Television

The Casual Star Wars Fan’s Guide to Ahsoka Tano

Who is The Mandalorian’s new Jedi character, and what’s that on her head?

An orange-skinned woman with white markings on her face. Two fleshy white and blue tails emerge from the top of her head and fall over her shoulders.
Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano on The Mandalorian. Photo illustration by Slate. Image by Disney+.

Who is this orange lady and why are people so excited about her?

Ahsoka Tano is a character from two (excellent) Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars and Rebels. She was introduced in 2008 as a young Jedi apprentice assigned to a reluctant Anakin Skywalker—the future Darth Vader—in the (not so excellent) animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In many ways, she became the main character of the TV series of the same name, growing up in a galaxy at war in the final years of the Jedi Order.

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The Clone Wars takes place before the final Star Wars movie prequel, Revenge of the Sith, in which most of the Jedi were betrayed and killed, but Ahsoka isn’t even mentioned in Revenge of the Sith, which left fans wondering for years what happened to her and whether she’d even survive the end of the show.

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In a 3D animated style, a human man crouches and puts a hand on the shoulder of a young Ahsoka Tano.
A young Ahsoka with Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Lucasfilm Ltd.
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It’s no secret anymore that Ahsoka did survive the Clone Wars, and she reappeared in another animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, in 2015, now as an adult fighting against the Empire. She was voiced in both series by Ashley Eckstein, but in The Mandalorian, the character makes her live-action debut, played by Rosario Dawson.

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“Chapter 13: The Jedi,” the Mandalorian episode in which Ahsoka appears, is written by Dave Filoni, who was the supervising director of The Clone Wars and spent years developing her character. After The Clone Wars was canceled, he snuck her into his new show, Rebels, and now he’s done the same with The Mandalorian, on which he is a writer, director, and executive producer.

What’s up with her two (!) lightsabers? And does it mean anything that they’re white?

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Yep. There’s a practical reason for their color, and then there’s a symbolic reason. Generally speaking, Star Wars characters’ lightsabers tell you their affiliation: Jedi usually have blue or green lightsabers, while the Sith and their associates usually have red lightsabers. The practical reason for Ahsoka’s lightsabers having white blades is that Ahsoka took some red lightsabers from an Inquisitor—that’s a guy who hunts down Jedi—and then purified the crystals inside the lightsabers, so now they’re white.

The symbolic reason for the white lightsabers is that Ahsoka used to be a Jedi, but she lost faith in the Jedi Order and left that part of her life behind. While she can still use the Force and is definitely on the light side, the white lightsabers place her outside the Jedi-Sith binary.

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In a 3D animated style, Ahsoka Tano, now with longer head-tails and a more elongated face, poses with two white lightsabers.
Ahsoka with her white lightsabers in Star Wars: Rebels. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Hold on. People keep calling her a Jedi, and the name of the episode is even “Chapter 13: The Jedi.” Now you’re trying to tell me she’s not a Jedi?

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It’s complicated! When we last saw her in Star Wars: Rebels, Ahsoka was still insisting that she was not a Jedi anymore. However, in the delayed finale of The Clone Wars, she hinted that she might someday consider herself a Jedi again. Then she was included in the “voices of Jedi past” in the most recent Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. Jedi or not, she’s more than qualified to train the Child.

Speaking of the Child … his name is Grogu???

I know, I know. They can’t all be named Yaddle.

Ahsoka says she won’t train Grogu because she’s seen what attachments can do to “the best of us.” What is she talking about?

Anakin Skywalker, her former master. Jedi are taken from their families at a very young age to prevent them from forming emotional attachments that could get in the way of their training later. That’s why the Jedi originally didn’t want Anakin to be trained in The Phantom Menace—at 9 years old, he’s already formed a strong attachment to his mother. The thinking is that attachments can make a Jedi afraid of losing their loved ones, which can lead to anger, which can lead to hate. That is, as a wise Jedi once said, the path to the Dark Side.

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That’s also more or less what happens to Anakin. He’s so afraid of losing his wife the way he lost his mother that he seeks power to prevent that from happening and becomes Darth Vader in the process. Anakin’s attachment issues are actually why Yoda assigned Ahsoka to Anakin as an apprentice in the first place, so he would have to learn to let go of his pupil when the time came. It did not work as planned.

A now older and wiser Ahsoka worries that if Anakin, whom she trusted, could fall to the Dark Side, then it’s dangerous to train someone else who has similarly already formed attachments. Because Grogu has bonded with the Mandalorian (and despite looking like a baby, remember that Grogu is like 50 years old and is developmentally more advanced in some ways), she considers him too great a risk. It’s not an unfounded concern—remember that last season, Grogu used the Force to choke Cara Dune (Gina Carano) when he mistakenly thought she was attacking the Mandalorian.

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When Ahsoka and the Mandalorian are fighting, he tells her that Bo-Katan sent him. How does Bo-Katan know Ahsoka? (Also, remind me who Bo-Katan is?)

Bo-Katan is the red-haired Mandalorian lady we met in “Chapter 11: The Heiress.” She and Ahsoka fought against each other during the Clone Wars, when Bo-Katan was a member of a terrorist organization called Death Watch. However, Bo-Katan defected from Death Watch when Darth Maul—yes, he survived being cut in half—took over the group and all of Mandalore. She and Ahsoka later teamed up to capture him. Now she’s hunting down Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) so she can take back the Darksaber, which is that cool black sword he showed off at the end of Season 1.

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In the climax of the Mandalorian episode, Ahsoka demands to know where Grand Admiral Thrawn is. Who is Grand Admiral Thrawn and what is Ahsoka’s beef with him?

Thrawn is a villain from Timothy Zahn’s well-received series of Star Wars books in the 1990s. When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Thrawn was discarded from the canon along with the other books. Filoni made the character official again by including him in Rebels.

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This is another instance of Filoni using his work on his new series, The Mandalorian, to continue his old one: Rebels ended with Thrawn and another character, Ezra Bridger, disappearing together. We already knew Ahsoka was looking for her friend Ezra at the end of that series. Her search for Thrawn is almost certainly related.

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Is Ahsoka getting a spinoff series?

Nothing has been officially announced yet, but it seems more than likely that Dawson will star in her own series. At the very least, The Mandalorian might explore some of these storylines in more depth later. There have been rumors that Lucasfilm is looking for a live-action Ezra Bridger—and for months actor Rahul Kohli has been teasing that he got the part and then backtracking.

Why are some people so unhappy that Dawson was cast as Ahsoka?

A former employee of Dawson’s family filed a lawsuit accusing her and her relatives of transphobia and even physical assault, which Dawson has denied. All but two of those charges have since been withdrawn. “The reason that all of the discrimination claims were dropped is because they didn’t happen. I was raised in a very inclusive and loving way, and that’s how I’ve lived my entire life,” she recently told Vanity Fair.

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Last question. Ahsoka seems cool, but what’s going on with the top of her head? Is that a hat or antlers or what?

Those are her lekku, basically fleshy tails on her head. Her species, Togruta, has them, and so does another famous Star Wars species, the Twi’leks. Usually, we see lekku get longer as a person ages, but Ahsoka’s lekku are actually shorter on The Mandalorian than they were on Rebels despite taking place later in the timeline. In this case, The Mandalorian’s character concept designer confirmed that was deliberate so that they wouldn’t get in the way during fight scenes.

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