Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the best thing to come out of the Prequel era. It rescues this part of Star Wars from the dustbin of history and makes cool what was initially, shall we say, rather lacking. And there’s perhaps no better personification of this that Jedi Master Plo Koon of the Kel Dor.
The mystery man of the Kel Dor
Plo Koon may be the most well-developed of all the Jedi who populate the secondary character list of Star Wars: the Clone Wars, although you’d never guess it from what you see in the three Prequel movies.
General Plo Koon appears briefly in all three Star Wars Prequel episodes, usually sitting silently as Obi Wan Kenobi or other members on the Jedi Council talk. We do see him briefly in action in Attack of the Clones at the First Battle of Geonosis, and of course we witness his death over Cato Neimoidia during Order 66 at the end of Revenge of the Sith. But after three movies we know basically nothing about him – he’s just another alien face populating the backdrop for Anakin Skywalker to complete his fall to the Dark Side and become a Sith lord.
A New Hope for Strong Secondary Characters
And then, along came Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The first major plotline in the TV show surrounds the mysterious new Separatist weapon the Malevolence, a huge space cruiser with a devastating ion mega-cannon. We get our first good look at Plo Koon after the Malevolence tears through the Republic cruiser in which he and clone Commander Wolffe are stationed. Forced to abandon ship in an escape pod, Plo Koon and a clutch of clone troopers fight against droid destruction teams.
It’s not an auspicious start for this character. But right away he makes an impression. He looks cool. He’s got a great voice. And he takes charge of the situation with a quiet charisma quite unlike anything we’ve seen up to now from the wise-cracking Kenobi-Skywalker school of leadership.
Respect is the way to build a team
We get a sense of Plo Koon’s strength of character. He’s serene under pressure, he’s icy under fire, and he treats the clones with respect. As death in the escape pod grows more certain, the clones start to give up hope, with Sergeant Sinker stating: “We’re just clones, sir. We’re meant to be expendable.“
To which Koon replies simply: “Not to me.“
Plo Koon and his small group of clones are eventually discovered and rescued by Anakin Skywalker and his new padawan Ahsoka Tano, setting up the second part of the Malevolence story: the counter-attack.
Designing Jedi beyond Obi Wan Kenobi
It’s actually pretty cool how the creators and writers of Clone Wars took what little information they had from the Prequel movies and used these snippets as guideposts for building their extended cast. Plo Koon’s most dramatic moment in the movies is his death over Cato Neimoidia, unique in the Order 66 sequence in that he’s flying a starfighter and not wielding a lightsaber.
It was an easy step, then, to decide that Plo Koon must be a skilled pilot, and so we see him saddle up in a starfighter to escort Anakin and Ahsoka as they lead their squadron of Y-Wing bombers in a strike against Malevolence.
Bringing the Jedi Order to life
The strength of the writing in Star Wars: the Clone Wars is on display during this episode, Shadow of Malevolence, providing an impressive amount of character development while the action proceeds at a crisp pace. Anakin and Ahsoka are the lead characters, of course, but Plo Koon is there to support both of them.
We learn that it was Plo Koon who found Ahsoka and recognized her Force potential. He brought her to the Jedi Temple as a young child and we get a sense of the special bond between them. Koon also serves as the wise counterpoint to Anakin’s rash decision to take a shortcut through a nebula, highlighting the younger Jedi’s need for further growth as a leader.
Plo Koon: a different kind of Jedi master
But what makes this exchange far more interesting is the fact that Plo Koon doesn’t just dismiss Anakin as a young fool or berate him for taking risks. Instead, Koon quietly recognizes Anakin’s tactical genius and his battlefield courage.
Whereas most other members of the Jedi Council, notably Mace Windu, seem to resent Anakin throughout the Prequel movies and even through the Clone Wars 7-season run, Plo Koon is one of the first to offer the young Jedi the respect he deserves.
Resisting the Jedi Order’s slide into irrelevance
Watching The Clone Wars, it’s pretty obvious by the end that the Jedi order is an arrogant organization mostly detached from the galactic community it serves, but Plo Koon stands out as a shining exception. In his quiet way he supports those who need it and offers respect to those who deserve it. This is perhaps his finest quality, and is pivotal for the development of one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars.
Ahsoka Tano’s Counterbalance: Anakin Skywalker and Plo Koon
Ahsoka Tano is the single best thing to come out of The Clone Wars, even though I’ll admit she’s up against some pretty stiff competition. But Ahsoka’s character doesn’t develop in a vacuum and her two biggest influences help her to grow into something more than either of them.
Anakin and Ahsoka: twin tempests
The relationship between Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker is perhaps the central character arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Anakin’s influence on Ahsoka is clear. Even at their first meeting the sparks are flying between two strong personalities, but as time passes and war hardens them both, they develop a mutual respect and admiration that, had Anakin not already been breaking his Jedi vows with Padme, could have led to something more.
Children grow up fast in battle
We often forget just how young Anakin is during the Clone Wars. Barely an adult himself, he’s made a general in the Republic army and told to command troopers on this planet or that, while getting shot at constantly. He realizes quickly that many a member of his beloved 501st will never return home, and that every droid they face might get in a lucky shot. This makes him reckless, and dangerous, and it’s a rare battle when anyone around him is left standing. For all his talents and Force ability, Anakin is a very new Jedi knight, prone to emotion and lacking experience.
