Ahsoka Tano isn’t the only apprentice to Darth Vader

Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode 710 “The Phantom Apprentice” - Image Courtesy Disney+
Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode 710 “The Phantom Apprentice” - Image Courtesy Disney+ /
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Ahsoka may have been the first to be taught, but she wasn’t the last.

With The Mandalorian in full swing on Disney Plus, many fans are enjoying another in the long line of Star Wars stories. But many are also raving about Ahsoka Tano, the former Jedi who once served as the apprentice to Anakin Skywalker.

As popular as she is, however, Ahsoka not the only student that Skywalker has taken on. At the risk of self-indulgence, “there is another”…and he debuted in the same year.

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Back in the summer of 2008, Star Wars: The Clone Wars hit theaters as a feature-length animated film. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, it served as a pilot for the TV show set to debut in the fall.

In the film, Anakin Skywalker is assigned a Padawan learner named Ahsoka Tano. Although they don’t start on the best terms, these two eventually form an inseparable brother-sister bond, learning poignant truths about themselves as the galactic war rages around them.

A dark apprentice for dark times

In September of that same year, LucasArts released Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a video game that introduced another student to the canon. The story this time takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Darth Vader, long after abandoning his identity as Anakin Skywalker, is hard at work purging the galaxy of any remaining Jedi. One day, the Sith Lord discovers that one of his targets has a son, a child incredibly strong in the Force.

Seeing the kid’s potential, Vader takes him as his secret apprentice, training him to hunt down the Jedi still lingering in the galaxy. Intended as the ultimate living weapon, this new assassin doesn’t even have the luxury of a name. He’s known simply as “the Apprentice” or his codename, “Starkiller.”

The game earned fairly positive reviews upon release, with particular praise aimed at the story. People appreciated how involved and uncompromising it was, harkening back to the personal drama of classic Star Wars while offering a darker look at the universe. This was in stark contrast to The Clone Wars, which was widely criticized for its kiddie antics. It’s interesting, then, that Ahsoka has stuck around as a fan favorite while Starkiller has faded from memory.

The tide turns toward the Light Side

You can attribute part of that to the material. As it went on, The Clone Wars improved in numerous ways. The writing, animation, and direction gradually got better, eventually becoming an engaging and thematically potent piece of the Star Wars saga. Then, there’s the fact that it was an ongoing TV show, allowing for longer-lasting relevancy than a game that’s only released once.

The only continuation to The Force Unleashed (aside from the downloadable expansions) was a sequel that came in 2010, and that didn’t go over too well. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II received middling reviews for its underwhelming story and repetitive gameplay. Even worse, it saw the departure of Haden Blackman, the writer of both games, from LucasArts prior to release.

Despite these unfortunate events, a follow-up was planned. The game did end on a cliffhanger, after all. Before this could come to fruition, though, Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, scrapping many Star Wars projects currently in development.

The House of Mouse then declared the entire Expanded Universe of Star Wars to be non-canon. That meant that the countless books and games that had explored the galaxy far, far away were now erased from continuity. Now, the official Star Wars timeline only encompassed the films, The Clone Wars, and any works that Disney put out themselves.

The Apprentice misses the chance for salvation

One such piece of Disney content was Star Wars Rebels, an animated show that was essentially a successor to The Clone Wars, being made by much of the same creative team. This is another area where Ahsoka has the advantage over Starkiller. The wayward Jedi appears in this series as well, serving as a recurring mentor figure to the ragtag heroes in their fight against the Empire.

The creators toyed with bringing Starkiller into the show. However, this idea was ultimately scrapped because they couldn’t find a way to make him work within the story. That might be because he was too overpowered with his insane abilities.

You think Rey breaks the lore in the sequel trilogy? Well, she still does, but Starkiller would have given her a run for her money. This is a guy who can bring down Star Destroyers and disintegrate Stormtroopers with the Force. It’d be hard to have someone that godlike in a weekly TV series and maintain any tension.

Plus, the writers already explored Ahsoka’s drama at finding out her master turned into Darth Vader. Throwing another apprentice in there might have been too messy and unfocused. So went the chance to bring Starkiller back into the canon.

Starkiller may be gone, but he’s not forgotten.

That’s not to say the creators have completely forgotten about him. You can see the concept at work in another form: the Inquisitors. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. These are Force-wielding assassins who are indoctrinated and dispatched by Vader to hunt down any Jedi in hiding. Introduced in Star Wars Rebels and popping up in other works like Jedi Fallen Order, these guys basically fulfill the same purpose as Starkiller with a few key differences.

For one thing, they’re not as powerful. They may use lightsabers and possess knowledge of Jedi history, but they’re not intended to be full-fledged Sith. This is presumably to keep them from rising up against their master like Starkiller did. That’s why their initiation involves torture and brainwashing.

On top of that, they’re not a secret, often working with other Imperial officers on their missions. Aside from those distinctions, though, the Inquisitors are clearly inspired by Starkiller to some extent. “Why can’t Vader just fight the Jedi himself?” you ask. Maybe he’s just lazy.

Whatever the case, 2008 remains the odd year of two apprentices. Ahsoka may be more popular at this point, but a passionate fandom is a powerful thing. There’s always the chance that Starkiller could make a long-awaited comeback. What’s truly important, however, is that both of these learners have gone down as beloved additions to the Star Wars universe.

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Are you a fan of these wayward students? Which one do you prefer? Where do you think their respective stories will go? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is available at most retail outlets. You can stream The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian on Disney Plus.