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Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) sits and looks at something with a side eye Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

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Ahsoka has finally made Star Wars more fantasy than sci-fi

Dave Filoni is pulling from his favorite fantasy influences to continue his take on Star Wars

Star Wars has certainly had a fair share of fantasy elements baked into its DNA from the beginning. From its central “chosen one” monomyth to its deployment of the “special weapon” trope to a central plot arc that can be described as “storming a castle to rescue a princess,” Star Wars has never been a purely science-fiction story. Yet George Lucas has made it very clear that science-fiction stories like Buck Rogers and Frank Herbert’s Dune were a much larger influence on him than the foundational fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Dave Filoni, on the other hand, is on the record as being a big Lord of the Rings fan. The current showrunner of Ahsoka and the person long considered by fans to be Lucas’ heir as the central shepherd of Star Wars mythology, Filoni has peppered his love of fantasy into many of his Star Wars stories through the years — but in Ahsoka, we have the most overtly fantasy Star Wars yet.

These fantasy elements — and specifically the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing — manifest themselves through the series in ways both obvious and subtle. Right from the outset, Ahsoka is cast as a Gandalf figure, cloaked in gray and working to prevent the return of a far-off evil most consider long gone, before undergoing a death of sorts and returning with new determination, clad in white. The early episodes of the series involve a quest narrative, a staple of fantasy fiction, as Ahsoka and Sabine work to find a specific object and keep it from falling into the hands of their enemies. Even the garb of those enemies underscores the fantasy elements, with Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati attired in more medieval and chivalric garb than the usual robes-and-sashes of Jedi (or the black robes-and-sashes of the Sith).

Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) and Baylan (Ray Stevenson) look up at a map that is projecting all around them in blue light Image: Lucasfilm
A bunch of purrgil fly through the sky alongside Star Wars ships Image: Lucasfilm

On a more structural level, the world of Ahsoka — while still taking place in the familiar galaxy far, far away of hyperspace and lightsabers — is built like a fantasy world. Ahsoka retrieves the map to Thrawn from an ancient hidden temple, solving a puzzle to find the MacGuffin while being watched by stone avatars of long-dead figures to retrieve it. While there are allusions here to fellow Lucasfilm property Indiana Jones, the way characters in Ahsoka move through history is a key element of fantasy. Tolkien is constantly moving his characters through physical reminders of long-lost civilizations: reminders of history that have passed into myth, from the mines of Moria to the Argonath. This is seen again in Ahsoka on the world of Seatos, where the villain Morgan Elsbeth uses the map retrieved by and stolen from Ahsoka to chart a course using the stone plinth at a henge left behind by an ancient extra-galactic civilization.

Morgan herself is a key example of the fantasy influence in Ahsoka. She is, for all intents and purposes, a witch (something underscored by the title of the series’ second episode, “Toil and Trouble,” a reference to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth), related to the Witches of Dathomir. Previously established (by Dave Filoni) in The Clone Wars to be Force sensitives who wield the Force in a more mystical manner, the Nightsisters represent a different take on the Dark Side from the more familiar, “there can be only two” power-hungry Sith. Darth Vader, the signature Star Wars villain, is essentially a cyborg, a science fiction fusion of man and machine. His master, Darth Sidious, hurls bots of blue electric energy. Morgan, meanwhile, casts spells over ancient objects, manipulating the Force in a way that manifests as eldritch green flames. Not only are her chief henchbeings Baylan and Shin coded in more fantasy-based costumes, the series’ fourth episode, “Fallen Jedi,” reveals that their fellow stooge Marrok is a zombie-esque being animated by Morgan’s Force magic.

The Witches of Dathomir standing with their hands clasped looking at Elsbeth Image: Lucasfilm

On Seatos, Morgan’s magic reveals that the map shows the pathway to Peridia. Baylan explains that Peridia is at the core of a fairy tale told to the children of the Jedi temple, making it another example of the series’ fantasy elements. In much the same way science fiction is invested in exploring the impact of a particular scientific concept, the relationship between the present and the myths and stories of the past is a foundational element of fantasy fiction. Think of all the songs sung and stories told by various characters throughout The Lord of the Rings, connecting the past with the present, or the way the political history of Westeros is almost a character in and of itself throughout George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. Explicitly connecting the current plot arc of Ahsoka — find the map to Peridia and follow it to Ezra and Thrawn — to a children’s fairy tale continues this tradition.

On a more metatextual level, Dave Filoni is doing a similar thing with the series itself, in terms of its connection to the larger history of the Star Wars narrative. Filoni has stated his desire to weave the stories of Star Wars into a cohesive narrative whole, and has shown himself to be a creator (for better or sometimes worse) unafraid to engage with that narrative history and play around with its continuity. The Clone Wars is largely seen as his effort to add some depth and nuance to the prequel trilogy. Ahsoka is, essentially, a live-action fifth season of his animated Rebels series, directly picking up plot threads laid down by that show. Not only is Filoni peppering the series with visual and plot cues lifted from fantasy storytelling, he’s using past stories to add meaning to the current ones in the same manner of traditional fantasy stories.

All of this comes to a head in the series’ sixth episode, “Far, Far, Away,” which is positively dripping with fantasy touchstones, from characters moving about the ruins of an ancient civilization on Peridia, to a trio of witches talking about the threads of fate and using their abilities to empower an ambitious conqueror, to a visual aesthetic that seems more like Lucasfilm’s Willow than Star Wars. Baylan remarks at one point that it feels like they’re in a fairy tale, and the episode looks it. Characters are riding animal steeds into foreboding wastelands, fighting off bandits and befriending benign, overlooked, diminutive species. The episode’s cold open sets all this up, as Ahsoka and Huyang discuss the old tales from the Jedi temple; it kicks into the opening titles after Ahsoka asks Huyang to tell her one, and he begins, “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The ensuing episode could well be the tale he’s telling.

It is, ultimately, the culmination of Filoni’s efforts to highlight the fantasy elements in Ahsoka, which is itself the culmination of his efforts to play up those elements across the entire Star Wars narrative. To be clear, plenty of sci-fi and Star Wars-specific bits remain in the series: starships and stormtroopers and swords made not of steel but of light. But the Star Wars universe has always been one composed of a hodgepodge of influences, tones, and genres, with some stories dialing up certain elements over others. With Ahsoka, Dave Filoni has taken his love of Lord of the Rings and fantasy storytelling and dialed those elements in Star Wars up to eleven.


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