When The Mandalorian season 2 came out, I was one of many Clone Wars fans excitedly waiting for Ahsoka Tano's live-action debut. The character had become a clear fan favourite in the animated series, which chronicled her journey from respected Padawan to an outcast of the Jedi order.


In November 2020, Rosario Dawson gave her first performance in the role, taking over from voice actor Ashley Eckstein. Surely, this was a landmark moment in pop culture? Well, I phoned my parents shortly after – who were loyal viewers of The Mandalorian at that time – and asked them: "What did you think of Ahsoka?" Sensing a lack of recognition, I added: "The Jedi lady!" Their response was one of complete indifference.

I remember this interaction because it was the first time I wondered whether Star Wars was losing touch with mainstream viewers. In the two-and-a-half years since, the evidence has only grown.

Ahsoka? I hardly know her!

Ashley Eckstein voices Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi
Ashley Eckstein voices Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi. Disney

The Last Jedi was a turning point for Star Wars. While many fans (myself included) still feel that it's a rock solid entry in the main saga, there can be no denying that it hit a bum note with many viewers – and that took Lucasfilm by surprise.

In the year prior, Gareth Edwards had parted ways with the studio following "a ton of reshoots" on Rogue One (via Los Angeles Times), while Phil Lord and Chris Miller were shockingly fired from Solo midway through filming (via THR). In stark contrast, producer Kathleen Kennedy was so thrilled with Rian Johnson that she had offered the director his own Star Wars trilogy to work on after The Last Jedi.

With this in mind, it's reasonable to assume that the path which led us to catastrophic dog's dinner The Rise of Skywalker – and the wider predicament Star Wars now faces – began with a major crisis of confidence. A disconnect was exposed between what the creatives felt was right for the franchise and what the fans wanted, which had previously been seen during the tumultuous years of the prequel trilogy.

But where George Lucas stayed the course in the face of extreme backlash – and notably, his final three Star Wars films have since enjoyed an uptick in public opinion – the current Lucasfilm regime crumbled into a frenzy of fan service. This desperate bid for approval started when JJ Abrams "somehow" brought back Emperor Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, and continues to this day under the team behind The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

The Book of Boba Fett
Cad Bane as he appears in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Book of Boba Fett.

It now manifests as the bizarre parade of animated characters waltzing through the recent Star Wars shows on Disney Plus. You can perhaps find a narrative justification for some – a resurgent Ahsoka, for example, brings some exciting storytelling possibilities – but others have felt needlessly exclusionary. If the standout moment from your episode is a cameo from bounty hunter Cad Bane, what does that mean for people who haven't seen The Clone Wars?

This tactic has also been used as a shortcut to convert Star Wars into a MCU-style cinematic universe, with the fruits of that labour hoped to be harvested in Filoni's upcoming crossover film (announced last month).

The key difference being that when Marvel has brought obscure characters to the big screen, they have been introduced to the general public as new. Chris Pratt's Star-Lord didn't debut in Guardians of the Galaxy having already had his most interesting adventures in a niche children's cartoon.

Yet that is exactly the situation we have with Ahsoka Tano. It also haunted the Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries, which couldn't stage a rematch between the Jedi Master and Darth Maul because that ground had already been covered in Rebels. The Marvel Cinematic Universe worked (in Phases One, Two and Three) because even casual fans were tuning into every film. You can't attempt to build something similar on material that only a small fraction of the total audience has bothered to watch.

Sharing is caring. Or is it?

Book of Boba Fett
Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) in The Book of Boba Fett.

Undoubtedly, the shared universe nurtured an unprecedented level of loyalty to Marvel's Infinity Saga, which spanned a whopping 23 films across three "phases" of cinema. But some franchises are better suited to this approach than others. It's a natural fit for adapting comic books, which have been telling long-form crossover stories since the 1960s, but applying the technique elsewhere has proven tricky (see Dark Universe).

Star Wars is an interesting case. Its own expanded universe has existed since 1978's Splinter of the Mind's Eye, but had always been confined to books, comics and video games catering to a more niche audience than the film series. Perhaps that's why Disney scrapped almost all of it when they acquired Lucasfilm in 2012; a sign that it was too complicated for mainstream movie-goers and not popular enough to provoke a damaging backlash.

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The only survivor of the canon purge (beyond the six films released at that time) was Dave Filoni's animated series The Clone Wars, which has since become an unstable foundation for the franchise at large.

The Kids (Shows) Aren't Alright

Animated shows in the West rarely achieve the same level of popularity as their live-action counterparts, so making this medium an integral cog in the Star Wars franchise is a risky gamble from the start. Additionally, rare breakout hits such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and Rick & Morty have tended to be less child-centric than Star Wars offerings The Clone Wars, Rebels and The Bad Batch, all of which are targeted (to varying degrees) at a rather young audience.

Certainly, getting my parents to watch any of the Dave Filoni animated shows would be a tall order, and I don't think they're the only casual Star Wars fans reluctant to try them out. The question is: where does that leave the franchise moving forward?

For the last five years, Lucasfilm has operated a policy of appeasement towards its diehard fans, hoping to win them back after the controversy surrounding The Last Jedi. Under Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, this has doubled as an opportunity to modernise the Star Wars franchise, retroactively shaping it into a Marvel-style cinematic universe by leaning on the continuity of fan-friendly projects.

Daisy Ridley plays Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. SEAC

However, there's a risk that winning back the core fandom has come at the expense of everyone else. If each new chapter continues to be a cavalcade of cameos recognisable to only a small minority, it's hard to imagine Star Wars having another hit on the scale of The Force Awakens.

With this in mind, it's clear that Filoni's upcoming feature film should mark a definitive end to his chapter of the Star Wars saga; one last hurrah for these deep cut characters before moving on to a new era, ushered in by the separate Episode X.

The latter project is set to be directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Ms Marvel) and written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders). While it does boast one returning character – Daisy Ridley as Rey – efforts should be taken to keep this from becoming saddled with the esoteric continuity that has bogged down the Disney Plus shows.

Only this can bring casual viewers back into the fold. Fortunately, the previous trilogy ended in such a shambles that there's very little worth referring back to.

You can watch all the Star Wars movies and TV shows on Disney Plus – subscribe to Disney Plus for £79.90 for a whole year or £7.99 a month.

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