the Twi’Leks use to show their lineage and honor their ancestors. This brings her into direct contact with Grand Admiral Thrawn and introduces a very interesting dynamic between the two. Unlike most Imperials, Thrawn is interested in the religion, culture, and art of his enemies. He respects Hera both as an adversary and someone with a rich connection to her heritage. However, this respect isn’t mutual, as Hera simply sees Thrawn as someone who wants to take over her home and collect her family heirloom.
Season 3, episode 11, “Visions and Voices,” mainly focused on Ezra and Maul, but it’s essential to Sabine’s story because this is when she obtains the Darksaber, a legendary Mandalorian lightsaber and symbol of power. Maul has had the saber on Dathomir since we last saw it in The Clone Wars, and when he brings Ezra here, the boy can’t resist picking it up. Sabine knows exactly what it is immediately, but gives it to Kanan to avoid the responsibility of wielding such a weapon. Like The Clone Wars before it (and, I can only assume, season 2 of The Mandalorian), Rebels explores the burden of power, leadership styles, and Mandalorian culture through the Darksaber. Season 3, episode 15, “Trials of the Darksaber,” really pushes Rebels further into Mandalorian history and culture. Fenn Rau, now an ally of the Spectres, gladly tells Kanan what the Darksaber is and why it’s so important to his people. This is where we get the backstory of Tarre Vizsla, the first (and, so far, only) Mandalorian Jedi, crafting the blade, and how it was stolen back from the Jedi order by the Mandalorians. This scene is really cool, and not only does it expand the lore of this universe, but the way it’s animated is unique and truly inspired. Rau believes Sabine could be the one to unite their people with the saber, and convinces Kanan to train her to fight with it. Sabine is reluctant at first, not wanting the responsibility or to face her family. She reluctantly agrees to do this at Hera’s behest, but only to help her new family, not her biological family on Mandalore.
At first, Kanan’s training frustrates Sabine. He infantilizes her, having her train with a stick rather than the saber. He drills her on the basics for hours on end. When he does finally give her the Darksaber to spar with, she gets her butt kicked by Kanan’s Force abilities. Fenn presents her with Mandalorian weapons intended to counteract the advantages of the Jedi, but this angers Kanan, who feels that the young woman isn’t taking this seriously. This culminates in a bonding moment for the two when Sabine lashes out and explains why she left Mandalore. When Sabine was an Imperial cadet, she designed a weapon that targets Mandalorian armor and kills anyone wearing it, while leaving everyone and everything else unscathed. However, when she realized the implications of her work, Sabine destroyed her plans and models for the weapon and fled the Empire. However, this had disastrous consequences for Clan Wren; Sabine’s family became slaves to the Empire in all but name to prove that they were loyal. When Sabine tried to reason with her mother, her cries fell on deaf ears. The family didn’t stand with her against the Empire. In the next episode, “Legacy of Mandalore,” Kanan and Ezra accompany Sabine, now proficient with the Darksaber, back to Mandalore.
Sabine’s mother Ursa is happy to see her daughter again, but she has no love for her Jedi friends, who she tries to trade to Gar Saxon in exchange for keeping her daughter with her. However, this doesn’t go well, as Saxon is hardly a man of his word, and all-out war breaks out in the Wren home. Various Mandalorians become embroiled in the conflict on both sides, with Bo-Katan and her friends coming to the aid of Clan Wren. However, Bo-Katan attacks Sabine head-on, rightfully blaming her for the construction of the Empire’s anti-Mandalorian weapon. Lady Kryze’s better judgment ultimately wins out, though, realizing that warring amongst allies will make matters worse and draw Imperial attention. Sabine takes full responsibility for the mistakes of her youth, and Fenn Rau vouches for her to Bo-Katan, telling her of the girl’s skills for leadership and combat. However, uninterested in leadership, Sabine insists that Bo-Katan is the rightful leader of the Mandalorian people and the only one who can unite them with the Darksaber. At first, Bo-Katan denies the honor and authority, recalling how she failed her people before and inadvertently got her sister Duchess Satine murdered. I don’t want to go anymore into Bo-Katan, as we’ll talk about her next time. She is convinced to take up the Darksaber, and the Mandalorian people are united against the Empire, and Sabine is separated from the rest of the Ghost crew, staying behind on Mandalore to help Bo-Katan in the ongoing fight.
