Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016: Ahsoka’s Untold Tales
One of the first panels at this year’s Star Wars Celebration convention in London, held Friday morning on the Galaxy Stage, featured a wealth of previously unrevealed information about the life and character arc of Ahsoka Tano and a fascinating amount of insight into the creative process of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni. At times, “Ahsoka’s Untold Tales” felt like the perfect companion panel to last year’s “The Untold Clone Wars” panel at Celebration Anaheim, providing extensive never-before-seen images and details about the three unproduced episode arcs from that series with Ahsoka at their center. Yet this year’s panel ranged far wider on the Star Wars timeline, as well, with Filoni joined on stage by host David Collins, voice actress Ashley Eckstein, and Story Group creative executive Pablo Hidalgo for the discussion of Ahsoka’s as-yet-untold adventures.
Fans of Ahsoka have long known the basic foundation of her backstory: Filoni’s favorite Jedi Master, Plo Koon, discovered young Ahsoka as a child and brought her to Coruscant to be trained among the Order. Brief glimpses of that moment appeared in a flashback at the beginning of The Clone Wars Season Five episode “The Gathering,” the first episode in the Younglings arc. But as images from his sketchbooks illustrate, Filoni envisioned a much more developed story of her origins. He wanted to emphasize that children departing for Jedi training is not always tragic for their families – Ahsoka’s people were excited about her potential to be a Jedi and reached out to the Order to come and confirm her abilities. A good story requires conflict, and Filoni chose the theme that looks can be deceiving to drive the tension. The message was intercepted, and the first emissary to appear, a friendly female alien called Latrans, was actually a bounty hunter hoping to abduct young Ahsoka for the reward. Ahsoka’s people would never have seen a Jedi in person, and could be fooled by the charade. When Plo Koon arrived, he appeared sinister by contrast, yet in truth he was the true Jedi. While Filoni would have loved to have portrayed the story in full in animation, he understood that the reality of filmmaking and the need for the series to appeal to a mass audience, not only fans eager for details about one particular character’s backstory, necessitated keeping it untold. Like many Ralph McQuarrie designs from the Original Trilogy era that became repurposed in later imagery, though, Filoni subsequently reused the design of Latrans for the Zygerrian queen Miraj Scintel.
The panel then jumped down the timeline to discuss the three story arcs that had been created for the sixth and seventh seasons of The Clone Wars. The most detail was shared about the first arc, informally called “Ahsoka’s Walkabout.” Last year’s panel shared images of Ahsoka’s attire and her speederbike – a design later repurposed for Kanan’s vehicle in Rebels – as well as an animatic of Ahsoka’s struggling to remain aloft when the bike’s engine failed. The core of the arc, Filoni explained, came from the notion of pushing Ahsoka from one extreme to the other: that her upbringing in the privilege of the Jedi Temple would leave Ahsoka unprepared for life on her own. She had to learn quickly how to earn money, find shelter and food, and make her path without the support network she had always known. In the depths of Coruscant on the notorious level 1313, Ahsoka became wrapped up in the underworld of smuggling – but she retained, Filoni emphasized, her strong moral center. Like her later characterization in Rebels, although she was no longer a Jedi she could still behave like one. Hidalgo added that although Ahsoka had left the Jedi, she cannot change who she is, leading her to become a kind of underworld vigilante. Thus, Filoni noted that her new outfit, which had to distinguish her from her prior status as a Jedi now that she has left the Order, drew on police uniform imagery.
The discussion of this arc also revealed another insight into Ahsoka’s life: though Hidalgo lightheartedly noted some fans’ fondness for her affinity for Lux Bonteri earlier in the series, as Eckstein put it, “Ahsoka had a boyfriend for a hot minute and his name was Nyx Okami.” Filoni described their romance as a John Hughes teenage story, with inspiration also drawn from Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back and Rick and Lisa in Robotech’s Macross saga. After the initial levity, though, it became clear that Ahsoka’s love story was crafted with serious thought and carefulness. A classic scoundrel archetype in Star Wars, Okami also gave Filoni the chance to include an Asian male lead that he had sought for some time. Filoni emphasized that he wanted the romance to show young girls that they should not define their self-worth by being in a relationship or whether someone likes them, just as Ahsoka has her own agency and character worth independent of any feelings she might share with Okami. Eckstein agreed that the story marked themes the way teenage romances should be told, with the focus on Ahsoka growing and learning about herself, rather than a simplistic crush on a boy. Hidalgo added that the romance was complicated by the fact that Ahsoka kept secret from Okami her status as a former Jedi, knowing that he would see her as having lived a life of luxury if he knew the truth. At the end of the panel, fans were treated to a brief animatic of a scene with Okami and Ahsoka, in which she drives a hard bargain for free living quarters while using her martial arts skills to dispatch a pair of goons hassling Okami over an unpaid debt.
