Years after the fall of the Empire, Anakin Skywalker’s former padawan Ahsoka made a surprise return in Season 2 of The Mandalorian on Disney+. Now, Ahsoka is on the verge of embarking on her own journey, in a spinoff series debuting August 22. But for those unfamiliar with her past, her presence in the story here raises questions. First and foremost: how is she still alive? After over 20 years of Imperial rule and Jedi purges, wouldn’t someone have brought her out into the open? If she was around this whole time, then where was she for the entirety of the Original Trilogy? Couldn’t Luke have used her help? As a matter of fact, why didn’t she do anything about Vader?
The answer to all of that involves a concept introduced in Season 4 of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, 'The World Between Worlds.' But first, a quick catch-up on what brought her there.
How Ahsoka survived
Part of the reason Ahsoka survived the Jedi Purge is that when it happened, she was no longer a Jedi. In the final seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, shortly before the end of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka stood accused by the Jedi Council for a crime she did not commit. Even after her name was cleared, Ahsoka was disillusioned by the Council’s lack of faith in her, and she chose to leave the temple and walk her own path.
On the day that Anakin fell to the Dark Side and Order 66 was enacted, Ahsoka had returned to the Republic to aid with one final mission. When the clones were activated, it was Anakin’s training, as well as an early warning from a clone named Fives who had inadvertently discovered Order 66 early, which allowed Ahsoka to survive the assault by the clones assigned to her, and even rescue her closest friend within the clone troops, Captain Rex, by disabling his neural implant. Fives and Ahsoka faked their deaths to escape Order 66, and went their separate ways for a time.
As we learn in both the novel Ahsoka, and the Tales of the Jedi animated series, after attempting to build a new life for herself on a farming world, one of the Empire’s Inquisitors arrived to upend her life. Ahsoka fought back, exposing herself and slaying the Inquisitor, and realized she could not longer live on the run. She got in touch with Bail Organa, and worked as a secret agent to help bring together the nascent rebel cells across the Galaxy which would become the Alliance to Restore the Republic.
The Vader encounter
In Season 2 of Star Wars: Rebels, set a few years before A New Hope, Ahsoka accompanies the young Force sensitive Ezra Bridger to a Sith temple on the planet Malachor – where she finally encounters her former master for the first time as Darth Vader. Ezra is forced to leave Ahsoka behind to her fate, one we wouldn’t get to learn for two more seasons.
It’s in Season 4 that we learn Ahsoka never really walked away from that duel. But nor did she die. Through a buried Jedi temple on Ezra’s homeworld of Lothal, Ezra was able to open a portal in time and space to the duel where Ahsoka had been lost, and pull her into the nowhere realm in which he found himself. Ahsoka Tano had entered The World Between Worlds.
The World Between Worlds
The World Between Worlds only appears in three episodes near the very end of Star Wars: Rebels. We only know its name because one episode, “A World Between Worlds,” apparently tells us. Throughout Star Wars: Rebels, the Empire takes a special interest in the Outer Rim world of Lothal, which the rambunctious Rebel recruit and Jedi in training Ezra Bridger calls home. Ostensibly, it’s been scoped as the site for a new TIE Fighter factory. But in Season 4, we learn the true reason for the Emperor’s interest: Lothal is the site of an ancient Jedi temple which potentially holds the key to accessing any point in time or space.
Solving the riddle of a gateway illustrated by a tableau of the Ghosts of Mortis- three still more enigmatic figures from Star Wars: The Clone Wars representing different aspects of The Force- Ezra was able to penetrate the temple’s sanctum, which appeared to him as a void in space decorated with intersecting bridges of light. Voices from all the Star Wars films, set in past, near future, and even the distant future of the sequels, echoed through the void for Ezra to parse. Tempted by its power to alter any point in time, Ezra is drawn to the moment in the Sith temple where Ahsoka apparently meets her fate, and pulls her through. But before they can make any more changes, Ezra realizes that the gateway he opens goes two ways – the more he uses it, the more chance the Emperor has to take control of it, granting him mastery over time as well as the Galaxy. Ezra and Ahsoka resolve to destroy the temple rather than allow it to fall into the Emperor’s hands.
