We criticized the tepidly received “The Call” on a variety of grounds, be it space whales or characterization. One specific attempt at characterization we found underwhelming was that of Hera Syndulla, who was provided a story arc which went from, “I hate the space whales!” to “I love the space whales!” The space between A and B was rational enough, but the substance came across as a mix between filler for an otherwise interesting season of Rebels and something best described as having minimal importance to Hera and the overall plot of the season. “The Call” wasn’t necessarily a ‘Hera episode,’ but one really dedicated to Ezra, which in that regard had its own minimal impact on the character. Prior to this episode, we had had deeper and longer examinations of Sabine and Zeb, and so it seemed as if Hera might have either received her allotment of characterization in “Wings of the Master” or was just going to get the short straw. “Homecoming,” thankfully, did everything right regarding our favorite Twi’lek rebel that “The Call,” did wrong. Which is to say, it treats her character with much more depth and respect than the preceding episode.
More akin to Sabine’s “The Protector of Concord Dawn,” “Homecoming” weaves character development into the greater storyline of the rebellion against the Empire and in this case, specifically toward addressing the needs of the growing rebel movement. As this season has been oft to do, “Homecoming” opens with a ferocious engagement between rebel and Imperial forces. In this clash, the rebels are in the middle of transferring cargo between ships while evading Imperial blasters. In the push to escape, an A-wing’s hyperdrive engine is damaged and it’s destroyed before it has time to properly dock with a corvette. If the rebels had a ship with docking bays, in which the A-wing could have simply flown into, the pilot and the ship would still be intact. It’s this motivation which drives the underlying plot of the episode: the theft of an Imperial ship with docking bays.
The season continues its callbacks to The Clone Wars by finding an Imperial carrier ship in orbit over the planet Ryloth, the setting for a number of episodes involving the Jedi, the clones, and native Twi’leks fighting off Separatist attempts to successfully conquer and invade the planet. Like Rex and Ahsoka, we get a face from the past, as well, with the return of General Cham Syndulla, who led the Twi’lek forces in that war. More importantly for our Rebels purposes, Cham is the father of Hera, both of whom have not been on speaking terms for years. Hera’s desire to have a safe place for Phoenix Squadron’s fighters overrides her personal feelings concerning her father, and this illustrates the conflict of “Homecoming.” This episode is about rising above personal stakes for the benefit of the wider good. We could call this the Utilitarianism episode of Rebels.
The introduction of Cham in “Homecoming,” says more about Kanan than it does about Hera. Her feelings have already been presented to the viewers, but Kanan reacts dramatically out of character for the battle hardened Jedi who has rubbed shoulders with Princess Leia and some of the last great Jedi Masters. He is nervous and extremely concerned about his appearance and the appearance of the rest of the team. When introductions arrive, he completely goofs naming his comrades. Kanan has met numerous high ranking officials in his life, why the difference now? The answer falls into one of two categories: 1) Cham Syndulla is a personal hero of Kanan’s or 2) Kanan wants to make a good impression with the father of the woman he has feelings for. While later we see Kanan soaking up Cham’s stories from the Clone Wars, it feels that in a storytelling context, there has been almost nothing to imply hero worship, but we do know that Kanan and Hera have been together for quite a while as friends, if not more courtesy the novel A New Dawn. It’s a hint at the romance that exists, but one so far the show has been reluctant to focus upon and perhaps also because it’s a romance that either character may not entirely recognize.
Introductions concluded, the plan is a simple one. Cham, with two of his best, promises to help the Ghost’s crew take the carrier ship in orbit over Ryloth by securing the ship and stealing it for the rebel cause. Nor are viewers forced to wait for the attack to get some conflict, that comes in the form of a confrontation between Hera and her father. While emotionally taxing for Hera and her father, it’s a beautiful example of dedicating time to develop a character. It’s an argument over why a daughter abandoned a father; why Hera left the fight on Ryloth, where the Empire has enslaved the Twi’leks and mined its resources, to fight for the rebellion. In the course of the argument which ensues, Hera falls back into a Rylothian accent. It’s an audio cue that she has suppressed aspects of her identity, reinforcing the distance in time and space she placed between her and her father. Additionally, the fact that she has adopted a neutral ‘galactic’ accent over her native accent also supports her wider vision of fighting the Empire everywhere instead of just on Ryloth. This scene is one of the prime examples of what makes Rebels more than just a simple cartoon, it’s a show that dedicates precious animation time to building its characters.
The attack on the carrier begins as planned with the rebels tricking their way onto the ship by flying a stolen TIE bomber onto the ship, which has been the home to a squad of such ships with the habit of wrecking devastation on Ryloth bellow. Hera, Kanan, and Ezra, take the bridge, where we see Ezra perform the Jedi mind trick for the first time on the captain of the vessel, suggesting to him to order the evacuation of the ship. Things are going smoothly which is an immediate warning that something is about to go bad, and it does, in the form of Cham changing the mission priority. Instead of capturing the ship, he intends to blow it up as a visible symbol to Twi’leks below of their resistance. It’s an extension of the argument from earlier, which goal is more important: defeating the Empire on Ryloth or defeating the Empire galaxy-wide?
The argument comes to a climax on the bridge of the ship, where Hera offers a passionate plea for her father and his soldiers to help their mission at the expense of Ryloth’s own victory. It’s at this point that the show misses a chance to take a different direction, because Hera convinces her father to adopt her priorities over his, and he helps her recover the ship for the rebellion. He had disabled the hyperdrive engine which had put the capture of the ship in peril with Imperial assistance on the way to blast the carrier out of the sky. Rebels could have chosen to write Cham as unable to bend to the greater responsibility of the galaxy, and found a way to circumvent his sabotage efforts. It would not have been a happy ending for father and daughter, but perhaps, killing off the Bridgers has satisfied the show’s need to ruin parent-child relationships.
Her father helping instead of hurting, the rebels manage to successfully steal the carrier ship with the added bonus of destroying an Imperial cruiser as a stand in for the carrier. This is not the first Imperial cruiser destroyed by the rebels and it might be noted, they are starting to rack up quite the body count, something the show absolutely has never dwelled upon, no matter how many storm troopers collapse from a bad case of blaster bolt to the chest. In an Expanded Universe where rarely helmets are removed (FN-2187 exempted) Lost Stars by Claudia Gray provides a good perspective on who the faceless enemy might be and why they wear the uniform of the Galactic Empire. Hopefully, Rebels will dedicate an episode to a storyline which humanizes the faceless storm troopers or TIE pilots.
“Homecoming,” is a fine example of intertwining the overall story arc of the growing rebellion with a personal arc of Hera’s growing character and by its conclusion, both have been notably improved. Through a vehicle with solid animation, scoring, and pacing, there is little to fault about “Homecoming.” Keep it up, Rebels, this is the path to excellence.