The Meaning of Anakin Skywalker’s Final Lesson for Ahsoka

Ahsoka‘s fifth episode saw Anakin Skywalker complete his former Padawan’s training with a unique “final lesson.” Ahsoka Tano’s dead Master used the World Between Worlds to make his apprentice face the many demons of her past. Those demons included him, their relationship, the failings of the Jedi Order, and a legacy of death and war. But what exactly did Anakin mean when he told Ahsoka she had to learn to “live or die?” What was the true purpose of Anakin’s last lesson? He needed Ahsoka to remember who she really is by remembering one of Star Wars most enduring and important ideas: you can only move forward by learning from the past, not by hiding from it.

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To understand Anakin’s ultimate lesson you need to understand who Ahsoka was a long time ago and why she had changed so much. Young Ahsoka was not afraid to show her emotions. Rather than behave like a traditional, stoic Jedi, she was more like her Master. Most Jedi considered emotion a weakness, but the kind-hearted, passionate Ahsoka drew strength from hers. Her emotions made her a great hero.

Anakin saw that in his apprentice immediately. During her Star Wars introduction in The Clone Wars movie, when she became his apprentice, Anakin told Ahsoka, “You’re reckless, little one. You never would have made it as Obi-Wan’s Padawan. But you might make it as mine.” Her “snippy” attitude is why he affectionately called her Snips, and their similarities are why they formed a special bond.

The emotion that defined and drove young Ahsoka—the very things that made her a brave Jedi—were on display in those living memories in the World Between Worlds. That version of her also stood in stark contrast to the older Ahsoka we’d come to know on the show. Before Ahsoka‘s fifth episode, Rosario Dawson’s live-action Ahsoka—most often seen with her arms crossed in quiet contemplation—seemed to lack any emotion. She had aged into the exact type of Jedi who would have trained her to let go of the very feelings that gave her strength.

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Anakin understood why she’d changed. On an unconscious level, Ahsoka had, too. That’s why she subconsciously chose those two memories to relive. They exemplified what she feared enough to stop feeling at all. The first memory, the Battle of Ryloth, marked her first time commanding troops. Her mistakes resulted in many deaths and overwhelming personal guilt. Anakin tried comforting Ahsoka afterward, but knowing what the Clone Wars led to made his words ring hollow. The Jedi had no business serving as generals on one side of a war. They were guardians of peace with a duty to protect everyone. Instead, Ahsoka’s entire training revolved around killing and survival.

That collective loss of Jedi purpose and focus ultimately led Ahsoka to leave both the Order and Anakin. Ahsoka’s friend, a disenchanted Jedi Knight, turned on the Order and framed Ahsoka for her crimes. When the Jedi charged Ahsoka, it resulted in Lady Tano quitting. And those Jedi failures during the war, which led to the Order’s near annihilation, also helped push Anakin to become Darth Vader, a destiny that flashed before Ahsoka’s eyes inside her memory because those failures haunt her.

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The second memory Ahsoka relived from her past was even more important to her learning the lesson Anakin was teaching her. The “successful” Siege of Mandalore came at the end of the Clone Wars. It’s where Darth Maul tempted Ahsoka to join him. More importantly, it also took place at the same time Anakin Skywalker lost himself to the dark side, something Ahsoka always blamed herself for. Maybe if she had stayed with Anakin, he would have been with her on Mandalore like she made true in her memory. If he had been there, he might never have joined Darth Sidious, and she would have saved Anakin and the galaxy from darkness.

That also might have saved Sabine Wren’s family. The Siege of Mandalore was a ruse that delivered the planet to Palpatine, which decades later resulted in Moff Gideon destroying it. Had Sabine’s family not died alongside millions of other Mandalorians, she probably never would have handed Baylan Skoll the star map to Thrawn. She might have even finished her Jedi training the first time.

That’s if Ahsoka was even capable of training Sabine anyway. Her conversations with Anakin in the World Between Worlds revealed that, while Sabine might not have been ready to embrace the Force, Ahsoka was likely not fully committed to teaching a Padawan. Ahsoka was too afraid of passing on the lessons of death and war she’d learned. It was the very thing Baylan Skoll accused her and her Master of doing.

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All of which gets to the real purpose of Anakin’s lesson for Ahsoka. He needed to show Ahsoka how her past had turned her into something she’s not. She had become a type of “Shadow Warrior,” the episode’s title. Ahsoka Tano had become shadow of herself and the Jedi she’d once been because of her past demons.

Ahsoka was so much like Anakin, and she saw what happened to him. He gave into his emotions. Fear led him to anger. Anger led to hate. Hate led to the dark side. Ahsoka Tano was so afraid, and felt so much guilt over Anakin’s embrace of the dark side, that she feared following the same path. So rather than risk that fate, she cut herself off from emotion entirely. She stopped feeling anything lest she feel too much. It was self-preservation from her own pain and to stop herself from becoming a bad person, but in doing so, she killed the person she’d been. Her desperation to avoid the darkness walled her off from the very light that made her who she was. Ahsoka Tano, as we knew her, had chosen death.

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Anakin’s final lesson was meant to lead Ahsoka to find her true self again. And he did that by forcing her to understand that their combined legacy—his legacy, her legacy, and the legacy of the Jedi—is not a legacy of failure any more than it is one of success. That legacy is defined by both, same as him. You can’t try and separate them, because if you hope to hold on to the good inside you, you must also hold on to the bad. They’re parts of the same whole. Light cannot exist without dark, same as the Force in balance. And just like the Force is not inherently good nor bad, neither are people. They are defined by what they do.

Ahsoka couldn’t understand that when she looked at Anakin, the Jedi, or herself. Not only did that result in her shutting herself off from her own emotions, it stopped her from growing, because learning from mistakes make us better, just as Anakin said on Ryloth. That’s an important Star Wars legacy unto itself. As Yoda will one day say to Luke Skywalker, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

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When Ahsoka couldn’t reconcile Anakin Skywalker was both hero and villain, he made her face the dark side of him. It was the only way to stop Ahsoka from cutting her heart off from life and hiding from all her pain. It was the only way to stop her from being afraid of the past and the future.

Anakin forced her to face all her demons from the past, the legacy she is part of, her sadness, her fear, and the guilt she carried. Doing so finally let Ahsoka feel something again. At first, all she felt was anger as she brought Darth Vader’s lightsaber up to Anakin’s neck. But only by experiencing real, raw emotions again was she finally able to comprehend her Master’s final lesson. “I choose to live,” she said, letting him go. As she had a long before life wore her down, Ahsoka found strength not in receding from her feelings but by embracing them. In doing so, she rediscovered who she has always been in her heart: a great Jedi.

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That’s how she acted in that moment and after when she gave herself over to the purrgil. She did not strike down Anakin, just as Luke Skywalker did not strike down his father when he saved the galaxy from Palpatine or saved the Jedi Order by refusing to fight his nephew. And she had faith in the Force as a giant space whale whisked her away to an unknown destination.

Having learned Anakin’s lesson, Ahsoka is now ready to carry on the great tradition of the Jedi at their best, a legacy and purpose it forgot about during the Clone Wars. She can do that because she finally understands that goodness is just as much a part of her as everything the Jedi, Anakin, and she did wrong.

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Ahsoka had killed the person she was. She had chosen to die rather than live with her demons. Now she has chosen to live, and right when the galaxy needs a great hero to stand up to Thrawn. Her training is complete. There’s hope for her yet.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on  Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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