Shay explores the symbolism in Star Wars Rebels and shines the spotlight on Hera Syndulla
Star Wars has always been strong in the area of symbolism, relying heavily on clues of color, costume, and texture to betray certain facts about its characters and their environments. This sort of symbolism has also been used in our own Earth history, specifically in the middle-ages practice of heraldry. To quote from The Institute of Heraldry’s website, “Heraldry can be defined as a communication system that uses colors and symbols for the purpose of personal or organizational identification.” These symbols were used by knights and family groups to distinguish themselves, and immediately give an impression of their best traits and the values they held dear. Different symbols and colors represented different values and traits and gave an instant impression on the character of the individual in question.
Ever since I started watching Star Wars Rebels, I was amazed and thrilled at the strength of symbolism used in that show. Not only did the initial appearances of the focus characters give us a hint about who they were and how they got to the point of the show opener, but as the series has continued these have also gradually changed to reflect the personal stories of each character.
Let’s start with the appearance and featured colors of team leader and heart of the Ghost crew, Hera Syndulla.
Hera is a Twi’lek with vivid green skin and dual head-tails (known as “lekku”). Green is a very powerful color, but it influences the subconscious in gentle nudges, as opposed to black, which jumps straight out and has a rather obvious connotation. Green is often associated with nature, fertility, and vigor. I have always seen green as a very comforting color, much like a deep, untouched forest is a haven for all the creatures who live there.
This matches well with Hera’s personality, as she often acts very mothering toward her crew and other members of the Rebellion, looking out for their needs and trying to help them with their spiritual and emotional problems. This was seen clearly early on in the first season of Rebels when it was Hera who was the first to pick up on the young orphan Ezra Bridger’s unique abilities. She immediately bonded with the boy, and he trusted and listened to her when she took him aside to explain what their fellow crew member, the Lasat warrior Zeb, had gone through.
Hera is a comforter to the Rebels, while still remaining a strong leader and steadfast warrior in such dark times. Green also symbolizes hope, like that of new plants beginning to emerge after a long dark winter. The meaning of green in medieval heraldry was hope, joy, and consistency in love. Many of Hera’s best lines have to do with her constant belief that, no matter how hard things become, there is always hope.
Hera is always there for her crew, supporting them in whatever they do, and sometimes having to give a bit of tough love to keep them on the right track. And for the members of her crew, she is hope. Before they met her and joined the cause, they were all lost and had no true meaning to their lives. However, through her guidance, they found a purpose worth fighting for, even to their very last breath.
One of the most striking of Hera’s features which manage stand out even with her efforts to remain unnoticeable is her eyes. They’re a bright, clear shade of light turquoise, which seems to shift between green and blue. This color is often used to connote femininity, and also gives a feel of the mysterious. They’re a reminder that, even with as tough as she often has to be, she has a soft heart, and was once a little girl staring up at the sky and the ships that flew there in absolute wonder.
Now let’s move on to the messages hidden within this character’s costume. Within Rebels so far, we’ve really only seen Hera clad in variations of one outfit, her characteristic pilot’s jumpsuit. Of course, this could fit my topic here, as when you see her you immediately think she’s a pilot. But I want to go a little deeper.
First off, notice that her outfit is extremely covering, containing long sleeves and neckline that makes its way past her collarbone. She even wears gloves, reducing the entirety of her exposed skin to just her face and lekku. This tells us a lot about this character’s goals and personality. She’s a Twi’lek, a race known for their exotic beauty and one often stereotyped by the race’s frequent employment as dancers, aids to the wealthy, and other jobs that take full advantage of their looks. Even Twi’leks who lead lives in government or as simple farmers are often seen to show quite a bit of skin.
Hera is herself quite beautiful, but the fact that Hera doesn’t show much skin tells us a lot about who she is. For one, she’s not restricted to the typical choices and thought processes of her kind. Hera uses her own common sense and strong moral code to make decisions about what she believes is right. This is proven when we see her come face-to-face with her father, Cham Syndulla, and other Twi’lek revolutionaries during the second season of Rebels. Cham and many other Twi’leks have devoted themselves to the liberation of Ryloth first and foremost. However, Hera sees the bigger picture. She knows that one planet cannot truly be free until the Empire is completely gone, and the entire galaxy can rejoice together. She sees things beyond the perspective of many, and always tries to make the choice that will have the best outcome in the end.
Another aspect of Hera’s clothing is its practicality. Hera wears what she does not for its beauty, not for what it does to her figure, not for what it makes others think about her, but simply because it is practical. This communicates to a viewer that, once again, Hera has one focus, and that is this Rebellion. Everything she does is centered on the fight. Even in her relationships with her crew members, you can see the struggle in her between reaching out to them with her heart, bonding her soul to theirs forever in the ties a true family has, and keep herself free from things that could make the war even more complicated than it already is. She’s a no-nonsense girl, and what she does, she does clearly and plainly. One can also see these qualities in the coloring of her outfit, which heavily features earth-tones, alongside some brighter orange to remind us that Hera has a lot of spunk about her.
That’s not to say that she’s too harsh, as mentioned above, Hera is drawn deeply to the spiritual and emotional needs of her crew and those in the Rebellion. This is also reflected in her costume, as though it is extremely practical and simple, it retains a soft look, seen in the loose pants-legs, well worn-in leather of gloves and breastplate, and somewhat-poofy sleeves. These aspects work together to communicate a gentleness not seen in the severe lines and sharp presses of the Empire’s typical uniform. Even the white parts of her outfit aren’t too unforgiving, but more of a cream color.
But here’s where it gets even more interesting. Between the second and third seasons of Rebels, many things were happening in the personal lives of the Ghost crew, and these changes were reflected in their appearances. Though many fans didn’t see a big difference between Hera’s previous outfit and the new one she was given in season 3, there were several changes that communicated the character’s new position as a leader in the young Rebellion, and the personal changes this caused.
Hera’s new outfit manages to give off a more structured, professional feel and reminds me of Leia’s Resistance outfit from The Force Awakens. There’s a new rank plaque to remind everyone of her position, her “earmuffs” are different, and the collar of this outfit is much higher and more rigid than the last. Hera herself seems more driven, and though she is still understood to be the mother of this beloved space family, much of her focus is on the Rebellion and its needs. Rarely does her emotional side come through in this season. She also seems more tired and battle-weary during this time, without as much of that bounce that always showed up in every step she took before. She’s just as determined as always, but she’s lost some of her joy somehow. Her “earmuffs” are also different, flatter, and with more metallic detailing, which lends itself to the more military look of this season vs. the scrappy, “put-together” appearance of the previous outfit.
To sum it all up, one of the biggest things Hera’s costume says to others is that this woman is focused on the conflict at hand. As it said of her at the end of the pre-Rebels novel, A New Dawn, “Her war had already begun, and that in a war, there was no time for anything else.”
There are many other amazing instances of symbolism in the appearances of other characters in Star Wars Rebels, such as the color orange and its association with Ezra Bridger, and the colors seen in Sabine Wren’s hair over the course of the series.
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