And that’s how Ahsoka made it through most of the Imperial era, right up until A New Hope. What she was up to during the trilogy itself, well… that’s a story that the Ahsoka series might answer.
Admittedly, the World Between Worlds is a pretty heavy concept to drop in season 4 of an animated TV show which originally ran on Disney XD, a network which no longer produces original programming. Showrunner Dave Filoni has said that, like many of the concepts in Clone Wars and Rebels, the World Between Worlds was developed in conversations with his mentor George Lucas, and was partially inspired by “the wood between the worlds” in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
But even with Lucas’ apparent sign-off, does time travel really belong in Star Wars?
Time travel in Star Wars
To many, introducing the concept of time travel to Star Wars feels like anathema. It’s an element which carries enormous ramifications for the entire timeline, and one which may feel a little more “hard sci-fi” than fans are used to. More Trek than Wars, if you will. But conceptually, time travel has existed within the world of Star Wars since the very first film. You may recall this exchange between C-3PO and Luke Skywalker on Tatooine:
“Is there anything I might do to help?” C-3PO asks.
“No,” Luke says. “Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest, or teleport me off this rock.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” C-3PO says. “I’m only a droid, and not very knowledgeable about such things. Not on this planet, anyway.”
It’s that qualifier at the end which should give us pause. Such things may not be possible on a backwater world like Tatooine, but the Galaxy is a vast and mysterious place. And in fact, many Star Wars stories from before we even caught a glimpse of the World Between Worlds have evoked time travel – from before the original trilogy was even finished, to mere months before Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, refreshing the canon.
The first time travel story in Star Wars, if you can believe it, was written by Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentleman author Alan Moore, for a 1982 comic feature in Empire Strikes Back Magazine. The story, “Tilotny Throws a Shape,” introduces a race of omnipotent beings unbound by the traditional constraints of time or space. In their galavanting across the mortal plane, they send a cadre of Stormtroopers pursuing Princess Leia 8,000 years into the past. This means that time travel has technically been a part of Star Wars longer than Ewoks.
Speaking of Ewoks, however, perhaps the most significant time travel story up until the Ahsoka affair was a 1986 crossover between Droids and Ewoks, two comic book tie-ins to animated series of the same name. Bringing these two titles together was an obvious bit of synergy. But the problem was that Droids was set 15 years before A New Hope, whereas Ewoks was set right before Return of the Jedi. Author David Manak gets around this with a simple plot device that carries enormous ramifications: a botched entry into hyperspace sends the droids hurtling temporarily forward through time, where they encounter the Ewoks on Endor. The droids eventually return to their own time, mystifying the Ewoks… and, perhaps, explaining why the next time they encounter C-3PO in Return of the Jedi, he’s revered as a god.
In a 2002 Star Wars Tales comic, “The Secret of Tet-Ami,” Mace Windu encounters an artifact which can send him back in time by millennia. In the 2008 novel Legacy of the Force, Jacen Solo, son of Han and Leia, learns “flow-walking,” an arcane Force technique which allows one to project themselves backwards or forwards through time. Even in the 2012 novel Darth Plagueis, Palpatine’s master speculates that there may be a Sith technique to travel through time, but he has not yet cracked its secrets.
Before the current state of Star Wars continuity, there wasn’t just one way to travel through time, but half a dozen. The World Between Worlds may seem like a radical departure for Star Wars, but it’s ultimately a streamlining of a concept which has always been a part of the Galaxy… and one which hews closer to the themes of its mystic elements that Lucas and his collaborators have been sharing with us from the very beginning.
Through The Force, everything is connected. Even time.