Kick-Ass Women of Star Wars: Ahsoka Tano and Rey

If anyone were to play a game of word association asking someone what they thought of at the mention of Star Wars, it’s safe to say that the word “Jedi” would probably come up a lot.

The term is so linked with the saga as a whole in the public imagination, and yet for the first six onscreen entries, it was only ever memorably linked to men. 

Though some will get pedantic and point out that we have Masters Depa Bilaba, Shaak Ti, Ayla Secura, etc., in the prequels, I would remind them that none of those women are main characters. Not to mention their names and any defining information about them is wholly absent from the actual movies – the thing most people in the audience actually sees.

For someone like me, who had no access to the 2D Clone Wars or visual dictionaries at the height of the prequel era, it was deeply irritating to have my favorite component of the saga be so devoid of women could relate to. 

Everything changed for me in December 2015, when I met not one but two female Jedi who have come to mean more to me than I could have realized.

Ahsoka Tano

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

I was late to the Clone Wars party and didn’t see it until after The Force Awakens. When Ahsoka Tano was first introduced as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan in The Clone Wars movie, no doubt a lot of skeptical brows were raised – mine included.

How could Anakin have a padawan of his own when she isn’t in Revenge of the Sith? When he doesn’t even mention her? Such is the beauty of a saga told out of order. 

Though many, myself included, see The Clone Wars series as enriching the stories of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the time between Episodes II and III, it is Ahsoka Tano who is our point of view character, and I would argue, our protagonist.

She is the one to guide the audience through it all, and it’s through her eyes we see the chaos and devastation of the Clone Wars. 

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

When she is first introduced, Ahsoka immediately becomes the thing every child's point of view character becomes when introduced to a property like this. She thinks she knows better than the more experienced soldiers around her.

She is so sassy it earns her the affectionate nickname “Snips” from her Master. She doesn’t fall in with the more serious attitude of the older characters. Why would she? She is the audience surrogate in a show where the audience is presumed to be 10-12 years old. 

But Ahsoka quickly rises beyond her predetermined role as “kid in a TV show about adults.” Circumstances of the Clone Wars being what they are, the 14-year old Ahsoka is quickly made a commander in her own right, merely through her place in the Jedi Order.

She is overconfident and believes that the rank she has been given is enough to make her a competent leader, despite Clone Captain Rex’s assertion that “experience outranks everything.”

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Ahsoka learns the hard way just how true that is. She is put in charge of a Clone squadron and very quickly gets most, if not all, of them killed because of her own rash actions. To make matters worse for her, she has to pick back up and carry on immediately. She cannot dwell on the mistake, not in wartime.

Ahsoka fails in a big way and has to contend with her own arrogance fairly early on in the series, setting up her fantastic overall character arc. 

She starts out as an idealistic youth, firmly committed to striking a balance between what she knows to be right and what the Jedi order expects of her, but her resolve is tested as the war rages on. She has a rude awakening when the Order that once relied on her for everything – from leading troops into battle to escorting Padawans to Ilum – throws her under the bureaucratic bus after a bombing at the Jedi Temple and expels her from the Order.

Though she is eventually found innocent and invited back, her faith is too shaken.

How can she trust anyone who wasn’t willing to do the same for her? Despite the Jedi stance on attachments, Ahsoka forms deep attachments to those around her, be they Jedi, Clone, or otherwise. To have that love rewarded with skepticism and ostracization is a step too far for her. 

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Though she does renounce the Jedi Order and the title of Jedi along with it, Ahsoka is arguably the perfect embodiment of what it means to be a Jedi. Ahsoka’s final two arcs in The Clone Wars really cement this.

Rather than giving in to dogma and rules and regulations, Ahsoka strives to do her best by anyone who calls upon her for help, whether it’s the Martez sisters on Coruscant with their personal conflicts or it’s Bo-Katan Kryze calling on her to come to liberate Mandalore from the clutches of Maul. 

Despite this, and despite still being a Force user, when Ahsoka appears again in Rebels, she seems to have completely shed this part of her identity. She doesn’t take part in Ezra’s Jedi training – something we also see later as well when she won’t take on Grogu as a student.

Most memorably, though, when facing Darth Vader on Malachor, as she prepares to strike him down in revenge over the death of Anakin Skywalker, she famously states, “I am no Jedi.”

