This article contains spoilers about Season 2 of The Mandalorian.
When I mentioned recently that Ahsoka Tano is Star Wars’ own Sophia Petrillo, I had no idea how deeply the parallels ran between the Clone Wars standout and the Golden Girls legend played by Estelle Getty.
Whether we’re talking Miami or Coruscant, both of these lovable ladies have a story to tell and all kinds of life lessons to share. Despite occupying different galaxies and possessing somewhat disparate skill sets, Sophia and Ahsoka more alike than you think.
Sophia Petrillo’s point of origin, Golden Girls, wasn’t just a single show. It was a universe.
The sitcom was so popular that it spawned an entire NBC programming block set in Miami in the 80s and 90s. In fact, one Saturday in 1991 broadcast a hurricane storyline that began with Golden Girls and continued through its back-to-back spinoffs.
Sophia herself occupied far more than that famous kitchen next to the lanai. In all, the character, portrayed by Estelle Getty, appeared on the following programs:
- Golden Girls
- Empty Nest
- The Golden Palace
While Kelsey Grammar popped up on three different shows as Frasier Crane and Andy Griffith made the rounds of Andy Taylor’s universe, I couldn’t find evidence of a single character played by the same actor on more than five different programs.
All hail Sophia, Queen of the Three-Camera Sitcom.
Not to be outdone, Ms.Tano has had the run of the Filoniverse, a group of connected Lucasfilm programs connected by showrunner Dave Filoni. So far, Ahsoka has appeared in five Star Wars properties:
- The Clone Wars (film)
- Clone Wars (animated program)
- The Mandalorian
- Rise of Skywalker
Ahsoka was voiced each time by Ashley Eckstein, and played by Rosario Dawson in The Mandalorian.
Don’t be surprised if Ahsoka somehow turns out to be related to Ackmena, who was played by… Bea Arthur in the Star Wars Holiday Special. And hang in there, kids, for All Ahsoka All the Time on the upcoming Disney Plus streamer.
They’re not here for the fashion
Golden Girls is AV comfort food because it is forever cemented in the 80s, complete with shoulder pads, heavy evening gowns, and the occasional set of gigantic clip-on earrings.
Blanche was always stylish, and Rose offered her own Minnesotan take on the decade with graphics-driven sweaters. Although Sophia’s funkily-dressed daughter, Dorothy, was once so blinged-up that she referred to herself as looking like “the mother of a Solid Gold Dancer,” Sophia herself was comfortingly same-same in dowdy Grandma dresses with stripes and floral prints.
She deployed cardigans, blouses, and lace collars, all of which seemed designed for her to fade into the background. But as soon as she opened her mouth, tiny Sophia burst into the forefront.
Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, Ahsoka Tano was taking notes. Like many Star Wars fans, I have a side-eye relationship with Ahsoka’s early look, a bikini/miniskirt combo that looks like she bought it with her birthday money at the Hot Topic on the mezzanine level of the Jedi Temple.
Unlike her friend Padme Amidala, however, once Ahsoka decided on a look, it seldom changed. Her wardrobe changes were few, and when she appeared in The Mandalorian, her clothes reflected her in-between life as a trained Force-user who was not allied with the Jedi or the Sith but whose actions showed she was aligned with the light side.
Ahsoka wore a dark grey outfit with a rough Jedi-style cape, similar to the way she dressed in Rebels. The ensemble was perfect for disappearing into the shadows in which she lived since she left the Jedi order. She wasn’t tall or otherwise physically imposing, but her spirit and effective fighting skills set her apart.
Getting it done
Street-smart Sophia, who on the surface seemed limited by her age and slight build, did what she had to in order to make the world turn the way she thought it should.
Stripped by a stroke of her ability to live alone, Sophia often resorted to extreme improvisation to pilot herself where she needed to go, and in one episode, “borrowed” her roommate’s car to meet a date. (She was busted when canny Dorothy grabbed the phone book she was carrying and correctly deduced that her mother used it as a booster seat to see over the wheel.)
Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Ahsoka could MacGyver just about anything into just about anything else. A mechanical whiz, she was often shown repairing ships and frequently displayed an innate connection with droids.
She also balanced Obi-Wan’s understanding of Order rules and respect for the Force by applying her Master’s knack for spontaneous and creative action.
Although a younger Ahsoka was in dire need of humility and the ability to properly assess risk, by the end of Clone Wars, she began to display these traits. She badly needed them to survive on her own, especially when the Jedi Order was annihilated.
She cobbled together her replacement set of lightsaber hilts with bits and pieces she gathered in the aftermath, working alone to fashion a fine weapon from material not originally meant to function in such a way.
It was her phone book booster seat.
