How I learned to love Ahsoka Tano, the Jedi pariah who wasn't supposed to exist

This mouthy "Clone Wars" breakout questioned the Jedi Order long before Luke did it onscreen

Published May 4, 2020 5:54PM (EDT)

Ahsoka from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (Disney/Lucasfilm)
Ahsoka from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (Disney/Lucasfilm)

The following contains spoilers from the series finale of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

"She's not supposed to exist." When I first laid eyes on the Force-sensitive Ahsoka Tano, this blocky CGI-rendered 14-year-old red humanoid girl from "Clone Wars," my eighth-grader self groaned. "She's not in the Star Wars movies and Anakin Skywalker doesn't have an apprentice, so she's not supposed to exist." 

Even if you only follow the Star Wars movie trilogies, you might have noticed the name Ahsoka Tano pop up in headlines. She exists within the extended Star Wars canon albeit exclusively on the small screen, starting with George Lucas's 2008 CGI "Clone Wars" cartoon spin-off series, which takes place between "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Like Baby Yoda, who stole scenes from the titular "Mandalorian," the Force is strong with Ahsoka as the breakout from "Clone Wars."

Of the Togruta people, Ahsoka is a head-tailed humanoid-alien teenager who serves as the padawan apprentice of Anakin Skywalker, the man who would become Darth Vader. But over the course of the series' seven seasons (hopping from Cartoon Network to Netflix and ultimately its swan song revival on Disney+), Ahsoka had become much more than just a student and follower. She is arguably one of the most important characters to train as a Jedi, and yet simultaneously question their ways. Now that "Clone Wars" has concluded on Star Wars Day, aka May the 4th (Be With You), I wanted to dig into her history and examine her impact on both canon and the fandom.

When I first saw the trailer for the series' theatrically released pilot in 2008, I pegged Ahsoka as an annoying sidekick, perhaps an attempt to appeal to kids, a la Scrappy-Doo, a pipsqueak who hindered rather than helped. The initial crudeness of her first CGI design, the clumsily executed banter, and the ill-though-out theatrical release of an under-rendered pilot (a putrid 18% Rotten Tomatoes score based on 169 reviews) were beside the point, although they didn't help. I was one of those skeptics who held dear to my known movie canon. To provide an iconic Skywalker character a Jedi apprentice who did not appear in the live-action movies was an unwelcome and intrusive game-changer. 

How did Ahsoka eventually win me — and a buttload of skeptics — over? It was a gradual evolution. Over the years, voice actress Ashley Eckstein grew into her amiable, childlike voice performance as Ahsoka bantered with Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter), and at the same time, the computer animation became more polished. This combination carved dimensions and added colors to the padawan: from the way she gushes at Jedi babies, smugly outruns and outwits villains, snipes at the Jedi council, earns the nickname "Snips" from Anakin, and pleads with her master for self-assurance. She's Anakin, but the size reduced, possessing his combative hot-headedness, sharing his best-intentions and wisecracking, bearing a devotion and a resentment toward the Jedi Order. 

The moment I stopped despising the padawan occurred early in Season 2 when her disregard for Skywalker's orders places her into a hostage situation. Once she's rescued, however, Anakin himself dashes off to recklessly pursue a bounty hunter rather than evacuate a breaking ship, contradicting his own lectures. Here, Ahsoka lets loose her multitudes, her childishness and her burgeoning sagacity, and howls, "Patience, master!" throwing his own lesson back in his face. Anakin is chastened. For those who found the prequel trilogy explanation about Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace rather flimsy under Lucas's direction, this moment exemplifies how "Clone Wars" was able to develop those hitherto unseen dimensions of his character through his bond with Ahsoka. 

Of course, Ahsoka's appeal goes beyond just playing a foil to a man, and despite presenting a problematic, hyper-sexualized image early on. When conceiving Ahsoka Tano, Lucas stated his intent to have young girls look up to the character, and yet, it seemed that she was initially designed more for the male gaze. One thing is constant: I still hate Ahsoka's initial skin-tight tube top ensemble, which wasn't just inappropriate; it was impractical. According to 2009's "The Art of Star Wars: The Clone Wars" book, one of the show's developers Dave Filoni (who since Lucas's departure from the franchise was in charge of Ahsoka's characterization) sketched her in age-appropriate outfits but it was Lucas who had greenlit the 14-year-old in the tube top. Even worse, in a Season 4 storyline, in which Ahsoka goes undercover as a slave, the animators give a close-up shot of her bare thigh sticking out of her revealing slave outfit while she's resting in a cage. I wanted to punch the teeth of the storyboarder who positioned her in that pose. It was an overdue evolution for Ahsoka to receive a more appropriate outfit, as pictured above, later in "Clone Wars."

