Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahsoka Tano: From the Penumbra of Star Wars

Ahsoka Tano:  From the Penumbra of Star Wars

One of the more controversial moves in recent Star Wars history was the introduction of an adolescent girl to the saga.  This decision caused a radical change in our understanding of Anakin Skywalker and his tragic fall from Jedi “Chosen One” to Darth Vader the slaughterer of younglings and the iron fisted enforcer of Emperor Palpatine’s New Order. 
Who is Ahsoka Tano? Where did she come from?  And why the heck is she here?
In a 1965 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Justice William O. Douglas writing for the majority made an analogy using the term penumbra which generally means a shadow or darkness.  Justice Douglas said, The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance…. The Ninth Amendment provides: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." GRISWOLD v. CONNECTICUT, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)
In a similar way Ahsoka Tano could be said to spring from the shadows created by the Clone Wars and the story of Anakin Skywalker.  Her purpose to those stories is to “help give them life and substance.”  It doesn’t matter if she was specifically envisioned by George Lucas, just as Justice Douglas didn’t believe it necessary for the framers of the Constitution and the bill of rights to have foreseen specific unenumerated rights.  What is important is whether or not Ahsoka improves the saga of Star Wars and whether or not she serves the purpose for which it is created.
It is clear that over the course of the years Star Wars as we have come to know it has gone through many permutations in George Lucas’ mind and through the creative process, elements of story have changed, characters have been created and discarded, ideas laid aside but later used.  It is not out of the realm that he at some point long before the Clone Wars cartoon series had the idea in his head that Anakin had an apprentice (Padawan).  Out of this bud of an idea sprung Ahsoka. 
I.                    How Ahsoka fits into the Fall of Anakin Skywalker and Rise of Darth Vader
The fatal flaw of Anakin Skywalker is attachment.  He learned to love and attachment to his mother and too friends before he learned to be a Jedi.  This provided a flawed foundation upon which the Jedi through Obi-Wan Kenobi tried to build a Jedi Knight.  Anakin grew up as a slave, deprived and forced to labor for the Hutts.  What do we know about his childhood beside the facts that he possessed a droid (partially built C-3P0) and a junker podracer.  Not a great deal in terms of material possession.  But Anakin’s entire world is focused on his love for his mother.  Initially upon the Jedi introduction over dinner he is thinking the Jedi have come to free the slaves, freedom for himself and his mother.  He re-builds C-3PO for the express purpose of helping his mother.  This is a little boy who loves the only parent he has ever known with all his heart.  The first major loss of his life is the separation from his mother.  While he was excited to learn to become a Jedi, there is no doubt that his mother was on his mind everyday from that point on.
In Attack of the Clones we have Anakin sensing his mother in pain and danger, returning to Tatooine too late to save her, having her die in his arms and his subsequent slaughter of the Sand people.  On top of the loss from the earlier separation from his mother, now he experiences the total loss of her in death.  Anakin now has the guilt of abandoning her in the first place to train as a Jedi and the guilt of not being there in time to save her. 
The introduction of Ahsoka provides yet another chance for this flaw in Anakin to be accentuated and to help explain how severe Anakin’s fear of loss was in Revenge of the Sith.  As much as the Jedi spurn attachment we have seen that the Master-Padawan relationship is a hybrid relationship that is surrogate parent/sibling, teacher, and friend.  The potential loss of Ahsoka is like Anakin losing a daughter or little sister.  The loss of Ahsoka if taken in view of the total story of Anakin Skywalker would represent the potential for Anakin to lose all of the potential major female family members; Mother (Shmi), Daughter/Sister (Ahsoka), Wife (Padme).  With the loss of his mother and Ahsoka, not only does Anakin’s fear for Padme make more sense in its intensity, but the rapid turn to the dark side makes more sense as well.  This was a guy who experienced tremendous emotional trauma in his personal life as well as the trauma caused by constant fighting in the Clone Wars.  The major question is not why did Anakin fall to the dark side, but why did it take so long and how did more Jedi avoid falling as well. 
II.                  How Ahsoka fits into the Continuity
Ahsoka also fits as a Retcon, if Ahsoka dies in the course of the Clone Wars series, especially if it is set close to the events of RotS, then in plays in nicely as to why she is not mentioned in the movie.  Both Obi-Wan and Padme would know that the loss was too fresh for Anakin to deal with, so conveniently it goes unmentioned in the movie. 
Once the story of Ahsoka is concluded in the Clone Wars series, I think we also see references to her popping up in the Expanded Universe novels or Comics.  Once other writers know what Ahsoka’s fate is, we can fit her to a greater degree in the Post-Battle of Endor EU.  If she survives somehow, she could appear and interact with Luke’s Jedi Order at some point down the road.  If she dies, some record, be it a holojournal, reference to her, etc. could be found and used as part of a story.  But I am sure at this time Lucasfilm has made her pretty off-limits as a character as to not create a continuity problem for its current main Star Wars vehicle (The Clone Wars). 

