Star Wars Rebels co-creator Dave Filoni has been talking about the similarities between Ahsoka Tano and The Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf since the animated show’s second season ended. He then had the former Jedi make her long-awaited return on the series during its final moments dressed exactly like the legendary wizard. Now, ahead of the character’s live-action series on Disney+, Rosario Dawson is also discussing how the iconic wizard’s story influenced her performance and understanding of the Clone Wars hero. But what exactly does that comparison mean for both her and Ahsoka? Gandalf the Grey’s transformation to Gandalf the White offers insight into what happened to Ahsoka Tano after she visited the World Between Worlds.
Ahsoka Tano’s story has a vital missing chapter during arguably the most important period in the galaxy’s history. After she and Ezra Bridger first visited the World Between Worlds— a dimension at the very nexus of all time and space with portals to the past, present, and future—she immediately returned there by herself. (We only know this from a handful of Topps Star Wars Trading Cards designed by Filoni.)
Why did she go back there? What happened when she did? Why didn’t we see her again until years later, only after others defeated the Empire, when she showed up in a white robe holding a staff like Star Wars‘ very own Gandalf?
For potential answers we must understand the transformation The Lord of the Rings‘ wizard went through after he died defeating the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. Like Ahsoka when she entered the World Between Worlds, Gandalf the Grey’s soul left the physical world. He entered a realm “out of thought and time.” While Gandalf’s account of his death and return is frustratingly vague in The Two Towers, he hints that his soul departed the living world for much longer than the short amount of time that passed on Middle-earth during his absence. The wizard was gone for generations of men. It was long enough that he barely remembered the name Gandalf the first time his friends used it.
In a 1954 letter J.R.R. Tolkien explained further what happened after Gandalf’s death. In “ Letter 156” the author suggested the ultimate god of his fantasy world, Eru Ilúvatar, did something he swore he never would. He intervened in the events of Middle-Earth by taking Gandalf’s soul back to his sacred realm. He then sent Gandalf back to his physical body to assume Saruman’s role as the White wizard so he could aid in the defeat of Sauron.
Eru didn’t send Gandalf back with just new clothes. ( He literally sent him back naked, actually.) As Tolkien wrote in his letter, Eru gave Gandalf much greater “wisdom and power” than he had before. Gandalf was also different in some other meaningful ways upon his return. Those ways might tell us what to expect from Ahsoka’s own strange journey outside of time.
Gandalf the Grey had been a gregarious, charming, often silly man of the (small) people. He liked to have fun, make jokes, and rarely used his incredible powers. He also shunned direct leadership and instead focused on stirring the hearts and minds of those he hoped to aide. But Gandalf the White, imbued with renewed purpose and insight, was far more serious and focused. He was also far more willing and quick to use his his newly enhanced magical skills, speed, and strength. Some of his former warmth seemed to die with him, too. Gandalf the White was more intimidating and less open with his friends. He was far more cautious than before and could even seem cruel thanks to his bluntness.
And yet, despite his transformation from a raggedy, unkempt, humble wizard who’d sooner make fireworks and smoke a pipe with Hobbis than lead an army into a regal and majestic bastion of power, Gandalf remained the same person at his core. He changed, both physically and emotionally, in important ways, but his heart didn’t. He still cared greatly about others and put their needs above his own. His only goal was to defeat a great evil and help the world find peace.
(Yes, that might partially explain some of his transformation. After spending all that time with Eru, Gandalf knew the urgency of the danger Sauron presented to Middle-earth. Even if he remained Gandalf the Grey he likely would have become more focused, determined, and somber. But dying and spending time with God certainly played a big role in his personality changing.)
How much of Gandalf’s own transformation will be reflected in Ahsoka Tano’s? We’ve already seen some similarities between the two in Rosario Dawson’s version of the character. Her Ahsoka seems more serious and less playful than the animated version we knew. As her The Mandalorian debut revealed, she is also more aggressive, willing to immediately go on the offensive against her enemies. There’s an edge to Ahsoka that wasn’t there before.
So what happened to her in the World Between Worlds to harden her? What did she see and learn there? What spiritual experiences did she have sitting and studying outside of time? How long was she even there? These are all answers we hope to get from Ahsoka. But we know what questions to ask because we know what happened to Gandalf when he left his world behind. His returned with less personal warmth, but with a renewed fire to do what needed to be done to save other. He wasn’t as friendly a wizard as Gandalf the Grey, but he was an even more effective one who had the strength needed to help the greater good defeat a returning evil.
That’s the kind of Jedi the galaxy far, far away will need as the remnants of the Empire regather strength on Ahsoka. And that’s exactly the type of Jedi we expect them to get.