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What Makes 'Ahsoka's' Baylan Skoll So Damn Captivating?

By Lord Castleton | TV | October 3, 2023 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | October 3, 2023 |


Sometimes the simplest answers are the best and maybe it’s as easy as “the late, great Ray Stevenson exudes charisma and confidence and sex appeal no matter what role he’s in.”

Let’s assume that’s a big part of it.

But there might be an additional commentary here, one that Star Wars creatives could glean some information from: despite the seemingly binary nature of the light side vs dark side of the force, many of the more nuanced characters that are listed as “fan favorites” operate somewhere in the middle.

It’s a big reason why Tony Gilroy’s ‘Andor’ worked so well. Modern audiences don’t necessarily need Zabrak racial markers of horned craniums, red skin and shark teeth to cue the audience that they’re the designated bad guy. More interesting are characters experiencing doubt or reticence or some independent thought. Charged character beats like that better align with the complexity of both the world we live in and the often confusing road human beings chart to define and establish their own unique moral compass.

These beats hold relatable weight. For example, Clone Wars era Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order. Qui-gon Jinn choosing to mentor Anakin over the protests of the Jedi Council, the illuminating backstory of Count Dooku in Tales of the Jedi.

When George Lucas originally set out to craft his sci-fi masterpiece, nuance and subtlety were not on his mind. Instead, he imagined archetypal characters similar to those featured in the fairy tales and mythology that informed his childhood. Wrong vs. Right. Good vs. Evil. God vs. Devil.

While this dichotomy certainly made the original worldbuilding more accessible, those of us who have grown up with Star Wars have often sought the corners of the franchise where it seems to have grown up with us. Yes, those disparate camps are instructive when you’re a child but they can seem downright quaint in today’s complex world. Human beings are messy, and when a story involves them, chances are that they’ll be more motivated by petty spite or jealousy or simple greed than higher concepts like the wholesale pursuit of evil.

After all, how many of us can truly relate to a character motivated by the wholesale pursuit of evil?

Vengeance, on the other hand, most of us get. Self-doubt. Loneliness. Betrayal. Anger. Fear. Resentment. The search for redemption. Righting past wrongs. Changing as you age. Growing apart from your friends or family. These are things that can inform an internal struggle, and a good old fashioned relatable internal struggle makes for much more compelling Jedi.

And Darksiders, as it turns out.


That’s the thing about Baylan Skoll. Despite his serene exterior, his internal conflicts radiate from him like a warning, or an invitation. Once trained to be a Jedi, you get the distinct sense that part of him never left the teachings of the Order and is still ruminating on his decisions from the inside. He has that distinct quality of being someone who is pretty sure he has it figured out. As in, Jedi Shmedi, Sith Shmith, those are lifeboats for followers and fools. He’s not a victim of fate. He has chosen his place on the light/dark spectrum because he knows better. When asked by his apprentice Shin Hati if he missed the Jedi Order, he says, “I miss… the idea of it. But not the truth, the weakness. There was no future there.”

Is he saying the truth is the weakness or that the Jedi adherance to the truth and thus the resultant weakness of that choice turned him off?

In either case, that’s not a Darth Maul answer. That’s more of a Yoda answer. It’s the answer of a man who has done a tremendous amount of soul searching. Searching, certainly, is a big part of whatever Baylan has going on. With many a Star Wars villain, nothing gets them more aroused than killin’ rebs and blowin’ up planets. But with Baylan violence seems to be a distasteful necessity on the path to something greater. He says to Ahsoka at one point: “It is an unfortunate evil, but speaks to a greater truth. One must destroy in order to create.”

But as resigned as he is about the necessity of destruction, he doesn’t relish it. Case in point, he gives enemies an option. Leave or be killed. Is it rooted in efficiency or is there some shred of Jedi left inside of him that at least demands that people have a fleeting, trifling agency with regard to their own demise? How many Star Wars bad guys would offer enemies that courtesy?

In so many cases, Star Wars villains can seem mustache-twisting because we meet them at the height of their power and their interests are either keeping that power by vanquishing enemies or vanquishing enemies because that’s their thing. We’re not getting stoic philosophy from General Grievous. We’re not getting restraint from Morgan Elsbeth.

Villains like The Inquisitor hunt Jedi with a masturbatory glee. It makes them one-dimensional. The mission is the meaning, and thus their very raison d’être is dependent on the existence of their prey. But the obstacles in Baylan’s path are held in the proper regard, and with a sense of the balance that seems to guide his internal mechanics. When have we ever heard a Darksider say that killing a Jedi would be “a shame”?

