(NOTE: This will be a very spoiler-heavy piece if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Star Wars: Rebels. You’ve been warned!)
Not very long ago, in the real world right here on Earth…STAR WARS, as a franchise, had stagnated for all of us.
Sure, things started off really strong. The original trilogy had come out beginning in 1977 and changed science fiction, movies, and pop culture forever. Then, for some time there was nothing on the Star Wars front until 1991, when Timothy Zahn released his novel Heir to the Empire, effectively launching the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Even though it wasn’t on the big screen (or even the small screen), those of us who wanted more adventures of Luke Skywalker and company got our wishes. Amazing original characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Kyle Katarn and Jaina and Jacen Solo came to life before our eyes as they interacted with the heroes of the original trilogy. Previously minor characters that appeared only briefly on screen, like Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, Mon Mothma, Boba Fett got so much more development and backstory than one could have possibly imagined. For a time, it was great. Things tied together, the story made sense and there was a natural continuation of the story from Return of the Jedi.
And then Bantam Spectra, the publishing imprint that had published the Star Wars novels since Heir to the Empire, lost the rights to Del Rey in 1999. The first book launched under Del Rey was The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, the kickoff of the series of the same name. This is when things began going off the rails (in this writer’s opinion). Chewbacca was killed off randomly. An alien race invaded the known galaxy. Han and Leia’s son, Jacen Solo, turned to the dark side and unceremoniously murdered his aunt, Luke Skywalker’s beloved wife Mara Jade, in cold blood. While these would have been well executed concepts in isolation, collectively they added up to a string of in-story misery for the Star Wars Expanded Universe and its characters that was just beginning and would last for almost 14 years. Around the same time the prequel trilogy had just kicked off with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, to mixed reviews and eventually we got three films telling the story of how Anakin Skywalker grew up to become Darth Vader. While the final chapter in the series Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, was decent, overall the prequel trilogy was a case study in over-direction, Hollywood largesse, poor scriptwriting and a fine example of where less would have been more.
On all fronts, things seemed pretty bleak. It was in this atmosphere that George Lucas announced he was going to tell the further adventures of Anakin Skywalker through a cartoon series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, beginning in 2008 with a feature length animated film. The showrunner was one Dave Filoni, who had become rather well known for his success in animation, particularly with the series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Naturally skepticism was high. Lucas had let a lot of fans down with the prequel trilogy and we already knew how the story ended. What was the point of this series? Whose story would it tell? In the first episode we got our answer, even if we didn’t like it at first.
Ahsoka Tano. This wide-eyed alien who was eager, excited, loud, brash and generally annoying, was introduced in the premiere of the series as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan. Fan reaction was swift and Ahsoka was disliked out the gate by many. The stories, although they had promise, came across as “deadening” with “slumbering plot(s)” in the words of Ebert himself, and were also being noted as “inconsistent” and without “long term storylines”. Was this just a kid-friendly version of Episodes II and III? Clones fought droids, Count Dooku and General Grievous were chased around by Obi-Wan and Anakin and Ahsoka was the wild card that seemed to have been thrown in to market the prequel trilogy to a younger audience since Revenge of the Sith was probably not appropriate for them. Sure, we got some gorgeous animation and many of the characters who we had seen in a few important scenes only as background players in the films got to have center stage roles, but it was hard to argue against the claim that this was just a children’s show with little complexity. Was Star Wars being dumbed down? It seemed that it didn’t offer much for all of us anymore.
It was around Season 3 that something began to happen, for those of us that had not dismissed the series hastily and remained patient. We began to see the state of the galaxy as not so black and white. We began to see that the clones were more than just automatons and had their own aspirations, fears and personalities. We began to learn that the Jedi were not these noble paragons of virtue that they had been unflinchingly praised as up to that point. Even the Jedi that we had thought for years were these perfect, flawless heroes had their secrets (Obi-Wan’s romance with Satine) or were unsure of themselves and seemingly had no idea what they were doing (Yoda and his series long journey that eventually ended with the Whills saga). We learned about the complex history of the Force and the fact that it was so much more than just Midicholorians, the Jedi and the Sith; that there were beings out there that existed outside space and time (the Mortis family). And almost all of this was witnessed through the eyes and perspective of Ahsoka. As we began to change our opinion on the show, Ahsoka changed along with all of us, becoming quiet and more introspective. Eventually, Ahsoka didn’t need Anakin and Obi-Wan anymore and we didn’t need them either, finding joy and quality in the episodes that focused on Mandalorians, droids, and other wonderful beings that until that point had been nothing more than stylistic special effect eye candy for the films. Heck, they managed to bring back Darth Maul and make him compelling. This transformation culminated with the Season 5 episode, “The Wrong Jedi,” where because of Ahsoka walking out on the Jedi, the show we once mocked actually completed the unthinkable task of making us understand and sympathize with Anakin’s turn to the dark side (even if we didn’t agree with the horrific acts he undertook after his turn). Read that again – a kids’ show arguably salvaged the entire prequel trilogy, through the eyes of a child that we all started off mocking and being annoyed with.