That moment, right there, is the pinnacle of who Ahsoka is to me. And I disagree with the public assessment that this means Ahsoka Tano isn’t a Jedi. Whatever title she might choose to use for herself, Ahsoka Tano is a Jedi through and through, in spirit and practice if not in name.

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Beyond finding a light-dark balance, she’s found a balance between the Jedi’s teachings and things she knows to be true from having lived out in the world. Her loyalty and compassion for her friends are what make her such a good spy.

She knows what is at stake and has something worth fighting for beyond an amorphous, ambiguous Cause. She stalls Vader in the Temple to let Ezra and Kanan get away, but she stays there with him and lets herself get crushed by a building because she doesn’t want to leave Anakin behind a second time. Because she still loves him despite everything. 

Was it a smart decision? No. But Ahsoka doesn’t make the right decision all the time, even as an adult. She still fails again and again and learns from each failure. I heard someone say once that it’s the greatest teacher of all, and no one exemplifies this better than Ahsoka. 

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

All this isn’t even getting into how much I adore her friendship with Captain Rex and how their parting after the Siege of Mandalore broke my heart. To leave behind the only friend you have in the galaxy because you know it’s safer for the both of you? To make the selfless decision instead of the selfish one no matter how much it hurts? What’s more Jedi than that?

It would have been so easy to make Ahsoka the perfect audience self-insert. Instead, she is allowed to fail and triumph in equal measure. She is allowed to love, and hurt, and forge her own path. Her character has a richness and complexity that has allowed her to stand the test of time and keep appearing in various iterations rather than being a one-off. 

Over a collective nine seasons of television, one guest appearance, one novel, and now an upcoming limited series, Ahsoka is seen to be many things. She is a student, a commander, a Jedi, an outcast, a spy. But she is also, more importantly, a good friend, one who loves deeply and will do anything for those she is closest to. She manages to remain a beacon of hope even in the face of overwhelming heartbreak.

Rey

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

I love Rey.

I seriously waffled over about 100 different ways to start this and couldn’t find anything that really summed it up for me. But she means so much to me that I often find it hard to put into words. It’s like the line from Emma: if I loved her less, I might be able to talk about it more.

When I first saw The Force Awakens in December 2015, it was at a time in my life where I was really in need of something cozy and comforting. I had just moved far away for grad school – as in a whole ocean and 6 times zones away – and was experiencing bouts of homesickness and stress that were manifesting as the kind of anxiety that just makes you shut down.

Star Wars became the thing to get me through that first term at school. Rewatching the first six movies in anticipation of Episode VII became the thing my roommate and I would do and one of the things we bonded over. And then, not 24 hours after arriving home for the holidays, my brother and I went to see our first in-theatre Star Wars movie since The Phantom Menace.

Everything changed for me right then.

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

I wasn’t the type who went into the Sequel Trilogy hoping for one last adventure with the old gang. There were hundreds of well-loved books that could give me that if that's what I wanted. No, I went in looking forward to meeting the new cast of characters, ready to let them sweep me away, and it was love at first sight.

Of the four new main characters, Rey is the one that stood out. Poe is a Resistance pilot, Finn was a Stormtrooper, and Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. All three of them are “involved” in the bigger picture, so to speak. But Rey. Who was she, and how did she fit in? How did this girl from the outskirts of the narrative find herself at the very heart of the story?

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

This is why I related to her in the meta-sense. I have always been a fan of Star Wars, but I operated on the outskirts of it all. Unlike so many of my friends in fandom, I’ve never read the Legends books (note how I even call them Legends and not Expanded Universe), I didn’t wear a Star Wars costume for Halloween until I was 29 years old, I had some of the toys but not many. I’d always been aware of the stories and turned to them when I needed something cozy. 

Then suddenly, here it was. A whole new Star Wars movie starring characters who don’t have 20 years of backstory I’m unfamiliar with – even though that backstory isn’t canon anymore. They were brand new and ready for me to love them. I felt a sort of kinship with Rey in that moment. As she started to take her first step into a larger world, so could I, with her as my guide. 

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

As for who she was and how she fits into it all, this is where things start to get spicy. I know it’s always easy to say in hindsight, but I never really felt like she needed any justification for belonging in the story or having powers to rival Kylo Ren’s.