Adjust, adapt, and overcome in new circumstances
Sophia Petrillo was born in Sicily, raised her family in Brooklyn, withstood a stroke in her later years that landed her in a retirement home, and wound up on her daughter’s Miami doorstep with the words, “Hi there. Everyone is fine. No one died. The home burnt down.”
Through undergoing two major moves to completely different climates, then adjusting to living with her daughter and two roommates, Sophia charged through her elder years with zest and an active social life.
I can’t settle into the new logo design for the Amazon app. It’s been weeks. I can’t find it without scouring every design on my phone: “Did I move it? Did I delete it? Is it updating? Where– oh, there it is.” Yet Sophia powered through physical limitations, a language barrier, and changing expectations for women with sass.
Sophia cooked for her roommates, volunteered, hung out at the senior center, concocted get-rich-quick schemes, and later became a hotel chef after Dorothy’s marriage.
Despite her rough edges, she had a big heart and once convinced a fellow elder to avoid taking her own life. Little Sophia lived large.
So did Ahsoka, and always driven by a well-honed sense of ethics. Born on Shili, home of the Togrutas, Ahsoka was taken to the Jedi Temple at an early age, and although she knew stability there as a youngling, the grind of the Clone Wars relentlessly yanked her from new world to new world.
She was rarely overawed by new landscapes, focusing instead on the task at hand. As a warrior, she gained the ability to quickly build a comprehensive understanding of the moment she was occupying.
Ahsoka worked with fellow Jedi and Clone leaders alike to make the best use of a planet’s physical features and any resources. She used reports of the state of the battle and enemy positions to make the best decisions she could with the information she had.
Ahsoka would not only find her Amazon app every single time, she’d probably program the entire phone to direct-dial Jeff Bezos.
Iconic accessories mavens
Sophia’s constant companion, a tan bamboo purse, was Getty’s brainchild.
She found it at a thrift shop and toted it with her to her audition for the role. According to a 1992 interview with Newsday, which was later quoted by the Los Angeles Times, Getty said that “older women are forced to shed so many possessions in their later years that everything they own ends up in their purses… Nobody puts their life down very easily.”
And so the purse came with Sophia everywhere, even from her bedroom to the kitchen. The handbag became an integral part of her character and sold for $9,150 at a 2009 auction of Getty’s estate.
Like Sophia, Ahsoka identified her existence with the object constantly at her side. She absorbed the lesson from Anakin Skywalker, via Obi-Wan, that “your lightsaber is your life.” She later handed down this concept to the younglings occasionally in her care.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a Jedi without his or her lightsaber, the visual trademark of the order. As Force-sensitive characters change and their story arc develops, so do the colors of their elegant weapons, usually after replacement in the wake of a traumatic event.
When Anakin became Darth Vader, for instance, his new lightsaber was no longer blue, but red, the same as most other Sith.
Later, Luke adopted his father’s blue lightsaber and used it to battle Vader. After losing both the weapon and his hand, Luke constructed a green saber.
Ahsoka’s dual green and yellow-green lightsabers wielded during the Clone Wars were abandoned in the wake of Order 66. They were later replaced with two white blades, which were powered by purified Kyber crystals formerly in the service of the Sith.
These curved weapons are the ones we see Ahsoka using during her appearance on The Mandalorian. We will likely see a lot more of them in her stand-alone spinoff.
They embrace the next generation…
A longtime grandmother, Sophia, unlike Ahsoka, was a biological mother to several children. However, she also embraced her roommates, Rose and Blanche, as her own.
The catchphrase “Picture it…” kicked off more than a tall tale from Sicily; it was also the introduction to a life lesson pertaining to a problem one of the ladies was facing. (Or a perfectly timed punchline– more often than not, a punchline. But there’s always something to be learned from Sophia.)
By continuing to mother well past the time her own daughter was aging out of her own middle years, Sophia cemented her legacy and demonstrated that the elderly have a valuable societal role well beyond their more physically active years.
In the same way, several episodes of Clone Wars show Padawan Ahsoka Tano taking younglings under her wing. As she was a recently graduated youngling herself at the beginning of the series, her slowly expanding capacity as an educator marked a significant pivot in her growth as a Jedi.
While she served as a comforting presence at times, sometimes shielding little ones from the stark realities of war, Ahsoka later took on more formal teaching duties. Together with Master Yoda, she guided younglings in finding their Kyber crystals, and was shown in classroom scenarios as well.
Her parenting side was best shown on The Mandalorian when she sat quietly with Grogu to discern not only his name but the story of his past. She was gentle but firm in assessing his Force abilities, and managed to teach Din Djarin a thing or two about the Jedi along the way.
