For those of you who enjoyed Star Wars IV-VI (the original trilogy: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and now VII (The Force Awakens, which rocked, so totally), there is a lot more to the SW universe.
For decades there have been the Star Wars novels covering just about every character seen and every era mentioned in the Star Wars Universe. I confess I have not read them. The Force Awakens definitively showed the novels to be in their own continuity. However, they have a great fan-following, despite being their own cannon.
Now for the most part I am a Star Trek fan (and Babylon 5), but I see no point of dissing one franchise for the other. They are both thoroughly enjoyable with their ups (ST VI: The Undiscovered Country and Empire Strikes Back) and their downs (Star Trek V and Revenge of the Sith). In fact, to compare them is rather like apples and oranges because while both take place in Science Fiction universes, in their stories, Star Trek is more Science Fiction, while Star Wars is more Fantasy.
Think about it, the lowly hero who is “the chosen one” who goes on a journey to find himself and his power, magical power (The Force, mitichlorians be dammed), a weapon of power handed down from father to son (and possibly to granddaughter). Even Joseph Campbell, the scholar who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (an account of his interview with Bill Moyer) pegged Star Wars for what it was: A Hero’s Journey straight out of our classic legends. (And indeed, it came out that Lucas had read Hero with a Thousand Faces, which had in influence on his scripts.) It’s Epic Fantasy set in a SciFi universe. And there is nothing wrong with that.
In fact, the fact that Star Wars is Epic Fantasy in the mode of a classic legend was probably the secret of its wildly unexpected success. When the first film came out, 1977, it splashed down into a pop culture landscape that had a lot of moral ambiguity and disillusionment. In 1977 the movies were either distracting fluff like Smoky and the Bandit or depressing like A Bridge Too Far. (Annie Hall being the obvious artistic stand out of that year.) And SciFi had almost faded into obscurity. The only competition Lucas faced was from his friend Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was a straight up SciFi film.
Now we think of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad & Odyssey, Beowulf and the Arthurian Legends as these ancient epics that belong in the realm of scholarly study. But we forget these were the pop culture of their time. These were the stories the working people listened to in taverns and at hearths and in temples and courts, etc. These were cultural ties that connected people.
Star Wars did that for the modern generation because it filled the need of the epic hero’s journey that modern society lacked. The Lord of the Rings film series did that again, reaching across the genre boundaries to touch billions of people with Tolkien’s take on that archetypal tale that is practically the basis of the human conception of ourselves and human universe/worldview.
Anyway, rambling aside.
The Star Wars prequels sucked. We can all agree on that. It really came down to one huge failing (Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting aside, which I blame in direction because how else do you make Natalie Portman wooden?): Anakin was unlikable. He was arrogant, whiny, snotty, and a mass murder (When he said “I killed them all!” why Padme did not back out of that room slowly and jump on the nearest land speeder out of there, I have no idea.) When you have a character that is going to have a major fall as the audience knew Anakin must, you have to get the audience invested in that character, get them to care about him and grieve when he falls. Lucas did not do that. He had two films to get the audience to like him and Anakin remained an arrogant bratty adolescent that if the audience gave a damn about at all, it was because they wanted to push him into that lava pit themselves.
(Seriously, if I were Obi Wan I heard Anakin going off on one of his “He’s holding me back!” rants, I would have said. “Tell you what kid. I will take the advice of the Jedi Counsel to stop training you, and dump your sorry ass back on Tattooine in slavery were we found you. Then you can think about how you are being “held back.”)
What corrected that grave error in writing and casting in the films was not seen by the majority of the people who saw the films: The Clone Wars TV series. Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, in the six years it was on it showed Anakin as a likeable character! His arrogance is tamed to cockiness and a usually charming, and successful, disregard for the rules. His anger to tamed into a passionate protectiveness for the people in his life (and some jealously over any male that gets near Padme despite possessiveness being a major Jedi no-no). And he has a sense of humor. A real one! The series does hint and sometimes show the darker aspects of his character, that passion becoming rage, the jealously becoming paranoia, the cockiness to the arrogance that would become a single minded belief that what is “right” in his eyes (manipulated by Palpatine, who can be seen gently sinking his hooks into Anakin throughout the series) is worth any cost. And very occasionally they show that, when pushed, he can be a cold blooded killer. From time to time, they do hint heavily at the transformation coming. But for the most part, he is shown as a whole, real person and you actually get to know, like and care about the guy.