I didn’t understand the arguments for her being a Solo or a Skywalker. Why I would ask my friends, were they so keen for one of their heroes to be so neglectful a parent that they lose and forget their child? Or voluntarily give her away? Either way, not good. 

When the truth eventually came out that no, she wasn’t anyone special, that hit me in so specific a spot it practically knocked me off my feet. Rey is a character who ascribes so much of her self-worth to what others think of her. She clings to parental figures and mentor figures like they’re lifelines, never once trusting in herself and her own abilities to get herself where she needs to be.

It was a much-needed wake-up call for me, a person who has spent too much of her life waiting for permission to exist in certain spaces and waiting to feel worthy of earning opportunities in life. But Rey’s calling as a Jedi chose her. The Force awoke in her and deemed her worthy, and that was – should have been – enough.

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

This is part of the reason I feel so frustrated by the end of her arc. Rey was the first female Jedi I had seen (I wouldn’t watch the Clone Wars until after), and as someone whose favorite part of Star Wars is the Jedi Knights, it was great to finally see a woman get to take center stage in that role. What upsets me about it, though, and why I take it so personally, is that I wish the stewards of her story had had the same confidence in her arc as I did.

Rey never needed powerful ancestry. There is something compelling about someone rising from nothing into legend with nothing but their sheer raw talent. It’s something that I, a person trying to break into an industry fuelled by connections and nepotism, feel very keenly.

Rey was good enough simply because she was good enough. She had every opportunity to fall to the dark, given the circumstances of her life, and never once did. But in the third act of her arc, she is reset at square one, her actions, both light and dark, are credited to the powerful older men in her life, and she is left to finish out a story arc that had nothing to do with her in the first place.

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

It broke my heart to watch what should have been the third act of her journey become about tying up the arcs of characters whose stories had already been told. There’s nothing moving about watching her stand there, at the end of her journey, satisfied that she has completed the journey of two characters who were not the protagonists of this trilogy.

There is no empowerment in watching a woman with unhealthy attachments to parental figures try to argue that the people who sold her were good and loving, only to then spend her final moments on-screen alone at the site of a grisly 40-year-old murder, in the clothes she died in, surrounded by ghosts, still clinging to that need for validation by others.

It’s true that now when someone watches the Sequel Trilogy together for the first time, they won’t be subject to the same ups and downs the audience felt regarding Rey’s identity. It will always, unfortunately, be what it is now. And though I don’t care for it – her biological origins or her new name – I still cannot help but hope that we get a continuation of her story soon. 

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Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

It’s concerning, in my opinion, when we reach the end of a narrative and no one can agree on basic things about a character, like what their wants and motivations are. There was so much concern over “justifying” her existence that the scavenger I came to know and love became someone else entirely. I don’t know who she is anymore, and I want her back.

Rey, just as she was, the desert rat from nowhere and of no importance to anyone or anything until she made herself matter, was always enough. She was what I needed to see then, she’s what I need to see now, and she should have been enough.

Though on the surface, it doesn’t look like Ahsoka and Rey have much in common beyond their Force abilities, I think they’re actually quite similar where it matters.

Both are mighty and resourceful warriors, but they also have some of the biggest hearts in the Star Wars galaxy. They are compassionate and have such a capacity and a willingness to love.

They always strive to see the best in everyone and believe that no one is ever beyond the reach of help and redemption. But then, they also know when to draw the line and to recognize that sometimes people need to help themselves before they’re ready for you to help them. They succeed and fail in equal measure, and they learn from every opportunity. 

No matter what kind of predetermined legacy anyone tries to attach to them, or what man the audience (and sometimes storytellers) are willing to credit their abilities to, they manage to shine with a power and a legacy all their own. And for that reason alone, I salute these two kickass Jedi.

Looking for more badass Star Wars women? Check out our pieces on Fennec Shand and Amilyn Holdo and Padmé Amidala, and Jyn Erso.

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Arezou Amin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of Star Wars, romance, fantasy, and all things pop culture. She is the host of Space Waffles, a Star Wars-focused podcast on the Geeky Waffle network, where she also co-hosts the flagship show and writes reviews and recaps for the site.