[WARNING – This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 4.]
Last week, Star Wars Rebels turned its spotlight on Sabine Wren as she infiltrated an Imperial academy and rescued some Rebel recruits. This week, the series turns to Hera Syndalla, pilot of the Ghost and the closest thing its crew has to a leader, as they travel to the Twi'lek homeworld, Ryloth for a supply mission. Quickly, the mission becomes personal when Hera learns the Empire has made a base of her family home, forcing Hera to lead her own rescue mission to recover a deeply important ancestral heirloom.
"Hera's Heroes" - written by Nicole Duboc and directed by Mel Zwyer - also sees our intrepid Rebels (well, at least Hera and Ezra) coming face to face with Grand Admiral Thrawn. The fan favorite villain made an appearance in the season 3 premiere, but it was more of a glorified cameo meant to establish him as this season's newest threat more than anything. In this episode, however, Thrawn begins to display some of that brilliance which made him such a cunning adversary in the now-defunct Expanded Universe, establishing himself to be unlike any Imperial the Rebellion has ever faced.
Rebel Pilot, Freedom Fighter, & Military Leader
Much like Sabine taking charge in "The Antilles Extraction", this episode allows for Hera to display her own tactical brilliance, even managing to surprise the calculating Grand Admiral. Though an essential member of the Ghost crew from the start (y'know, being the pilot and all), "Hera's Heroes" delves deeper into her personal history and provides us with more background on why Hera is such an impassioned Rebel fighter.
The daughter of a noble Ryloth family, Hera grew up during the Clone Wars with her planet under Seperatist control. After their defeat, she witnessed the Galactic Empire's rise to power first hand, fighting alongside her father, Cham Syndalla to free Ryloth from the Empire's control. Her mother died fighting for the Twi'lek Resistance, not long after which Hera left Ryloth to join the growing Rebellion spanning the galaxy. She, as Thrawn rightly points out, didn't just live through war - war is in her "blood".
That Hera can continue to stare down at such oppression and look to the future with optimism is remarkable, and while she's an exceedingly capable pilot and fighter, hope is her strongest weapon. (She and Rogue One's Jyn Erso would get along very well.) It's what allows her to orchestrate their escape and her father's rescue, choosing to blow up her family's home in order to live and fight another day. Doing so, she may have even earned Thrawn's respect seeing as he, observing from far, allows them the escape, stating their victory was "earned."
Along with providing a fuller understanding of Hera's rebel spirit, this episode also introduced new information about Chopper's origin. Star Wars' droids have always had lively personalities, but Chopper is possibly the most expressive of the bunch thanks to those little arms. Yet, for as cantankerous as the astromech can be, "Hera's Heroes" gave us a glimpse at a more solemn Chopper as he mused over the wreckage of the crashed Y-Wing which brought him to Ryloth and Hera. There's definitely a story there to be told, and given Chopper's demeanor, it isn't a happy one.
"Who Was That Blue Guy?"
When Timothy Zahn created Thrawn for the then-sequel novel to the original Star Wars trilogy, Heir to the Empire, the character needed to stand in stark contrast to both The Emperor and Darth Vader. With Thrawn, he took that distinguished air of Imperial officers like Grand Moff Tarkin and infused it with the exotic qualities of an alien and the eloquence of someone studied and sophisticated. Thrawn is a disarming villain, he's charming and conversational - not at all like the usual indignant Imperials, like his underling in this episode.
Still, his calm and certain speech isn't relaxing but terrifying. Thrawn isn't likely to lash out like Vader or Kylo Ren; his emotions are tightly contained - and in the moment where Thrawn does flare up in anger, it's still quite restrained, though no less seething. It'd be really satisfying to witness Thrawn lose a little of that control later on in the season, but for now watching him be soft-spoken and collected as he stalks the Rebels is enthralling.
And it's in "Hera's Heroes" that Star Wars Rebels really begins establishing how being unlike so many Imperials, by valuing what other cultures have accomplished and created, Thrawn can fight them better than anyone else. As he plainly states in this episode: "To defeat an enemy, you must know them. Not simply their battle tactics, but their history, philosophy, art." Sure, in the end, they escape but it's obviously only because Thrawn lets them - just as he did in the premiere. Like a cat playing with its prey, Thrawn is using these encounters to learn all he can about the Rebels. He doesn't need to rely on something as powerful as The Force - Thrawn can read and understand people and their actions, which is a perhaps the most effective tool when waging war.
Last week's episode of Star Wars Rebels had more excitement, but the scenes between Hera and Thrawn - who Lars Mikkelsen brings to life in a wonderfully eerie manner - are absolutely captivating. The groundwork continues being laid for whenever Thrawn really engages with the Rebellion later on, in what will very likely be their toughest battle yet. But in the meantime, seeing Hera prove herself a match for someone like Thrawn, plus getting to learn a bit more about what makes the determined Twi'lek tick, is even more rewarding.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday, October 22nd with "The Last Battle" at 8:30PM on Disney XD.