Satisfying the unrepentant, noisy, veteran fan, has become an insurmountable obstacle for the oldest money-making machine in cinema. Star Wars lives in constant fear of offending them. Their requests are long and obsessive. Don’t change the actors (better to rejuvenate them with artificial intelligence, instead – where will it end?), don’t alter the legacy of what they understand by “Jedi” and, above all, take note, don’t include too many women or racialized people. As everyone knows, there are only white men in this galaxy far, far away. This is ours and nobody else’s, those “true fans” seem to say.
That impossible balance between satisfying children (for whom Star Wars was always intended) as well as the most conservative followers has become a curse for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the entire Disney factory. But there is a guy who has known how to ride the wave and make everyone happy. His name is Dave Filoni. In his hands, even the concept of once again passing the force to the proletariat that those followers criticized in Rian Johnson’s magnificent and vilified The Last Jedi is applauded. He does it again in Ahsoka, the epic Disney+ series in which Filoni resorts to the characters of his animated series to delve into a space odyssey that is more fantasy than science fiction. The series appeals to the nostalgia of those prequels with which George Lucas returned to the saga in 1999, but at the same time it rewrites the mythology and its rules.
A quick refresher: Ahsoka Tano is Anakin Skywalker’s padawan (Jedi apprentice) before the ill-fated hero became Darth Vader. This brave, wild teenager was created by Filoni and George Lucas in 2008 as an entry point for kids (especially girls) to the film and animated series The Clone Wars, an anthology of the conflict that overthrew the republic to give way to the empire. Lucas, thinking about his own daughters, wanted to appeal to the female audience whose interest Star Wars had not always caught. In the process, they gave depth and responsibility to Anakin (a Hayden Christensen today redeemed by nostalgia) in his passage to the dark side.
The critics first said that she was nothing but a half-naked girl designed to be adorable without much more depth, but, little by little, Ahsoka became the company’s newest toy (literally), a character that motivated women to join the club. Lucas was always clear that the secret was to convince the children, not so much the veterans. Girls around the world began to replicate her orange hue and alien pigtails, and her rebellious nature won over the fans – new and old – with a stroke of modernity. In the series, she even turned her back on the Jedi religion by throwing away her lightsaber and confronting them directly: you are a bunch of squares, you don’t understand the new times. Ahsoka was those new times, and her message was that the sect of monks was not as good as they thought they were. Thanks to her evolution, the young woman was already a Star Wars classic. Her story kept growing in books and comics.
But how come we knew nothing about her before that moment? Did she die in battle? That was out of the question due to her growing popularity, so Filoni created a strategy for her to join the rebellion, but always in the shadows. Her journey continued in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as a veteran, less impulsive force, and the plots and relationships that became established there continue in the current live-action series (with the hero embodied by Rosario Dawson) after her encounters with the Mandalorian and Boba Fett. She is a modern-day Princess Mononoke, an unaffiliated Jedi Master. She is the perfect meeting point for the ocean of Disney+ content.
After paying homage to the western genre in The Mandalorian – also created by Filoni with Jon Favreau – Ahsoka’s own series explores the most magical side of the universe: flying whales that teleport, witches, prophecies, dreams of the afterlife and hero’s journeys. Doors that the franchise sometimes has had trouble opening, even if magic was one of the many pulp subgenre elements that Lucas put in the mix of his original idea.
That layer of fantasy is one of the breaking points within the canons. The other is the concept of the force. What are the Jedi? Are they born or made? That is one of the debates that the repudiated Rian Johnson film put on the table: not only a family can inherit the force, it can also arise in peasants and commoners, in people who learn it. Filoni has always had this in mind with Ahsoka, the most rebellious among those decimated samurai monks, who, as in the classic film Harakiri, hide questionable rules and commands under a veil of honorability. In her new mission, she takes her legacy one step further: we can all learn from the force, giving more power to the people and to learning than to consanguinity, she tells her apprentice, the true protagonist of the series.
This mentoring work will be key in an adventure triggered by something as simple as the search for the missing protagonist of Rebels. A small but crucial discursive break that preserves the spirit of what Lucas started in 1977. And, yes, all the protagonists are women again, just like the president of Lucasfilm. In that sense, it is not far from some of the deepest messages of Andor, the most revolutionary Star Wars series and the best work to come out of this universe in decades, one that was truly groundbreaking and that could not reach all the fans it deserved.
A franchise that lost its way
Meanwhile, Star Wars continues to put filmmakers through the meat grinder. Many creators have recently abandoned their projects, frustrated by the lack of development of their ideas: Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi, Damon Lindelof, Rian Johnson, Patty Jenkins, the Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss... they are the creative corpses of a lost franchise that is not sure what its followers want in the theater and is saturated by the excessive costs of the series (it is estimated that Obi-Wan Kenobi cost about $90 million and Ahsoka more than $100), created to fill a streaming offer that does not yield the anticipated benefits. A product that does not convince neither children nor veterans.
Considering that excessiveness, Ahsoka is at least an entertaining, satisfying product (it never stops being a product, one that does not reach the levels of Andor or The Mandalorian). That is more than can be said for contents as emotionally and narratively empty as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett, which rely on nostalgia, are structurally rotten and have no soul or entertainment value whatsoever. Unfortunately, the context will not make it easy for Ahsoka to capture anyone outside the die-hard fans. Perhaps the Hollywood strikes will be good for the empire. A much-needed pause to become culturally relevant again.
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