Editor’s Note: The following contains mild spoilers for Ahsoka Episodes 1 & 2.
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Time travel and Star Wars seem like they should go hand in hand. The beloved sci-fi media franchise has made use of almost every kind of science fiction character or concept throughout its more than forty-year history, from robots to clones and including practically everything in between. Many characters in the Star Wars universe are able to perceive time in unusual ways through their connections to the Force, but actual physical travel between different points in time has remained exceedingly rare in the franchise and for a long time only occurred in obscure works in the Expanded Universe. It wasn’t until relatively recently that a more mainstream Star Wars project introduced time travel to the Disney-era canon. In the final season of the animated series Star Wars Rebels the lead characters discovered a mysterious realm called the World Between Worlds which seemingly allowed one of them to go back in time and make a major change to Star Wars history.
Rebels’ fourth and final season focused on the main characters, the Rebel Alliance’s Spectre unit, returning to Lothal, home planet of Jedi Padawan Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), to free it from occupation by the Galactic Empire. During the conflict, the team discovered that the Empire was devoting extensive resources to researching the planet’s ancient Jedi temple, which Ezra and his master, Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), had visited in the past. Hoping to find out why the Empire was so interested in it, Ezra and Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) snuck into the temple site. The Empire found that a section of the temple wall featured a painting of the Father (Lloyd Sher), Daughter (Adrienne Wilkinson), and Son (Sam Witwer) of Mortis, powerful Force-wielding beings that Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) encountered in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Ezra connected to the wall through the Force and paintings of local creatures called loth-wolves began moving, leading him to another section, where he found a portal that he then stepped through.
After stepping through the portal Ezra found himself in a mystical space, where voices from other points in time (including those of many other characters from the Star Wars franchise) could be heard and which featured doorways to other places and times. After wandering through the space for a time Ezra found Morai the convor, an owl-like creature he had often seen in Ahsoka’s company, perched atop one of the doorways. In the doorway, he saw Ahsoka in the midst of her fateful duel with Anakin (who by this time had taken his place as Darth Vader), which had occurred years prior. As the Sith temple around them began to crumble Ezra pulled Ahsoka through the doorway. Ahsoka described the space as “a world between worlds.”
How Does Star Wars’ Time Travel Work?
Rebels left the exact nature of the World Between Worlds’ time travel vague. It is unclear if Ezra actually changed the future by saving Ahsoka, or if his interference in her duel always occurred as part of a time loop, like the ones depicted in films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Terminator. When they left the World Between Worlds, Ahsoka went through a different door than Ezra and wasn’t seen again until the series finale, suggesting that she may have returned to her time and lived the intervening years naturally. It’s even possible that she was always fated to survive the duel, the outcome of which had always been intentionally vague, and that Ezra’s involvement didn’t really change things much. But if that’s the case it raises the question of why Ahsoka wouldn’t have returned to her Rebel allies, or at least let them know she was alive, sooner.
In addition, Ahsoka did convince Ezra not to save Kanan from dying when they saw his death in another doorway because she feared how this would change the present and future, meaning she at least believed it was possible to do so. Emperor Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious’ (Ian McDiarmid) interest in the World Between Worlds also makes the most sense if he could use it to control the future. In Rebels’ final episodes, Ezra was brought before a hologram of the Emperor, who showed him that he had salvaged a piece of the Lothal temple. This was implied to have a connection to the World Between Worlds, as a doorway opened to a scene from Ezra’s childhood. Palpatine tried to tempt Ezra to go through the doorway and prevent his parents’ deaths, although the evil Sith Lord could have of course been lying and wanted Ezra to go through it for some other reason. But the way Palpatine spoke about it made it seem like he most likely wanted to use the World Between Worlds to control fate. Based on all of this the most likely conclusion is that the World does in fact create the possibility of altering the past and future.
Time Travel Is a Risky Introduction to Star Wars
Introducing time travel to mainstream Star Wars in this way was one of the boldest storytelling choices in the Disney era. But while this opens up a lot of exciting possibilities for the franchise’s future it also poses significant risks. It may be fun to imagine what would happen if say, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) went back in time and met Anakin before his turn to the Dark Side, or if a character from the Prequel Trilogy was thrust into the time period of the Sequels, but events like this could also throw the franchise’s continuity into turmoil.
Films like the later installments in the Terminator series and X-Men: Days of Future Past used time travel to erase the consequences of storylines from some of their less popular predecessors, but this wouldn’t work for the Star Wars franchise. The history of Star Wars, or at least that of the live-action films, is so entrenched in popular memory that any significant changes to the canon, like bringing back a long-dead character or altering the outcome of a certain plot, would likely be wildly unpopular. There may be a vocal minority of viewers who would like it if the World Between Worlds was used to alter the events of the Sequel Trilogy, but ultimately the creators of future stories are better off building on what has come before, the good and the bad, rather than trying to change it.
It’s uncertain if and where time travel will be used again in the franchise. The Ahsoka series is serving as a live-action sequel to Rebels, continuing many of its most significant storylines. This has led many fans to expect it to expand on the mythology of the World Between Worlds, but there is no guarantee this will happen. Between the search for the missing Ezra (Eman Esfandi) and Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), Ahsoka’s (Rosario Dawson) dysfunctional partnership with Sabine (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), and the pair’s conflict with Dark Jedi Baylan (Ray Stevenson) and Shin (Ivanna Sakhno), the series already has a lot going on and adding in the World Between Worlds and time travel might make it too convoluted. It’s possible that these elements will remain exclusive to Rebels, where they served an important purpose by facilitating Ahsoka’s survival, without contradicting any of the more widely-known parts of canon.