Why Ahsoka has a cult following

Why Ahsoka has a cult following

Ahsoka Tano’s namesake series launches this week on Disney+. New live-action Star Wars series aren’t anything special in and of themselves these days, but there’s a particular energy surrounding this one. The company is well aware, and has been capitalizing on the excitement by sponsoring fan gatherings and preview screenings. Why are fans getting emotional about Ahsoka? I have a few theories.

She’s the female character original fans waited two trilogies for

Princess Leia was iconic, but didn’t get to use the Force onscreen until she was nearly on her deathbed. Padmé had her moments, but was inexplicably putty in the hands of her problematic fave, Anakin. Ahsoka, on the other hand, was written as a powerful Jedi who was so independent, she walked away from the Jedi Order when they failed to trust her at a critical juncture. What a badass.

She was long unknown to casual fans

Ahsoka has never appeared in a live-action Star Wars movie: her entire history has been on TV and other licensed media, as well as the little-seen and widely reviled Clone Wars animated movie. For that reason, fans who went no further than the big-screen Skywalker Saga had no idea who Ahsoka was, giving loyal viewers who followed the franchise onto the small screen a sense of ownership over the character.

Dave. Filoni.

While showrunner Dave Filoni developed Ahsoka’s character in collaboration with George Lucas, who first suggested Anakin should have a padawan in the Clone Wars animated series, her enduring success as a character is Exhibit A in the portfolio of reasons Lucasfilm leader Kathleen Kennedy has placed such faith in Filoni. The challenge Filoni and his collaborators faced with Ahsoka was to create a compelling character to couple with Anakin, then convincingly explain why she’s completely absent for the entire onscreen saga. They could hardly have created a more satisfying arc.

Flawless casting

Voice actor Ashley Eckstein has had a front-row seat for the burgeoning popularity of her character, often seeing fans burst into tears when they meet her. She’s embraced the association with pride and empathy, posting regularly about how the character inspires fans with her strength and generosity. Eckstein herself bears significant credit for the character’s success, convincingly growing with the character from a chirpy tween to a battle-scarred veteran. With Rosario Dawson, Lucasfilm cast a live-action Ahsoka who appreciates the character’s weight as a mature woman — er, Togruta — while also portraying her enduring, iconoclastic spark.

Character design

A design team including Filoni and Darren Marshall took care with the visual design of Ahsoka’s character, negotiating the perennial challenge of creating alien beings in a universe built by remixing cultural signifiers to represent “other.” Ahsoka could easily have veered into appropriation or sexualization, but somehow the designers landed on a look that fans have embraced as a genuinely imaginative tribute to the franchise’s Japanese inspirations. As the character has matured, so has her appearance, making her a convincing nonhuman character who can stand alongside Yoda and Chewbacca.

The Hayden Christenssance

Young Anakin Skywalker didn’t get a lot of love in the prequel era, with critics bashing actor Hayden Christensen as wooden and fans rolling their eyes at Lucas’s hearty helpings of cheese. (“I don’t like sand.”) In the Disney era, though, fans who grew up with the prequels have embraced Christensen’s return to the franchise — both in Obi-Wan Kenobi and, it seems, in Ahsoka. The prospect of seeing Christensen play opposite a live-action Ahsoka has electrified Clone Wars fans.


I’ll be honest: I’ve never been entirely sold on Rebels. The idea that two active, powerful Jedi were part of the Rebellion just a short while before Leia phoned home to Obi-Wan still feels like it undercuts the weight of the franchise’s foundational hero’s journey. That said, a lot of fans love Rebels, which again evinces Filoni’s skill for starting with a kid-accessible premise that grows into something with real weight and depth. It’s in Rebels that Ahsoka utters her most famous line (“I am no Jedi”) and the live-action debut of characters from that animated series is a big part of the anticipation for Ahsoka.


A lot of Ahsoka fans weren’t alive for the release of Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel, but that book — and its new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn — has a special meaning to those of us who remember the Dark Ages after Return of the Jedi. Lucas washed his hands of the franchise and urged the world to move on, but the massive success of Zahn’s book made clear that fans weren’t letting go. Ahsoka will also see the live-action debut of Thrawn, who the title character describes in the show trailer as “heir to the empire.” Yes, that was the title of Zahn’s book.

The new show has its work cut out for it reconciling the stereotypically evil Thrawn seen in Rebels with the far more complex, ambiguous character portrayed by Zahn in print (including several Disney-canon novels), but it makes sense to pair Ahsoka with Thrawn. Both are strong characters who were never cut from the same cloth as their peers, and whose hands have been completely untied with the fall of the Empire. What will happen next? A lot of fans are very, very ready to find out.

Jay Gabler

Images: Ahsoka production stills, courtesy Disney+. Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano (top and center), Natasha Liu Borizzo as Sabine Wren (center), Lars Mikkelsen as Grand Admiral Thrawn (bottom).