Of all the Jedi characters introduced or represented in The Clone Wars television show, only one had a fate left undetermined when the show was brought to a sudden end by the Lucasfilm acquisition by Disney. That character was Ahsoka Tano. In the final season of the show, after being accused of betraying the Jedi Order and then cleared of the charge, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan chooses to quit the Order and walk away. Her departure was preordained by Revenge of the Sith, a film which understandably offered no trace of a character created after its release for a television show set before it. Also relevant to Revenge of the Sith is the infamous Order 66, the command given by Emperor Palpatine which triggered the Republic’s Clone Army to turn on its Jedi leaders and wipe them out. It was the beginning of the end for the Jedi, initiating a process of killing the Force users that continued for decades under the supervision of Darth Vader.
Order 66 cast Ahsoka Tano’s existence into question, specifically given a statement made by Master Yoda to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, “Luke, when gone am I… the last of the Jedi will you be.” For many, this indicated that every Jedi character we came to know and enjoy that existed prior to the Original Trilogy had to die or Yoda’s statement becomes false (not to mention, its gravity is undermined). As a result, the somber conclusion then was that at some point Ahsoka Tano was killed or murdered following her departure from the Jedi Order. When? Where? How? By whom? These were all questions which lingered around the beloved character who was introduced as a somewhat annoying point of view character for kids with the premiere of The Clone Wars, but who matured over the course of the show’s six seasons into a close friend and student of Anakin Skywalker, as well a mentor to younger padawans.
It was with no little delight that Ahsoka Tano’s return to the television screen occurred at the end of Rebels’ season one. Revealed as the person behind the identity of the secretive agent Fulcrum, a great sigh of relief, albeit temporary, was exhaled by many a fan of the Jedi. She had survived Order 66 and the intervening time period from Revenge of the Sith and the Rebels timeline. Over the course of Season Two, Ahsoka’s character played an increasingly important role not just in confronting the new threat of Inquisitors – Imperial agents who wielded the Force and hunted down the remaining Jedi, but also in the context of the season’s other newly introduced villain, Darth Vader.
Vader’s arrival was premiered in “The Siege of Lothal” and in terrifying fashion. It’s no exaggeration to state that the heroes of the show escaped his attempt to crush their rebel cell by the skin of their teeth. The episode underlined Vader’s strength, ruthlessness, and the abject fear he inspired as the Emperor’s right hand. It also ended with him reporting to his master that the apprentice of Anakin Skywalker lived, setting up from the beginning of the season an inevitable confrontation between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader. Given the relationship shared between Tano and Anakin Skywalker, it was popularly believed that the pair would undoubtedly cross light saber blades for good or bad. Additionally, the Star Wars franchise delights in the power of the dramatic confrontation between lightsaber wielders, be it Vader and Kenobi (twice), Luke and his father (twice), and the Jedi and the Separatist enemies (multiple times, Count Dooku and General Grievous). One might say that it was merely a matter of time that Ahsoka and Vader would fatefully fight
The mid-season two trailer released by Lucasfilm for Rebels played this expectation to a ‘T’ given us several images of Ahsoka standing off against Vader. Immediately, fears that Yoda’s statement to Luke Skywalker would be confirmed by Ahsoka’s death by her former master became prevalent across the internet. A lot of fans, including Brown’s Review, tuned into the Rebels Season Two finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” virtually convinced that the student Anakin Skywalker fondly nicknamed “Snips” would fall. The matter was not helped by her creator, Dave Filoni, sharing several heart felt illustrations with fans online and making comments such as, “They grow up so fast.” Then the episode aired and Ahsoka Tano did not die. At the least, that was the impression given by a momentary glimpse of her figure disappearing into an empty black opening in a Sith temple in a closing montage. Some were relieved, but others were upset.
Set against another high stakes situation, whether Ezra Bridger would be seduced to the Dark Side, the absence of her death was seen as the show copping out of the hard decision. Likewise, other complained that the show was suffering from its uneasy existence as a show nominally intended for children (it airs well past most bedtimes) and for the older Star Wars fans, many of them carry overs from The Clone Wars which began airing itself eight years ago (meaning that many kids who might have started watching that show can now drive or are in college). As a children’s show, the bitter complaints followed, it couldn’t kill off its characters or adopt anything like the more serious tone that The Clone Wars had ultimately shifted toward before its conclusion. The bigger question that arises from Ahsoka Tano’s confrontation with Darth Vader is what was the purpose of this duel? When we try and answer that question, the fact that Ahsoka Tano didn’t die makes a lot more sense.
