No franchise is quite as self-defeatingly nostalgic as Star Wars. The Skywalker Saga has defined the first four-and-a-half decades of the science fiction movies to such a degree that any deviation is often met with some mix of cynicism and outright rejection.
Scepticism hangs over new Star Wars characters, while possessive obsession of the old ones paralyses any kind of lasting creativity. It’s the sort of whirling toxicity that leads to the most popular modern instalment being a TV series about a nameless, largely faceless Boba Fett clone protecting a miniature Yoda long enough for a young, cool Luke Skywalker to drop by and pick them up.
All hope is not lost, though, because among all the minor excursions within the 50 year period from Anakin Skywalker’s downfall to the destruction of the second Death Star, there’s been some promise. A glimmer of someone who could help rejuvenate a galaxy far, far away, and bring balance to the Force. Ahsoka Tano, a rogue Jedi who pledges allegiance to no institution, has already left her mark on Star Wars as it is, and she’ll be what leads us into what’s next.
Ahsoka almost certainly needs no introduction to anyone who’s kept up to date with the happenings of a long, long time ago. Her live-action debut in The Mandalorian is one of the stand-out episodes of the sci-fi series. The eponymous Mando, pointed Ahsoka’s way by Bo-Katan, finds her in a standoff against some members of the Empire who’re holding a city hostage.
Wielding her lightsaber and the Force in equal measure, Ahsoka tells Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth to let her captives go and provide information on Grand Admiral Thrawn, or face the consequences.
The episode’s got a real Western movie vibe, channelling George Lucas’s love of Akira Kurosawa and classic Hollywood filmmaking. Anyway, the Magistrate doesn’t yield to Ahsoka’s demands, and meets the wrong end of a lightsaber – with some help from our favourite babysitting bounty hunter.
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Dave Filoni wrote and directed it, fitting as he co-created Ahsoka for animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2008. The film isn’t anyone’s finest hour, but the proceeding animated series is a primo space opera.
A reboot of Genndy Tartakovsky’s shorts from 2003, The Clone Wars goes deeper and longer on the political discord and character drama, using 22-minute episodes as opposed to the previous cap of 15-minutes.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin, and Yoda are still at the forefront, but as the show goes on it’s the newcomer Ahsoka that becomes the star. A padawan assigned to Anakin their relationship – as she wins him over – provides a strong emotional through-line, especially given where we know he ends up. She seems doomed until, when the Jedi Council falsely imprisoned her, she ditches the cause to develop her own relationship with the Force.
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Later, we see her narrowly escape Order 66. A freshly-knighted Darth Vader finds one of her lightsabers, left behind on a deserted moon to give the illusion that she’d potentially been killed. The curtains closed with bittersweet ambiguity.
Before this, Star Wars spin-offs had mostly been goofy straight-to-video fodder like Caravan of Courage or just straight-goofy-trash like Droid Adventures. The Clone Wars suggested Star Wars could exist on screens big and small simultaneously, intertwining for and undergirding the cataclysmic events.
Under Filoni’s guidance, Ahsoka was integral to this. She showed that proximity to a Skywalker doesn’t need to define anyone’s destiny, nor are Sith and Jedi the only ways to practice and understand the Force. She saw the cracks in a broken paradigm and decided to crawl through them rather than accept this is just how it’s meant to be.
She reappears in Rebels, set some years later, haunted by dreams of Anakin, who guilts her for his downfall. The trauma leads her back toward Vader, and they have a duel in a temple on Malachor. The Skywalker lineage is a vortex into which all narrative threads are pulled.
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Time itself is bent to free Ahsoka from Vader’s wrath. They go their separate ways again, him sullenly believing she’s dead, her joining Sabine Wren to find Thrawn.
Ahsoka isn’t driven by bringing balance to the Force, or dismantling the Sith, or rejuvenating the Jedi. She works on more practical terms, helping where she can to disarm and dissuade oppression. ‘Chapter 13: The Jedi’ contains one such example – Ahsoka liberates the city of Calodan, in part to continue her path towards Thrawn.
People living under the boot of the Empire have the foot taken off their neck because it was what they needed. She’ll never burn down the kingdom overnight, but she can cause a ripple in the foundations from time to time.
She’d have been back into the stars with Sabine, only that a mysterious new would-be Jedi appears at just the right time and, yet again, Ahsoka is pulled back toward the Skywalkers. Refusing to get too involved, she sends Mando and Grogu to a disused Jedi space.
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Jump to The Book of Boba Fett, and she’s working with Luke Skywalker on his Jedi school, but her visit is fleeting. When Luke seems unsure about how to lead his first student, she gives him a quick “follow your gut” and gets out of dodge.
Star Wars might keep leaning back toward rehashing the catastrophe that has become the Skywalkers, but Ahsoka’s gotten wise to the cycle. When it all gets a little too light versus dark, she heads back out on her own to continue her personal mission.
Her path isn’t as defined, and that’s what makes her a great flagship protagonist. Where the franchise so frequently forces us to see a galaxy in disarray, she sees one full of possibility, with the desire to act upon it, not too unlike a certain moisture farmer’s stepson who’d stare longingly at the twin suns of Tatooine.
Her collective history gives her a level of trust among the wider fanbase, too. A contingent will never be happy – loud, pathetic bigots that they are – but Ahsoka’s protracted journey makes her someone most can agree on. Whatever happens, when the Ahsoka series comes to Disney Plus, we’ll all be watching. A new era’s coming, and there’s no greater sign of the Force than that.