Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) finally makes himself known to the rebels. I am ecstatic to see this character so capably realized. Hera's Heroes shows how the Empire's game against the rebellion has significantly been raised by Thrawn's cunning. Hera (Vanessa Marshall) has been on the backburner for the season so far. She get's more personal and motivated here. It's interesting to see that Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is getting more powerful. He is using the force to guide him, while fighting blindly, to great success. We also learn a bit of Chopper's origin story, altogether a superb episode of Star Wars Rebels.

Hera's Heroes opens with her father, Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkins Downs) and Numa (Catherine Taber), being chased by Imperial troops on speeders. They were waiting on a supply run from the Ghost when ambushed. Cham calls for help and Hera responds. The Ghost destroys the stormtroopers, then swoops up the Twileks and their riding beasts, Blurgs. I'd love to be the guy that creates these cool animals characters ride. The Ghost also snares a hapless trooper on his speeder. He's quickly knocked out by Zeb (Steve Blum).

Cham gives Hera terrible news. The Empire has conquered the Twilek world and occupied their home. It seems the Empire's commander, Captain Slavin (Andre Sugliuzzo), vastly improved his tactics against them. To make matters worse, a priceless family heirloom, a Kalikori, totem of deceased relatives, was taken by Slavin. Hera swears get it back. The Kalikori is the last treasured memory of her mother. The crew resolves to go as well, despite her objections.

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On Tan, the Twilek planet, Ezra dons the captured troopers uniform. He takes Hera as his faux-prisoner with Chopper in tow on the speeder. Meanwhile Cham, Kanan, and the Ghost crew distract the Imperial patrol. Ezra is shocked by the size and majesty of Hera's home. They easily get past the guards with their disguise. Ezra sees a crashed Y-wing near the entrance. Chopper suddenly freezes up and refuses to move. Hera tells Ezra she found Chopper in the crashed ship during the Clone Wars. They leave him behind to spaz out and head to Captain Slavin's office.

Slavin has taken up roots in her father's office. A painting of Cham, Hera as a child, and her mother is prominent on the wall. They quickly find the Kalikori, but their escape plan goes awry. The tunnels under her house are filled with troops. They decide to leave through the front when they accidentally bump into Captain Slavin...and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Ezra pretends to be escorting her. Thrawn recognizes the Kalikori as important to Twileks. He comments that to know a race is to know their art. Hera pretends to be a servant, stealing the artwork to sell for food. Slavin realizes it was taken from his office. Thrawn orders them all back there.

Thrawn immediately notices the painting of the Syndulla family. In short order he surmises that this is Captain Hera of the Rebellion, the daughter of Cham Syndulla. He thanks her for welcoming them into her home. Hera acidly breaks the ruse. She decries they will never be oppressed by the tyranny of the Empire. Ezra decides to make his move when he is stunned by Thrawn. Slavin is stupefied. They lock up Hera and the knocked-out Ezra. Thrawn has his troops put the Kalikori in a box. He tells Hera that he will treasure it. She seethes with fury as the door closes.

As Thrawn and Slavin walk away, Slavin claims they should just kill her and destroy that worthless artifact. Thrawn's icy demeanor cracks. He grabs Slavin by the throat, but quickly regains his composure. He notes he has an experiment to observe. He gives Slavin instructions and returns to his ship.

Outside, Cham and the Ghost crew are under heavy attack. They use a rocket launcher to create a rockslide as a buffer. The rocks are blown to bits by a walker's cannons. The assault ceases. Slavin announces via hologram that he has Hera and Ezra. Cham steps out to bargain. He will trade himself for the rebels. Kanan remarks this is an obvious trap. Cham says his sacrifice will be worth it to save his child.

Chopper, who's been hiding this whole time, breaks into their cell. Hera has no plans to escape. She's making the trade under her terms. She tells Chopper to find explosives and place them around her home. Ezra is shocked. Hera will never let her home be a front for the Empire. Chopper goes unnoticed into the armory and finds the explosives. Then gleefully whizzes around, placing the charges.

The Ghost lands at the Syndulla compound. Slavin has Ezra and Hera, with dozens of troops drawing a bead. Cham walks forward for the exchange. As they meet halfway, Hera apologizes for the house. Chopper zips by Slavin towards the Ghost. Suddenly the building is wracked by explosions. Slavin and his troops are blown off their feet. Cham, Ezra, Hera, and Chopper race unto the Ghost. The Imperials fire a rocket at the ship, Kanan diverts it with the force into a walker. Slavin gets up to see a salute from Kanan as the Ghost takes off.

Thrawn has been observing the entire time from his ship. A trooper says the Ghost is in range of their weapons. Thrawn calmly replies to let them escape. The rebels will savor this victory, but he has learned much from this interaction. The Ghost tears off into hyperspace. The crew rejoices in the rescue, but is saddened by the destruction of Hera's home. Hera replies that her home is her family and friends. She embraces Kanan and her father.

Thrawn has made the conflict with Hera deeply personal to her. She will never stop trying to recover the Kalikori. He understands their unshakeable loyalty to each other. But on the flipside, the rebels have encountered their true adversary. Thrawn is formidable, an unparalleled tactician, but this episode also showed Kanan's evolution. He was able to stop the missile heading for the ship. Being blind has actually made him stronger in the force. I'm geeked out to see how each side escalates in the coming weeks. Rebels has absolutely captured the Star Wars spirit and is running with it.

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Julian Roman