- R.A. Ruiz Acosta
"A New Day, A New Beginning": Ahsoka Tano & a Brief History of Women,POC & Latinxs in Star Wars
*canonical and brief. For brevity's sake- this only includes actors and characters in films and tv- not novels, comics, and video games. As per usual, I can't claim this list to be fully comprehensive- just a look in to actors and characters of color and female characters and their social, and personal impact.
A Long Time Ago, In a House In East El Paso...
My very first memories involve Star Wars.
A dark cool room, staying up "late" on a Saturday, sitting on the floor, eating pizza, and watching "A New Hope." Not quite following the plot but falling in love with Luke Skywalker, idolizing Leia, and totally mesmerized. The music, the aliens, the lights, the customs, the magic- watching my parents watch something that meant so much to them. Then a few years later staying up late again with my dad to buy a Phantom Menace poster off QVC right before it came out when I was 9, sneaking into my moms rooms to use her lipstick to do the Padme look- you get the idea- but even with having Leia and to a lesser degree Padme to idolize, I still wanted more. The prequels gave us female Jedis, but they were limited to the background, hardly speaking, or sexualized like Aayla Secura (I mean-HOTTIE but still)- and I WANTED TO BE LUKE. I wanted to be the hero. I remember distinctly using a marker on a paint stick to make my own "lightsaber"- and I remember getting infuriated when playing Star Wars with my boy cousins and they would tell me I couldn't be a Jedi- and had to play Leia. No one would argue that Leia isn't a wonderful role model for young girls to look up to- she absolutely was for me, but she (outside of the extended universe I didn't have access to- and the recent sequels) just wasn't the force user that Luke was. On top of everything, we were Mexican- and everyone was white. Billie Dee Williams iconic Lando Calrissian is introduced in "Empire Strikes Back" and breaks ground as the franchises first visible (obviously who would Darth Vader be without James Earl Jones' voice) person of color. Samuel L. Jackson of course plays Jedi Master Mace Windu in the prequels. It won't be till decades later that we see the intersection of racial and gender inclusion in the franchise.
"This Is A New Day, A New Beginning."
No, I didn't grow up with female Jedis- but I'm thrilled for the younger generation that has and will continue to for years to come will. "The Clone Wars" series helmed by Dave Filoni, started in 2008- by that time, I was a freshman in college- I had other fish to fry and only basic cable... I didn't even like cartoons as a kid so I definitely wasn't interested or even aware of the show- but with Dave Filoni's "The Clone Wars," a whole generation of younger fans was introduced to Anakin Skywalker's padawan- a young teen Torguta girl they could relate to named: Ahsoka Tano.
She's imperfect- like any good character. She's pluky, she makes mistakes, she backtalks, she's "snippy"- so Anakin calls her "snips." The creepy, rape-y eyed Anakin of Hayden Christenson in the prequels is redeemed with the tenderness and affection "The Clone Wars" Anakin has for this teen girl he treats as a little sister. You see that "good in him" that Luke and Padme were always going on about. More importantly, in Ahsoka, young girls were able to see the first female Jedi- using the force to jump around, move things with her mind, fight with TWO lightsabers- and were able to grow with her for the six years of the first "Clone Wars," see her as an adult in her thirties in "Rebels," and back to her late teens in the recent reprise of "Clone Wars" final season on Disney Plus. You see her fail, struggle, loose, and still have hope. She will later be what is considered a "grey Jedi" by some, but she is the quintessential Star Wars "light side" hero and though part of her character arc is leaving the Jedi order, Dave Filoni told Vaniety Fair:
"I would argue in some ways—by being so selfless and rejecting a lot of paths that would have given her power—she’s more Jedi-like than even some characters who claim to be Jedi."
After "The Clone Wars" and before the sequel trilogy begins- we actually get our first non-white Star Wars main characters in the cartoon "Star Wars: Rebels" - also helmed by Filoni. At least that's what we can gather from the cartoon- Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus is voiced by latino Freddie Prinze Jr. and drawn to look latino, mandalorian Sabine Wren is voiced by Indian American actress Tiya Sircar and drawn to look East or South Asian. Ezra Bridger can be presumed to be Middle Eastern, but is voiced by white actor Taylor Gray.
In 2015, the sequel trilogy of films begins with "The Force Awakens" - and the world meets Rey. The mainstream of these films meant a few truly groundbreaking firsts- Daisy Ridley was the first female Jedi centered in a Star Wars live action film- she was to be the "Luke" of this generation- but was reduced by internet bullies as a "Mary Sue" and Daisy Ridley was attacked so much on her personal accounts she had to leave social media. John Boyega was the first Black main character, Oscar Issac was the first Latino live-action main character. Lupita N'yong'o is technically the franchises first woman of color in a supporting role, first black woman with lines, and first Mexican- but she only provides the voice for Maz Katana, and you unfortunately never see her face. 2017's "The Last Jedi" would introduce Kelly Marie Tran as the first Asian woman and first Woman of Color seen in a live action lead character. Heartbreakingly, all of these important and groundbreaking firsts would infamously be sullied by the toxicity of the racist and sexist white male fandom- which I have spoke on multiple times and created my: White Boys Don't Own the Fandom Merch because of. Please check out John Boyega's recent GQ interview where he speaks in depth on this issue and his own experience in the franchise, and Kelly Marie Tran's fantastic NY Times article from 2018: "I Won't Be Marginalized by Online Harassment."
