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Kevin Christopher RoblesOctober 06, 2023
Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano (IMDB)

If there is one aspect that broadly defines the Disney era of Star Wars, it has been the property's shift toward self-examination.

Depending on which creative force is performing said examination, the lens shifts ever so slightly. Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian,” is an artful appreciation of the primary themes of the original films: the significance of family (found or otherwise); a dedication to hope even when one feels lost; and the fundamental triumph of good over evil. Sometimes, the series decides to delve deeper—Rian Johnson's “The Last Jedi” proved that “Star Wars” was capable of confronting the mistakes of its characters' tumultuous pasts—while simultaneously confronting the franchise's own preoccupation with its history. Similarly, Tony Gilroy's “Andor” showed that hope's victory over despair is often tragic and costly.

The latest effort from the franchise, “Ahsoka,” deals with something more specific: What happens to you after you lose your faith?

How many times have we caught ourselves repeating the bad decisions of our forebears?

Ahsoka Tano is the former apprentice of Anakin Skywalker, who was a heroic Jedi Knight before falling from grace and becoming Darth Vader. Though he lived a life of death and destruction as Vader, Anakin was ultimately redeemed through the love and forgiveness of his son, Luke Skywalker, whose unwavering faith in his father allowed him to find redemption in his final moments. It is incredible stuff, a story with echoes of the biblical. “Star Wars,” following on from the New Testament, concludes that no one is too far gone to be redeemed.

Ahsoka's relationship with her former master is more complex than Vader's relationship with his son, and stretches back much further. As portrayed in “The Clone Wars,” the animated series in which Ahsoka made her debut, her relationship with the Jedi eventually degraded to a point where she made the decision to leave the order and her master behind. Luke had the benefit of only knowing his father as Vader; he did not have to witness his slow transformation into a villain.

This is not to say that Ahsoka's choice to leave was a decision to abandon her spiritual life entirely. On the contrary, Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order allowed her relationship with the Force to evolve in ways that would have been impossible had she stayed. In her titular show, Ahsoka has struggled with distinguishing the good from the bad in her faith tradition. She has had to reckon with recognizing the innate goodness of her master while reconciling it with the evil he eventually came to embody. Ahsoka was raised during a time of war and continued to fight in many conflicts after that, and she worries that Anakin's “legacy of death and destruction” lives on in her.

Ahsoka’s fear of complicity in her master’s evil might awaken some uncomfortable feelings in members of the audience. How many times have we been in the presence of evil and not known it? How many times have we said nothing when someone we know has done something wrong? How many times have we caught ourselves repeating the bad decisions of our forebears?

One of the antagonists in “Ahsoka,” the former Jedi General Baylan Skoll, exists as a foil to Ahsoka and serves to further illustrate this dichotomy. Now a mercenary for hire and having long since abandoned the Jedi ideology, Baylan nevertheless retains a few of the traditions of his former order. His attire is reminiscent of that worn by the Jedi in earlier times and he maintains a similar sense of honor and discipline, with his emotions never running hot or expressing a connection with the dark side of the Force—in stark contrast to the much more villainous Vader and Emperor Palpatine.

Most intriguing is his relationship with his apprentice, Shin Hati. Unlike other Jedi apprentices, including Ahsoka herself, Shin is emotionally all over the place, the complete opposite of a typical Jedi. Shin is feral and bloodthirsty, like a caged beast always gnashing her teeth. Yet at other moments, she can be quite lost, even scared. Baylan, despite clearly teaching her to be different from what he knows, still structures everything around how he himself had been raised: Her blade is patterned after his own, they maintain the traditional master-apprentice relationship and Baylan even has her style her hair with a Padawan braid, a sign that she is still a learner.

At one point, Shin compares herself to a Jedi apprentice. “No,” he replies. “I trained you to be something more.”

When Shin asks if Baylan ever misses the Jedi Order, he looks wistfully into the distance. “I miss the idea of it,” he says. “But not the truth, the weakness. There was no future there.”

How many of us might feel the same way as Baylan, especially when it comes to the church? How many of us look back at the days when we were children, when faith came easily and so assuredly, before the all-too-human failings of its leaders became readily apparent? Many leave the church because of what Baylan deems “weakness.”

“My legacy is one of death and war,” says Ahsoka. “But you’re more than that,” says Anakin. “Because I’m more than that.”

Baylan is quite sure of the fallibility of the Jedi, and it inspired him to seek a different path forward, even if that path led him to abandon many of his old principles in the name of survival. It echoes the sentiments of Luke Skywalker himself in “The Last Jedi,” who all but gave up on the Jedi after his own mistakes began to mirror the failings of his mentors, until he was brought back to the side of hope to try to rescue his nephew Kylo Ren.

While Baylan might be the loudest advocate for these themes of tradition and reshaping the past, Ahsoka remains the focal point. In the fifth episode of the show, Ahsoka reunites with her former master in the form of a ghostly apparition. This is after Ahsoka had lost a fight and had been laid low, struggling to live. Not unlike the visits of the ghosts in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Anakin shows her images of her past, all of which depict gruesome battles in which she played a key role. This represents the moral philosophy of “Star Wars’” at its most potent—Ahsoka has to learn to forgive herself for the violence she has participated in and abetted in the past.

“My legacy is one of death and war,” says Ahsoka. “But you’re more than that,” says Anakin. “Because I’m more than that.”

Prior to his death, Anakin finally reconciled the two parts of his being: the hero and the villain. He came to accept that he was not too far gone and that he was more than his worst moments. His ghostly form imparts this knowledge to Ahsoka in classic Anakin fashion—through a lightsaber battle.

But once she gets it, she gets it. She does not give in to despair. She accepts her part in what has come before and makes an active effort to move past it, to grow beyond not only her own failings but the failings of the institution she had been raised in. She chooses to keep fighting. “Star Wars” has always been about growth and forgiveness, and “Ahsoka” carries that introspective legacy forward in compelling ways.

More: TV / Faith

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