Exploring the narrative and business decisions that created this beloved character.
Introducing a new character alongside established favorites could have easily failed. Why didn’t it?
Very little is more central to STAR WARS than the tragedy and eventual redemption of Anakin Skywalker. In case you didn’t know, he’s a big deal. Therefore, as his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano is necessarily crucial to understanding Anakin. He meticulously, perhaps at times even abusively, trained her into one of the fiercest fighters in the galaxy and the two were dear friends. Her renunciation of the Jedi Order, and by extension of him, hastened his inevitable fall.
But, why does Ahsoka even exist in the first place? What were the motivations and goals for introducing the character in The Clone Wars, and how exactly did George Lucas and Dave Filoni know dropping a no-name randy alongside f***ing legends Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi was even going to work (they…did…know it would work…right?)?
Ahsoka within the Star Wars universe
Put simply, Ahsoka Tano was the Padawan apprentice of the f***ing Chosen One himself, Mr. Anakin Skywalker.
Unsimply, Ahsoka is perhaps the most thoroughly documented, fully rounded character in all of Star Wars. Nearly all of the blanks are filled in for her, except her (very) notable canon absences from the movie trilogies. From her earliest days as a Togruta toddler on the planet Shili (Tales of the Jedi), to her latest known whereabouts in-world during the run of the Ahsoka Disney+ show, audiences have been able to follow her her entire life. It’s something wholly unheard of within Star Wars.
Fans have watched her grow from an admittedly (and intentionally) super annoying teen sidekick/child soldier to Anakin and Obi-wan’s heroic Knights, to arguably the best duelist in the galaxy and one of it’s most powerful Force users to boot. Long time fans of the “Filoni-verse” absolutely love and adore Ahsoka Tano. On that, there is no question frens.
The question of who Ahsoka is gets a little more nuanced when we move into the real world. This is because, yes, while it was a narrative decision, it’s also impossible to separate that from the business side of things. If we’re really being honest, all of STAR WARS is really just one big licensing engine designed to push merch. I ain’t mad about it! It is what it is, we just can’t ignore it.
So, at the end of the day, Ahsoka was intended as the hook for an entire generation of young kids that would be introduced and immersed in STAR WARS with the release of the prequel fixing series The Clone Wars. For better or worse, she was very much intended to be the Mary Sue that some unloving fans still complain she is.
But, for the health of STAR WARS proper, Ahsoka needed to do more than just hook kids and sell merch. She needed to give much needed depth to Anakin Skywalker after the massive amount of criticism that the prequel trilogy took. As someone in high school at the time those movies were released (I went to every premiere and loved every one), I can vouch that there was plenty of that. The Clone Wars was, in part, hatched as a way to redeem Anakin, and Ahsoka would be the audience stand-in for that process.
The Evolution of Ahsoka Tano
It’s clear George Lucas didn’t initially intend for Anakin to take a padawan. We know this because Genndy Tartakovsky’s incredible Clone Wars animated series exists. Released beginning in 2003, just after Attack of the Clones and two whole years before Revenge of the Sith, Clone Wars was Lucas’s attempt to fill in some of the blanks left by not putting any of the galaxy bending Clone War on film except the beginning and the end; essentially it was Star Wars Episode 2.5.
Animated in the style of Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack, it was the first the fandom had really seen of heroic Anakin. Indeed, it would be the only canon depiction of heroic Anakin, outside of the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith, and it was unquestionably bad as f***.
The obvious reason for this absence is that it was going to be narratively difficult to explain the existence of this apprentice and what happened to them as Order 66 came down and Anakin morphed into Darth Vader. It’s a whole narrative arc unto itself and Lucas didn’t have screen time for it. So when Clone Wars aired, it did so with Dooku and General Grievous and even Asajj Ventress, but no Ahsoka. However, while the series is great and I definitely recommend watching it, ultimately the run was just too short to accomplish all that it needed to (beyond a few incredible sequences).
Then, sometime after release of RotS in 2005, George Lucas picked a young upstart named Dave Filoni from within Lucasfilm to steward a new TV project that would explore the Clone War in much more depth. Lucas had always been enamored with TV, finding it less encumbering than movies could sometimes be, and thought a lot of the STAR WARS universe could live on the small screen.
However, technology at the time made it impossible to meet the high visual standards STAR WARS is known for (which only really became possible with The Mandalorian and “the Volume”) so they decided to launch an animated show. They could do much more visually than a live-action show, and it was a lot cheaper than a movie. Since animated shows by nature slant toward kids, the target market for STAR WARS according to Lucas, they needed a character for kids to identify with, and Ahsoka Tano was born.
The Legacy of Ahsoka Tano
Throughout seven (eventual) seasons of TCW, four of Rebels, a book, the Tales of the Jedi animated anthology, Forces of Destiny animated shorts, video games, and more, Ahsoka has grown into one of the most beloved characters in all of STAR WARS, and definitely the biggest animated character.
Even with all this clout, a lot of STAR WARS fans had never heard of her. That makes her crossover into live-action the biggest of her legacies. Ahsoka is the lynchpin of all current STAR WARS storytelling. All storylines connect to hers, and that’s apparent with what has unfolded to date. She has proven that building a huge, interconnected universe across multiple mediums is something the fans love and crave. It creates enthusiasm for the huge backlog of content and introduces more fans to more of the universe, while at the same time helping churn the profit wheel for Disney to keep this whole wild ride going.