“Elated.” That’s how Vanessa Marshall described her reaction to hearing her Star Wars Rebels character Hera Syndulla name-checked on the big screen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
“I couldn’t feel my legs,” said Marshall, who plays the Ghost captain and Phoenix Squadron leader on the Disney XD animated series. “I think my mind exploded — you know, for the millionth time since being a part of this project.”
In Rogue One, “General Syndulla” is heard being paged over the comm system at the Rebel Alliance’s Massassi base on Yavin 4, shortly before the fateful Battle of Scarif breaks out.
“It’s like a life insurance policy,” Marshall said. “I was so grateful to hear that she exists and I said the other night in the Galactic Nights show (April 14 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) that I like to believe that they were paging her because she was already warming up the Ghost to go to Scarif and they didn’t need to even ask her — she was ready to go get it done.
“So, that’s my little fantasy. I have no idea if that’s true.”
Marshall made her comments at an April 15 press conference directly following the Rebels panel at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, when it was announced the series’ upcoming fourth season would be its last.
“Listen to this woman. She knows what she’s talking about!” Rebels executive producer and supervising director Dave Filoni chimed in.
The hat-clad head of Lucasfilm’s animation empire since Clone Wars said he pictured Hera sitting out the crucial, contentious Alliance council meeting depicted in Rogue One, at which Jyn Erso’s bold request to raid Scarif’s data center for the Death Star plans was denied, out of protest — because she knew the skittish higher-ups would reject the daring plan.
“This is a terrible situation. I think that you were probably irritated because you knew what Jyn was going to do,” Filoni told the actress.
“She should be a general. She’s really good. She has the experience,” he added.
“… She’ll be a general before the end of the season …”
And by the time of Rogue One, when the Rebellion has been cowed almost into submission by the brilliant strategies of the Empire’s Grand Admiral Thrawn, Hera is a general, as we hear in that page at the Yavin base. (Don’t expect to see the Phoenix Squadron perspective on the Scarif battle play out in Rebels, though.)
Filoni said Hera’s promotion parallels Lando Calrissian’s elevation to general in Episode VI — Return of the Jedi: It develops the character and enhances their background universe — but like Lando, he said, Hera wouldn’t want to make a big deal about it.
“I love that stuff about Star Wars and the way that George wrote it,” he said. “I love that there’s always a feeling of a bigger thing. And I’m pretty adamant that it’s not something, to me, we’d do a whole episode on, necessarily,” he said.
However, that particular example of character development is closer than you might expect: “But we will see her … she’ll be a general before the end of the season, let’s put it that way,” he divulged. “Which I think is cool. Hera’s a really fun character and one of the reasons why originally I was going to have the narration of the trailer be Kanan, because the Jedi always seem to drive the story, but then I realized that was completely wrong and it should be Hera as the mom, as the matriarch, as this powerful woman who has put this all in play from the beginning.”
When Rebels began, you’ll remember, there wasn’t much in the way of a Rebel Alliance, just disparate cells that hesitated to trust one another. Now, as the final season approaches, there’s an extensive organization that we have watched Hera largely building through force of will, and we’ve seen familiar Star Wars figures like Senator Mon Mothma and General Dodonna enter the picture at last as the world of Episode IV — A New Hope (and Rogue One) begins to take shape.
“The Rebels are her architecture,” Filoni said, referring to Hera. “It’s her framework, and if anyone is going to have the perspective of what they’re all going through to the end it’s her, and so she really bookends that trailer, because in her own way she has used the Force to draw them all together – her force of will, her force of commitment, her bravery.”