As Andor delves into the Rebellion’s foundations in a lush live-action spy thriller, many people might miss Tales of the Jedi. Animation, even in Star Wars, is already at a disadvantage — shorts even more so — and some might be feeling Star Wars and especially Jedi fatigue. I watched Tales of the Jedi as just a fan wanting to see more of Ahsoka, Dooku, and the Clone Wars era, but I was astonished to find how refreshing the series felt, even with Jedi and legacy characters.
It’s a testament to an idea that Star Wars is finally beginning to understand — what makes something uniquely Star Wars, and keeps people coming back, isn’t the nostalgia bait of established characters or other callbacks, but the enduring themes of political resistance, hope, and community. While Andor and the High Republic books and comics explore this with lesser-known and new characters, Tales of the Jedi proves Star Wars can still do that with legacy characters, too, despite previous missteps.
But what makes Tales of the Jedi able to avoid the pitfalls of “cameo culture”? Lucasfilm Animation. Before the sequel trilogy and the live-action TV shows, animation led the galaxy far, far away’s on-screen expansion. Dave Filoni’s foray into live action with The Mandalorian is a triumph, but Tales of the Jedi is like watching a master craftsman who spent years honing their skills.
For many, The Clone Wars was the Star Wars they grew up with, and Ahsoka a character they have spent more time with than the Skywalkers themselves. Other than the theatrical release Clone Wars film, Star Wars animation has also always been television, so Lucasfilm Animation has been able to explore what works and what doesn’t for Star Wars television at length. They’ve created some of Star Wars’s best moments using animation across several networks, time periods, and animation styles. Even Star Wars: Visions, which invited other studios to produce stories in the universe, proved that Star Wars is best animated.
One element Lucasfilm Animation excels at is really taking advantage of all the different facets of the medium of television. In The Clone Wars, it used the episodic nature of television to break out longer stories into multi-episode arcs, but in both TCW and then especially Star Wars Rebels, they also perfected the art of compelling, tight storytelling in 20-minute one-off episodes.
Watching Tales of the Jedi was a wonderful reminder of this, with some shorts being even shorter than 20 minutes. In The Clone Wars, they expanded only a few short years into seven seasons to really hammer home how this war changed the galaxy so completely. In Tales of the Jedi, we already know the overarching plot, so Lucasfilm chose to use shorts instead, as snapshots in time to explore an idea — what does it mean to be a Jedi in a galaxy falling apart?
This is an issue touched on quite a lot in TCW and Rebels, and one of my favorite parts of the High Republic books and comics, but in these shorts, this issue is explored through the narrowed lens of two Jedi who choose to leave the Order before its fall. Tales of the Jedi knows that you already know the story, and uses the medium of shorts to explore ideas, themes, ethics, and characters, rather than plot.
Something I hear when people are getting tired of so many Star Wars projects is that Jedi stories are starting to be boring. Perhaps this comes from the recent over-emphasis on the Skywalkers, especially in the sequels, and on moments like the Grogu and Luke plotline intruding on The Book of Boba Fett. However, it isn’t Jedi or the Force that are the problem, but rather the capitalistic fear that without some connection to the Skywalkers, or seeing a lightsaber swung around, people won’t watch new Star Wars media.
What Lucasfilm Animation has known and perfected for a long time is that you can have an interesting story about the Force, and about Jedi, even without Skywalkers. Sure, Ahsoka is Anakin’s padawan and essentially a part of the Skywalker family, but her story over the course of both TCW and Rebels takes her beyond that. The final episode of The Clone Wars has no Anakin, because we know where he is and what he’s doing, but also because what really mattered was Ahsoka, Rex, and the clones, characters that the series spent ample time developing.
