The premiere of the trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” has spurred plenty of new discussions about the series, but while everyone is paying attention to the movies, they’re missing one of the most important developments in the Star Wars universe on Disney’s cartoon series, “Star Wars: Rebels.”
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe, they dismissed the “expanded universe,” but kept everything Lucasfilm created as “canon,” including one key benefit, really the only benefit we get from the prequel era: “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” “Clone Wars” was a cartoon that aired on the Cartoon Network from 2008 through 2013. It was set (as you can imagine) during the Clone Wars between the second and third prequel movies and tells the story of how Anakin Skywalker went from bratty teen to troubled, disillusioned Jedi ready to betray his friends and mentor.
“Clone Wars” was about the interaction between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, their almost brother-like relationship, and, most importantly, Anakin’s relationship with his own apprentice (whom we never heard about in the movies), Ahsoka Tano. Throughout the series, she provides a kind of “little sister” role for Anakin and sheds light on the problems with the “perfect” Jedi Order which, despite all its forethought and importance, failed to foresee its own destruction.
Ashoka is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to Star Wars since the original trilogy. A young girl when she first appears in the series, she evolves to become a character that challenges Anakin’s assumptions of what the Jedi actually are, which is pivotal to his betrayal of the Jedi Order in the third movie and, sadly, absolutely lacking from the films.
Ashoka Understands Why Anakin Wants to Leave
“Clone Wars” was ended abruptly as soon as Disney purchased Lucasfilm. They wanted, understandably, to have any Star Wars properties on their own networks. A shortened, “Season 6: The Lost Missions” aired on Netflix in 2014, but many of the planned story arcs were left untold.
The most important moment of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” came at the end of the last full season when Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order and Anakin behind. It stems from a plot where she is framed for a crime against the Jedi, and expelled from the Order by the council. Once she is redeemed, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the rest of the council offer to restore her as a Jedi. She refuses.
In that heart-breaking scene, just before she leaves for good Anakin says, “More than you realize, I understand wanting to walk away from the order.” Ashoka replies, “I know.” It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that that exchange. It is the moment where she understands his willingness to follow her out of the Jedi Order, something which he later does in spectacular fashion. It is also the moment when he realizes that she understands him and the internal struggles he is experiencing. It’s a travesty that you miss this moment, this entire story arc, in the prequel movies.
‘Star Wars: Rebels’ Develops New Jedi
The relationship between the two characters is significant to Ahsoka’s development and carries over to the first Disney-driven Star Wars cartoon property, “Star Wars: Rebels,” which airs on Disney XD. It is helmed by David Filoni, the same man who developed, wrote, and directed “Clone Wars,” and tells the story of the beginning of the rebellion that motivates the original Star Wars trilogy.
I thought the House of Mouse would “kidify” Star Wars too much as a cartoon when they created a property for their own network, and although the themes of “Rebels” are a little more tame than “Clone Wars,” it still has some serious bite.
“Star Wars: Rebels” is based around two new Jedi characters. One is Kanan, a Jedi who escaped Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66 when his master sacrificed herself to save her padawan from the suddenly traitorous clone soldiers. He has lived under a fake identity and hidden his Jedi skills, including his lightsaber, in order to evade capture and death. The other Jedi is Ezra, a young boy the same age as Luke Skywalker, who shows signs of a rudimentary understanding of the Force, which his new “master,” Kanan, hones over the first and second seasons.
In the final episode of the “Rebels” first season, Ahsoka Tano returns to Star Wars, and we find she has played a pivotal role in forming what we know to be the Rebel Alliance. She was a partner of Bail Organa (Princess Leia’s adoptive father) as they gathered together like-minded people to build a cohesive group of coordinated and well-funded rebel cells.
Do These Jedi Die?
Now, why is all of this important? Because Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra are three new Jedi that didn’t exist when Lucas made the original trilogy or at the end of the prequels.
Remember the exchange between Force ghost Obi-Wan and Yoda on Dagobah about Luke and Leia in “Empire Strikes Back?” Obi-wan says to Yoda, “That boy is our last hope” and Yoda replies, “No, there is another,” referring to Leia. The Jedi are down to two: the Skywalker twins.
Why is that significant in the new Disney timeline? Because now we have new Star Wars canon that includes at least three additional Jedi characters. Yoda can’t play ignorant, either. We know he is aware of them because both Kanan and Ezra encounter Yoda in the first season of “Rebels.”
That is crucial to Disney’s interpretation of the original trilogy. If Disney wants to stick to what is meant by Yoda’s statement, that the only two Jedi left in the galaxy are Anakin’s decedents, that means these three Jedi, Ahsoka, Kanan and Ezra, must die before the events of that exchange in “Empire Strikes Back.”
That’s important. It means that Disney is ready to do one of two things. One, they’re committed to ending a children’s cartoon with the death of two of its main characters, plus kill off the pivotal character that crosses over from “Clone Wars” to “Rebels,” the one who helps motivate the Anakin to Darth Vader story arc. Or, two, they are willing to say Yoda and Obi-Wan are wrong, sweeping away a crucial moment in the George Lucas universe they just purchased for a whopping $4 billion.
These Jedi Appear to Be Real
In the just-begun season two of “Rebels,” Darth Vader plays a prominent role. He has already had an encounter with Kanan and Ezra, where he quickly illustrates his mastery of the Force and how far they must go to catch up. He also knows of Ahsoka.
In the original Star Wars movie, both Vader and Obi-Wan can feel each other’s presence on the Death Star. Vader says he feels “a tremor in the Force. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.” So we know Jedi can identify fellow force-wielders by what might be a unique force “signature” that is different for each of them.
Well, in season two of “Rebels,” Vader feels the force of Ahsoka during a space battle as she is on a ship with Ezra and Kanan. It so surprises Ahsoka that she passes out. You can see the climactic moment in the video below.
Vader and Ahsoka Face Their Choices
“The apprentice lives” might be the most striking words in Star Wars since “I am your father.” Why? Because it means these two now have paths that must cross. They must have the pivotal encounter that Darth Vader has with Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movie. Vader must confront the character from his youth that helped expose the flaws of the Jedi Order he later destroyed. Ahsoka is, at least in part, responsible for Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side. They will have to stare each other in the face, under the glow of their lightsabers, and come to terms with their choices.
We know by the end of “Return of the Jedi” that when Vader dies he is tormented by what he has done since joining the Dark Side. As the emperor’s right hand, Vader has killed many of his former Jedi, his friends and loved ones, including his old master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Is another one of those kills, one he deeply regrets, his own padawan, his little sister whom he nicknamed “Snips?”
Disney must answer that question. They must determine if Yoda is right or wrong, and they may have to do it with a bloodbath where Darth Vader kills three Jedi, including a child the same age as his son, and his former apprentice. This, on a cartoon that airs on one of their own Disney networks, a cartoon that my four-year-old son watches religiously.
So, while I will head to the theater to watch what has happened to the “son of Skywalker” in “The Force Awakens” like everybody else, I’m just as interested to see what happens to Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano on “Star Wars: Rebels.”