Opinion: ‘Ahsoka’ Villain Baylan Skoll Worked Because He Too Is Tired Of The Struggle In The Star Wars Franchise
Few things in the Disney era of Star Wars have landed quite as well as Baylan Skoll, the former Jedi Knight turned mercenary, performed by the late British actor Ray Stevenson.
From the moment Skoll and his apprentice, Shin Hati, arrived on a New Republic cruiser at the start of Ahsoka’s debut episode on Disney Plus, he became something of a show-stealer in the series.
For a series boasting the live-action debut of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the full-fledged return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, the near-universal hype around Baylan Skoll is worth reflecting on.
Why did this mercenary, wandering in the middle between darkness and light in the galaxy, speak to so many Star Wars fans? I think it’s because his exhaustion with the proverbial bull crap of the Empire mirrors our own as fans.
Baylan Skoll is a seeker despite being estranged from the Jedi Order and not aligned with the Sith. He is in search of something deeper than the perpetual holy war between the galaxy’s Force-wielding factions – Jedi vs. Sith, Republic vs. Empire, First Order vs. Resistance.
Skoll has come to understand that this is a cycle that will never end. He is tired and wants to understand why this is happening and if the merry-go-round can be stopped.
“When I was a bit older than you are now, I watched everything (the Jedi Temple) I knew burn,” Baylan Skoll says to his apprentice. “I couldn’t make sense of it at the time. As you get older, look at history, you realize it’s all inevitable.”
He went on, adding, “The fall of the Jedi, the rise of the Empire. It repeats again and again and again.” This man is so tired. In Baylan’s voice, you can feel the frustrated ennui, which is a credit to Stevenson’s performance throughout Ahsoka.
It’s hard not to see Baylan Skoll as a neutral character, the elusive ‘Grey Jedi’ ideal that has long been tossed around within Star Wars fandom. Jolee Bindo, Vergere, Cade Skywalker, and even Revan come to mind in this category.
Baylan’s soft-spokenness, cool demeanor, and disciplined way of doling out violence make him something more than your average Star Wars villain. He kills a ship full of New Republic soldiers, but there’s no indication he enjoys this kind of thing.
It’s a logical conclusion to draw when behind the scenes Stevenson didn’t view Baylan Skoll as a villain at all.
Showrunner Dave Filoni remarked about Stevenson, “I used to have mini debates with him and say, ‘Ray, you’re the villain here.’ And he’d be like, ‘I don’t think so.’ I was like, ‘I know you don’t think so, but you are. I love that you’re playing it like you’re not.’ Which is exactly the way Baylan thinks.”
On a long drive home after Thanksgiving, I asked my family in the car if they viewed Baylan Skoll as a ‘villain.’ The response was interesting. My young daughter didn’t, and neither did my wife.
Both seemed quite certain that to be a ‘villain’ the character has to have some kind of ‘evil plan.’ That requires you to answer what is the definition of ‘evil.’ I argued that Baylan is a villain simply because he is in direct opposition to the protagonists (Ahsoka, Hera, Sabine).
The heroes of the Ahsoka series, except for Sabine, are trying to keep Thrawn in exile so he can’t menace the New Republic. That is a good goal.
Baylan Skoll is content setting chaos and war loose on the galaxy, for no other reason than his desire to reach Peredia and search for the origins of the Force, or the Gods of Mortis. He’s politically neutral but immoral in his lack of care for life and death.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ explanation of Good and Evil in chapter one of Mere Christianity, we know what is Bad/Evil because we’re born with a sense of what is Good, and choose to defile it for whatever reason we can conjure up.
That basic rejection of responsibility by Baylan for right and wrong in the galaxy, plus his narrative role as an obstacle for Ahsoka to overcome, makes Baylan an obvious but particularly fascinating villain.
Even the most critical of voices when it comes to Disney Star Wars seem to concede that Baylan Skoll and his apprentice Shin Hati are original and thought-provoking. The common refrain is that they’re surrounded by monotony and cartoonish writing.
I don’t feel that way about the Ahsoka series, but it’s always great to see Star Wars fandom come to a general point of agreement on something – albeit one isolated aspect of a larger and stagnating continuum.
We live in jaded times. People are lonely, low on trust, afraid of the future, estranged from the past, and disgusted with the present. Characters like Baylan Skoll come out of nowhere and capture that energy in just the right way.
He is weary of Star Wars and wants to know what this was all about in the first place (us too, Baylan, us too).