Questionable wardrobe aside, Ahsoka was given something no other onscreen female Jedi, or female character for that matter, was given before: a generous evolution and prominence that spanned "Clone Wars," its succeeding animated series "Star Wars Rebels," an Ahsoka young adult novel by E.K. Johnson, and a voice cameo in the last 2019 "Rise of Skywalker" movie. There's even talk of a live-action appearance coming to the second season of Disney+ series "The Mandalorian." This is not to discount the fortitude of non-Force-warriors like Padme Amidala or Princess-General Leia – the latter who was retroactively affirmed as a trained Jedi in "Rise of Skywalker" – in the movies, but long before Rey, there was no centralized lightsaber-wielding heroine. Jedi women have only existed in the background onscreen since "Episode I" but barely had speaking lines or lingering shots that focused on their feats. Or female Jedi like Mara Jade or Jania Solo were regulated to the books and comics of the now-archived pre-Disney extended canon. 

As for the idea of Ahsoka transitioning to live-action Star Wars mediums, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, seeing her materialize as yet another flesh-and-blood woman wielding a lightsaber would be a cause to rejoice. On the other hand, Ahsoka's celebrated agility and performance appear the most attuned to the animation medium. I am also disquieted with the prospective casting of Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka in "The Mandalorian." First reported by SlashFilm, but not yet confirmed by Lucasfilm, the possible casting sparked concern among fans, particularly transgender fans, due to transgender handyman Dedrek Finley's pending civil lawsuit in which he accuses the actress of transphobic assault. As a result, a #RecastAhsoka hashtag has also emerged to protest Dawson's casting. Although it remains to be seen whether or not "The Mandalorian" will follow through with her casting, such apprehensions speak to the sacredness of Ahsoka's characterization among fans.

Which brings me to another dimension of my fangirl-fondness for Ahsoka that Lucasfilm perhaps doesn't acknowledge as much: The bisexual me likes to think—headcanon—her as queer. Ahsoka doesn't have a well-documented LGBTQ+ following like the "Frozen" #GiveElsaAGirlfriend hashtag campaign or the thinkpiece-fueling "Let Finn and Poe Dameron be boyfriends" campaign (a failed one, alas), but the Tumblr and Twitter user like me can attest that she's fodder for queer 'shipping in a culture starved for canonized LGBTQ+ representation. Onscreen, Ahsoka has only shown interest in one (boring) guy, but I relished that YA novelist E.K. Johnson's "Ahsoka" indicated a female character's one-sided crush on Ahsoka, even though it didn't suggest Ahsoka herself reciprocated said feelings even as she's caught off guard with the flirty behavior. Nevertheless, this has made Ahsoka's LGBTQ-adjacent status canon now.

Most of all, Ahsoka embraces the greyness that has been been increasingly important to the Star Wars universe. Beyond the lightsaber-brandishing, butt-kicking, and hyper-competency, she's also a questioner. She has become more open about her frailties, challenges the institution, and dodges the hubris that lead to Anakin's tragedy. Long before "Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" was criticized for depicting a sullen Luke Skywalker who had turned his back on the Jedi, Ahsoka became a mouthpiece calling out their flaws. In Season 5 of "Clone Wars," she is beleaguered by her own Jedi Order subjecting her to false murder accusations. Even when they retract their accusation, her crisis of faith leads her to reject the Order and leave her bereaved master. As she lives among underworld civilians she learns that they've been neglected by the Jedi who are more caught up in being the "peacekeepers" of a grueling war.

This final season of "Clone Wars" has culminated in compounding Ahsoka's doubts. In the penultimate episode, Ahsoka once again wields lightsabers, but still rejects the Jedi mantle. She declares herself a "citizen" rather than a Jedi and remains vague on whether she wants to renew her Jedi duties. Her own doubts about her Jedihood will haunt her adulthood in "Star Wars Rebels" to the point where she doesn't feel worthy enough to unlock a hidden Jedi temple. But by the time she's staring down Darth Vader in the Season 2 finale of "Rebels," she makes her kickass Eowyn declaration, "I am no Jedi," to her fallen master, finalizing her pariah status as she instills justice. 

As for the May the 4th finale, this provides Ahsoka a closing chapter that wasn't allowed when "The Clone Wars" slipped into its hiatus in 2014. It ends on Ahsoka's spiritual death as she stands over a graveyard of fallen soldiers in an ashen mourning cloak. Although she's resolved to move forward, the responsibility of her soldiers' deaths will haunt her till the end. She lets go of the iconic lightsaber her master had gifted her. By the time the fallen Anakin Skywalker, in the guise of Darth Vader, exhumes the saber, he realizes that his former apprentice has moved into an existence without him.

When I see the Ahsoka cosplayers at the New York Comic Con or Star Wars Celebration walking among the Princess Leias and Rey Skywalkers, I see what they see in Ahsoka Tano: The ingénue, the ordinary girl, the buttkicking Jedi, the skeptic, the insecure girl who marched forward anyway, and the Force warrior who outgrows the Jedi Order. Her fans aspire to her power, while learning from her to make peace with their doubts and flaws.  

All seven seasons of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and four seasons of "Star Wars Rebels" are available to stream on Disney+.

By Caroline Cao

Caroline Cao is a native of Houston, Texas and resident of New York City. Her wit can be found on SlashFilm, Birth Movies Death, Bitch Magazine, and more. She is also a screenwriter, playwright, poet, children's book writer, and Star Wars fanfic writer. She received her Master in Fine Arts - Creative Writing Nonfiction at The New School.

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