Non-Consensual Drugging and Romance: Star Wars Rebels Did Wrong by Hera Syndulla
One of the best parts in last week’s Star Wars Rebels episode “Jedi Night” was Hera Syndulla shouting, “You have no right to hold that, let alone understand it,” to Grand Admiral Thrawn. Even from the interrogation rack, this is Hera Syndulla’s most empowering moment: chiding an Imperial on the appropriation of her family heirloom is classic Hera.
But from there, Hera Syndulla is depowered, not by Imperials, but by inattentive writing. The recent Star Wars Rebels episodes only cement why Lucasfilm needs to hire more women in the writers’ room.
After a long hiatus, the double-block of “Jedi Night” and “DUME” on Monday has been a turning point for the Ghost crew. In the mid-season finale, Hera Syndulla was captured by the Empire. In a refreshing depiction of balanced Jedi attachment, Kanan surmises that his romantic feelings could cloud his judgment and assigns padawan Ezra to lead the mission to rescue Hera.
Then, we get to the drugging scene that made some viewers queasy. During the interrogation, Imperial Governor Pryce inoculates Hera with a truth serum, disorienting her. And once Kanan rescues her, Hera spends time in a daze, making comedic quips as she is dragged around like a damsel. Ha ha? Romantic comedy by a non-consensually drugged woman! Funny, right?
This prominent Star Wars cosplayers thinks otherwise and shared her experience with non-consensual drugging in this tweet thread.
Hello friends! I know most of you are still asleep, so I am going to complain most sadly and bitterly about Rebels’ return. There will be spoilers so I shall use the #starwarsrebels tag. I am unhappy and upset, so this will obvs be negative. #starwarsrebelsspoilers
— Xena Duncan A Star War Story 🚀 (@xenadd) February 21, 2018
Hera’s stupor is played for laughs, screwing up the levity and her agency. Rather than robbing Hera of her bodily volition, the production team should have maximized Kanan and Hera’s synchronized collaboration on the battlefield, which could have easily been done without sacrificing humor. Kanan and Hera’s interplay is always inherently rife with wit. C’mon, Hera wouldn’t have to be drugged to utter, “I hate your hair.”
While Hera does regain control of her faculties to participate in the escape with her piloting skills, it does not negate the fact that the show toyed with bodily violation as a comedic tool. Then, Hera professes her love for him. While the context assures the audience she has some agency in meaning it, unfortunately, showrunner Dave Filoni confirms that the serum was an attribute to her confession. Whether or not Hera loves Kanan, it’s gross that the writers thought it best to weed out a woman’s love declaration through drugging rather than let Hera do it on her own terms, which was arguably already did when she kissed him in “Kindred,” so it further insults Hera’s agency. The Wookiegunner review makes the same note: hire women.
And then, the pivotal heartbreak scene: Kanan Jarrus, after four seasons of surviving the Empire, dashes into the flames to sacrifice himself for his crew. When Hera runs toward him, he Force-sweeps her back, like a doll, which poorly frames Hera in a passive position. Despite having a cast of strong women, Rebels—and its predecessor, Clone Wars—has a way of gendering its violence in an uncritical, careless manner.
Then we come to the episode “DUME,” where the Ghost crew processes the aftermath of Hera’s rescue. This episode depicts the varied ways its characters deal with grief. Both Zeb and Sabine decide to put a dent in the Empire. Ezra runs off in isolation, and Hera voices regrets.
Strong female characters should be allowed to be vulnerable, and Hera can certainly be afforded a lapse in her goals. “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” an episode where Hera confronts the possibility of losing Kanan and Ezra, was a masterclass in balancing out Hera’s natural vulnerabilities with a devotion to duty, and that episode ends on no easy answers.
But despite Vanessa Marshall’s powerhouse acting in “DUME,” I could not invest in Hera’s grief, because she had to openly bemoan the fact that she never told Kanan: “Why did I wait so long to tell him [I love him]?” These explicit confirmations and the poorly handled on-screen declaration only muddled my favorite Star Wars couple.
The fun of Kanan and Hera was that there was enough ambiguity of their history, an atmosphere of internal love, without the L-word even spoken (unless you count Hera occasionally calling Kanan “luv”). Fans had already read that they were already in a fully-realized romance this whole time. Dare I say, it could have been original for the show to tease an existing long-term relationship rather than a traditional will-they-won’t-they pull. But for the script to blatantly note that Hera never meaningfully conveyed her love just felt more jarring than natural.
Hera’s grieving process matches Leia Organa’s loss of her first love in Claudia Gray’s Princess of Alderaan novel, though in the prose, Leia’s grapple against duty and love was more organically (pun not intended) executed. Leia struggled between asserting what is practically right with acknowledging her emotional attachments. Here, Hera’s grief comes down to to something reductive as, “I completely regret my part in the Rebellion for losing him.” This could’ve been avoided with more careful writing. In fact, I believe it would have benefited from silencing the dialogue altogether, the same Silence is Golden technique pulled in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” letting the visuals and expressions play out and trusting the viewers’ imaginations to process Hera’s despair.
Fans can trust that Hera would return her duties in the Rebellion. Sure enough, she and the crew find the energy to refocus on the Lothal rebellion, but I wish there was a visual punctuation to her return to duty.
I have been in the “Kanera” crowd for so long because the relationship subverts the Jedi’s unhealthy attachment aversion and lets a non-Force-user Hera process the relationship on her own terms. Kanan and Hera operated as a refreshing antithesis to Anakin and Padme’s toxic relationship—as well as a foil to Obi-Wan and Satine’s functional flirtation. I certainly do mourn for whatever interaction will never happen in light of Kanan’s sacrifice (if Kanan is permanently dead, depending on literal truths), but “Jedi Night” left a bitter taste in my mouth regarding Kanan and Hera.
I hope the writers prepared Hera a substantial arc for the finale, returning to her rivalry with Grand Admiral Thrawn and her leadership of the Rebellion. But what happened to Hera was irreversible, unforgivable to some of the women in the fandom.
Lucasfilm Animation has to open the doors for female animators and writers. When men dominate the writing room, they bog the material down with a lack of insight. Woman writers can write alternatives that can not only bypass problematic material but even elevate it to originality. Lucasfilm Animation is missing out.
Carol is a queer Vietnamese-Houstonian Earthling surviving under the fickle weather of New York while buried in her Non-Fiction MFA homework like Hermione Granger and her Hogwarts studies. When not angsting over her first poetry manuscript or a pilot screenplay about space samurais, Carol is cooking her own Chinese food instead of buying take-outs and dreaming of winning Hamilton lotto tickets.
She chronicles the quirks of New York living, runs writing and scripting services, and lends her voice to Birth Movies Death, Film School Rejects, and The Script Lab. She’s also lurking in the shadows waiting for you to follow her on Twitter or Tumblr and read her Star Wars fanfiction.
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