Over the course of our series on the Ahsoka’s Untold Tales panel, we’ve learnt a little more about some of the key events that helped shape Ahsoka Tano into the complex and resilient character we all love.
From her humble beginnings on Shili to her time living amongst the denizens of the Coruscant underworld, from her mission to a beseiged Mandalore to her pivotal role within the fledgling Rebellion, Ahsoka has survived the myriad of challenges life has thrown her way. However, one of the most gruelling challenges she’d ever have to face would come in the form of her old friend and master, Anakin Skywalker, now the twisted and evil Darth Vader.
The fateful showdown between the former master and apprentice was teased as early as Star Wars Rebels’ first season. When Ahsoka made her long-awaited return to our screens in ‘Fire Across the Galaxy’, fans knew it would only be a matter of time before the writers would have to address the Sith-sized elephant in the room. And they didn’t have to wait long. From the moment Vader sensed his former Padawan through the Force in the season two premiere, ‘The Siege of Lothal’, a confrontation between the two seemed all but inevitable.
Hoping to shed some light on the heart-wrenching events of ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’, Pablo Hidalgo (Lucasfilm Story Group) and Dave Filoni (Supervising Director of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels) talked about the work that went into writing and animating one of the most emotionally-charged duels in Star Wars to date.
“One of the most frustrating things said by anyone who’s worked with Dave is that he does amazing whiteboard illustrations”, Hidalgo explained as a photo of one of Filoni’s storyboard illustrations popped up on the screen behind them. “And then the eraser comes out because we need those whiteboards. And Dave doesn’t care”.
“I’m just exploring on a whiteboard”, Filoni interjected. “It’s a nice medium, though”.
Hidalgo continued, “For literally months, this was at the Burbank offices of Lucasfilm. This was on the whiteboard and everyone was too afraid to erase it”.
“First of all, this was, like, the biggest spoiler of the season. So first, everyone was afraid that they saw it. And then they were like, ‘Do we get rid of this?'”, he recounted.
Eventually, practicality won out over artistry and Filoni’s whiteboard masterpiece was wiped out of existence. “There was a story meeting that needed to happen there”, Hidalgo admitted, “And we photographed this extensively. It was a meeting with Rian Johnson regarding Episode VIII and Kiri Hart [Senior Vice President of Development] said ‘Yeah, you can erase it’. And he just kept emailing ‘Are you sure? Are you sure I can erase this?'”
Filoni chuckled. “Next time I see him, I’m going to be, like, ‘I can’t believe you erased this’. With a really straight face. ‘We didn’t even take a picture of it'”. “‘We have no series now'”, Hidalgo added, prompting some more chuckles from the panel and audience.
Coming back to the topic at hand, Hidalgo explained that the scene of Ahsoka fighting Vader was something Dave Filoni had drawn many times over the years. Filoni admitted that he had done so for a long time and went on to explain how he had kept a separate notebook just for the Rebels season two finale.
“I would be making these illustrations and sending them to Simon Kinberg as he was writing it. And I’d say ‘I want to do this and I’m going to have these shots that are symbolic’ and [I would tell him] the way I want the scene structured”.
“I added this scene where [Ahsoka] touches a big pillar and the floor cracks and they descend into the underworld. It just gives Simon something visual to grab on to when he’s writing so he knows exactly what I’m going to be doing later. You can see that most of these shots wound up in those episodes, and this was long before I actually shot it”.
“So I would do these drawings… just trying to figure out what would compositionally work,” Filoni continued, “I came up with the idea of the helicopter sabering. Nice moments that I could show the story guys where we’re going to stage it”.
His sketches for the season finale included detailed drawings of the Sith temple on Malachor and notes on how it would function so that the writers and design team could visualize the environment the action would take place in.
A storyboard sketch depicting Ahsoka in the foreground and the dark looming figure of Darth Vader some distance behind her appeared on the screen.
“This is one version of a reveal”, Filoni explained, “I was trying to figure out ‘How do I reveal this moment?’ and later decided that [Ahsoka]’s the one that steps up behind him”.