While Baylan Skoll is not a Sith, his mentorship of Shin is reminiscent of the Rule of Two, the Sith master/apprentice relationship as conceived by Darth Bane, which was to have the master with all the power and the apprentice who craves it.

But over and over again, Baylan Skoll seems to shrug away the trappings of power that would have lesser Darksiders salivating.

Shin Hati: Won’t our alliance with Thrawn finally bring us into power?

Baylan Skoll: That sort of power is fleeting. What I seek is the beginning, so I may finally bring this cycle to an end.

Shin Hati: And that beginning is here?

Baylan Skoll: If the old stories are true.

What old stories?
Why are you so level-headed?
Why are your eyes so sad?
Why the pathos?
Why do you talk in riddles instead of, y’know, killing for sport?
How is your beard so awesome?
And why aren’t you more of a narcissist? Isn’t that intense, unquenchable, darksider thirst for immediate power and personal gain a prerequisite for Darksider level/Sithdom?

Baylan Skoll: The only reason I’m here is to secure the future.

Ahsoka: For you?

Baylan Skoll: Something far greater.

Wait, what? Far greater than you? Come on. What side of the Force are we dealing with here, bub?

How would Chancellor Palpatine, for example, feel about something greater then himself? He took down the entire Jedi Order and cackled with glee as he assumed the helm of the galaxy with no one to stop him. The power was the goal, and mindful of how he slew his own master, Darth Plagueis, Sidious is appropriately wary of his own apprentices and views them as expendable pawns.

Even powerful fallen Jedi like Darth Tyranus himself ultimately only served as a mechanism to secure Darth Sidious a more powerful apprentice. When his usefulness was over, Sidious was happy to exterminate him without a second thought. So how does Baylan Skoll navigate that dynamic with his own apprentice?

Shin Hati: Do you know the one she seeks so desperately?

Baylan Skoll: Bridger? No, he’s too young. Comes from a breed of Bokken Jedi trained in the wild after the Temple fell.

Shin Hati: Like me.

Baylan Skoll: No. He was trained as a Jedi. You I trained to be something more.

Well, that’s an awfully thoughtful, empowering thing to say. What the hell? Are you just buttering your apprentice up so you can use her as a meat shield?

Baylan Skoll (to Shin): Your ambition drives you in one direction, my path lies in another.

Uhhhhh…okay. So you’re graduating her without any threats or warnings or fables about what might happen to her if she crosses you in any way? Don’t you want to put the fear of the Force into her and make her desperate for your approval before you leave her?

Baylan Skoll: One parting lesson, Shin. Impatience for victory will guarantee defeat.

With Baylan’s ability to use the force to sense coming events as well as the path in front of him, he seems resigned to the likelihood that Shin will not be able to resist her impatience, even as he’s trained her to be “far more.”

In “Dreams and Madness,” there’s an interesting blip: a moment where Shin is outnumbered and beaten, and rather than attack her, Ahsoka asks her to hand over her lightsaber and offers “help”. There’s a moment where Shin seems to almost consider this help before turning and fleeing. Is this how Baylan trained her? To someday, in his absence, be receptive to the Light side?

We don’t ultimately know what Baylan’s larger plans are. We know - in broad strokes - that once upon a time, during the Jedi-Sith War, Jedi Knights wiped out the Brotherhood of Darkness, killing every Sith except for one, Darth Bane, who created the Rule of Two. A thousand years later, Darth Vader returned the favor, wiping out the Jedi Order for his master, Darth Sidious. Baylan Skoll seems intimately aware of this enduring cycle.

Baylan Skoll: When I was a bit older than you are now, I watched everything I knew burn.

Shin Hati: The Jedi Temple?

Baylan Skoll: I couldn’t make sense of it at the time. As you get older, look at history, you realize it’s all inevitable. The fall of the Jedi, rise of the Empire. It repeats again and again and again.

It appears that the cycle itself is what Baylan is targeting. How he figures in to the cycle itself is unknown, but by his own words, that’s what he’s set on accomplishing.

“What I seek is the beginning, so I may finally bring this cycle to an end.”

Is Baylan Skoll a religious crazy or is he the answer? Does he have delusions of grandeur or is he the precise operative at the precise time to stop the cycle once and for all, and, presumably, bring an enduring balance to the Force? Whatever he is, we’re meant to think that it’s on Peridea and it’s calling out to him.

Whether we have time for a true resolution remains to be seen. With only one episode left in Ahsoka, season one, it feels like not enough time to resolve his mission. The show might have to truncate the intended course anyway due to the heart wrenching passing of Stevenson. But even with his short time as part of the Star Wars universe, Baylan Skoll, through Ray Stevenson, reminds us that the best drawn characters have scars that inform them and nuanced motivations that feel more relatable to a modern audience.


