“The Mandalorian” has been full of Easter eggs and references to the broader “Star Warrs” mythos, but few reveals could match the excitement that stemmed from the live-action debut of Ahsoka Tano (Rosaria Dawson) on the show last week.
While “The Mandalorian” marks the character’s first live-action appearance, Ahsoka has become a staple part of the “Star Wars” franchise throughout the last decade and has appeared in a handful of popular animated television shows. Today, Ahsoka is one of the most popular “Star Wars” characters, but that wasn’t always destined to be the case. Ahsoka made her franchise debut via the 2008 critically-panned “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” film. Ahsoka was introduced as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, or Jedi apprentice, but film reviewers took issue with the character’s personality and design. Thankfully for Ahsoka, fans and critics began warming up to the character as she continued to appear in subsequent “Star Wars” media.
Ahsoka is best-known for her central role in various episodes of the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” animated series. Ahsoka spent much of the former series commanding a legion of Clone Troopers in numerous fights during the Clone Wars and faced off against famous “Star Wars” antagonists such as General Grievous, Maul, and Asaaj Ventress. Ahsoka formed close ties with the Clone Trooper Rex and several other soldiers throughout the series and undertook numerous missions with Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and other Jedi. Ahsoka eventually became disillusioned with the Jedi Order and left the organization during the Clone Wars. She allied herself with Mandalorians near the end of the series and ultimately became one of the few Jedi to survive Order 66.
Both Ahsoka and “The Clone Wars” marked major firsts for the “Star Wars” franchise. There were few prominent young or female Jedi in “Star Wars” titles — Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa aside, the franchise generally lacked any notable female characters outside prior to “The Force Awakens” — and “The Clone Wars” and Ahsoka’s introduction helped broaden the franchise’s appeal. Ahsoka’s character arc also shed new light on key franchise elements, particularly the Jedi Order and the Clone Troopers. Whereas many old “Star Wars” stories portray the Jedi as forces of absolute good, Ahsoka’s shattered faith in the Jedi Order helped cast a more nuanced light on the organization. As for the Clone Troopers, Ahsoka’s aforementioned bonding with Rex and other soldiers helped flesh out the historically-faceless soldiers — the Clone Troopers were well-received in their titular series to the point that Disney announced a new Clone Trooper-centric animated series will premiere on Disney+ in 2021.
As for “Star Wars Rebels,” Ahsoka takes on a more supporting role throughout the show, which takes place during the events of the Original Trilogy. Ahsoka eventually reunites with Anakain during the show’s second season, where she learns that he has become Darth Vader. The duo engage in a duel that ends inconclusively and Ahsoka’s fate is left ambiguous. The character returns near the end of the show’s fourth and final season, which concludes with Ezra, a friend of Ahsoka and a former Jedi, fending off the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. The ship the duo are on vanish to parts unknown and Ahsoka vows to find her missing friend during the show’s series finale.
Ahsoka’s quest for Ezra is hinted at in “The Mandalorian” Season 2, Episode 5, where she demands that one of Thrawn’s apparent subordinates reveal the Grand Admiral’s location. Thrawn’s status, Ahsoka’s mission, and her future are left uncertain, but episode’s unexpected Thrawn reference suggests that Ahsoka’s quest will be concluded in a future “Star Wars” title — “The Mandalorian” or otherwise.
Dawson had been billed as a guest star on “The Mandalorian” prior to Ahsoka’s live-action debut on the show and there has been no official indication that the character will return later in the season. She revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair that she was “fan casted” in the role.
As rumors began to swirl that Ahsoka Tano would be making the jump from animation to live action, “Star Wars” fans got Dawson’s attention by posting artwork of her in character.
“Someone tweeted me and fan cast me,” Dawson said. “I retweeted back and I was like, ‘Absolutely, yes please’ and “#AhsokaLives.” And apparently that got the attention of someone who has been doing the ‘Star Wars’ press for years. She forwarded it to Dave Filoni. That kind of started a whole thing. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, did I just get fan cast in something?’”
And given the popularity of the character and the positive fan and critical reception to her appearance on the Disney+ show, it’s unlikely that “The Mandalorian” will mark the last time fans see the character on the show.