It’s an understatement to say that the Sequel Trilogy of Star Wars Episode 7-9 has divided the Star Wars fandom. In part, this is because the directors have largely ignored each other and eschewed any real form of character development. Biases aside, Star Wars has shown that it does better as a longer form TV or book series where they can do more development and explanation. The books and TV shows have their own fan bases and this also plays into how both characters have been received.
Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.
Post Rise of Skywalker, one of the things that fans were most disappointed by is that she comes from a special bloodline. It took away some of the magic and mystery of who she was and a lot of fans just sighed in disappointment. In this respect Rian Johnson did one thing right, albeit grudgingly to this fans mind, making Rey the people’s champion…until she wasn’t. There were tons of other things he did wrong but that’s up for debate another time.
Originally, Rey was billed as someone who came from nothing and this part made her character very approachable to new fans. She was a scrappy street smart survivor which was appealing but this was short lived. Instead, there was plenty to dislike about her character, in that she seemed to be good at everything. Piloting, mechanics, sudden unexplained force abilities appearing. There wasn’t a build up of any kind that gave fans a glimpse into her struggles or her triumphs. They established she was inexplicably awesome at several clutch moments and fans should just cheer, no questions asked, no thought required.
In the character of Ahsoka Tano, we see an intuitive Jedi, a female lead, and lasty, an approachable character with humble origins all rolled into one person. She doesn’t come from a famous or rather, infamous bloodline. Her only lineages is the Jedi lineage given to all Padawan from their Master. We see, in her, teachings that descend directly through her Master, through his Master, and further through his master and those directly from Grand Master Yoda himself.
Granted, fans did not always like her. In fact, an entire subset of the fan base did not and still do not like her at all. Those mostly include older fans who were and still are, die-hard believers of the original trilogy. Nothing wrong with loyalty to the original trilogy, these were simply not the fans that Ahsoka was meant to bond with and it showed.
She was meant to appeal to a younger audience and in that sense, the animated series succeeded. She was explained as a canny toddler with a strong force connection and a very instinctual sense of justice. At first, she may have seemed whiny and bucked Star Wars tradition while finding her way in the world. The animated series that introduced her placed her as a pivotal characters that new fans could sympathize with and would cheer her successes.
Flash forward a decade later and fans of her are, like Ahsoka, older. Many of them have become adults with spending power and varied opinions. They’ve grown up with her in the age of the social media explosion and TV show streaming era to become a very vocal group of supporters. Older fans have come around too, those who grew up with the prequel trilogy releasing and seeing the potential that the Ahsoka character holds. No longer was Ahsoka a snarky brat, by this time she was world weary battle commander.
She sees that not all, if any Jedi, are perfect and so she really no longer classes herself as a Jedi at all. She has seen the darkness, experienced it herself and learned from it. She recognizes that the Jedi council, once her ultimate authority figure, has become a symbol of the broken system that she could no longer tolerate. She certainly has respect for many of the council members and her Master, but doesn’t let that stop her from getting the the real heart of the issues at hand.
Paralleling real life in this aspect, her character’s rise in the animated clone wars and rebels series gives a voice to young people dissatisfied with the broken systems in their own real lives. They see, like Ahsoka does, that they are not being heard, supported, or respected. They realize, perhaps rightly so, that the time for those in power to protest innocence is a prologue of the past and that future survival is looking them right in the face. They feel that time will not wait for them and so they too must rise up to protect themselves, even from those that should have been protecting them in the first place.
Circling back to the development of Rey, with whom her successes come without any seeming effort and is shown to merely inherit power through blood lineage, she’s nowhere near as loved and respected as Ahsoka. Even if she might be more powerful, Rey isn’t shown to have done any training to achieve her level of connection with the force exhibited in The Force Awakens. She’s only shown training in the latter two films of her arc but even this is brief. A lot of this is because she doesn’t have a teacher but the larger part which fans disliked is because of pacing and development issues.
Putting aside that Rey fighting Kylo Ren on any serious level at first is anything other than plot armor, Rey being strong because of her parents and grandparents can be seen as a rich kid getting rich and powerful because they had rich and powerful parents. It’s a direct allegory for everything that is wrong with the political and economic structure of the world today and many fans hated this comparison. The movies simply don’t give Rey enough time to develop properly and fans will either love or hate her because of it.
Yet, you can say that the same things are true for Luke Skywalker. Powerful Jedi bloodline? Check. Had a rough time learning and didn’t complete training at first? Check. Great pilot that makes clutch moves? Double Check. What made it different is that we cared about him. We were able to build and support Luke’s journey so that when he found out his parentage, fans were shocked and sympathetic. The same attempt 4 decades later with Rey just didn’t work. There were too many missteps with this sequel trilogy, no matter how much you still love the movies.
Missteps aside, had Rey, or even Finn and Poe had enough time to develop like Ahsoka, or Asajj Ventress; we’d likely see a very different fan reaction. We’d probably cheer Rey’s successes if we were struggling along with her, instead of being blindsided by her powers. Even Finn, whom could have been an interesting secondary character, fell flat on his face due to pacing issues.
Ahsoka’s triumph is that we care about her. We want to watch her rise and we cheer for her surprise appearances on screen. Everything about her character is the right combination of formation, development, pacing, and emotion coming together to make one of the most popular modern characters in the Star Wars Universe. The same cannot be said for Rey.
Ultimately, Rey’s rise to power doesn’t push the Star Wars plot forward. Her actions don’t have meaning. Yes her actions save an the rebel alliance from death and destruction and this is commendable but Ahsoka? Her actions save the Star Wars Universe, preserving the Star Wars Legacy for another generation. Ahsoka’s rise to power and exit from the Jedi Order serves to push Anakin Skywalker further into questioning his own role in the order. Her moves after and into the Mandalorian universe will continue to ripple out long after Rey has been forgotten.