Ironically, just as Ahsoka walked out on the Jedi, The Clone Wars walked out on all of us with the show being cancelled shortly after Disney bought Lucasfilm. Then the announcement came that the entire Expanded Universe that had started with Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was being deemed “non-canon.” For those of us that had stuck with Star Wars in the dark ages, that had allowed Ahsoka to let all of us see the Star Wars galaxy through her eyes, it felt like a massive betrayal. Initially, we felt as scorned as the fans of the novels and the rest of the Expanded Universe until it was clarified that of all the content outside the films, only The Clone Wars would still “count.” This was when it became clear that the destinies of all of us fans and Ahsoka herself had become intertwined: from that “dark age” of Star Wars, when the films were deemed to be lackluster, the novels were deemed to be boring and toy sales had slumped as people worried about the economy, Ahsoka’s story was literally the only survivor.
After this, Star Wars: Rebels launched and many of us had the same sort of skepticism about it as we did The Clone Wars, but we should have known better, especially with Dave Filoni, Ahsoka’s co-creator, at the helm. Not only did he have Ahsoka eventually show up as the elusive Fulcrum, but he skillfully showed just how far she had progressed as a character while still managing to keep the story firmly centered on the Ghost crew. And just as The Clone Wars was the only survivor of the purge of expanded universe content, Ahsoka was one of the only survivors of Order 66. After Season 2 where she was a recurring character, Ahsoka disappeared and only showed up a few more times before the show ended, but not before she could update her galactic resume to say that she had a brief duel with Darth Maul, a long-awaited and emotional faceoff with Darth Vader and then eventually came face to face with the boss of all bosses, Darth Sidious himself. The kicker? She faces them all in a matter of 20-30 minutes (watch the show to figure out how that is the case)!
Beyond these two shows, she’s had her own novel where we get tantalizing hints of how she survived Order 66 and learn about how she came to establish herself in the Rebellion and we seem primed to find out what she was up to in the Sequel Trilogy era, possibly in the just-announced Star Wars: Resistance or through some other medium. It’s heartwarming to see that post-Rebels, just as we have learned that there is so much more of her story to be told than any of us could have imagined even two years ago, the demand for that story to be told among the fanbase today is also so much more than any of us could have possibly imagined when she was first introduced to us 10 years ago (being reviled by many). Equally compelling is that as the movie franchise seems to have permanently polarized all of us with the decisions made in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, by contrast there has been a rallying cry that unites fans of all stripes, ages, backgrounds and opinions behind Ahsoka and more importantly her co-creator Dave Filoni.
On that note, it’s truly fascinating to consider where Ahsoka fits into the narrative about the direction of the Star Wars franchise in 2018. “SJW agenda!” “Mary Sue Rey!” “Admiral Gender Studies!” These are all battle cries that are yelled out on videos, blogs, and other media in the wake of The Last Jedi by vocal detractors of the sequel trilogy and Disney/Lucasfilm in general. Yet when it comes to Ahsoka, none of these people dare to utter the same things about her in spite of the fact that she is female, can be argued to have been insanely overpowered at times (see the point about her facing off with Maul/Vader/Sidious) and was more likely than Rey to have been originally created to serve an agenda. Which in Ahsoka’s case, was to give the prequel trilogy a character kids could relate to (and rally behind for toys and merchandising), unlike Rey who was just a character. Who would have thought that especially now, she would be the one to bring balance not just to the Force (with the strong implication of her being a “Gray Jedi”) but also to all of us in the fanbase?
However, this piece is not intended to get into a further analysis of The Last Jedi or take a side on the debate of what messages the movie sent. This also isn’t a character study on Ahsoka herself (For the larger societal impact of Ahsoka and the great influence she has had on young female Star Wars fans in particular, check this article out). This is about Ahsoka and all of us. One thing is clear, over the last ten years, the lines between us and her have blurred as more and more about her has been revealed. As love between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala bloomed, Ahsoka “shipped” them with all of us. As the Republic collapsed and Order 66 commenced, even if we haven’t heard the full story, we now know thanks to revelations from Dave and the Ahsoka novel that Ahsoka was right there witnessing it. When A New Hope emerged, just as all of us made the film of the same name more than just a one-time thing, Ahsoka made the embodiment of that Hope more than just a one-time thing by laying the foundation with her work as Fulcrum. And lastly, when the Empire collapsed after the Battle of Endor, we know that Ahsoka experienced it with all of us.
Ahsoka Tano is all of us.