“Rebelling Heroines: Hera, Sabine, and Ahsoka in Star Wars Rebels.” in Fourth Wave Feminism in Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume 2. Essays on Television Representation, 2013-2019. Edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Jefferson: McFarland and Co: November 2019.
Star Wars Rebels has been praised for its storytelling and visuals; the show ushered in a new era of Star Wars stories, taking over from Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the animated Star Wars universe. Centred around the adventures of the crew of the Ghost, the show features a series of heroines over the course of its four seasons, including crew members Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren; The Clone Wars fan favourite Ahsoka Tano returned in season two, helping create wider narrative connections within the universe. While Rebels continues the tradition of strong, rebellious women within Star Wars, its heroines move beyond stereotypes of the lover, the mother, and the sidekick. Through Hera, Sabine, and Ahsoka, Rebels defines its heroines as complex individuals whose back stories and episodic story arcs problematise female representation and pushed it forward within the universe.
This essay demonstrates how the female characters in Rebels embody various aspects of femininity and womanhood without falling into the trap of female stereotypes. Hera, Sabine, and Ahsoka are each conceived as more than her body, her femininity, or a hero’s love interest. Each highlights a woman’s right to choose her own path and define her identity. Hera commands her troops, but also embraces aspects of traditional femininity: including love and motherhood. Sabine’s role as artist and explosives expert merge to illustrate how a woman’s identity as a warrior can be defined by her artistic creativity. While Sabine’s warrior identity is both borrowed from and used as a distinguishing characteristic from her family, it creates tensions within the show centred around appropriate warriorhood. Ahsoka acts as a wise woman; she alternatively guides from the shadows and fights alongside her fellow Rebels. Thus, Rebels deploys its female characters to highlight the diversity of the universe. Moreover, it draws upon cultural differences within the universe to help create a fuller world inhabited by characters who reflect contemporary society.
By confronting, manipulating, and redefining a number of feminine tropes (the mother, the female warrior, the spy, the wise woman), Star Wars Rebels reflects on-going debates related to feminism, and offers an opportunity to understand how the animated world of Star Wars participates in contemporary discourses around feminism, intersectionality, the roles of women, and fandom.