The Clone Wars, just like Rebels with Ezra and Kanan, took whole story arcs to explore other Jedi, other facets of the Force, and even other Force sensitives like the Dathomirian witches. Characters like Maul and Ventress have become even more beloved than ones from the original trilogy, simply because the animated shows were comfortable — or brave enough — to explore the intricacies of the Force. They invested in the idea that Star Wars isn’t really sci-fi, but fantasy, and a universe’s magic system can be explored narratively in many ways without resorting to the same “royal family.” Even now, the upcoming Ahsoka series will essentially be the follow-up to Rebels, focusing on the fates of characters like Sabine, Hera, and Ezra, and making Ahsoka’s path just as much about these newer characters as her story was with Anakin or Obi-Wan.
This expansion of Jedi and Force stories is something that makes the High Republic, which currently exists only in books and comics, deeply compelling, and another sign that Star Wars is heading in the right direction. The Acolyte TV show will presumably deal with a Sith acolyte of some kind, in the golden era of the Jedi. The current books and comics show what it was like when Jedi lived in community outposts, were explorers and Pathfinders, and had many conflicting ideas about the Force amongst themselves.
Yes, Yoda is there, but the architects of the High Republic have succeeded at the same thing Lucasfilm Animation does so well — Jedi are people, and there are many kinds of people, and many stories to tell about them. Whether it’s the mechanic padawan Ram Jomaram or the former Jedi and monster hunter Ty Yorrick, the Force, and stories about it, is different for every person. The High Republic confirms this literally: Every Jedi feels the Force in a different way — some see it as an ocean, some as music, some as colors.
Star Wars truly has the potential to keep this magic going in live action. It was done so well in The Mandalorian that there are people whose first view of Force use was Grogu’s, not Luke Skywalker’s. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a shining example of this too — the only Force user we see is Vader, tastefully in a few scenes, and the Force is explored as a symbol of resistance, rather than just magic, to save the day. Since the Jedi and any reference to their religion is outlawed in the Empire, sayings like “May the Force be with you,” and belief in the Force like Chirrut and Baze’s Guardians of the Whills, are small acts of resistance. Rogue One perfectly embodies the combination of magic as a part of political rebellion that makes Star Wars so special. It is when Jyn Erso fully believes in the mission that she says “May the Force be with you,” and it is the holy city of Jedha that the Death Star attacks first, as a symbol.
Tales of the Jedi embraces this idea of the tension between the Force and politics, distilling Star Wars back down to its best elements. It focuses on Dooku, the Jedi who falls to the dark side not for personal power, but because of his very justified beliefs in the failures of the Republic. It shows key turning points in the life of Ahsoka, the Jedi molded by war so completely that her training inadvertently prepared her for Order 66. The Jedi who walked away, and is pulled back into the fight not by fellow Jedi, but by her friend — a senator, Bail Organa, at the funeral of another senator, Padmé. She still doesn’t call herself a Jedi, even in the time of The Mandalorian, but she takes up her lightsabers again for a cause, rather than just the calling of the Force.
The series shows a girl in a village standing up to the oppression of the Empire simply by secretly believing in the Force, a Jedi master and his padawan struggling to resolve a planetary dispute because of the Jedi’s relationship with the Republic, and a Jedi master admitting the council’s mistakes because of that relationship, in an effort to turn Dooku back to the light. These are characters we have seen before and issues that have been touched on before, but brought into stark relief by the shorts, putting these important questions into the spotlight.
I don’t mind Jedi stories, or stories about the Force. I love them. I think all the possibilities therein are what makes Star Wars great — good fantasy uses a fictional, fantastical element, like magic, to explore the human condition, and the best of Star Wars sees the Force used to explore society, and our relationships to each other. Most people haven’t experienced the breadth of stories about the Force, because they haven’t delved into the animation or books or comics, so what’s left can sometimes be lacking. If you want Star Wars without any magic at all, there’s plenty of it (although, can I suggest some space opera without magic at all, like The Expanse instead?). Tales of the Jedi reminds us that, just like a Jedi, what makes Star Wars is great is not the Force’s presence, but how it is used. And I never get tired of that.
Klaudia Amenábar is a media critic who co-hosts RuPalp's Podrace: A Queer Star Wars Podcast, and the Mystery Spotcast: A Supernatural Rewatch. She has appeared on NPR, the Mary Sue, io9, Comics Beat, and more.