Fans who weren’t able to attend “The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano” panel at Salt Lake Comic Con (SLCC) this September will be happy to know that the panel is now available in podcast form over on the SLCC website.
The hour-long panel was moderated by writer and podcaster Bryan Young (StarWars.Com, Star Wars Insider, Full of Sith) and his guests were writer E.K. Johnston (author of Star Wars: Ahsoka), creative executive Pablo Hidalgo (Lucasfilm Story Group), and entertainment writer Amy Ratcliffe (StarWars.Com, Star Wars Insider, Nerdist, IGN).
Over the course of the hour, the panelists talked about the impact Ahsoka Tano has had on the Star Wars universe and its fanbase, how her character grew and evolved throughout The Clone Wars and Rebels, and the then upcoming novel, Star Wars: Ahsoka (you can read my review over here).
You can listen to the full podcast by clicking the image above but if you’re pressed for time (or simply prefer text to audio), here are some of the main points discussed:
Ahsoka’s Rocky Reception
It may be hard for some to believe it now but Ahsoka Tano wasn’t universally loved when she was first introduced. Far from it.
As Pablo Hidalgo explains, “She was an interesting proposition because she embodied a lot of new and different changes that were happening with Star Wars at the time. So, people could still like her but still feel uncertain as to what was happening with Star Wars. Long-time fans were being asked to accept the notion of an ongoing animated Star Wars series, that Anakin Skywalker had a Padawan that we never heard of before, and that Padawan was a young girl with an attitude that spoke counter to the way we think some of our most revered characters should be spoken to. But that was really all about her character and this is the way George [Lucas] envisioned her to begin with”.
Amy Ratcliffe admitted that she found the character bratty at first but then realized that “if Anakin Skywalker’s going to have a Padawan, he can’t have a student that listens perfectly and does everything he says because that would be really boring”.
Ahsoka’s Decision to Leave the Jedi Order
The panelists talked a little about Ahsoka’s character growth across five seasons of The Clone Wars (episodes like ‘Lightsaber Lost’ and the two-part Trandoshan hunters arc got a mention) before moving on to one of the series’ most poignant (and heart-wrenching) moments: Ahsoka’s decision to leave the Jedi Order.
The season 5 finale ‘The Wrong Jedi’ got a public screening at Lucasfilm back in the day and Pablo Hidalgo recalled the audience’s reaction to that pivotal moment when Ahsoka’s turns down the Council’s invitation to rejoin the Order. “There were people who were sad that she made that decision but…you could hear people that were really happy that she took that initiative because she *was* getting a raw deal. And they were happy that she wouldn’t put up with that”.
At this point, E. K. Johnston jumped in to say that she was happy that Ahsoka’s decision “lessened her chances of getting straight-up murdered”, which got quite a hearty laugh from the audience.
Host Bryan Young was among those who attended the public screening and told the audience that he “was one of the people sobbing”. He was happy that Ahsoka had the courage of her convictions to make that decision but that after five seasons of watching her relationship develop with Anakin, he didn’t want to see that torn asunder.
“I don’t think anyone expected season 5 to end that way”, Hidalgo explained. “And coupled with the fact that ended up being the last broadcast season, I think there was a lot of emotionality tied into it”. Part of the episode’s impact, he added, was due to the fact that none of the final arc’s storyline was leaked ahead of broadcast, even though the animation had been completed months earlier. “People watching it live on TV did not know how it was going to end and that was such a rarity”.
What Happened to Ahsoka on Malachor
And what’s an Ahsoka panel these days without a discussion of ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’? Ahsoka’s fate is still a closely-guarded secret so the panelists talked about how they had watched the episode’s ending numerous times to try and catch any important clues.
Amy Ratcliffe mentioned she had spent hours researching owls in mythology, rewatching the Mortis trilogy, and tracking down all appearances of convorees of The Clone Wars, and yet she had no concrete answer.