Season 2, episode 18, “Secret Cargo,” re-introduces Mon Mothma into the mix. She had a recurring role in The Clone Wars, but we didn’t learn much about her already basic character from the live-action films. “Secret Cargo” gives this hero of the Rebellion a chance to shine as the Ghost crew is assigned to smuggle her away from the Imperial Senate. She defects after speaking out against the Emperor, finally concluding that it simply isn’t possible to win this battle from within the Empire. I won’t spoil it here, but she gives an incredible speech in this episode, and her rapport with Hera is wonderful and gets better as the show goes on from this point. Rebels takes the character as we know her and shows exactly why she is such an inspiration to Rebels across the galaxy. This episode also leads to Hera becoming a leader of the Rebellion in her own right; she impresses Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and others, and gets promoted to General.
For the season 3 finale, “Zero Hour,” Ezra convinces Sabine and her clan to help the Rebellion fight off an Imperial attack on their base on Attalon. Season 4 opens on Sabine leading the charge to save her imprisoned father back on Mandalore. The Empire has built Sabine’s weapon, but only at partial strength. They test it, and Sabine’s mother and brother Tristan barely make it out alive, but she feels tremendous guilt nonetheless. In season 4, episode 9, “Rebel Assault,” Hera leads an attack on Grand Admiral Thrawn which doesn’t go as planned. She and her wingmates crash-land on Lothal, and she’s taken prisoner by Thrawn and Pryce. This gets ugly fast. Thrawn is calm and diplomatic, as always, but as Hera is unwilling to reveal any Rebel intel, he leaves the sadistic Governor Pryce to torture her savagely. In the following episode, “Jedi Night,” the other Spectres infiltrate the base, and Kanan rescues Hera. He also returns her Kalikori to her from Thrawn’s office. The two finally express their love for one another, fulfilling a long-running story arc. Kanan always knew how he felt about Hera, and the two frequently failed to speak openly due to lack of privacy. In this episode, Hera finally opens up about how much Kanan means to her and kisses him. It’s really a shame it took her so long to express her feelings, as the episode ends with Kanan sacrificing his own life to save her and Ezra, destroying the Imperial fuel depot in the process.
On a logistical level, this strike hurts the Empire far more than the Rebels, and it lands Governor Pryce in some major hot water with Thrawn. Nonetheless, Hera loses the love of her life, and Ezra loses his mentor and master. It’s the greatest loss in the show and one of the most meaningful character deaths I’ve ever seen. The final episodes of the season, and series overall, see the group struggle to accept the loss of their leader and face impossible odds with an impending Imperial attack on Lothal. They regain the advantage by using Ryder Azadi (Clancy Brown) to play on Governor Pryce’s fears and trick her into walking right into a trap. Governor Pryce is impulsive, vicious, and cowardly. She’s a great villain, and watching her fall in season 4 is delicious. Ezra uses Pryce to get inside the Imperial base and, once in there, tricks Thrawn into accepting his “surrender” and sends them both hurtling into hyperspace. It’s here that we get Sabine’s epilogue, and it’s incredible. We learn that Hera gave birth to Jacen Syndulla, son of Kanan and a natural-born pilot. We get an update on the fates of every significant player save for Ezra, for whom Sabine and Ahsoka join forces to search.
Hera and Sabine are some of my favorite characters in Rebels, although they don’t ever outshine the likes of Ahsoka or Leia. Sabine is a passionate warrior and artist who learns to use words as well as blasters to win battles. Hera is a peacemaker and protector of those who have been hurt by the Empire. She’s a confidant, a lover, a fighter, a pilot, and a loving mother. Rebels succeeds in creating an interesting and detestable female villain in Arihnda Pryce, and gives Mon Mothma some great character moments. Pretty much every major character in Rebels gets a satisfying character arc, with Sabine and Hera standing as shining examples.
Do you have a favorite Hera or Sabine moment? Let us know in the comments and tune in next time for the women of Mandalore!