III.                Ahsoka, a character or caricature?

In both the original trilogy and the prequels we have a strong leading lady in the person of Princess Leia Organa and of Padme Amidala.  However, if you pay attention for the most part the world of Star wars is male dominated.  It makes sense to take the chance and make the new main character of the latest Star Wars story not only a young person, important for a show whose target audience is children, but also a girl.  Not only does this send a positive message to female viewers, but it also creates a fresh take on storytelling from operating from a female perspective that is limited in Star Wars story telling. 
If you follow the expanded Universe we have seen a number of stories featuring and some primarily so, lead female characters.  You don’t have to be a guy to swing a light saber.  We have any number of examples of leading lady Jedi’s in the EU, for example Barriss Offee (Medstar Duology), Etain Tur-Mukan (Republic Commando’s series), Tahiri Veila (Junior Jedi Knights Series through current FotJ series), Jaina Solo (Dark Journey, as well as many other novels especially the LotF series), and of course Mara Jade Skywalker(Zahn’s novels and rest of EU until Sacrifice).
The introduction of Ahsoka into the Star Wars universe was awkward to say the least. The Clone Wars animated movie was not probably some of the weakest storytelling of the entire Clone Wars series.  So not only do you have a so-so movie, but the characterization of Ahsoka was rather unappealing.   A snarky tube top and mini-skirt wearing teen, who was rude to her new Jedi Master, is not the most endearing character ever created. 
                Ahsoka has been best in the Clone Wars when she is either on her own or paired a Jedi other than Anakin.  In these situations the focus shifts off of Anakin and onto Ahsoka who can and should be the star of the show.  So far in the first two seasons of the show we saw Ahsoka very much learning on the job, making mistakes, overconfident at some times and unsure at others.  But as we get deeper into season 3 we are seeing a maturing Ahsoka.  Ahsoka is also getting a long overdue fashion makeover.  Some fans and critics of the show have commented on Ahsoka’s attire or lack thereof.  While I don’t think this is a huge deal, it is nice to see Ahsoka getting a less revealing and more situational appropriate outfit. 
                Only the future episodes of the show will tell us where the character of Ahsoka goes, but I think Dave Filoni, George Lucas and the writers of the Clone Wars series have redeemed a character that was poorly executed in the Clone Wars Movie, but who has become integral to the story telling of the Clone Wars television series. 

Author’s note:  I would like to give credit to Nathan P. Butler (Star Wars Timeline Gold) and the crew at We Talk Clones (Solosound/ for the inspiration of this editorial.  It was Mr. Butler’s analogy of the Star Wars continuity to the differing interpretations of the Constitution (strict constructionist vs. living breathing) that brought the idea of penumbras to the surface of my mind.  We Talk Clones and EU Review are two of the best Star Wars related podcasts on the web and are a must listen for fans. 


  1. these are good. very good. just asking, how do you think she should die or exit the story. your the ''expert''.

  2. why does she have 2 lightsabers? and whys one yellow, its cool and all but using two lightsabers means you'll have a harder time using the force. and i agree changing ahsokas outfit was a good choice.
    Ahsoka vs. anakin- that would be awsome

  3. Anakin gets too close and emotional as a Jedi to other creatures (mom, wife, daughter-like ahsoka). Being a badass Jedi is like reading a scientific paper on pubmed or elsevier. Its emotionless... only there to communicate information and pretty much expose truth no matter how dirty the situation gets.

  4. I enjoyed reading this! I think a good way to explain Anakin's rapid fall to the dark side in episode III would be for Ahsoka herself to fall to the dark side during the clone wars, and have Anakin confront her and in doing so haveing to kill her himself. Anakin's state of mind at this point is already on edge anyway, for him to do this I think would be the final push for him to want to keep people from dieing. “pain, suffering, death I feel, something terrible has happened, young skywalker is in pain, terrible pain”