How Star Wars Rebels’ Hera Broke the Mother Archetype—and Recreated It in Her Own Image
**Spoilers for Star Wars Rebels.**
Star Wars has not always been great to its mothers. From Shmi’s sacrifice to Beru’s immolation to Padme’s causeless death, the galaxy far far away has racked up quite the body count. And even when moms live, they’re seldom allowed to parent their children—in the expanded universe novels Leia sends her kids away for their own protection, and in the new canon her son is a tantrum-throwing neo-Nazi whom she never gets to confront.
But let’s face it, Star Wars is par for the course when it comes to telling stories about moms. All across fiction, they’re pretty much required to die so that the plucky young hero can go on his quest and realize himself, and even when they live, they tend to do so as kindly supporting characters or wicked witches. There’s little out there to contradict the message that our own lives end when motherhood begins.
That’s why the animated series Star Wars Rebels, which concluded its four-season run last week, is such a breath of fresh air. Ostensibly, it’s the bildungsroman of an orphan teenage Jedi named Ezra Bridger, who joins the crew of a smuggling ship, the Ghost. Sounds familiar, right? Except that this is also the story of Twi’lek Hera Syndulla, pilot and team leader, and “cowboy Jedi” Kanan Jarrus, who will become Ezra’s master. The group is rounded out by Garazeb “Zeb” Orrellios, one of the last of his people to survive the Empire’s genocide on the planet Lasan; Sabine Wren, a teenage Mandalorian warrior with a penchant for art and explosives; and Chopper, a grumpy, homicidal astromech droid.
When they’re first introduced, Sabine declares them “a crew, a team, in some ways a family,” and Ezra comes back to this theme in the last episode: “I couldn’t have wished for a better family.” If Rebels is a show about kids growing up and realizing their place in the galaxy, it is equally a show about the grown-ups who guide them. And from the pilot episode, in which Hera chews Zeb out by using his full name, encourages Ezra to live up to his potential, and multi-tasks effortlessly while evading TIE fighters, she is the team mom. But unlike virtually every other mother in Star Wars, she manages to actively parent her crew (and not die!) without giving up her own personhood.
To be clear, Hera is not literally a mom to these teenagers—Sabine is only eight years younger than she is, and Ezra eleven years younger. Rather than telling them to do their homework and brush their teeth, Kanan and Hera provide a lot of the mixed mentor/sibling/parent affection that made Anakin and Ahsoka so great in the show’s precursor, The Clone Wars. But while Hera works steadily against the Empire, she also teaches and supports the kids around her on a day-to-day basis.
When Ezra thinks he’s naive for wanting to believe in a hero, for example, she sits him down for a chat about how keeping hope is one of their strengths. (And this after going full mama bear and decking a senator for picking on Ezra earlier in the episode.) She advocates for Kanan training Ezra in the first place. She empathizes with Sabine’s pain and distrust of the Empire, but then encourages her to have faith in herself and her friends anyway. On a more practical level, Hera is the best pilot in the galaxy (eat your heart out, Han Solo), and she teaches both Sabine and Ezra to fly. She protects them when they need protecting, whether that means sending Sabine away from battle before her or leaving the man she loves behind to get the rest of her crew to safety. She gives them chores. At one point, when Ezra’s dabbled in the Dark Side, Hera even grounds him. Imagine how the Star Wars galaxy might have changed if anyone had done that for Anakin Skywalker.
Hera also trusts her crew to use what she’s taught them. At various points, both Sabine and Ezra get to climb into a fighter and show off the piloting skills they’ve learned from her. (“Just remember what I taught you,” she tells Ezra in what is presumably his first stint in a Y-wing.) When Kanan holds back in Sabine’s training for fear that she’ll be injured, Hera calls him on it, suggesting that Sabine is already hurt and needs Kanan to give her the tools to heal herself. Every time they come up against a moment of doubt, Hera tells them, “I trust you.” From urging Kanan to take Ezra as his padawan to finding the courage to send Sabine and Ezra on a dangerous mission after she’s just lost Kanan, Hera lets her family grow up and have their own autonomy. She guides them with compassion, and then she lets them go out there and be amazing. That’s some quality mom-ing right there.
But let’s talk about the thing that really drew all of us middle-aged mothers into the series: Hera’s not just there to support Sabine and Ezra. She’s a dynamic character with her own story arc. In the first season, Hera is the only one to know that the Ghost crew is operating as a secret cell of the Rebel Alliance, and she’s the one who draws them into the larger Rebellion. Over the course of four seasons, she rises to the rank of General. She brings the B-wing to the Rebels. She outflies Darth Vader. She breaks a planet-wide blockade over Lothal with some fancy flying that would make Poe Dameron weep with admiration. And she confronts her own past, convincing her father, Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla, that they have to protect more than just their own planet.
As much as she helps the people around her because she loves them, she also does it because they are the next generation of the Rebellion. She’s creating the heroes who will have her back in battle, hence the fan-favorite line when the Ghost flies into a dogfight with Darth Vader: “All right, kids. Do mom and dad proud.” It is Hera’s vision, a hope that seems insane in the face of impossible odds, that leads her crew from being a small group of freelance smugglers to an integral part of the Rebellion, the first to free an entire planet from the Empire’s rule. “The people are with you, General Syndulla,” one of the rebels tells her in the last episode. Hera coordinates and strong-arms the entire effort.
And she does it all without sacrificing either her family or her career. Granted, Hera makes it clear, time and again, that her dedication to the cause comes before her personal life, explicitly telling Kanan that she’ll think about “us” only “when the Empire is overthrown and people are free to live their lives the way they want again.” But she never, ever puts the good of the mission ahead of the mental wellbeing of the kids. Case in point: Much as she wants Sabine to bring Mandalore into the Rebellion, she asks rather than orders—and then she and Kanan make it clear that Sabine doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. In the series finale, as Ezra’s preparing to sacrifice himself to save the entire planet of Lothal, Hera declares, “There’s another way. There’s always another way. I won’t let you go.” She values her family, and she trusts their competence, and this is so much of the reason that the people under her wing grow into some of the most confident and well-adjusted characters in all of Star Wars.
The last few minutes of Rebels reveal that Hera is pregnant as the series concludes, eliciting divided opinions from viewers. I’m not crazy about the consolation baby trope, but this isn’t the sort of show that ends with the birth of a child, as if that were the ultimate goal of life. A mini version of Kanan Jarrus tagging along with Hera in the cockpit isn’t going to change much. She’s already a kick-butt mom.
My favorite part? She does all of this and still finds time to sit down with a book.
(featured image: Disney/Lucasfilm)
Christina Potter Swan lives in Austin, Texas. When she’s not geeking out about Star Wars, she teaches English at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy and moms her own crew. You can find her science fiction class blog here.
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