This Ahsoka Character Is Daring To Go Where Star Wars Has Rarely Gone Before
Baylan Skoll wants to end the cycle of light and dark.
Most of the time, Star Wars has a pretty simplistic view on things. Everything is binary--heroes and villains, light side and dark side, selflessness vs. selfishness, etc--with no room for nuance or meaningful ideological exploration. But there are exceptions to that norm, and it's really starting to look like Baylan Skoll, the late Ray Stevenson's rogue Jedi character on Disney+'s Ahsoka, is one of them.
"As you get older, look at history, you realize it's all inevitable. The fall of the Jedi, rise of the Empire. It repeated again and again and again," Baylan says to his apprentice, Shin Hati, in this week's episode as he reflects on his Jedi upbringing and the destruction of the Order.
"Isn't it our turn now? Won't our alliance with Thrawn finally bring us into power?" Shin asks.
"That sort of power is fleeting. What I seek is the beginning, so I may finally bring this cycle to an end," Baylan declares.
I don't specifically know what he's talking about--it's likely something related to the Mortis realm from Clone Wars, or the World Between Worlds, but there's not enough info here to make an educated guess. He says something is calling to him, and that it's stirring somewhere out there in the wilds of Peridea.
Whatever that thing is, Baylan believes it's the origin of that large-scale and long-term cycle of war and destruction that the galaxy seems to be constantly suffering under. It's the reason he's here. He doesn't want to serve the Jedi or the Sith or the Nightsisters or any of these other magical folks. He wants all of that gone, and he thinks that finding whatever is "stirring" on Peridea could allow him to make that happen.
His desire to break the wheel is rather novel for Star Wars, a franchise in which keeping that same wheel cranking forever usually feels like its reason for existing. So it's always very exciting when a character--and a sympathetic one at that--decides to deviate from that norm. It doesn't happen often, but there have been some really notable ones, particularly in the non-canon Expanded Universe. The old EU gave us my two favorites of this type of character: Vergere from the New Jedi Order series of books, and Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic 2.
Vergere was an Old Republic Jedi Master who lived among a race of ultraviolent extragalactic aliens for decades before eventually helping stop their invasion by teaching Han and Leia's son, Jacen, about the Unifying Force--the idea that the light side and dark side can work in unison, a concept that Luke Skywalker would adopt for his reborn Jedi Order at the conclusion of the New Jedi Order novel series. When this played out about two decades ago, a lot of fans were furious about all this moral nuance, and the next major novel series retconned Vergere into being a Sith lord who taught Jacen about the Unifying Force in order to corrupt him.
After Vergere was introduced, but before she was retconned into a secret Sith, we got another subversive Force user in Obsidian's Knight's of the Old Republic 2. That game included a character named Kreia, a blind old lady wearing Jedi robes, who served as one of your chief companions during the story. If you choose to keep her in your party, she'll critique every possible action you take in every situation--especially when you do nice, compassionate Jedi stuff. Offering charity, she says, undercuts the person's ability to be self-sufficient in the long term, for example.
Obviously, her philosophy was flawed--self-sufficiency is as much about circumstance as it is personal drive. But her overarching point is a compelling one: that treating the symptoms of an illness often doesn't actually cure the illness. Defending a person from debt collectors, for example, only saves that person in the moment, because the debt is still there.
It's revealed later in the game that Kreia is a former Jedi-turned-Sith-lord, but that's simply a label of convenience that she hopes will help her achieve her real goal: to destroy the Force or otherwise cut everyone off from it. It's hard to look at Baylan Skoll and not see that same desire in his emotionally exhausted demeanor.
For a longtime Star Wars nerd like me who's been bored for a while with the extreme same-iness of the franchise under Disney (Andor notwithstanding), it's always exciting to meet these counter-culture types who don't fit within established franchise archetypes, especially in the more mainstream parts of the franchise. A Baylan Skoll can turn a show like Ahsoka, which very often has felt like a chore to watch, into appointment viewing even for a cynical old fan like me. Stevenson himself deserves a ton of the credit for the intense affection a lot of us have for Baylan--the late actor delivered the best performance of this era of Star Wars.
Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine there being a lot of long-term impact to this arc, what with this story taking place between the original movie trilogy and Disney's sequel trilogy. All roads still lead to the utter nonsense of The Rise of Skywalker, and it's impossible to see how Baylan could have any big-picture impact with the First Order and the resurrected Emperor on the horizon. That would be the same unfortunate fate as Kreia, whose gray philosophy had no meaningful long-term effects just because there were no follow-ups to her story.
But there are still two episodes of Ahsoka left, and I think the show has earned the chance to prove me wrong. Please prove me wrong.