If you’re a dedicated Star Wars fan, then unless you’ve been under a rock, you saw the likely death of Ahsoka Tano on the Season 2 finale of Rebels. It was a rough, emotional moment that sapped a lot out of the audience. Ahsoka’s been a firm part of the Star Wars mythos for eight years now, and letting go of her is tough. The problem, however, is that some people aren’t ready to let go of her yet, and that’s just not a good idea.
If you’re not familiar with the character, she’s a character who was forcibly inserted into the canon via a kids’ show, yet managed to grow into a beloved character by her end. Created for the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series set between Episodes II and III, Ahsoka’s existence initially baffled fans as the retroactive apprentice of Anakin Skywalker despite the fact that she’d never been mentioned in the films. The notion that Anakin could have trained a junior Jedi in the short space between Episodes II and III initially frustrated viewers, who saw it as the Star Wars story being rewritten for the sake of making a cute, female character for a kids’ show. Yet over five seasons, Ahsoka grew into a fun, interesting character who served as a balance and foil for Anakin’s growing darkness. And she broke our hearts when she quit the Jedi order in the show’s final episodes.
Ahsoka’s final fate was never revealed on Clone Wars, so expectations ran heavy that she would show up on the new Star Wars Rebels set a few years before Episode IV. This result was predictable–there was no conceivable way that the Star Wars story group would leave Ahsoka’s story unfinished with the era between Episodes III and IV now available for use. It was very expected but still well-executed: Ahsoka was eventually revealed to be “Fulcrum,” one of the founders of the early Rebel Alliance and quickly became an ally to the Rebels crew. She never returned to the Jedi order, but she did become a mentor of sorts to the surviving Padawan Kanan Jarrus and his young apprentice, Ezra Bridger.
And then she (apparently) died. The moment we all knew was coming: she had her unavoidable reunion with Anakin, now the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Going in, we knew one thing for certain: Vader would survive this fight. He had to, since Vader will still be around in three years (show time) for the events of Star Wars Episodes IV-VI. Vader is destined to die in Return of the Jedi; his status is “safe” for the course of Rebels. Which meant that it’s very unlikely that Ahsoka could walk away from a fight with Vader unscathed, much less alive.
This week’s episode, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” ambiguously ended with Ahsoka trapped in a Sith temple fighting Vader. At the end, Vader walked away. Ahsoka…didn’t, exactly. The scene ended on an intentional uncertainty, with a white Ahsoka-shaped object going back into the temple. Whether this was her alive, or a force ghost, has been left open by the show’s producers.
Regardless, seeing Anakin-turned-Vader at least attempt to kill Ahsoka while she was attempting to save him was heartbreaking. The futility of it all was as depressing as it was beautiful: Ahsoka’s only options were to either save Anakin’s soul or kill him, and we know that neither of those are a permissible outcome for the Star Wars story. So when the door shut behind her and she went to face Vader, we viewers all knew that she wouldn’t be walking out of there.
Except, of course, that the Star Wars Rebels producers are being coy about it. She might be dead and aren’t directly addressing it at this time. Accordingly, fan theories are running rampant: she’s survived, she’s alive, she’ll come back later, she’ll go on to train Luke Skywalker, etc.
This is all a mistake, and a bad one.
Anything is possible, and certainly, the Rebels production team has both the authority and the ability to decide that Ahsoka lives. It’s just that for story purposes, revealing that Ahsoka is alive and allowing her to continue to play in the Star Wars universe will be problematic in the long run.
For one, this is simply not good storytelling practice. Stories, at least on the micro level, have to come to an end. The Star Wars saga might go on in perpetuity, but most individual characters can’t. They’re born, they age, and they eventually die, either in old age or in some grand battle. That was driven home in The Force Awakens when Han Solo was killed. Like it or hate it, Harrison Ford can’t and doesn’t want to play the character forever.
The only practical way to keep a character like Han Solo or Ahsoka Tano alive forever is to stay perpetually in a certain time period to keep them in their prime. For example, Disney could just tell Clone Wars stories ad infinitum to keep Obi-Wan and Anakin perpetually young and as friends. But even that’s a sham, because all it does is delay the characters’ final fates. No matter now many Obi-Wan and Anakin stories you tell, Anakin will eventually fall in Episode III, Obi-Wan will die in Episode IV, and Anakin in Episode VI.
