RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Before we begin, I would like to recommend watching the final four episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Five. I’ve made no secret of my distaste for this show and the fact that I think almost all of it bad, but this four episode arc is not only the best the show ever got, it’s the only good thing that ever came out of the Star Wars prequels. Don’t worry about watching it out of context from the rest of the show, it largely functions as its own complete story. The only thing that might be confusing for people just jumping in is the appearance of a character named Asajj Ventress. Ventress was Count Dooku’s apprentice and, as is typical of this show, she was involved in a whole lot of dumb crap. The relevant part, though, is that she was betrayed by Dooku when he was ordered to kill her by Darth Sidious. She’s since been trying to get by as a bounty hunter, which is where we find her in this story.
With that information in mind, go check out these episodes. They’re streaming on Netflix and aside from being the best way to set-up Ahsoka’s role in Star Wars Rebels, it’s a genuinely solid story in its own right. If you continue reading from here, be warned that I will be spoiling these episodes. Anyway, on to the main event.
It continues to baffle me how extreme the disparity in quality is between the excellent Star Wars Rebels and the boring, frequently miserable Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The last thing I want is to see the stink of this dreadful show tarnish the surprising greatness of Rebels, and yet I find my self incredibly excited about one of The Clone Wars‘ major characters showing up for a prominent role in Rebels Season Two. The reason for this is that over the course of The Clone Wars Ahsoka Tano became something really special, a truly great character tucked away inside this monolithic failure.
I’m not sure how much Rebels is going to go out of its way to fill people in on Ahsoka’s history, and to be honest, I sort of hope they don’t (again, I’m all about keeping Rebels and The Clone Wars as segregated as possible). That being said, Ahsoka is such an intriguing character that I think it is important to know a bit about her in advance of seeing her story unfold in Rebels. I can’t in good faith recommend you actually watch the show, though, certainly not all 60 episodes she’s featured in (spoiler alert: 53 of those episodes are bad), so instead, I’m going to give you the highlights of her story along with some insight into how these things might play into Star Wars Rebels.
The interesting thing about Ahsoka is that she’s probably the most important character in the Star Wars story who has never appeared in any of the films. Because she was Anakin’s apprentice (and because of the intense prequelitis of The Clone Wars) Ahsoka has interacted with almost every major character in the Star Wars canon. There’s Obi-Wan and Anakin, obviously, but also Yoda, the Emperor, Tarkin, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and virtually all the prequel characters. Considering her connection to Bail Organa, I also have to assume that she’s at least aware of Leia, even if she hasn’t actually met her. That means the only two major players she doesn’t know are Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
We first meet Ahsoka in The Clone Wars movie, where she is assigned by Yoda himself to be Anakin’s apprentice. Yoda had hoped that by giving Anakin an apprentice – one who would eventually complete her training and leave his side – it would force him to deal with his tendency toward attachment and his fear of losing loved ones. At first, Anakin isn’t thrilled, and though Anakin is an enormous asshole, I can’t say I blame him. The first time we meet Ahsoka – who is 14 years old at this point – she’s obstinate and irritating. She’s overly cutesy, coming up with annoying nicknames for everyone and everything and is constantly in need of being saved by Anakin from a mess that she got herself into by refusing to follow directions. We’re supposed to get the sense that Anakin and Ahsoka are very much alike, but being like Anakin is not going to win Ahsoka a ton of popularity points.
Even her design is frustrating at this point, being both overtly childish, with gigantic eyes and a button nose, and uncomfortably sexualized in her costume. There’s something decidedly unsettling about this half-naked 14-year-old palling around with adult men, especially the profoundly creepy Anakin Skywalker. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this is also a character who is the subject of an alarming amount of pornographic fan art, but I digress.
Anyway, as Anakin works alongside Ahsoka, he begins to see himself reflected in her and warms to the idea of having her as an apprentice. Early on in the series she mostly just plays a support role in various one-off stories – helping Anakin rescue a Jedi master trapped in an escape pod, helping Anakin rescue R2-D2 from a junk merchant, helping Anakin stop a deadly virus from being released in a civilian populace, you get the idea.* The first story she’s involved in that actually matters in her larger arc plays out in episodes 5-8 of Season Two. During this arc, she meets a fellow Padawan named Barriss Offee, apprentice to Jedi Master Luminara Unduli (you may remember her as the dead Jedi used in the Inquisitor’s trap for the Lothal rebels). Ahsoka and Barriss are tasked with sneaking behind enemy lines to destroy a Separatist droid factory, but when they are trapped in the rubble of the explosion, Ahsoka and Barriss find that their masters’ trainings have given them very different outlooks. Barriss approaches the situation with resignation, thinking there’s no way her master would abandon the mission to rescue someone who appears to be dead, but Ahsoka is confident that Anakin will stop at nothing to rescue her as long as there’s even the slightest chance that they might still be alive, even if it means disobeying orders and abandoning the mission. And you know what, they’re both 100% right about their respective masters. Anakin’s attachment to Ahsoka – a trait frowned upon by the Jedi – drives him to find Ahsoka while Luminara is fairly cold and detached about the whole thing.
As the series progressed, Ahsoka became more and more competent and capable as a character, growing past the irritating qualities she displayed earlier on, and by the time Season Three rolls around, she was given a whole new look to reflect this far more interesting character. Her features became more refined and more mature while still maintaining a youthful quality and her costume became more practical and less absurdly sexualized.
