Ahsoka Tano is a reminder that you can’t save everyone. Love alone does not conquer all, and to quote someone from my chosen family, love shouldn’t hurt.
This essay contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars
By Rebecca Wei Hsieh
I’ll admit, I had a whole meltdown and a half after watching the series finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There’s Order 66, Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, and all the angst that keeps me coming back to this godforsaken franchise. But for a lot of fans, Ahsoka’s return remains the highlight of the series’ revival. So while the sight of Rex resisting his inhibitor chip tore my heart out, it was Ahsoka’s final departure that broke me. However, I wasn’t just grieving; I was immensely proud of her as a survivor myself.
Ahsoka initially joins the Jedi as a youngling, and to quote 5.6, she and her peers quickly come to think of the Order as ‘their true family’. The familial dynamic is perhaps most apparent between Ahsoka and Anakin, whom she regards as an older brother. As a result, Ahsoka is understandably devastated when she is summarily disowned upon being accused of terrorism, with little to no support from her family. The only person who shows her a modicum of belief is Anakin.
Of course, Ahsoka is by no means the only compelling depiction of familial estrangement, particularly between caretakers and children. Messy family dynamics have been central to the stories we tell for centuries now. But although I do relate to characters like Zuko, for example, only Ahsoka’s arc has resonated with me in a way that shakes me to my core.
After Anakin clears Ahsoka’s name, the Jedi Order welcomes her back with open arms, but she says no. She says no to a family that wants her back, one that she wants to return to but cannot allow herself to.
Let me be clear: leaving any abusive or toxic situation is never easy; staying is never a sign of weakness. This shit is complicated and I’m not going to participate in bogus, unhealthy comparisons. But there’s a distinct flavour of guilt that comes with leaving loved ones who love you back because they are no longer safe for you.
From childhood, we’re taught that love conquers all, that love is enough to fix everything. Look at Disney, look at fairytales, look at every other story where families ride out each wave together, buoyed by their love. After all, family is supposed to mean that no-one gets left behind. But that’s not always the reality of family.
Anakin is Ahsoka’s pillar in the Order, and he clearly reciprocates her affection. So what does he do when she leaves? He guilt-trips her and centers himself over and over. His own trauma does not give him a free pass to disregard her feelings, especially not when he’s her mentor. She ‘can’t leave’, he says, because ‘the Jedi Order is [her] life’. He whips out the classic ‘what about me’, implying that Ahsoka is selfish for walking out on the Order, that her decision is somehow a personal affront to him. He admits that he understands the desire to leave the Jedi, yet still expects Ahsoka to stay for him, for her family, because ultimately, that family is her life.
But the thing is, Ahsoka knows the Order is her entire world, and that’s exactly why she must leave everything she has ever known. When one’s family has failed them in such a colossal way, leaving becomes less a choice and more a necessity, no matter how much love is there. Anakin admits as much in an unfinished scene, but even then his conclusion is that Ahsoka is a ‘major disappointment’ for not keeping herself in harm’s way for her family.
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Ahsoka knows all this, yet that doesn’t stop her survivor’s guilt from kicking in, long before Order 66 happens. When you’ve been taught all your life that family means everything, leaving feels like a moral failure. You’re not just leaving, you’re abandoning them, and what kind of selfish, heartless monster walks away from a loved one who needs them? Who says no when the most important person in their life is pleading with them to stay?
The truth is, though, it’s impossible to abandon the people who abandoned you in the first place. Sure, the Order technically extends an olive branch, as does Anakin, but that show of goodwill is undermined by the cost entailed: her. Ahsoka is the one left behind; she has merely been framed as the bad guy who does the physical act of walking away.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that the playing field is not equal for Ahsoka, much like in many caretaker-child relationships. She’s a female Togruta, in a universe we know to be biased towards men and humans. She is seventeen by the end of season 5, still a child (Don’t even get me started on the whole child soldier situation). She has depended on this family to survive her entire life, a family that abruptly pulls the rug from under her feet, only to gaslight her with some ‘the Force works in mysterious ways’ bullshit. The power dynamics will be forever skewed so long as one party depends on the other for basic survival.
So obviously, a goddamn child, should not be responsible for being the ‘bigger person’, for staying and ‘saving’ her loved ones at her own expense.
What strikes me the most in Ahsoka’s entire story though, is how good she continues to be. Even though she’s traumatised and hesitant to form close connections in the Ahsoka novel, she still refuses to turn her back on people who need her. Ahsoka continues to play her part in the liberation of the galaxy, fighting against the Empire in every way she can.
Despite the hardships of forging a new life on her own, she returns to season 7 as her own person. Still a child, for sure, but much more mature and steadfast in her beliefs. We see her grow further in Star Wars Rebels, where she appears as a 31-year-old fighting for a cause she could easily ignore if she wanted. Leaving her toxic family does not break her or turn her into a cold-hearted woman with no moral compass. Not to romanticise trauma, but if anything, her resilience in face of her ordeal has made her kinder and more empathetic.
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I don’t want to delve into my Tragic Origin Story, but what haunts me the most is the fear that I will become an abuser myself, if I’m not one already. That my giving up on people who still love me is cruel and abusive.
Yet Ahsoka Tano is a reminder that you can’t save everyone. Love alone does not conquer all, and to quote someone from my chosen family, love shouldn’t hurt. Neither Ahsoka nor I are culpable for not returning to the open arms waiting for us, not when they are arms lined with teeth and talons.
We are not bad people for loving ourselves first, for surviving. No one is.
Rebecca (she/her) is a Taiwanese American actor, writer, translator and authenticity reader based in NYC, and holds a BA in theatre and Italian Studies from Wesleyan University. Having grown up across several continents, her writing focuses on the interplay between Asia and the Asian diaspora, gender, queerness and mental illness. She’s currently co-writing a memoir about Chinese-occupied Tibet. You can find her nerd rants on Twitter and her properly edited work at her site.
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