It’s no secret that much of the “Star Wars” franchise is problematic. It boasts a cinematic universe in which cast diversity is (supposedly) satisfied by the presences of James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Samuel L. Jackson. The hypersexualization of women is normalized through sexualized alien women and lead characters in metal bikinis. Indigenous peoples are othered through the franchise’s casting of an actor of Maori descent for the part of a synthetic clone army. But even within this problematic content, you’ll find diamonds in the rough.
Meet Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein, “Avengers Assemble”) — the former Padawan of Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter, “Jupiter’s Legacy”) in the “The Clone Wars” animated series. Ahsoka Tano was initially met with harsh criticism: Reviews often labeled her as an unlikeable stooge who deserved a graphic death. Such reviews necessitated Eckstein to beg fans and reviewers to continue watching “The Clone Wars” to witness Ahsoka’s character growth.
Cue the final season of “Star Wars: Rebels” in 2018, as well as the currently airing final season of “The Clone Wars.” Ahsoka’s character growth is undeniable in both series. In the former, Ahsoka emerges as a seasoned revolutionary leader who strives to protect the marginalized and voiceless in an autocratic Galactic Empire. Ahsoka’s leadership in “Rebels” is a culmination of her character growth in “The Clone Wars” from her privileged upbringing as a Jedi, to her struggles and ultimate betrayal through the Jedi system and finally to her subsequent journey following her abandonment of the Jedi Order.
Ahsoka’s character is relatively refreshing in the face of the problematic universe of “Star Wars.” Her costume, which was initially much skimpier, is toned down considerably in later seasons of “The Clone Wars” and into “Rebels.” Her character’s initially grating impression is improved upon with character development that makes her indispensable to the cinematic universe while avoiding common negative tropes like the damsel in distress. All these point to a subsection within the creative minds behind “Star Wars” — creatives who may not necessarily be the most socially aware, but are constantly learning and adapting their characters to fix and avoid being problematic.
But Rosario Dawson’s casting as a live-action version of Ahsoka Tano for the second season of “The Mandalorian” undermines that progress. Fan castings of Dawson as Ahsoka Tano were common — gaining more traction as Dawson herself supported them. Dawson is a natural contender for the role of Ahsoka Tano: Her performances as Allegra Dill in “Briarpatch” and Claire Temple in Marvel’s “Defenders” universe on Netflix both showcase her ability to portray strong female characters who are uninhibited by harmful stereotypes, which adds depth to the shows she is in.
But Dawson and her family’s actions against Dedrek Finley put her at odds with Ahsoka Tano. Dawson, who came out as LGBTQIA+ herself, allegedly assaulted, abused and misgendered Finley, a trans man who worked for the Dawson family for years. While Finley hopes that the lawsuit against her will empower other transgender people to share their own stories and pursue legal actions against their abusive employers, Dawson and her family wholeheartedly denied such abuse. This alleged abuse highlights the innate power structure that exists within the LGBTQIA+ community, often putting the status of certain queer identities above others.
Dawson’s own alleged actions against Finley contradict that of Ahsoka Tano — a character who sought justice for marginalized and oppressed people. The casting of Dawson as Ahsoka Tano unravels the careful construction of Ahsoka Tano’s character, which shines as an iconic beacon in contrast to the hoards of problematic content within “Star Wars.” As such, the creatives behind Ahsoka Tano, such as Dave Filoni, have an important question to answer: Is the casting of a problematic, high-profile actress such as Dawson more important than the preservation and continuation of a relatively unproblematic female character?
In spite of many fans voicing their own discontent toward Dawson’s casting, Disney and Lucasfilms remain silent in light of the controversy. Come the October 2020 release of the second season of “The Mandalorian,” you might feel a twinge of discomfort as you watch Dawson star as Ahsoka Tano.