Ahsoka featured some of the franchise’s best characters, yet it was a newcomer who was my favorite figure on the show. Baylan Skoll is among the most interesting, most complex Force users to ever grace a Star Wars screen. And in a less cruel universe I’d be writing this piece entirely about why, what the season one finale meant for his quest on Peridea, and why Baylan might end up a truly seminal figure in the galaxy far, far away. Instead the episode marked the late Ray Stevenson’s final Star Wars appearance. It shouldn’t have been. It doesn’t seem possible it was. Not only was he far too young, he looked to made out of the same kind of stone as the Father’s statue. “The Jedi, the Witch, and the Warlord” shouldn’t have been his farewell. It should have marked the start of a much longer journey with him.
But while life isn’t fair in any galaxy, it at least it gave us one final chance to appreciate an immense talent. Ray Stevenson’s graceful and moving performance imbued Baylan Skoll with a humanity that will ensure the actor’s memory forever lives on with Star Wars fans.
We don’t know details about Baylan Skoll’s past, but his history with the Jedi contributed to him being a fascinating character. Some Jedi survived Order 66, but unlike most of them, as far as we understand, Baylan knew the truth about Anakin Skywalker. He knew the most revered and admired Jedi had been the one to destroy the Order. One of his own killed everything Baylan ever believed in, a knowledge most were not burdened to live with during a terrible period.
That horrifying fact and all the pain, sadness, fear, and anger it likely created in Baylan didn’t cause him to become disillusioned. We don’t know Baylan’s entire history, but it seems he did not fully embrace the dark side like other good Jedi who lost their souls to hatred. Baylan didn’t respond in the other usual ways, either. He didn’t carve out his own path as a rogue Jedi like Ahsoka. Nor did he go into hiding and turn his back on the Force. We believe Baylan Skoll followed a path unlike any other Force-user.
Anakin’s betrayal showed Baylan the destructive power of the dark side. Yet, despite still appreciating the best ideals of the Jedi, Baylan’s firsthand knowledge of the Order’s own failures also pushed him away from the light side of the Force. The Jedi had no business turning Knights like him into generals. The Jedi were meant to be guardians of peace and justice for everyone. Instead they let themselves becomes soldiers in a war with innocent victims on both sides. That Jedi arrogance blinded them and left the Order vulnerable to a Sith Lord. To Baylan that might have made the Jedi just as guilty as Vader and Palpatine. The Order’s action created widespread death and destruction on the galaxy, too.
Rather than letting his lost “faith” define him, Baylan instead seemingly let it focus him. He gave up on the ideals that had cost him everything and became a pragmatist. He became the galaxy’s Machiavellian figure, a warrior who thought of war as evil but necessary. Baylan could kill New Republic soldiers without remorse yet still honor a deal made with a captured enemy. He was neither good nor evil, yet both at the same time. He was a man of contradictions who used them to form a new outlook on life. For Baylan straddled the line between the light and dark side of the Force. Only in the middle did he see a way to free everyone from suffering.
Baylan’s desire to offer his galaxy something better than the Jedi or Sith ever gave it brought him to Peridea. Baylan was looking to something on that ancient planet for “the beginning” of all his galaxy’s problems. He believes those problems began when a group of people learned how to harness the Force and formed the Jedi Order. Whatever the statue of the Mortis god known as the Father is pointing to, it offers Baylan hope.
Others spent their entire lives fighting for a power that blows like the wind. Only Baylan—who kindly freed the apprentice he taught to be more than a Jedi or a Sith from following him on a journey without guarantee —is searching for a peace that lasts.
That all made Baylan Skoll a fascinating character. But that’s not what made Baylan Skoll a truly great one. Ahsoka needed Ray Stevenson to do that. He brought all those contradictions—interesting elements that easily could have been clunky and unbelievable in less skilled hands—to life. Stevenson did that with deftness that made a complicated figure feel accessible, both repugnant and sympathetic at once. He turned a great idea into righteous disappointment, heartbreak, quiet focus, and a sense of purpose that felt real. He made Baylan feel as tangible as anyone in any galaxy. It was the kind of performance only an immensely talented performer who understands at their core what it means to live and feel alive could give.
That came from Stevenson’s ability to always convey Baylan’s inherent sadness. That even though Baylan was almost always in control of his emotions. With his eyes, face, and the way he physically carried himself, Ray Stevenson showed the many painful burdens and traumas the former Jedi carried at all time. That ability to emote while keeping his composure made for a powerful presence. Baylan was terrifying and compassionate all at once. We understood and sympathized with him even if we detested much of what he did. And that ability to convey so much while doing or saying so little made Baylan’s brief explosions of anger and quiet moments of sad reflection stand out that much more. He was a volcano of emotions holding it together. Because he knew allowing himself to erupt would lead to to the death and destruction he so desperately wanted to end forever.
No, not “was.” He “is.” Because stories, even those from a long, long time ago, live forever. Every time we pick them back up they are there, unfolding in the moment. So right now and always Baylan Skoll is in a galaxy far, far away from his own. He’s standing on the Father’s arm looking out to the horizon where he sees hope for a better future. He sees the possibility to create a universe that’s less cruel than the one he knows. It’s a universe where a complicated man can turn his pain into something better. Onenot defined by death.
It’s a beautiful thought that needed a beautiful performance full of humanity to bring it to life. So while we will always wish Ray Stevenson got to finish telling that story, we’ll forever be grateful we got to meet his Baylan Skoll. He made Star Wars a better place than he found it, and for that he’ll forever live on in the galaxy far, far away.