(Big Bonus: No whining.)
So much so that going back and watching Revenge of the Sith after watching the show, the film has a much greater emotional impact.
Part of that journey into likability is that Anakin took on a Padwan of his own: Ahoska Tano.
Ahsoka is just a kid when she signed on as his Padawan. As such she comes to idolize her master under what appears outward to be an almost fraternal relationship rather than that of master-and-student. In sharing rebelliousness and cocky natures, he frequently makes big-brother jabs at her while she frequently takes little-sisterly jabs at him. But the fact is she would follow him into hell. Their relationship is a large part of what humanizes Anakin, but Ahsoka quickly became an extremely popular character in her own right.
And let’s face, the SW Universe was short a few kick-ass women.
She also received a warning about Anakin’s nature and the effect staying with him could have on her life. At that moment, she brushed it aside. But Ahsoka’s time with the Jedi was cut short when she was suspected of being part of a terrorist attack. Anakin defended her constantly while she went on the run to find the real terrorist, another Jedi Padawan who had become disillusioned with the Order and realized that they were the cause of the war, that they was being misled (by Palpatine, though she did not know it) to the Dark Side.
But despite vindication, when the Jedi Counsel, a group Ahsoka had put her trust in since she was a toddler, doubted her, she began to have doubts in herself, of where her life was going. She left the Order and Anakin in what is one of the most heartbreaking series/season finales.
(Big props to the music here)
As someone pointed out, the “I know” says a lot about how far their relationship had come. That she knew how torn he was, and why, and had kept his secret. Far from master and student, they had become two people who knew and trusted each other implicitly.
(And without a hint of romantic tension. Because y’know, that can happen.)
Clone Wars continued for one more season after her departure, but it was never the same. Ahsoka was a vital spark in that show and it simply couldn’t float without her. Her abrupt departure and lack of information about her in the subsequent series/season and Revenge of the Sith (she was not shown among the Jedi killed under Order 66) and other media (I think she appeared in a video game) resulted in fans yelling “WHAT HAPPENED TO AHSOKA TANO!?!” every time a new Star Wars anything was announced.
The current TV series, Star Wars Rebels (which takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), at last brought Ahsoka back as one of a leaders of rebels against the growing Empire. Not a Jedi, but perhaps with something the Jedi had lost.
And what was great is they got the same voice actors for Ahsoka and the rare instances where it was needed, Anakin.
And we learn is that her leaving may have had a more devastating effect on Anakin than we realized.
Ahsoka showed up in the series first, but when Darth Vader (then an unknown figure working for the Emperor) shows up at the end of series/season one, the fans were waiting for one thing: The show down.
And we got it at the end of series/season two. The thing is, knowing that we do not see Ahsoka in A New Hope or any of the subsequent films, I knew that she was not walking away from this. She is the final string to Anakin’s humanity that Vader has to cut (much like Kylo Ren thought killing his father would). But the battle itself, both physical and emotional, was what everyone had waiting for, for four years.
And it did not disappoint.
(And yes, that is James Earl Jones as the Vader, but it’s Matt Latner’s Anakin’s coming through that kills you. If you spent hours binge watching Clone Wars, that is.)
And did anyone else catch that during the fight there were seconds of Vader’s lightsaber going green?
The writer/director did leave a slight ambiguity for those fans who need to believe she goes on. But if this is the end for Ahsoka Tano, and I think it was as it should be both artistically and in terms of continuity, it was perfectly done with light touches used to the greatest effect. (For example, it was Anakin’s voice very end saying, “Then you will die.” Not Vader’s. *heartbreak*) A beautiful, if tragic, end not only to Ahsoka’s arc of becoming something more than a Jedi, but also Anakin’s arc into Vader.