Designing Star Wars: Ahsoka Tano

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the theatrical debut of Star Wars: The Clone Wars this week, delves into the development of Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, from spunky teen Togruta to formidable hero of the rebel cause.

The look of Star Wars is unlike anything else in popular culture. Step back in time to explore the history and philosophy behind the concepts that define the galaxy far, far away in Designing Star Wars.

Character concepts by Dave Filoni

It’s hard to imagine now, but Star Wars: The Clone Wars almost wasn’t a story about Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Supervising Director Dave Filoni’s original vision for the series, scribbled on a piece of lined paper, involved a band of misfit scoundrels aboard a freighter and operating on the fringes of the galactic conflict. It would have included a Padawan Learner named Ashla, and her Jedi Master on assignment with the crew, working to aid the war effort by dealing with arms dealers and crime bosses like the Hutt clan. It would have occasionally brought the pair back to the frontlines to defend the Republic.

Concept art of Anakin and Ahsoka, with lightsabers raised high.

Concept by Dave Filoni

But before the idea came to fruition, George Lucas stepped in, offering a guiding hand to bring Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi back into the spotlight to explore the heat of the battle with characters that already had a foothold in the war. Ashla became Anakin’s Padawan, Ahsoka. And the rest is history.

Ahsoka Tano fights off buzz droids with a lightsaber.

Concept by Dave Filoni

In the decade since her introduction in the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano has grown up before our eyes. The scrappy Togruta, nicknamed “Snips” by her master, bounded onscreen with fresh energy and optimism that Anakin was sorely lacking. She was fearless and brave, with a brashness that shined through whether she was questioning her elders or dueling with General Grievous. She was also badly in need of some guidance to turn her Jedi Temple training into a real-world benefit to the war effort and calm her reckless ways. Her species sometimes got her mistaken for a servant girl, but Ahsoka was far from subservient and quick to ignite her lightsaber and leap into the fray.

An early character model of Ahsoka Tano.

Early maquette by Darren Marshall

Early head models for Ahsoka Tano.

Maquette facial detail by Darren Marshall

Behind-the-scenes, the shaping of her physical character literally included softening some of her rough edges. In an early design by Darren Marshall, Ahsoka had a mature, defined bone structure and angular features. The character ultimately debuted as a teenager with a more youthful appearance, but Lucas had already nixed the earlier version amid concerns over her larger alien head.

An early model of Ahsoka Tano with a pleated skirt.

Concept by Dave Filoni

The maker also weighed in on her costume. Filoni originally dressed the Togruta he called Ashla in a long, pleated skirt. As she morphed into the Ahsoka we now know, her physical appearance and sense of fashion started to shift; we can thank Lucas himself for giving the nimble Padawan that shorter skirt and tube top. During the three years of design work leading to her debut, Ahsoka tried on different costumes and facial markings, including some influenced by San in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke.

A young Ahsoka Tano meets Jedi Master Plo Koon.

Concept by Dave Filoni

Filoni once described Ahsoka as “looking back at what was, looking forward at what might be.” In the creation of her story, Filoni sketched a tentative meeting between a very young Ahsoka and Jedi Master Plo Koon, who rescued her from her home planet of Shili after encountering the Force-sensitive baby. His affection for her remained for years to come, including the nickname “Little ‘Soka.” Among Star Wars fans, she grew to be a favorite character amid the new additions in the animated series.

Ahsoka Tano leaps to attack IG-100 droids, in concept art.

Concept by Dave Filoni

With the right training, Ahsoka quickly proved to be a formidable warrior, with a combination of graceful acrobatic moves, a distinct reverse grip on her two lightsabers, and with a personality that struck a balance between Anakin’s brashness and Obi-Wan’s measured judgment. Padawan and Master learned to work together, forming a mutual respect and trust. Ahsoka grew and matured, from the 14-year-old new Padawan to someone who was older, wiser, and entrusted to teach and guide younglings. Through the trials on Mortis and when Ahsoka was framed for the bombing at the Jedi Temple — and later murder — Anakin was on her side, despite her expulsion from the Jedi Order. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but her faith was shaken. When the council offered to allow her back into the fold, she made the difficult and courageous decision to instead walk away.

Ahsoka Tano in close-up, with Darth Vader behind her.

All lighting concept designs by Chris Voy

She eventually joined the Rebel Alliance, in a triumphant and surprising return to the screen with a design that Filoni has called his favorite. Forging her own path in Star Wars Rebels, reborn from the wreckage of the Jedi’s betrayal, Ahsoka became a guiding force for the next generation of heroes in need of hope, a warrior with blinding white lightsabers and no affiliation to the Jedi or Sith. She is no Jedi. And perhaps she is stronger because of it.

“I hope through Ahsoka we showed fans that the universe has many possibilities,” Filoni has said. “We had her wielding a lightsaber and going toe-to-toe with the big baddies of the galaxy years ago. I like to think that Ahsoka paved the way for a character like Rey [in The Force Awakens].”

An adult Ahsoka Tano in a white robe holding a staff, in the series finale of Star Wars Rebels.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver what you love most about Star Wars!

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