One additional thing:

Mike’s Ahsoka recaps have been a goddamn inspiration. In the world of internet writing too often we cruise past excellence on the way to the next TikTok video, but I’m a huge fan of all things Ahsoka and Mike’s takes are consistently the smartest, funniest and most relatable out there. He manages to blend a lifelong love of Star Wars that would make any virgin proud with an honest, intelligent analysis of each episode while keeping an eye on the whole SWU. That goes for all of his Star Wars recaps but today I’m adding my favorite lines from each Ahsoka recap, lest we slide by them too quickly.

Quotes below from the Ahsoka recaps from Mike Redmond.

EPISODE 1&2 (which dropped together)

Unfortunately, the way Ahsoka establishes Ahsoka and Sabine’s relationship is by constantly repeating the following conversation with dramatic pauses that last a million years:

AHSOKA: You’re difficult.
SABINE: No, you’re difficult.
HERA: This relationship is very difficult.

I seriously wish I was joking.


The issue is when you make the jump to live-action there’s an expectation of dramatic heft. The first two episodes of Ahsoka were butt-loaded with drawn-out pauses in an effort to make the show seem like it’s a more serious take on an older version of the title character. Granted, I have issues with how Ahsoka is no longer the captivating protagonist from the cartoons where she was easily one of the best thing to come out of Star Wars in ages thanks to being custom-made for that medium. But at the end of the day, I get it. She’s a wisen, world-weary samurai now.

Except, nope, just kidding. She’s still like the cartoon.


You know how some people say they’re ready for a Star Wars story that isn’t about lightsabers and the Jedi? That will never be me. Star Wars without lightsabers is like sex with a condom. Sure, it’s theoretically possible, I guess, but why would two or more people do that to themselves? Anyway, my point is these shows have had the opposite effect on me. Andor didn’t have a single lightsaber, and I still can’t shut up about how it’s a goddamn masterpiece. Obi-Wan was sloppy with them, and it made me want to lay in traffic. What a piece of shit. (“But, Mike, what about The Mandalorian?” That show needs to sit in the corner and think about what it’s done for a while.)

Ahsoka, on the other hand, has restored balance to the Force.


OK, let’s get the gushing out of the way: Yes, the live-action Clone Wars scenes absolutely ripped. Holy sh*t. I have very significant qualms about this franchise spamming the nostalgia button for cheap and easy thrills, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I grinned from ear to ear when Ariana Greenblatt’s Padawan Ahsoka entered the screen. She f*cking killed it.

Week after week I’ve voiced my frustration with how Ahsoka has failed to capture the kinetic energy of the title character, who again, is one of the best Star Wars creation of the past two decades. The young Ahsoka scenes are exactly what I’m talking about. They were lightning in a bottle, and Lucasfilm are fools if this is the last we’ve seen of Greenblatt whipping ass. In fact, I get mad just thinking about how the whole show could’ve been this instead of boring us to death with Rebels Season 5: Attack of the Pause.

(and this, too)

Unfortunately, George Lucas did not do that. He kicked off Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side by having him mow down a room full of toddlers, which is why it hits real weird when Anakin says to Ahsoka, “So that’s what this is about,” when she brings up his turn to Vader. Call me old-fashioned, but yeah dude, it’s kind of a big deal to kill all of your co-workers starting with the daycare. It’s a creative decision that, again, makes it strange how easily this franchise just waves away a school shooting by way of a laser sword and expects us to feel awesome about seeing the guy who did it.


However, one of the good guys is going to take a knee this episode, and astoundingly, it’s the title character. Despite the huge deal over her blatantly Gandalf-like transition to “Ahsoka the White,” she’s right back to not trusting Sabine and pretty much acting like she did before last week’s dramatic rebirth. In fact, the only thing Ahsoka does this episode is drop a meta joke about how the first installment in a trilogy is always the best — one of two blatant nods to A New Hope in her short convo with David Tennant’s perfectly-voiced Huyang — which is extremely rich considering this entire show is already several layers deep when it comes to the strip-mining of Star Wars.


To make matters worse, every Hera scene in Ahsoka has been a non-stop sequence of diminishing returns and ham-fisted Easter eggs. It’s impossible to ignore how bad they keep getting. I don’t want to jinx myself and say this scene has to be rock bottom because there’s still one episode left. Jar Jar could run over an Ewok with the Falcon next week. Nothing is off the table.


Masterful. Thanks to Mike for great recap after great recap. Can’t wait to read his reaction to the season one finale!