Is ‘Star Wars’ Ahsoka Tano a Queer Icon?
Can you be a queer icon if you are not (canonically) queer?
On the first day of Pride Month, the official Star Wars YouTube channel posted a fancam of Ahsoka Tano, who’s soon to make the leap from the franchise’s animated entries to her own live-action TV show on Disney+, Ahsoka. While the date of the fancam could be coincidental, it did make me wonder: Is Ahsoka Tano a queer icon?
Spoilers for The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Tales of the Jedi, and the Ahsoka novel ahead!
Who is Ahsoka Tano?
Ahsoka was first introduced in August of 2008 as the somewhat bratty, over-confident teenage padawan of Anakin Skywalker. Despite some fans initially writing her off, the show developed Ahsoka’s character, showing how she grew into a compassionate young leader and capable Jedi. Her story has especially resonated with young female fans and young queer fans, many of whom still follow her path today.
While Jedi Knights are forbidden from having attachments, Ahsoka is friends with many other women throughout the Clone Wars, the most prominent being fellow Jedi Padawan Barriss Offee. The two meet during the Second Battle of Geonosis, with Barriss’ cool, calm, collected demeanor and quiet obedience contrasting wildly with Ahsoka’s volatile apprenticeship with Anakin.
Still, the two learn from each other and become quick friends. During an attack by body-snatching Geonosian brain worms (long story), Barriss becomes infected and fights with Ahsoka. When she briefly regains control of her body, she asks Ahsoka to kill her, but Ahsoka refuses. After the brain worms are dealt with, Ahsoka asks Anakin if she did the right thing by letting her attachment to Barriss overrule her duty as a Jedi. Anakin affirms that she did the right thing and Barriss survived because of her actions.
Unfortunately, the friendship doesn’t last. Barriss Offee eventually turns against the Jedi, framing Ahsoka for bombing the Jedi Temple meant to protest the Order’s involvement in the war.
Despite the betrayal, fans continue to ship the two, with Barris Offee/Ahsoka Tano being the most popular ship for Ahsoka on Archive of Our Own. Ahsoka has since made many other female friends, most notably having arcs that show her teaming up with women like Asajj Ventress and Bo-Katan Kryze.
Clone Wars season 7 also features her befriending Trace and Rafa Martez, who had been a pair of brothers in the original, unreleased version of the season, before the series was canceled and then later revived, with an adjusted seventh season serving as its finale. Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka, has talked about preferring this change, as one of the Martez boys became a love interest for Ahsoka and she felt it didn’t serve the character’s story.
The Ahsoka novel also features her befriending the Laerte sisters, and the main question of the book is essentially “Will Ahsoka join the fight against the Empire or will she retire with her friends to a farm in the middle of nowhere?” If you ask me, that sounds pretty queer-coded. It helps that the book was written by E.K. Johnston, who has stated that Ahsoka “liked Kaeden [Laerte] a lot, but didn’t know how to process those feelings.”
While we haven’t gotten to see as much of Ahsoka’s female friendships in Rebels, The Mandalorian, or The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka still has a strong queer fanbase that continues to love and support the character. I had the pleasure of speaking with Eckstein at Phoenix Fan Fusion, and I asked her why she thinks queer fans resonate so deeply with Ahsoka.
She said, “It reminds me of the quote from season 7, ‘In my life, when you find people who need your help, you help them, no matter what. I guess it’s just who I am.’ I think Ahsoka has a lot of love and care to give and that appeals to a lot of fans.”
Meanwhile, some fans may not think Ahsoka is queer because she has a male love interest. Of course, that doesn’t mean she can’t be a queer icon. She could be bi, or pan, or ace. Some fans also interpret her as being genderqueer or genderfluid. Other people may also argue that you don’t necessarily have to be queer to be a queer icon, with Judy Garland being an example of a person whose allyship and support make them an icon in the community.
Lux Bonteri is the son of a Separatist senator who Ahsoka met when Padme was teaching her about how the Clone Wars is not good vs evil. After his mother is assassinated by Count Dooku to prevent peace negotiations, Lux teams up with Death Watch to get revenge, only to later realize that he accidentally dragged Ahsoka into his dealings with an anti-Jedi terrorist group. The two end up faking a relationship to keep her hidden and escape together when they were discovered, though Lux ultimately chooses not to go with Ahsoka to the Republic.
Lux later asks the Jedi for help freeing his homeworld from Separatist occupation, where he and Ahsoka get into a love triangle with his friend, Steela Gurrera. (Though some fans argue that Ahsoka was more interested in Steela than Lux).
Again, that doesn’t mean she’s definitely not queer, but if the creators wanted her to be, then they should make it explicit. Instead, much of the Ahsoka media seems to deal only with subtext. Fans have recently accused Tales of the Jedi of straight-washing Kaeden Laerte when the show seemingly adapted a scene from the Ahsoka novel, turning Kaeden into a generic extra called “Village Sister.”
Of course, we know that Disney and most other mainstream entertainment companies are not going to make one of their most popular characters queer, because they will always put capitalism ahead of doing what’s right. The main reason E.K. Johnston is able to write queer characters in Star Wars books is that the average Star Wars fan won’t seek out that media, meaning she is able to appeal to a smaller audience. The books may be bestsellers, but they’ll never be as bankable as a Disney+ series.
The future of Ahsoka
It’s hard to say if the Ahsoka show will explore her relationships with other women, especially since many of those relationships seem to have ended when she began fighting the Empire. However, that’s not necessarily the worst thing.
Dave Filoni, one of the guiding forces of Star Wars behind the scenes, has stated that part of the reason for the changes to season 7 was that “Ahsoka’s story was never meant to be about romance. Her ‘romance’ involved her developing her own identity. With Ahsoka, I was very careful to represent to especially young girls the idea that they don’t have to make these decisions very black and white. They don’t have to just be with someone just because. Just like her decision to leave the Jedi, she can do independent things because that’s what she chooses to do.”
Honestly, whether you think Ahsoka is queer or not, that’s a very valuable message.
I love Rey in the sequel trilogy, but by the time Rise of Skywalker ended, it felt like her family and romantic relationships were the things that most defined her. While Ahsoka has many relationships and friendships, they are not the only things to define her. She is Fulcrum, she is a not-jedi, and she is a mentor to future generations.
While a part of me will always wish to see an Ahsoka equivalent of Korrasami’s goodbye, seeing her continue to be independent and powerful will never be disappointing.
(featured image: Disney+)
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