“I think any time you step into the Force, the less concrete the answers become”, Hidalgo remarked. “Honestly, I think that is more satisfying when it comes to matters of the Force. If this was Rex in a situation like this, I don’t think it would have been as ambiguous. I think because it’s Ahsoka, you’re dealing with her relationship with Vader and you’re dealing with a planet so unlike anything we’ve seen before. It was always going to be a question.”
According to Hidalgo, Dave Filoni added something to the battle before the episode came out that should have settled the issue. Hidalgo refused to say what it was but he felt it only ended up making the episode’s ending more vague.
That said, he reminded the audience of what Filoni had said during the Star Wars Rebels panel at Celebration Europe: “[Filoni] had an idea to revisit this in a certain way and provide something a little bit more concrete but he had not thought that it was going to come out through the course of the Rebels storyline. When he saw that the reaction to that season 2 finale was, he had second thoughts and thought that it would be unfair for someone who had been following her story on Rebels to have to go elsewhere…to put that more into focus”.
So fans of Star Wars Rebels should keep their eyes out as this issue will be addressed “in a certain way” in future episodes.
When Did the Panelists Become Invested in Ahsoka as a Character?
Before opening the floor up to questions from the audience, Bryan Young asked the panelists at what point did they realize that Ahsoka would be a character that they’d be completely invested in.
For Pablo Hidalgo, it was the Ryloth arc from season one, where “we saw her deal with the loss of her troops”. He felt it was a very bold thing to do for an animated series that was ostensibly geared to a younger audience, “to put a 14-year-old girl in a situation where she’s responsible for the lives of these men under her command”.
“The way [the show] dealt with it and the blow to her confidence”, he explained, “I thought it was a really important lesson to tell. And it became really apparent to me how important Ahsoka could be for young fans and the kind of things you could learn from following her example”.
One of E.K. Johnston’s favourite early scenes was from the 2008 Clone Wars film, where Ahsoka was sharing war stories with the clone troopers “two minutes after having met all of them”.
Amy Ratcliffe couldn’t remember a specific moment but does remember feeling a connection to Ahsoka early on despite being quite a bit older than the character. “I could put myself in her shoes and see the decisions she was facing”, she explained. “Watching her question [Anakin] and just grow as a leader…I respected her a lot, even though she was a kid. That she could go through that at that age. I found myself taking away a lot of life lessons from Ahsoka”.
And for Young, it was the ‘Duel of the Droids’ episode from season 1 and her confrontation with Grievous, “which really showed what she was made of more than anything had up to that point”.
Questions from the Audience
To avoid having to transcribe all the questions and answers, I’ve decided to list all the interesting new facts we learnt from the audience Q&A:
- Star Wars: Ahsoka would address how Ahsoka got the kyber crystals for her white-bladed lightsabers.
- Ahsoka’s decision to start wielding dual lightsabers was a result of off-screen growth (there’s a time-jump around halfway through season 3 of The Clone Wars). Dave Filoni had figured that due to Ahsoka’s size compared with that of some of her enemies and her fighting style, a second lightsaber would be useful for close combat. And that Anakin’s unorthodox, martial nature would probably have encouraged Ahsoka to perfect her fighting skills.
- The audience (and panel) would be very interested in a live-action Ahsoka film or cameo but Pablo Hidalgo reminded them that a non-human character is often easier to realize in an animated format. He also pointed out that as an animated non-human character, Ahsoka doesn’t really have a racial identity associated with her and, as a result, she’s been able to bridge racial and gender divides more easily than others.
- Ahsoka was originally modelled on actress Emily Browning, who’s best known for playing Violet Baudelaire in the 2004 film A Series of Unfortunate Events.
- E.K. Johnston used Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as a reference for some of the action scenes in Star Wars: Ahsoka.
If you’re looking for E.K. Johnston’s comments on her work on Star Wars: Ahsoka, please note that these will be dealt with in a separate article (coming soon).
Click here to listen to the full recording of ‘The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano’.