2016's "Rogue One" entire band of rebels is comprised of men of color, save their leader- Jyn Erso played by Felicity Jones. Riz Ahmed plays Bodi, Donnie Yen plays Chirrut Imwe, Diego Luna notably is the first live action Mexican lead character in Star Wars- and plays his character Cassian Andor with his glorious, thick Mexican accent undisturbed. Both Donnie and Diego speak with their natural Chinese and Mexican accents, this notably provides a new level of representation where we could not only see ourselves, but hear ourselves in Star Wars.
Thandie Newton and Naomi Ackie star respectively as Val in "Solo: A Star Wars Story," (2018) and Jannah in "The Rise of Skywalker." (2019)
An entire 38 years after Bille Dee Williams and his suave, smooth talking, cape wearing, Lando Calrissian graced "Empire Strikes Back"- and we FINALLY get our first visible (again lamenting that Lupita N'yong'o only provided the voice for alien Maz Katana) black woman in a lead role in Star Wars with Thandie's all too brief performance.
Of this fact, Thandie Newton said to The Guardian:
“I am the first dark-skinned woman in a lead role in the Star Wars legacy, which is both great, that it is finally a correction, and awful, that it’s taken this long.”
Which brings us back to the matter at hand of Ahsoka Tano in "The Mandalorian." The Star Wars fandom in many ways is as divided as our country. Matters of race and gender and representation pull and tug on both sides of our force, obviously- we're on the right side cus representation is good and necessary and has taken too long- and I've spoken on this many many times. However, there are some things that has unite us for the most part: our shared love for Dave Filoni's works, Baby Yoda (Grogu!!), "The Mandalorian"- and YES! AHSOKA FREAKING TANO! That little teenage alien girl who grew to be a wise and solitary warrior through "Rebels" and now in LIVE ACTION with her DOUBLE WHITE LIGHT SABERS in"The Mandalorian."
Ahsoka was first brought to life by voice actress and entrepreneur Ashley Eckstein. Ashley has a devotion to her character unlike many, and with good reason- Ahsoka is someone anyone would be proud to be a part of. Ashley regularly discusses what Ahsoka means to fans on her social media with "Tano Tuesday," and #ahsokalivesinallofus and has a created a line of clothing catering to women and girls in the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars fandoms with her brand: Her Universe. She has even written the "Little Golden Book" about Ahsoka called "Star Wars: I Am A Padawan," and frequently releases merch inspired speifically by Ahsoka on Her Universe.
Yet, when rumors of bringing Ahsoka into live action started- fans began to fan-cast Rosario as the Torguta warrior due to her resemblance to the character, and her history of staring in action/ fantasy/ sci-fi films. Awhile back I created a list of WOC in Sci-Fi featuring Rosario ( I NEED TO UPDATE THAT!) called "Weird Girl: WOC in Sci Fi and Fantasy" - you can check that our HERE. Rosario was very interested in the role, and the process of casting her as Ahsoka for "The Mandalorian" began. Rosario has been very gracious to Ashley for her years of work with the character, telling Vanity Fair: "Ashley did a remarkable job. You’ve seen this character first come into our hearts and minds as a teenager and then evolve, and Ashley has been there the entire way. Seeing how her voice changed, how her energy changed, and to hear the maturity develop in her was just so powerful and so beautiful. I studied it like crazy and tried my best to honor that. And it was just incredible to be able to have such an in-depth performance to source." Ashley undoubtedly will always be a part of Ahsoka, but casting Rosario gives us all that spark of hope we've been waiting too long for. Though the women portraying Jedi's in the prequels were WOC, they hardly spoke. Though Daisy Ridley breaks important, meaningful ground as the star of the sequel trilogy, she is not a person of color. Though Lupita was the first WOC and first latina with lines, she was only providing a voice. Though Kelly Marie Tran was the first WOC in a supporting role, she was bullied into hardly any screen time in Rise of Skywalker. Though Thandie and then Naomi were the first black women with supporting roles in Star Wars, those roles were sorely limited side characters.
Rosario steals the show. Ahsoka steals the show.