A logical answer as to why she should have died falls under the umbrella of Order 66 and Yoda’s statement – she has to die to not violate the canon established by the final installment of the Original Trilogy. Luke Skywalker must be the last of the Jedi. This problem was one that the writers of Rebels began to address much earlier than “Twilight of the Apprentice,” and represents a broader interpretation of what it means to be a Force wielder in the Star Wars universe. It began in The Clone Wars, itself drawing upon the now Legendary Expanded Universe, with the Dathomir Witches. They are women who had the power to use the Force in what we might call magical, or in the terms of Star Wars, mythical ways. By their hand Darth Maul, and later Savage Oppress, arose to be the Dark Side users feared by many, but importantly, they were not Sith.
For the longest time, many fans understood those who used the Force as representative of the Force, itself. There is a Light Side and a Dark Side, a binary setup which also meant that if one used the Light Side, he or she was a Jedi. If one used the Dark Side, they were Sith. Over the last decade this black and white setup has found itself under attack as the creative powers behind Star Wars open more examples of Force users who do not fall into one category or the other. The latest example of this being Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, who is expressly not a Sith, but also the Inquisitors of Rebels, who also use the Dark Side but aren’t Sith. These are examples of the Dark Side spectrum and through the course of Rebels’ second season, Ahsoka Tano has been put into a category of Light Side user who isn’t a Jedi. Twice, Anakin’s former padawan rejects the title of Jedi, repeating first to Ezra Bridger in “Shroud of Darkness” and later, in dramatic effect, to Vader in the finale, that she is not a Jedi.
This means that Ahsoka Tano living does not violate the canon of the Original Trilogy, as she is not a Jedi as we are now given to understand the application of the title. This leaves a secondary concern, however, on how to explain her absence in the Original Trilogy. Wouldn’t a Force user be a powerful ally to the Rebel Alliance, not to mention a useful resource for the novice Jedi Luke Skywalker? Obviously, this is a problem created by the chronology of Ahsoka’s own invention. Coincidentally, the appearance of an extra playing a rebel commando in Return of the Jedi has resulted in Dave Filoni’s own admitted intention to retcon that nameless character into being the clone trooper, Captain Rex, from The Clone Wars and Rebels, resolving this same problem for that character. How or why Ahsoka would not appear in the Original Trilogy is a question that remains if her death at Darth Vader’s hands is not the answer.
A third reasoning for why Ahsoka Tano should have died in “Twilight of the Apprentice” is to complete Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. Harkening back to Revenge of the Sith and The Clone Wars show, Anakin either lost or confronted nearly everything of value in his life on his path to becoming the black clad Sith Lord as we first met him. He lost his beloved wife, Padme Amidala, and fought his mentor and friend Obi-Wan Kenobi. The one person he did not deal with in his descent into anger and the Dark Side was his former padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Her departure near the end of The Clone Wars had a significant impact on the Jedi Knight and unfinished story reels of planned episodes reveal that her departure had a lasting emotional effect, as well. Despite his pleas, she walked out on his life. Now, nearly twenty years later, Anakin finally has the opportunity to take the last step in destroying every last vestige of his former self. More so, it heightens the stakes of his confrontation with Luke Skywalker a few more years down the galactic road.
This presumption rests entirely on the theory that it’s Anakin Skywalker’s story being told here in the season finale and not Ahsoka Tano’s. If we view it from Tano’s perspective then her survival makes a lot more sense. The dialogue between Ahsoka and Vader also lends support to the story being one of resolution for Anakin’s padawan and not the other way around. The confrontation begins with Ahsoka stating that she needed to know if anything of her old master survived and Vader telling her that he had destroyed his own identity as Anakin. The story then becomes one of revenge as Ahsoka seeks to avenge her former master. Filoni has stated that Vader wanted to kill Ahsoka to further eliminate all evidence of his past weaker self, but in Ahsoka’s attempt to kill Vader we see the full maturation of a character who began as a young teenager. It became clear in “Shroud of Darkness” that Ahsoka retained a level of guilt over walking away from Anakin Skywalker, despite his pleas that she remain for him, if not the Jedi Order.
Finally, Ahsoka has the opportunity to relieve herself of this burden and this is also highlighted by her last words in the episode, vowing to remain with Vader and not leave him again. When taking this all into consideration, along with Filoni’s own artwork and commentary leading into the episode, the argument that we are witnessing Ahsoka’s story, not Vader’s is strengthen. Nothing is accomplished for Tano as a character by dying in the finale and likewise, it allows her to avoid becoming just a piece of the plot to further the characterization of others with a death. Ultimately, from the initial references to Fulcrum in Season One to the final glimpse in the closing montage of “Twilight of the Apprentice,” an underlying theme of Rebels has been the story of Ahsoka Tano. In Return of the Jedi, Luke is repeatedly told that for him to complete his training and to become a Jedi, he must confront his father. In the finale of Rebels, another padawan had to confront her own figurative father to emerge as the person she is destined to become. Ahsoka Tano faced Vader and is now and in the future to come, simply Ahsoka Tano.