Then again, who wouldn’t melt into a mommy or daddy with Baby Yoda perched on the rock next door?
…but know when to let go of it.
Sophia’s two biological daughters stood in opposition to one another. While Sophia gladly saw her younger daughter, Gloria, married off, she protected Dorothy’s independence. However, as the series drew to a close, Sophia wept for joy to see her eldest happily in love.
Having become close enough to Blanche and Rose to regard them as daughters, Sophia came to understand that it was at last her daughter’s time to enjoy some private happiness as part of a couple.
As a Jedi, Ahsoka never had the chance to take on a Padawan, and was expected to avoid forming unhealthy emotional attachments with any of the younglings she may have mentored in the Temple. Although a compassionate being, she showed tough love when necessary.
And where one little Jedi was concerned, Ahsoka made a shocking decision.
When given the opportunity to train adorable Grogu and relish the long-forsaken company of another Jedi, Ahsoka refused. She rightly noted his emotional attachment to Mando and, as the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, understood that this arrangement could quickly take a nasty turn– particularly regarding the little one’s fears and tendencies to use dark side techniques when upset.
Ahsoka’s refusal, however, prepared Mando to make the same decision at the end of Season 2. He was quested with finding a Jedi for his son, and a Jedi he will find. Once Luke Skywalker revealed himself, Daddy Din handed Grogu into his care, believing this was the best course for the child.
Sophia Petrillo was born in 1906, which meant that by the time she was living in Miami in the early 90s, she had been alive to witness the birth of aviation, women gaining the right to vote, two World Wars, and the turbulent 60s. Her “Picture it…” stories, often tall tales, were usually punctuated with historical characters ranging from Winston Churchill to Golda Mier.
If we time the death of Sophia to that of Estelle Getty’s in 2008, the grand dame of the Golden Girls was born when the main form of transportation was horse and carriage. By the time she passed away, humans were living continuously in space on board the ISS.
Even though we don’t know much yet about other eras in Star Wars history, few characters have lived in such interesting times as Ahsoka. Born before the Clone Wars, she outlived the remnants of the other remaining Jedi, Yoda and Obi-Wan. Given her appearance in The Mandalorian, we know she survived the Empire as well.
Whether or not she spoke to Rey at the end of Rise of Skywalker after having become one with the Force unknown; she may have done so as a living being. The run of Disney Plus’ Ahsoka will likely answer these questions.
They kept up with the kids these days
Sophia bore the markings of her era, but she refused to remain defined by it. Several of the show’s references peg her age as mid to late 80s.
Despite her age and firm reliance on grandmotherly styling, Sophia kept pace with the wild 1980s in Miami. While she wasn’t exactly running the streets with Crockett and Tubbs, she knew what was what.
Sophia refused to live in her colorful past, and more than once referenced then-current pop culture. Her crowing moment consisted of lying on a lanai chair, Walkman firmly in place, singing along with Purple Rain.
Ahsoka may have missed out on Prince but was reliable when it came to dancing along the cutting edge. Her role as the informant Fulcrum led her to the acquaintance of the Rebels cast, and she was eager to guide Anakin into newer forms of technology, despite his understandable attachment to R2D2.
If the Star Wars universe had David Bowie, Ahsoka would have rocked out with him on a regular basis.
Refusal to let the darkness overcome them
Sophia faced down the worst nightmare of any parent: She outlived a child. Dorothy’s brother, Phil, died of a heart attack when he was just 55.
Although the character existed entirely offscreen, the show explored Sophia’s deep grief. Having already buried a husband, the character struggled to come to terms with having lost a son she never truly understood.
In addition to her son, Sophia also buried a husband. She often lovingly referenced “my Sal” and the life they built together in Brooklyn. At the same time, Sophia remained open to finding another love. She dated extensively and even remarried at one point.
Sophia survived many of her siblings, and several episodes of Golden Girls show her leaving for or returning from funerals, as one might expect of a woman her age. She could have easily sunk into loneliness and gloom.
By refusing to do so, she fought on to snap one-liners another day.
Similarly, a gritty determination to survive is one of Ahsoka’s greatest strengths. Even when on the run from the Jedi Order or left utterly alone in the horrific aftermath of Order 66, Ahsoka succeeded where her Master failed.
She met darkness with goodness.
Despite her own confusion, disillusionment, and overwhelming grief, Ahsoka always pressed forward. She not only refused to feed her disappointment and anguish into a quest for revenge– she helped others along the way, even from the first days of her separation from the Jedi Temple.
The focus on others led her to become a valuable member of the nascent Rebellion, and, later, instrumental in the developing relationship of Grogu and Mando. And where that’s concerned, what would any of us have done without her?
Thanks for being our friends, Sophia and Ahsoka.
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