This achievement goes hand in hand. The work of everyone since Ahsoka's inception, all of her character growth, her development, her serenity, her strength, and resilience. She is unlike Luke, Leia, Anakin, or Obi-Wan. She's well loved because she's something entirely new. Rosario's portrayal of Ahsoka provides hope in a generation of young girls of color, young black girls, young latina girls- that they TOO can be the wise force-wielder, the fierce Jedi warrior. That they don't have to play the princess if they don't want to, that they can play Star Wars with the boys- and if they try to act superior, they can always refer to how The Mandalorian himself didn't wanna mess with the one and only: Ahsoka Tano.
Rosario told StarWars.Com on her character:
“So many of the wonderful, awesome Jedi that we love and have gotten their stories told, are male, and you saw them older. When you got to see Anakin grow up it made such a huge difference. I think as people grew with her and aged with her and the story, they grew themselves, and evolved. I think it gives complexity to good and bad and right and wrong in a way that we don’t always get to have story-wise. It’s just fantasy. And I think she represents something stronger than that, about will and determination and audacity and tenacity. She really has pushed herself and evolved in a way that I think her heroine story is one that is not easy to find in other spaces. It’s really cool to see her still out there on quests and having things teased about that world still being very much alive.”
She's the badass we've been looking for. We've been waiting for. She's the Badass I have PERSONALLY waiting my whole life for. Recently I interviewed Venecia Gutiérrez González, a Mexican Padme Cos-player who does an amazing Catrina / Padme series and I listed all the latinos in Star Wars - Diego Luna as Casian Andor, Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, Oscar Issac as Poe Dameron, Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin the Mandalorian himself, and Freddie Prince Jr voices Kanan Jarus- but up until Rosario's Ahsoka- we have never- in it's over 40 years- had a live action latina in Star Wars!!!
This generation and those that follow will be blessed with Star Wars warrior women. They'll have Hera Syndulla, Cara Dune, Bo-Katan Kryse, Sabine Wren. And we finally have our Afro-Latina Ahsoka- and "Ahsoka lives in all of us."
I would be entirely remiss if I did not include the controversy involving Rosario Dawson and transphobia currently taking place. If the accusations against Rosario are true, I would be horrified because on top of admiring her acting, I've admired her activism and political work for years. I didn't even know about any of this until searching for pictures of her as Ahsoka and seeing her Vanity Fair interview with Dave Filoni. I can't tell you an easy way to feel about this: I have personally been falsely accused (by my abuser btw) and it's hell on earth, it's a waking nightmare. I also know having been abused for years that a lot goes on behind closed doors that will never see the light of day- and because of her money, power, and influence- we might never get the entire truth.
It's honestly heartbreaking- but also a lesson in not relying too much, or putting faith in a celebrity you'll never know- regardless of what their representation means to you. It really bothers me that we may never know the truth here, and honestly I'm still processing it. I feel like the saddest thing is that if the franchise hadn't taken this long to include this representation- we wouldn't have so much hanging on Rosario and her personal character and morality. It shouldn't be this way where we have to hang every little thing on our ONE AND ONLY representation in the franchise. For instance, learning about Harrison Ford's treatment of Carrie Fisher broke my heart for her, but I wasn't counting on him to make all of us latinas proud. Chris Pratt straight up SUCKS- but he's far from the only white male Avenger. In other words, when we're excited about Rosario as Ahsoka- it's because it's an accomplishment for latinas, women of color, and black women. It's a stepping stone.
From the Vanity Fair Interview:
Ahsoka does mean a great deal to people, and they’re deeply invested in who she is. So, Rosario, I want to ask you about something that’s outside of this story of The Mandalorian, and that’s the concern in the fandom about a lawsuit that was filed against you last year by a longtime family friend. The claim accused you and other family members of anti-trans bias, and you’ve called the lawsuit false and baseless. But what do you say to those Star Wars fans who hear this and believe the worst—that you are transphobic?
Dawson: Well, firstly, I just want to say I understand that, and why people were concerned, and are concerned. I would be too if I heard some of those claims. But I mean, as we’re seeing right now in these past months, and just recently, actually, the truth is coming out. Every single claim of discrimination has been dismissed by the person who made them, and as you’ve said, the fact that this is coming from someone I’ve known since I was a teenager, the better part of my life, and who my family was trying to help as we have many times in the past, it really just makes me sad. But I still have a great empathy for him.
Court records show 18 of the 20 claims were withdrawn voluntarily without a settlement, and his lawyer left the case. Two counts remain alleging a physical altercation, and a judge will rule on whether that can move forward next month. There are people that would say, “Well, this is just another example of a wealthy, famous person overpowering the system.” So what would you say to those people who are unconvinced, both about this case and about what you actually believe about trans people?
Dawson: The reason that all of the discrimination claims were dropped is because they didn’t happen. I was raised in a very inclusive and loving way, and that’s how I’ve lived my entire life. I’ve always used my voice to fight for, lift up, and empower the LGBTQA community, and use my platform to channel trans voices, in fiction and nonfiction work that I’ve produced and directed. So I feel the record is really clear.