Ahsoka’s story needs a logical closing point, and the nature of her character doesn’t allow for much. She was created to be Anakin’s apprentice. She went on to become his partner. This may sound frustrating, because we all probably like the notion of Ahsoka being a strong, independent character, but her existence is entirely dependent on her relationship to Anakin Skywalker. Even many of her major story moments on this season of Rebels were reflective of that: her horror in “The Siege of Lothal” when she touched Vader’s mind for the first time; her confrontation of Anakin’s corruption in “Shroud of Darkness;” and her destined meeting with him in “Twilight of the Apprentice.”
Ahsoka has to die facing Vader because it makes sense. She had a tight relationship with Anakin over the course of the Clone Wars, and he helped make her into the woman that she became. Logically, there’s nothing left for her character to do except to confront her old master one last time to try to bring him back from the darkness. Sadly, we knew going into the fight how that scene would end. Vader was guaranteed to walk away.
The show could reveal that Ahsoka survived and escaped, and she can go on to have other adventures with the Ghost crew…why? So she can inevitably face Vader and lose again? It has to end at some point, and the show is running out of an available time frame in which to do it.
Moreover, by the time Star Wars reaches the Episode IV era, the saga is only about one thing: Luke Skywalker. That’s it. The four-year period between Episodes IV and VI is about Luke’s journey from boyhood to manhood, from farmboy to Jedi, from orphan to the son who redeems his lost father. All kinds of wonderful side-stories can exist in that time frame, but they all have to ultimately feed back into the larger flow of Luke’s journey.
There are no more Jedi in Luke’s time other than Yoda and Obi-Wan, and they’re not long for the saga and are really intended to guide Luke along the way. It’s tragic, but the “rudderless student” is a common trope in fantasy stories. Harry Potter loses Sirius and Dumbledore, Frodo loses Gandalf, and Luke loses Obi-Wan. The young learner has to learn how to grow on their own with only the memory of the master to guide them. It’s a trope, but it’s used so repeatedly because it works.
It’s been argued that Ahsoka could stick around to become Luke’s teacher, but doing so would violate the integrity of Star Wars as we know it. For one, there’s only a three-year period between Episodes IV and V, and the current canon is eating away at that time frame. There’s no indications that Luke ever picked up another master in that period. The novel Weapon of a Jedi showed that Luke found an ancient Jedi temple and independently learned lightsaber techniques, and both the novel and the Marvel comics have Luke occasionally hearing Obi-Wan’s voice. But that’s it. If Ahsoka were still around to teach him, you’d think that Leia would have told him about this Jedi that she knows through the Rebellion. So far, she hasn’t.
Continuity aside, it’s also just bad for both Ahsoka and Luke. If you introduce Ahsoka into Luke’s world, it suddenly becomes her story more than his. Worse, it’s needlessly extending Ahsoka into a time period where she was never intended to be (she’s a Clone Wars character, remember). To illustrate the problem: the Clone Wars cartoon also took the ridiculous step of revealing that Darth Maul survived bisection in The Phantom Menace and was still running around. Granted, we got some good Maul episodes out of it, but this was in spite of the fact that bringing him back was silly. Maul died in Episode I. His story was over. Bringing him back just dragged the end of his life much, much further than it should have been.
In essence, I’m saying that I don’t want Ahsoka to be turned into another Darth Maul: a character whose story beautifully ended, only to be dragged back out for no reason other than because somebody thought it would be “neat.” It’s not neat, it’s painful, and it’s groan-inducing to see Maul still running around 25 years after his supposed death. I also don’t want to see Rebels or worse, the Original Trilogy, become The Clone Wars to the extent that a bygone character has been inserted into it as Maul was. Ahsoka was a good guest to have on Rebels, but it’s time for the spotlight to return to the main characters. Bring Ahsoka back as the occasional force ghost, but otherwise let her be done. Let Rebels be about the Rebels and let the Original Trilogy era be about Luke.
We all loved Ahsoka, and in the world of fiction, a character is never truly gone. There’s still plenty of room to tell Ahsoka stories, and indeed, Disney has conveniently announced that an Ahsoka novel is coming later this year. But this story will be set in the past, and that’s appropriate, because Ahsoka is part of the past as well, and that’s where we’ll revisit her.
One of the toughest and yet most important lessons Star Wars teaches is to learn to let go of the things we’re attached to, and that includes people. Ahsoka’s great, but we have to let go of her to let the integrity of her character against the bigger picture survive.