‘Ahsoka’ Star Rosario Dawson Knows Her Jedi So Well That Her Backstory Began Feeling Like Real Memories

Rosario Dawson understands the power of The Force. Recently, the actress who plays the title Jedi in the Disney+ series “Ahsoka” was getting into an elevator at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., when she spotted a woman running up to her as the doors were closing. The woman held a child in her arms the way the Mandalorian carries around his adorable charge, Grogu. Right as the doors reopened for the woman, Dawson looked at her, bowed her head and said, “May the Force be with you.”

“This resonates with people on a spiritual level,” she said. “I’ve had some amazing encounters with fans.”

Being a citizen of the “Star Wars” universe comes with a heavy responsibility to hold up the legacy of one of the most famous franchises of all time, fans of which have been known to get vicious when they don’t like something. A protégée of Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka is a beloved character who first appeared in the 2008 animated feature “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and was voiced by Ashley Eckstein. Introducing a live-action version of such an integral character—it’s through her that we watch Anakin move to the Dark Side in “Star Wars: Rebels”—was a gamble. But when she appeared in the second season of “The Mandalorian” in 2020, the reception was so positive that a month later, Lucasfilm announced that Ahsoka would be getting a spin-off series. In late summer 2023, “Ahsoka” began streaming on Disney+ to positive reviews.

Being cast as Ahsoka just felt right to Dawson, who has long been a fangirl of the far-away galaxy George Lucas created a long time ago. “I think I was probably the person who knew every music cue and all the things,” she said. She didn’t feel pressure, necessarily, and embraced every minute of the animated content that formed Ahsoka’s backstory. All that, she said, “lives in my head rent-free.” Dawson knew so well the stories of the brash young Jedi—nicknamed “Snips” by Anakin—who grows into a morally conflicted master that by the time she stepped on set, she felt like she had lived them herself. “They’re like memories at this point,” she said.

Ahsoka’s appearances in “The Mandalorian” and another spin-off, “The Book of Boba Fett,” helped Dawson situate the character: She was still driven by an obsessive desire to find one of the galaxy’s big bads (the vile, blue-skinned Grand Admiral Thrawn, voiced in the animated series and played in “Ahsoka” by Lars Mikkelsen), but also enough at peace to be able to train young Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) to become a Jedi.

“It was nice grappling with where she’s at in her life now and coming to terms with just how much she’s gone through,” Dawson said. A member of the Togruta species known for their spindly head tails, Ahsoka has weathered an almost constant chain of loss, from Order 66, which led to the galaxy-wide extermination of the Jedi, to the death of her key ally, Ezra (played by Eman Esfandi in “Ahsoka”).

“I marvel at her journey,” Dawson said. “She’s got one of the most epic arcs of any character in history, let alone in ‘Star Wars.’ She’s been exposed to so much war and at a transitional time when the Jedi are not just peacekeepers, they’re full-on militants. [She’s been] confronted with a lot of decisions at such a young age. There are things that have haunted her for a long time … especially the people she loves, and the transition she made from people who she thought were like family and finding exactly what her path is.” One of those people is Anakin Skywalker, who returned in “Ahsoka,” once again played by Hayden Christensen.

Dawson describes Ahsoka as a “ronin,” a samurai without a master: “She’s a person who is following the missions as they appear.” To get into character, Dawson said she channeled Bruce Lee. “I kept imagining real-life people because you’re in this world of these characters who are mystical in their abilities, but you want to ground it in some sort of reality,” she said.

If she was unsure about anything, she knew she could turn to showrunner Dave Filoni, who created the original animated Ahsoka Tano and wrote every episode of the live-action series. “What was so nice was that it’s not just history. He shared the emotional landscape,” Dawson said. Filoni initially created “Ahsoka” under the guidance and leadership of George Lucas, and he shared what they talked about concerning the character. “It felt really powerful to be able to be part of new storytelling and build on that history,” the actress said.

She’s likely to keep building. A second season of “Ahsoka” has been teased, with filming reportedly beginning soon in London. The experience has been a whirlwind, but Dawson is ready for more. “It still feels like magic,” she said.

This story first ran in the Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap
Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap

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