Re-watching The Clone Wars as a father has provided new context for character relationships and the omnipresent threat to the galactic status quo. As well as presenting the infamous Clone Wars on screen, the animated series also served as prelude to Anakin’s fall to the dark side. In all those episodes, audiences can see glimpses of the darkness and warring emotions lingering just under the surface. In amongst these moments, though, are stronger signs of the caring, determined and loving individual that would have made him a good father were it not for politics, his passions and duty to the Jedi Order.
Anakin is thrust into the father figure role after being charged with a young Padawan by Master Yoda. At first the plucky little upstart Ahsoka Tano is constantly at odds with her new master, the similar streaks of their personalities repelling like magnets. Soon both are learning from one another, complementing flaws whilst highlighting others.
Anakin was granted a Padawan to teach him responsibility and humility, yes, but also to let go of his attachments. Though Ahsoka leans on Anakin, learns from and respects him, it soon became clear that Anakin needed her far more than she needed him. So when Ahsoka turns her back on the Jedi Order, it’s as if Anakin has lost a daughter.
What had already been an emotional enough scene took on potent new meaning with a daughter of my own. Ahsoka walking away from the Jedi Order was her leaving home moment, where she strides out into the world to forge her own path and not the one laid out by others. It beautifully embodies Yoda’s astute advice to Luke in The Last Jedi (which we have lovingly adopted as our tagline) – “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters”.
The climactic fifth season of The Clone Wars ends with a four-episode arc in which Ahsoka’s faith in the Jedi Order, the Republic, her master and even herself is shaken and forever changed. In it, she’s falsely accused of bombing the Jedi temple, an act of terrorism in fact committed by her once friend and fellow Padawan, Barriss Offee, as a political message. The Jedi Order has lost its way, she says, fallen so far from its intentions that they’ve become war mongers doing the Republic’s bidding. Though the medium was wrong, Barriss’ message was absolutely right – prophetic even. This is not only a rude awakening for Ahsoka, but for Anakin himself, offering another key piece in the complex architecture of his fall.
It’s in the nature of children to question the political views of their parents or, in Ahsoka’s case, her elders. The journey of growing up means discovering one’s own moral compass and not taking the world at face value. Indoctrinated into the Jedi Order from an early age, the increasingly combative monastic sect is all she has ever known. It gave her purpose and a path to follow, as much as any of our parents or caretakers can do for us.
With Barriss’ admission of guilt and diatribe against the Jedi, Ahsoka is cleared of all charges and welcomed back into the Order. Masters Yoda, Plo Koon, Mace Windu and even Anakin, expect her to lay down the past and return to the fold as if nothing had happened. As if they were doing her favour. But everything has changed; Ahsoka witnessed first hand that the Order did not trust her, that the Republic she thought she was serving is mutating.
Children crave trust from their parents, and the respect and responsibility that comes with it. It’s a passing of the baton from adolescence and onward to adulthood. But the Jedi’s trust in Ahsoka was absent when she needed it most. They were too busy wrapped up in the darkening politics of the Republic and their own internal bureaucracy. Only Anakin fought her corner all the way through, and yet even he pursues her through Coruscant with the same tenacity of catching a villain.
Though much younger than her master, Ahsoka is forced to learn a vital lesson. It is a lesson Anakin himself would only come to realise on his death bed – the art of letting go. Ahsoka walks away from the Jedi Order, from the people who have watched her grow from a youngling into a determined, feisty and capable Padawan, and away from the temple spires around which she has organised her entire life. It’s a potent metaphor for leaving home for the first time, one with more emotional weight than Luke leaving the family farmstead in A New Hope.
While Luke is called to action by R2-D2’s arrival and compelled by the death of his aunt and uncle, Ahsoka walks away from everything into an uncertain future to make sense of all that she’s seen and experienced, to figure out the galaxy and her place in it. This is the journey of all children, to leave and discover themselves and their place in the world. For Ahsoka, this means cutting ties with the Jedi Order and, most heartbreaking of all, Anakin.
Ahsoka leaving mirrors Anakin’s departure from Tatooine years before, where he left his mother behind for a purpose and place in the Jedi Order, compelled by prophecy and the burden of destiny. Watching his Padawan leave is an awakening through which Anakin realises that this is his life now – he either leaves someone he cares for, or they leave him. Plagued by dreams of Padmé’s death in Revenge of the Sith, it’s no surprise at all that Anakin would do whatever it takes to keep her from leaving him alone in the galaxy. That, more than his own powerlessness, might be his greatest fear. In the end, though, Anakin couldn’t let go of Ahsoka.
But she does leave, with tears in her eyes, uncertainty ahead, but hope in her heart. That may be the burden of all masters, but it’s the burden of all parents too.