When Ahsoka Tano appeared in The Mandalorian, it was the first time the beloved character appeared in any live-action Star Wars story, so it was understandably a pretty big deal. And given the fact that they were translating the character from animation to live-action, there was bound to be certain differences – one of which received a decent amount of attention in the aftermath of the episode premiering: Ahsoka’s lekku (a.k.a. the ‘head tails’) were shorter than they were in animation.
And as is typical of Star Wars fans, it was turned into a much bigger deal than it needed to be.
Because basically, we should not expect an exact translation from live-action to animation, and vice-versa. That’s the exact point that executive producer and director Dave Filoni, who created Ahsoka and has overseen virtually every aspect of her story so far, said in the upcoming book The Art of The Mandalorian (Season 2), written by Phil Szostak. StarWars.com recently posted an interview with Szostak, as well as a few images from the book (which releases on February 15). One such image was a page about Ahsoka, and Filoni is quoted extensively, saying:
“What if the Ahsoka that we have in animation was actually based on this [live-action] version of Ahsoka? One of the things you would do in animation is an exaggeration, making the montrals bigger. Once they’re in real life, suddenly it becomes a little less believable to the eye, at least for me. And if you ever see footage of Shaak Ti (another Togruta Jedi character seen in the Star Wars prequels) in action, there’s a lot of rubbery movement in the montrals. That works great for that character in the background, as she was, but if you’re talking a featured character, right up front, delivering drama, you have to make it all seem as natural as possible. And I don’t want you staring at the montrals and the lekku.”
It’s not the only mention of translating something from animation to live-action, either, as Filoni mentioned that her outfit in the show was based on a drawing he had made long before but that he didn’t think would work well in animation. So in case the point wasn’t clear, there are differences between what can work well in live-action and what can work well in animation. Szostak made the same point in the StarWars.com interview, saying (in part):
“To honor what came before but at the same time, not feel like you have to match it perfectly, isn’t easy. There’s a huge difference between how something can be portrayed in animation versus live action, even just in color. We needed her to look real while still bringing everything that people love about her.”
Sometimes, it’s really just as simple as that: this works better in live-action – particularly considering the stunts and movement that the character would be doing in this show. And it’s something that Star Wars fans need to accept and be ok with if they want to see more animated characters make the jump to live-action, because while it’s important that they keep the heart and feel for the character, there are some details like this that might translate differently. I think Filoni makes a good point when he envisions it the other way around: what if he was taking this live-action character and translating ti to animation? That’s something he has tons of experience doing, as he did it with a lot of the central characters in The Clone Wars especially, and then increasingly in Rebels as well. And, of course, there were certain differences in animation – part based on what worked, part based on budget, and part based on other factors. And yet it all worked out!
In this case, then, Filoni got the rarer chance to translate a character from animation to live-action, but he knew enough from experience to know that it wasn’t going to be an exact one-to-one translation. And I think the show managed to capture the heart, look, and feel of the character well, which makes shortening the lekku a very minor detail. That’s the way I see it, at least.