Ahsoka may have left the Jedi Order at the end of Season Five of The Clone Wars, but the second unproduced arc showed that she couldn’t stay away for long from helping the forces of good in the galaxy. The Jedi discovered that a nefarious power in the depths of Coruscant posed a threat serious enough to endanger Yoda himself. Wearing attire meant to be reminiscent of Asajj Ventress and the Daughter of Mortis, Ahsoka rejoined the Jedi to pursue the secrets of the ancient Sith temple buried deep beneath the current Jedi Temple. At one point, Ahsoka found herself inside the Jedi Temple’s Holocron vault, defending it from an evil attacker. Plunging her lightsaber blade into the door to prevent it from being opened, Force lightning charged up the blade to attempt to drive her away. What the audience would learn, but Ahsoka and the Jedi did not, was that the Sith assault came from none other than Darth Sidious. Fortunately the two Force wielders never came face to face – Ahsoka, Filoni pointed out, “would lose that one.”
The third unproduced arc, the Siege of Mandalore, also was crafted to be the final arc of the entire The Clone Wars animated series, bringing closure to the story arcs of Ahsoka, Rex, Anakin, and other important characters from the show’s run. Hidalgo noted that this arc once again drew Ahsoka back into Jedi business, a fitting conclusion to where the series began. Filoni added that although Ahsoka continued to distrust the Jedi Order and the manner in which they had been politically compromised by the war, she always trusted Anakin and Obi-Wan, and could not refuse their plea for her help. Fighting alongside Bo-Katan, just as she had previously worked with the warrior’s pacifist sister Duchess Satine earlier in the series, Ahsoka and the Mandalorians sought to topple Darth Maul’s stranglehold on the planet. She had one final meeting in person with Anakin and Obi-Wan – just as Yoda contacted them with the news that the Chancellor had been kidnapped on Coruscant by General Grievous, and Kenobi and Skywalker were urgently needed at the capital to rescue him. Before departing, though, Anakin and Ahsoka shared a walk down a corridor in which he expressed his pride in who his former apprentice had become. He also assured her he would not leave her unprotected – revealing that he had deployed half of the 501st Legion, led by Captain Rex, to assist her mission, with Ahsoka promoted to General to lead them. With this storytelling maneuver, Filoni explained, the long-anticipated answer to why Ahsoka and Rex did not appear in Revenge of the Sith finally was revealed. Hidalgo also noted that this arc serves as the backstory to the interaction between Ahsoka and Maul in the second season finale of Star Wars Rebels, because they were quite familiar with one another from their conflict in the liberation of Mandalore. The emotional impact of combining the narration of the story beats with Filoni’s sketches of the scenes left Eckstein – and many fans in the audience – in tears.
The end of the Mandalore arc also would have shown Ahsoka’s escape from Order 66. Filoni remarked that exceptional stories invariably yank the characters from great highs to horrible lows, and the same would be true here: from the triumph of defeating Maul and freeing Mandalore to the terrible price of Darth Sidious’ massacre. Filoni shared one version of Ahsoka’s experience in Order 66 that he had considered, inspired by Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, in which giant wolves help her escape the murderous clones. Ultimately, though, he concluded that version was too self-serving to his own predilections for the canines. Hidalgo added that the upcoming novel Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston begins shortly after Order 66, and includes backstory insights shared with the author to assist in her characterization. Filoni shared that, after escaping the clones, Ahsoka would have found only a void in her Force bond with Anakin. Johnston included this element in the novel as part of Ahsoka’s motivations, and it also explains why, years later in Rebels, Ahsoka initially could not comprehend Darth Vader’s true identity because she had believed for so long that her former Master had died in Order 66.
The panel discussion concluded with Rebels and Ahsoka’s showdown with Vader in the season two finale. Filoni shared multiple versions of Ahsoka’s look that he considered for Rebels, repeating his previous comments that her lightsabers are white because her crystals are clear, a reflection of her soul. He also reiterated that he had drawn numerous versions of the showdown over the years, finally settling on an enormous whiteboard illustration in the Disney production offices in Burbank. Other creators left it there for months, afraid to erase both the brilliant artwork and the major spoiler. Story Group lead Kiri Hart ultimately approved erasing the board for an Episode VIII story meeting – but Rian Johnson emailed Filoni nevertheless to make sure.
As for Ahsoka’s fate after the showdown, Filoni refused to directly answer whether Ahsoka lives. His final remarks, however, emphasized that the panel only took place because of the fans and their passion for her character. And while he is always hesitant to let storytelling be affected by fan opinion, the overwhelming reaction to Rebels’ second season and its finale spoke volumes. It might, Filoni conceded, be possible for fans to see her again.
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