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Credit: Lucasfilm

Sorry, but Star Wars Rebels' Hera Syndulla needs to die in The Rise of Skywalker

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Dec 17, 2019, 3:20 PM EST

Eagle-eyed fans were quick to spot the Ghost, the modified VCX-100 light freighter that served as home for the makeshift family at the heart of Star Wars Rebels, among the massive Resistance fleet featured in a few trailers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This, naturally, led to speculation and, appropriately, hope, that some of our favorite Empire-fighting, Rebellion-starting smugglers might finally get their moment on the big screen.

There’s one problem, though: If Hera Syndulla, the Ghost’s pilot and last standing of the titular Rebels, does appear on screen, then she’s absolutely going to die.

Credit: Lucasfilm

With The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio face the unenviable task of tying up over 40 years of Star Wars stories and lore. Their focus, of course, is going to be on the films and the characters therein, on what has come to be known as the Skywalker Saga. But Star Wars has, almost from the start, been so much bigger than just the movies. So this, then, is the last chance for some parity, for the film to offer up all the easter eggs it can and give some of our favorite non-movie characters a chance in the spotlight.

If you don’t already have a bad feeling about that, you probably should.

We know, based on the trailers and TV spots, that the likelihood of an enormous space battle is high. A fleet of Star Destroyers looks to be retrieved from Wild Space, while the Resistance, reeling from the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, seems to be calling in every favor it’s owed and amassing a motley fleet of its own. The scene seems to be set for a whole mess of lasers and explosions — and consequences. Of the dead-people variety.

This is a war, after all.

From a storytelling perspective, it probably won’t be the new trilogy's characters that are killed — they’re the new leaders, the ones who are going to mend the galaxy afterward. And, let’s be real, no one, not even J.J. Abrams, would dare dream of offing Lando.

Which means that everyone whose name isn’t on the poster is expendable.

Worse: They need to be.

Credit: Lucasfilm

Take, for example, Biggs Darklighter, Star Wars’ first sacrificial lamb. We’re introduced to Luke’s childhood friend and fellow Red Squadron pilot in Star Wars: A New Hope, given the barest bones of his and Luke’s relationship, and then Biggs explodes. Luke, as a result, learns a valuable lesson about self-sacrifice and the true costs of war, allowing him to finish his trench run and destroy the Death Star and save the galaxy — until the sequel puts it back in peril, that is.

That sounds callous and reductive, and it is, but that doesn’t mean Biggs’ sacrifice wasn’t important; it’s not his fault that statistics and unnamed pilots simply don’t have the same impact as a good friend being lasered to death. More so than Porkins or Red Leader, or even the planet of Alderaan, Biggs going boom helped show Luke — and the viewer — what kind of evil the Rebels were facing, helped create real, tangible pain and loss. Because we knew he was important to Luke, we felt the weight of Biggs’ death, even from such a limited interaction.

And that, dear reader, is why Hera — and Snap Wexley and Prune Face and everyone else that’s spent more time off-camera than on — is going to die.

Credit: Lucasfilm/Disney

After 40 years, there’s no such thing as “limited interaction” in the Star Wars universe anymore. When even nameless A-Wing pilots get heartbreaking, viral webcomics, a few seconds of backstory onscreen simply isn’t enough. The books and comics and cartoons, then, are doing the heavy lifting for the films, filling in the backstories of every pilot and Jedi and mechanic in that galaxy far, far away.

This isn’t to say that the shows and novels aren’t amazing works in their own right. They are, absolutely; I love Rebels more than some of the films — and I’m not just talking about the prequels. But when those characters are transferred to the big screen, it is always, and necessarily so, in service of the movie characters. Despite their own stories, they became ancillary to the franchise-makers.

Think of Saw Gerrera, who appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars only to get exploded in his only live-action role to prove a point about losing hope. Aurra Sing, likewise featured in The Clone Wars, was killed in an offhand comment in Solo: A Star Wars Story, to show how badass Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett was.

As much as that makes these characters seem like simple cannon fodder, though, they’re not. They are, to quote another series about spacefaring rogues, Big Damn Heroes — and heroes are meant to go out in a blaze of glory. Their deaths complete their stories, even if it seems unsatisfying in the moment.

Credit: Lucasfilm

Would it be nice if Hera Syndulla got to retire to her front porch, cradling grandbabies with the ghost of Kanan Jarrus beside her? Sure. But that’s not who Hera is; she doesn’t sit back idly, especially not when the fate of the galaxy is in peril. Besides, we already got that with Captain America at the end of Avengers: Endgame and the internet practically revolted.

Because standing bravely against impossible odds, sacrificing themselves for the greater good, is what heroes do.

Since I’m already basically a supervillain, this seems like as good a time as any to go ahead and quote Grand Admiral Thrawn. He says of Hera: “War. It’s all you’ve ever known, isn’t it? You were so young when you survived the Clone War. No wonder you are as equipped in spirit to fight as well as you do. War is in your blood. ... You were forged by it.”

Thrawn was a lot of things, yes, but he was right more than he wasn’t. The only way Hera Syndulla’s story ends — and Snap’s and everyone else’s — is to go down fighting. She may not end up getting a lot of screen time, and the significance of her death might only be telegraphed by someone else’s reaction, but we’ll know what it really means.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.