There are a number of iconic vehicles in the Original Star Wars franchise, such as the X-wing, the Star Destroyer, and obviously, the Millennium Falcon. After we push aside the TIE fighters, Y-wings, and snow speeders, there are two Rebel fighters which find their way into the beloved canon: the nimble A-wing and the more peculiar B-wing. These two made their debut in Return of the Jedi, though even that film, the B-wing was simply just kind of there in a few scenes. It didn’t even get the glorious death reserved for Green Leader, who piloted his damaged A-wing into the bridge of the super star destroyer. That’s not to say it has been ignored, it even got its own partial addition to the legendary X-Wing Sim put out by LucasArts in the ‘90s. Nevertheless, it simply has had the glory of the other fighters deployed by the Rebel Alliance.
In “Wings of the Master,” Rebels decided to make the odd-shaped craft not just the focus of the episode, but the key ingredient to successfully staving off death by starvation of untold numbers of Rebel sympathizers on a blockaded planet. At the same time, the episode tries to offer a little more background into the pilot of the Ghost, Hera. It succeeds quite brilliantly in the first regard, but not as much in the second.
The episode opens with a small rebel fleet, a few A-wings of Phoenix Squadron (technically not the A-wings of Return of the Jedi, but their predecessors), a Corellian blockade runner, and the Ghost, attempting to bust through a blockade of Imperial cruisers under the command of everyone’s favorite Major, Kallus. The subject of the blockade are communities on the planet behind the Imperial ships, who are in desperate need of supplies if they are to stave off starvation. Hera, for all intents and purposes, is the one in control of the situation, and she urges all ships forward in a brazen attempt to fly straight past the Imperials. It does not go well.
Kallus orders his ships to direct all firepower on the blockade runner and under the cries of the ship’s captain, succeeds in destroying it. The Rebels make a hasty retreat but not before the leader of the Phoenix Squadron, an unnamed Rebel pilot, is killed. The Rebels are left back with the main fleet, licking their wounds, but with Hera swearing that if she had two blockade runners, at least one would get through. Her ambition is understandable, but unspoken is an admission that Hera has decided that the crew of one ship is apparently expendable at the cost of success.
Thankfully, Kanan turns to Rex, our favorite old Clone soldier, concerning any leads for help with the blockade. As it turns out, Rex knows of an engineer on the planet Shantipole who has developed a new ship which might be exactly what the Rebels need to break the blockade. The name Shantipole sends shivers down the surrounding Rebel pilots, who swear off the planet as a one way ticket for any foolish enough to try and land on its surface. Kanan immediately volunteers Hera to go and check it out. Reluctantly, the Twi’lek pilot agrees.
Aboard the Phantom, along with Sabine and Zeb, Hera descends into the swirling clouds of Shantipole and within seconds a lightning bolt zaps the small shuttle and only Hera’s extraordinary skill saves the passengers from certain death. Hera manages to land the shuttle, a bit banged up, on a landing pad of a small facility, overseen and operated by a crusty old Mon Calamari by the name of Quarrie. Yes, it’s a salute to one of the great imaginations of the Star Wars universe, Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie, however, has designed a new type of fighter, the Blade Wing, or better put, the B-Wing.
The title of the episode, “Wings of the Master,” implies that someone is a master of something. In this episode, it’s debatable whom that master might be, either Quarrie or Hera, but in the sense of the young apprentice seeking wisdom or training from a master and having to show their worth, it seems it would be appropriate for it to be Quarrie. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke found himself in the same position after meeting Yoda on Dagobah. In this case, despite being told of the urgent need for the B-wing, an overly protective Quarrie refuses to allow Hera to test fly his vehicle until she confides in him why she loves to fly.
Her love of flight goes back to the Clone Wars, when little Hera watched Rebels battle against the Separatists during the invasion of Ryloth (There are actually episodes of the Clone Wars dedicated to this event.). Our Twi’lek at that moment knew she wanted to be a pilot, and whenever she flies, regardless of doing what, she’s at peace and happy. She then found the even better prospect of combining her love of flying with helping the Rebellion. This story convinces Quarrie to allow her to fly his prototype.
The B-Wing is an odd shaped fighter, which is long and slender when resting horizontally, and cross shaped when its wings are deployed to their locked position. It’s only seconds before Hera takes off in the craft that Quarrie admits to Zeb and Sabine that no one has actually flown the thing before. Perfectly timed with their incredulous response, Hera and the B-wing fall out of sight off the platform. Thankfully, Quarrie appeared to know what he was doing, as both woman and craft soar back into sight.
Hera’s test flight is accompanied by beautiful music from Rebels composer Kevin Kiner, and in this episode, more than most, it develops itself as one more character of the show. Kiner draws on recognizable themes from John Williams, but also adds his own touches to provide something of the freeing sensation of flight, as Hera guides the fighter through pillars of stone and clouds which make up the landscape of Shantipole. It’s a visually inspiring sequence of shots, highlighting both the pilot and the fighter. Included is a test of the craft’s weapon, which besides your standard blaster has a form of super blaster, capable of doing significant damage to nearly anything its path.
The B-wing exceeds Hera’s expectations and with the help of a new hyperdrive installed on the Phantom, everyone, including Quarrie, depart to help with the blockade mission. With or without Hera and the B-wing, the mission had already proceeded due to the immediacy of the crisis on the blockaded planet. The Ghost, now piloted by Kanan, had accepted the cargo and under the orders of the Rebel commander Sato, departed to make one more attempt to get food and supplies to the starving sympathizers. Things quickly appear to be about to go as well as the first run, when Hera and the rest arrive with the B-wing.
Piloted by Hera, the B-wing takes the lead, its odd shape confounding the Imperials, including Kallus, until it’s too late. Hera, with Sabine targeting, deploys the super laser of the B-wing and takes out one of the major’s cruisers with one vicious shot. The Rebel resupply mission darts in, drops off its cargo, and makes a hasty escape, leaving Kallus still trying to grasp how one fighter did so much damage. Back at the ranch, so to speak, Hera receives a promotion to be leader of the Phoenix Squadron, and Quarrie promises to get to work on building more B-Wings for the Rebel Alliance.
“Wings of the Master,” definitely succeeds in being an entertaining episode of Rebels, dedicated to helping us see the early days of the rebellion against the Empire. Though, the introduction of the B-wing, itself is problematic, as apparently it failed to become a mainstay until after the events of The Empire Strikes Back. The show will either have to ignore this quite large gap between Quarrie promising to build more and the ship’s deployment as recognized by the Original Trilogy. In terms of developing Hera’s character, it’s succeeds in providing insight into why she became a pilot, though it might have been appreciated more if the story had included Hera overcoming various obstacles to achieve this dream. That might be a little too much for a thirty-minute television show, however. In all, “Wings of the Master,” with approximately five episodes in (if we count “The Siege of Lothal” as a standalone introduction to Season Two) is one of the best episodes of the season yet.