The next sketch up on the screen was of Ahsoka and Vader clashing lightsabers. “The scale thing between them was really challenging”, he continued, “Because he’s very tall and she’s very small. Vader is just a pillar of power. You don’t go around him. He’s just there. And he will destroy you, he will just cut right through you”.
Filoni then talked about the scene where Ahsoka leapt up to Vader to slash open his helmet. It was a scene he had had in mind for years, where Ahsoka would leap onto the Sith Lord, using one of her lightsabers to block Vader’s attack and using the other to cut open his mask.
“I’ve had different versions of this”, he admitted. And not all versions would have ended well for Ahsoka. In fact, Filoni had visualized a few instances where Ahsoka would land a successful hit on Vader’s mask, only to be stabbed by him in the chest (or stomach) moments later.
Filoni’s amusing reenaction got a few gasps from the audience and a slightly horrified look from Ashley Eckstein, who was visibly wincing at the thought of Ahsoka impaled on Vader’s lightsaber blade. “It was this really kind of renaissance moment”, Filoni explained, “[Ahsoka] would see into the mask as [Vader’s] got [her] there. But it was too terrible because it would be the last thing [she’d] see”.
Panel host David Collins took a moment to draw Filoni’s attention to the look of shock on Eckstein’s face, much to everyone’s amusement.
“But as a filmmaker, it was exhilarating”, Filoni argued, “That moment…it’s like this really intense thing. But I didn’t do that”. “I’m glad”, Eckstein chimed in.
During the course of the hour-long panel, it became crystal clear that Filoni gets a certain pleasure from teasing (or torturing) Ashley Eckstein, which no doubt became the norm in their decade-long working relationship. And while us fans are still waiting to learn what happened to Ahsoka following her showdown with Vader, Filoni has continued his trend of torturing Ashley by keeping her in the dark about her character’s ultimate fate.
The text “Ahsoka Lives?” flashed up on screen, giving Filoni his cue to tease the entire audience. Drawing attention to the question mark in the slide, Filoni told everyone that he specifically requested that question mark and joked that Ashley could simply add question marks to any leftover stock of Her Universe’s ‘Ahsoka Lives’ T-shirt.
“You could just put a question mark and you’d have a whole new T-shirt. Just sew it on there. Hey, I’ll sew it on”, he offered, “It’d be a Filoni limited ‘Question Mark’ edition”.
Filoni then moved on to talk about the exclusive artwork he had created for Topps. “These are images I made just for Topps that start to explain visually, metaphorically, what the [season finale’s] end is about. They’re all just red and black and white. So you could stare at them for hours and try to figure out what it means”.
He brought people’s attention to two of the cards. One of them showed Ahsoka facing a winding path through what appears to be trees. A convor can be seen sitting on a stump. The other depicted Ahsoka standing waist-deep in a pool of water.
“These are the most revealing. The most interesting, I think, because this starts to get into this kind of psychological subconsciousness. What does this journey into the underworld mean? Because it’s obviously Ahsoka in that doorway”, he mused, referring to the closing scenes of ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’.
“What does that mean? Well, I know”, Filoni teased, “And so this is going to tell you a little bit. If you stare at these…. It’s not like if you stare at them, the images become something else. It’s not a magic trick. It’s just to try to understand the metaphors and the symbolism and the meaning of this journey – which is a very classic journey”.
Some fans have tried their hands at deciphering the cryptic messages hidden within Filoni’s artwork. Johnamarie Macias of The Wookiee Gunner has relied on her knowledge of classical and other world mythologies to try and make sense of it all, while the creator of Star Wars Explained devoted an episode of his show to explaining what he thinks the cards mean for Ahsoka’s future within the Star Wars universe.
Of course, there are no concrete answers to anyone’s questions (so far) and as host David Collins told Filoni “The more images you show, the more questions come to mind”. Filoni has confirmed that he will address the issue one day but he’s been tight-lipped about the details of when and how. All we do know is that “Ahsoka has a future” and that we certainly haven’t seen the last of our beloved Togruta just yet.
And, so, this concludes our seven-part series on the Ahsoka’s Untold Tales panel!
Ahsoka’s fate was still uncertain at the time of writing (January 2017) but Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017 is now just a few months away. Who knows what exciting announcements Filoni and co may have in store for us?