It’s after this point that Ahsoka starts taking a more prominent role in the action of the series. She finds herself in situations where she is forced to take charge and lead others to victory, whether it’s a group of young Jedi who have been kidnapped for the amusement of Trandoshan hunters in a “The Most Dangerous Game” riff, or leading a team of freedom fighters to liberate their world from Separatist rule, she proves to be more than capable as both a Jedi and a commander in the Grand Army of the Republic. Part of what’s interesting about Ahsoka is that she’s almost a “What If?” version of Anakin, wherein she’s just as willful, passionate, and fiercely loyal to the Republic as Anakin is, but she doesn’t have that deep brokenness that makes Anakin a total scumbag. This makes her more alive and vibrant than the majority of the subdued and joyless Jedi Order, but with none of the creepy murder fantasies or MRA whinging of Anakin.
In what is perhaps the strangest arc in the whole series (Season Three, episodes 15-17), Ahsoka, along with Anakin and Obi-Wan, is taken to a world called Mortis, which, as it turns out, is a conduit through which the Cosmic Force flows through the universe. On Mortis, they come face to face with The Daughter, The Son, and The Father who are the anthropomorphic embodiments of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force as well as the balance that exists between them. This arc is full of weird, trippy, Marvel Comics-type stuff, and it mostly serves as an exploration of Anakin’s role as the prophesied “chosen one,” but there’s some interesting stuff that goes on with Ahsoka here too, not the least of which is that she receives a vision of her future self warning her that she will never see her future if she remains under Anakin’s influence. She is also possessed by The Son (the physical embodiment of the Dark Side), killed, then brought back to life by taking on The Daughter’s (physical embodiment of the Light Side) life energy, you know, as kids these days do. I have a few pet theories about how this stuff could potentially play into Rebels, but this whole story is such an oddity that I doubt they’ll bring it up again, and all things considered that’s probably for the best.
The defining moment of Ahsoka’s story in The Clone Wars, though, comes in her final arc in the series (Season Five, episodes 17-20). This is the only, truly good story in the entire show, and it plays out largely as a Star Wars-flavored version of The Fugitive. Anakin and Ahsoka are called back from the front lines to investigate a bombing that took place at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, a bombing that may have been perpetrated by a Jedi. Through their investigation, they discover that the bombing was tied to Letta Turmond, a vocal anti-war protestor, but when Ahsoka visits her cell to get information about the mastermind behind the bombing, Turmond is strangled with the Force by an unseen assailant. Unfortunately, to the prison’s security cameras, it appears that Ahsoka is the murderer, and as the evidence against her continues to stack up, she is forced to go on the run to try to find the culprit and clear her name. Eventually, she is captured, and under pressure from the Republic Senate, she is cast out of the Jedi Order to be tried for treason as a war criminal.** While she’s on trial, Anakin attempts to pick up the trail where Ahsoka left off, and finds that it leads back to Barriss Offee, Ahsoka’s friend that I mentioned earlier. Barriss planned the attack to send a message to the Jedi Order that she now views as murderers and war criminals who have fallen dramatically from their supposed role as peace keepers.
This is an interesting progression of the dynamic between these two characters when they first meet. Barriss, who was instructed by a cold and detached master, sees the Jedi Order as something horrifically broken that needs to be torn down, while Ahsoka, who was taught by the unfailingly loyal and passionate Anakin, finds herself betrayed by the people she trusts. Each comes to understand the disease that has infected the Jedi Order, but their individual responses to it are informed by how they have been taught.
When the truth about Barriss’ plan comes to light, the Jedi Council offers to reinstate Ahsoka and offers a half-hearted apology, claiming the situation was ultimately a test of Ahsoka’s resolve. Ahsoka rejects their nonsense, and chooses to walk away from the Jedi Order forever, much to Anakin’s distress.
Since then, 15 years have passed. The Jedi Order she once belonged to has been exterminated, the Republic she was so loyal to has given way to the rise of the Galactic Empire, and her former master has become an unstoppable force of evil in the galaxy (though Ahsoka doesn’t know about that last part). This puts Ahsoka in an incredibly interesting place, and a lot of that is reflected in her third design.
Ahsoka is an adult now. Gone are the massive eyes and the rounded nose, gone is the dress with the enormous open back and chest cut-out, and in their place is a grown woman in a suit of armor. Her appearance is reminiscent of a samurai, and her new lightsaber hilts resemble katanas. Also worth noting is that her lightsaber blades are no longer green, but instead are pure white. Show runner Dave Filoni has said that this was done to reflect Ahsoka’s unaffiliated status. She draws upon the Light Side of the Force, but she is no longer a Jedi; she is a lone warrior fighting under no one’s banner but her own. It’s also interesting how the patterning has changed on her lekku (head-tails). During The Clone Wars, there were clean, well-defined lines in a time when everything was very clear for her – she knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were and where she fit into the universe as a whole – but now, much like these new patterns, everything is confused and jagged. Everything she thought she knew has been revealed to be a lie, and the people she once trusted with her life have betrayed her.
I’m incredibly curious to see how Ahsoka’s story continues (and probably ends) over the course of this new season of Rebels. Ahsoka represents the last connection Vader has to his former humanity, and throwing these two back into the mix together can’t end well for either one of them.
Anyway, I hope this was useful to those of you who are fans of Rebels, but never felt compelled to get into The Clone Wars. I realize this is a lot of information to cram into one article, and I hope I did a half-decent job conveying it in a way that’s not too difficult to follow. If you have any questions or things you want clarified, please let me know in the comments. Check back tomorrow for my updated review and episode recap of Rebels’ Season Two premier.
*There is one episode in Season One where Anakin and Ahsoka assist Hera’s father, Cham Syndulla, in liberating his home planet, so I’m curious to see if this is ever brought up in Rebels.
**By the way, Admiral Tarkin – as in the future Grand Moff – led her prosecution and pushed pretty hard for the death sentence, so I imagine these two aren’t going to be on the best of terms when they cross paths in Rebels.