Choice. Whether in real life or fictional galaxies, choices matter. They determine your path, how you interact with others and the world, and they build upon each other. Rarely does a solitary moment or decision set your fate. Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, a series of six animated shorts on Disney+, explores that theme through two characters: Ahsoka Tano and Count Dooku. “You don’t know when you’re necessarily going to have a bad day, but your choices are going to weigh heavily on the, ‘Did I do this more for myself, or was I looking out for the greater good?'” executive producer Dave Filoni tells Nerdist. “The greater good is very hard because it’s not about you. It’s very challenging to make choices that maybe you don’t immediately benefit from.”
Tales of the Jedi brings Filoni back to where he began telling stories in Star Wars: animation. The executive producer has been working on Star Wars live-action series for Disney+ since 2018, beginning with The Mandalorian. Most recently, he focused his attention on season one of Ahsoka. The show will put the beloved character in the spotlight, continuing Filoni’s journey at Lucasfilm that started with Ahsoka in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
He still loves animation, though. This time, he wanted to tell short form stories that could be simple and clear in intent, like a fable. Filoni wrote “Practice Makes Perfect” first as a way to explain to himself how Ahsoka could survive Order 66 when so many other Jedi, maybe more skilled and knowledgeable than her, did not. That short got Lucasfilm executives and long-time partners with Filoni in animation Carrie Beck and Athena Portillo excited for more. The project came with the bonus of working with the Lucasfilm animation team again, as well as veteran Star Wars voice actors such as Ashley Eckstein and Corey Burton and composer Kevin Kiner.
Telling more Ahsoka stories felt natural, but Filoni wanted to find a Jedi to compare her to. “I thought about Dooku. I’ve always thought it was compelling that he was a Jedi,” he said. “I think the audience needs to understand that he was a Jedi and a good person and he starts out trying to do the right thing. And often when we’re trying to do the right thing and we take it to extremes, we don’t realize it. Suddenly you’re on the wrong side of things, and then it gets harder and harder.”
He continues, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny is as simple as saying when you lie, it gets harder to tell the truth. You tell one lie, another lie, another lie… I’m always trying to take these things outside of the Star Wars universe and explain them in our universe because that’s where they’re meant to be really realized and explored.”
Tales of the Jedi begins by exploring Ahsoka’s earliest moments. The shorts then continue chronologically with Dooku’s three stories before finishing with Ahsoka after Order 66. The stories grow in darkness but end on an optimistic note with Ahsoka choosing to stand by Bail Organa in the fight against the Empire. All the shorts stem from the tree of thought that Yoda taught Dooku, who taught Qui-Gon, who taught Obi-Wan, who taught Anakin, who taught Ahsoka. We see parallels between how Dooku trains Qui-Gon and Anakin trains Ahsoka and the influences each Padawan has on their Master.
“I think Qui-Gon in a lot of ways represents the kind of path the Jedi are supposed to be on. He’s the one that’s the most compassionate. But he has no ambition to be part of the council. He feels he can’t do what he needs to do if he’s a part of that. That thinking and that philosophy is from what Dooku taught him. Dooku was a free-thinker and was looking out for people,” Filoni says.
“Justice” shows Dooku sympathizing with people suffering at the hands of a corrupt and greedy senator. He sees they’re right. However, Dooku chose to address the problem with violence. Filoni notes, “What always comes to question is, how do you attack these problems? How do you overcome things when they’re going wrong? There’s a right way to do these things and a wrong way to do it. Qui-Gon, to his credit, believes that he’s much more of a peaceful person and doesn’t want to fight as much. Dooku is older and… You’re older, you’re more cynical, you’re more jaded, you’ve seen more of life, you’ve seen more things go south. You don’t have that youthful ambition anymore. There’s frustration.”
Dooku continued down that path of frustration and it ultimately contributes to him losing Qui-Gon to Darth Maul. Filoni notes that as a breaking point for the former Jedi. Things went so wrong he indirectly got the person he probably cares most about killed.
“That’s a bridge too far for him, but he’s also complicit. So I think that trying to draw these paths of the Jedi and the choices they make and how they wind up good or bad … Yoda isn’t afraid in the prequels to say the Jedi are flawed and that they’ve become greedy and self-interested and arrogant. That helps you understand why they’re going to lose the Clone War and why they’re so ripe for the picking,” Filoni says. “They’ve, as an institution, existed for a very long time. It doesn’t mean they’re evil or bad, but they’re making a lot of poor choices, and they can’t get out ahead of things in part because they’re desperately attempting to do things the right way and take an even stance.”
In an effort to make a change in what he sees to be wrong, Dooku chooses to join Darth Sidious. The Sith Lord knows how to manipulate people and tells just enough of the truth to be an appealing ally. But it comes at a price. Filoni says, “I don’t think when he seizes this power [that it’s his intention] to become truly a Sith Lord, to become truly evil. It’s a terrible thing, It’s a horrible thing. It destroys you a bit. It’s not this embrace of power and suddenly you feel like you’re invulnerable. It’s this guilt-ridden sorrow. It’s deep… look at Anakin when he succumbs to Sidious and he says, ‘I’ll do whatever you want,’ on his knees because he’s just done a terrible thing.”
Tales of the Jedi shows that Ahsoka makes different choices than Dooku, or even Anakin, at any number of points in her journey. “Resolve” particularly demonstrates Ahsoka’s resilience. We see her hiding among the crowd at her friend Padmé’s funeral and telling Bail she’s too weary to fight. Then she goes back on that decision after an Inquisitor burns down a village to find her. Ahsoka decides she cannot stand on the sidelines any longer.
“I was doing these three pieces, one when she was very young, one that covers the formative years of the Clone Wars and her training, and I needed a piece that was somehow set after as a result of it. Playing with so much of her history as I have over the years, it was just natural to say, ‘Okay, well I’ll explain how she got back into this,'” Filoni explains, “It’s based on the same outline I gave publishing for the novel. It was always the same story.”
Filoni continues, “She has watched her entire way of life be destroyed. She thinks all of her friends are dead. She just can’t deal with that all at once, so she puts her weapon down. She, like many Jedi, feels a failure, and she just needs to decompress. Imperial takeover is overwhelming and if you’re a Jedi, it’s even worse because everybody’s turning on you—not just clones, but everybody’s thinking that you’re now somehow part of the coup that was attempted on the Emperor.”
The story Obi-Wan Kenobi told is not unlike the one in the 2016 novel Ahsoka and the one we see in Tales of the Jedi. Ahsoka takes some time away. She was trained as a Jedi, though. She was trained to be compassionate. Ahsoka has made choices that took her outside the Jedi Order. And yet, she’s a warrior—a warrior tired of fighting, until she can stand aside no longer. She saves a farmer’s life and it brings an Inquisitor.
“In a time of need, she can’t idly sit by and let people suffer. She’s going to have to stand up for it whether she has a weapon or not. She realizes this call to action, that this must be happening everywhere. ‘What in the world am I doing, sitting here with an ability to help with a power to do something?’ She commits to it, and it’s hard,” Filoni says, “It’s a thing that weighs heavily on her. That choice then cascades into everything that happens in Rebels and beyond, because in Rebels she realizes some pretty dire truths, not just about the Jedi, but about her Master in particular, a shocking truth that she wasn’t prepared for at all, which is going to call into question everything about her in a very real way. “
Tales of the Jedi shows Ahsoka’s and Dooku’s decisions and the consequences of them—consequences we see unfold in future stories. We may not live in the galaxy far, far away or wield the Force, but our choices matter just as much.