So it’s clear that Star Wars Rebels isn’t particularly interested in a long term arc or storyline, not at this point at least. The introduction of the Inquisitors–hell, Darth Vader’s arrival back in the season two intro–clearly isn’t an impetus for anything significant for the characters nor the growing Rebel Alliance. And that’s fine. The Star Wars Universe is nice and robust and open enough to tell all sorts of stories, which was The Clone Wars’ entire MO. Rebels, with its focus on a very specific set of characters, could really set itself apart by taking a hard look at its individuals and explore them as small cogs in a giant machine of intergalactic war. “Wings of the Master” tries to do this with Hera, the show’s best character, and it’s… fine, I guess.
Before I get into that though, was anyone else sort of thrown off on the characterizations of Kanan and Hera at the beginning? I mean, after the failed attempt to deliver the aid package to those poor, starving people beneath the Empire blockade, a scene that I really liked. (There’s something about Hera’s impassioned zeal in the face of a failing, doomed mission; the episode feels like it’s going to explore her emotional fallout of the destroyed transport ship and the various rebel pilots killed around her. But no–instead, during the debrief, Hera insists on the delivering the goods, everyone just agrees, and we’re just moving right along.) I was a bit thrown off that it was Kanan who pushed Hera into searching for that experimental ship; Hera’s usually the one willing to take risks. If Kanan is embracing the rebellion more fruitfully, that’s perfectly fine, but we haven’t really seen much of that transition as of yet.
Characterization issues aside, “Wings of the Master” runs through fairly predictable plot points with little engagement with the story or the characters within it. Rex suggests there’s an engineer on a dangerous planet that built a ship that can outrun and outgun the Empire blockade, and Hera, Sabine, and Zeb go to get it. After surviving the planet’s atmosphere and its EMP-like effects, the three are stuck on the surface with the crazy engineer called Shipmaster Quarrie, who runs through the bland checklist of eccentricities that crazed genius-loners often go through: forgetfulness, disregard for people’s lives, never expounding on key info when needed. They eventually come together, fly the ship past the planet’s atmosphere, and use it to push past the blockade easily. There’s nothing really special about this plot that stands out, dramatically, narratively, or comedically, so the dramatic weight falls on Hera’s shoulders.
Hera’s usually a reliable character to carry an episode. She’s smart, clever, and a damn good pilot with a strong sense of duty, all to a fault. Here, unfortunately, we don’t get a real sense of how she feels about the situations that she finds herself in. The beginning, as mentioned, diminished Hera’s determination in succeeding with the aid mission (tossing that determination onto Kanan’s shoulders), and Hera mostly just does her thing until they reach the planet where Quarrie lives. To be fair, her thing is “being a damn good pilot,” and landing an essentially dead ship is as awesome as it comes. But that kind of skill clearly was meant to segue into that conversation between her and Quarrie, and while Hera opened up about her past and her love for flying and freedom, it felt perfunctory, if informative. The episode, at least to me, failed to coalesce Hera’s past with her present. The scene of her flying that experimental ship looked nice, but it feels like it missed the opportunity to really display that this is what Hera truly loves, that flying and fighting for the kind of freedom she experienced as a youth is everything she stands for.
The general gist of that sentiment is there, both in that test flight, and in the final fight, in which she destroys an entire Empire ship with one blast. The mission is a success but Hera feels oddly removed from it (you’d think she’d have some emotional connection to those suffering on that planet beneath the blockage), which results in her promotion feeling earned but somewhat meaningless. Without some moments of self-reflection of who she is, what she loves, and how she got to where she is, Hera becoming captain is just an XBOX achievement she got just by beating a level.
- There’s an episode of TaleSpin called “Old Man and the Sea Duck” which used a generic amnesia plot to explore Baloo’s inherent love and passion for flying, and how, despite his general laziness, that love is rooted in an understated sense of heroism. I feel like “Wings of the Master” was trying to aim for that same spirit but never managed to match it.
- Considering the Empire’s No Tolerance policy that was established in “The Siege of Lothal,” Kallus should have definitely be executed after so many failures. Minister Tua was killed for much less.
- You all were right, Hera was one of the Twi’leks saved during the Ryloth trilogy in The Clone Wars. It’s nice to hear Hera reflect on that but I’d love to hear more about her upbringing (her father, Cham, was a rebel Twi’lek leader, so it would be great to hear her reflect on that in relation to the person she is now).