[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for the series finale of The Clone Wars.]
The Clone Wars “Victory and Death” finale ends with the former Anakin Skywalker, now wearing the armor of Darth Vader, exhuming the lightsaber of his former apprentice Ahsoka Tano in the snowy burial grounds of an unidentified moon. Two episodes earlier, the blue saber was Anakin’s final parting gift to Ahsoka. Now it was his once again. In the final seconds of the episode, we watch him depart the gravesite through the hollowed red-painted helmet of a fallen clone soldier.
In the chronological timeline of the Star Wars verse, the moment where Anakin runs off to save the Chancellor isn’t his final meeting with Ahsoka. They will meet again. But this image is the send-off for the master-apprentice relationship that endeared many fans as well as won over skeptics across seven seasons of The Clone Wars and echoes Ahsoka and Skywalker’s lack of closure in Star Wars Rebels, the successor show to Clone Wars.
In the established timeline, Darth Vader continues his reign of terror, running the Empire in the Original Trilogy before he’s saved by his long-lost son Luke Skywalker. Ahsoka Tano operates within the Rebellion, as depicted in Star Wars Rebels. Ahsoka and Darth Vader’s relationship boils into an adversarial one, where each person is haunted by former attachments. This is best illustrated by the Rebels episode “Shroud of Darkness” when Ahsoka breaks down in the Lothal Jedi Temple and refuses to look at the Force-apparition of Anakin, who berates her for leaving him.
Those final shots in “Victory and Death” call forward to Vader and Ahsoka’s face-to-face lightsaber confrontation in the Star Wars Rebels season 2 finale “Twilight of the Apprentice,” which takes place on the crimson stage of a Sith Temple on Malachor. Listen closely in “Victory and Death” and you’ll hear Rebels composer Kevin Kiner’s Ahsoka’s theme just beaming beneath the ethereal dread-filled ambiance score, which will open into a triumphant leitmotif in their Malachor confrontation like a floodgate of emotions.
When Vader picks up the blue saber in the snow, there’s a tinge of hope — the light that his son Luke Skywalker will pull out from him in Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader taking the saber represents Anakin’s love for his first spiritual child, Ahsoka. It echoes the way he addresses her by name in Rebels’ “Twilight of the Apprentice,” letting Ahsoka know that her former master is still in there somewhere.
In addition, the animators render Anakin’s rage-filled eyes as visible behind the blood-hued lenses of Vader’s helmet as he surveys the burial mound. It sets up the visual when Ahsoka cracks Vader’s helmet above Malachor, we recognize the old Anakin as she does. And for a moment, we believe that he could be saved.
Ahsoka learns the hard way that Skywalker cannot be saved — not by her at least. Tellingly, in Rebels, the Sith Lord falls back on his Vader identity and decides to annihilate her, to remove any visages of his humanity.
The the owl-like Convor bird encircling the gravesite in ”Victory and Death” will acquire a special connection in Rebels, signify Ahsoka’s salvation. It first appears as an ominous symbol to the Togruta in “Mystery on Chopper Base.” Then the bird resurfaces in “World Between Worlds” and Ahsoka clarifies that the bird, named Morai, is an “old friend” to whom she owes her life to. And Morai will bring Ahsoka to her senses.
When Morai guides padawan Ezra Bridger to use a Force-powered time portal to pull Ahsoka from her duel with Vader, the latter finds herself iterating to the bereaved padawan, “I can’t save [my master].” Losing Anakin is an ache that Ahsoka will take to her grave as she will carry the weight of her fallen clone brothers. While she does turn out to be a puzzle piece that helps young Luke unmask Anakin Skywalker from his Sith shell, Ahsoka has accepted that it is not her burden to save Skywalker.
That’s why it is important Clone Wars ended in Ahsoka letting go of the saber gifted to her by Skywalker, even if Vader salvages it and holds onto its rusted shell. Ahsoka had to let go and Anakin had to hold on to bring the two to their own light. Vader holding onto the visages of his attachments, allows the former Jedi within to heed Luke’s pleas to turn back into the light.
Years before Ahsoka affirms aloud to herself that she cannot save her master, Vader learns, by gazing at Ahsoka’s bird on the snowy moon, that her existence will continue elsewhere without him. We know the future, but Clone Wars gave us the past.