And yet, the Jedi Council sends him a 14-year-old girl to train as his padawan. Anakin and Ahsoka are both desperate to prove themselves, taking chance after crazy chance and often dragging their clone troopers along to get killed. Like-minded to a fault, this pair of kids treat a lightsaber as a primary negotiating tool and a squadron of starfighters as a means to impress their commander.
But it’s all good drama, I know…
I’m not criticizing the creators of The Clone Wars here – Anakin and Ahsoka are great fun and over 7 seasons they both grow as characters. My point is that while Anakin has a very strong influence on Ahsoka’s development, he’s thankfully not the only one. If he had been – if, let’s say, Anakin and Ahsoka had been based permanently on a planet like Felucia, mired on the front line of the war – then Ahsoka might have turned out very differently. But the Clone War took our young Jedi duo all across the Republic, from Geonosis to the Jedi temple itself, even separating them sometimes as Ahsoka worked alongside Jedi such as Obi Wan Kenobi, Luminara Unduli, Kit Fisto and, of course, Jedi Master Plo Koon.
Plo Koon: the grown-up in the room
We see Ahsoka Tano and Plo Koon fighting alongside each other a few times, such as both battles of Felucia, but just as often we see him in the background as she leads the action. Given their history together, it’s no wonder that Plo Koon takes an active interest in Ahsoka’s Jedi career.
It would have been a logical choice for Ahsoka to be Plo Koon’s padawan, but given the Jedi aversion to personal connections, the Council could have decided that Ahsoka and Plo Koon were too close emotionally. Plo Koon himself may have rejected the suggestion to steer clear of any Dark Side temptations of attachment.
Even so, Plo Koon’s fondness for Ahsoka is obvious, as is hers for him. But whereas Anakin is like her big brother or cool cousin, Plo Koon is more like her uncle, or even her father.
(As an aside, I’ve often suspected that if Anakin hadn’t been married to Padme and had ever taken liberties with Ahsoka, Plo Koon would have been the one brandishing the Star Wars equivalent of a shotgun…)
Did Plo Koon save Ahsoka Tano from the Dark Side?
Due to the nature of the drama as structured in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we see a lot more of Anakin’s influence on Ahsoka, but as she matures it’s pretty clear how much Plo Koon sets the example for her. She treats everyone she meets with respect, and she develops a serenity quite absent in her Jedi master.
Not to take anything away from Ahsoka herself, or her own inherent strengths, but we’re all shaped by our environment. And consider Ahsoka’s environment: she spends her formative years in near-constant battle where many of her team members are killed; she loses her original family and makes few friends in the Jedi community; she comes to question the righteousness of the Republic and the alleged evil of the Separatist enemy; she’s brought before a sham court and abandoned by every member of the Jedi council for a crime she didn’t commit.
Given the events of her young life, and the chaotic guidance she receives from Master Skywalker, it’s frankly a wonder Ahsoka didn’t turn to the Dark Side.
(What an episode of Star Wars: Rebels that would have been, had the Inquisitor hunting Kanan Jarrus revealed Togruta features and wielded dual lightsabers!)
Plo Koon’s moderating influence
But Ahsoka never turned, or was even tempted. Where did she learn that strength of character, that calm resilience against all odds? Again, not to diminish her own strength, but I think it’s here where we see Plo Koon’s greatest influence on Ahsoka. In their many interactions on screen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Plo Koon builds her self-confidence through quiet encouragement, even breaking the rules on occasion to support her when he knows she’s right and her master’s wrong, such as whether or not she should join the Citadel mission.
Betrayal or Salvation?
The most controversial action by Plo Koon is his lack of support for Ahsoka during her trial before the Republic for the bombing of the Jedi Temple. He watches silently as she’s led before the court, never even trying to convince any member of the Council to stand up to this travesty of justice. It’s true, once Bariss Offee is discovered to be the real bomber and Ahsoka is acquitted, Plo Koon is the first member of the Council to admit his mistake and the only one to apologize to her. But is that enough? It’s been argued that Plo Koon’s betrayal is what finally convinces Ahsoka to abandon the Jedi Order.
But perhaps there’s something else to his silence. Plo Koon is a Jedi master, deeply in tune with the Force, and perhaps he senses the growing power of the Dark Side. He knows Ahsoka well, and perhaps knows that her path in the Force lies outside the Jedi Order. It’s notable that he makes no move to stop her from leaving. Perhaps Koon understands, if only at the deepest level, that the best way he can support her is to let her find her own way forward.
Beyond the Jedi
The older Ahsoka we see in The Mandalorian is very much the mature, wise and serene warrior we recognize in Plo Koon. Yes, the smoldering fury of a Skywalker burns hot just below the surface, and that makes her awesomely cool, but she bears more resemblance to her mentor from Kel Dor than her master from Tatooine. She has become something greater than a Jedi, and something unique in the Star Wars universe.
The Depth of Support in Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Plo Koon continues to fight the Separatist threat with long-time clone companion Commander Wolffe and the 104th “Wolfpack” Battalion. He undertakes many missions using both lightsaber and starfighter, and remains a strong supporting presence in the Star Wars story right up until the end, when the long-burning fuse of the Sith plan finally ignites and this great Republic general is killed by his own troopers in Order 66.
Casual watchers of Star Wars might not think much of this quiet Jedi from Kel Dor, preferring instead to watch epic lightsaber battles between Jedi and Sith. But Plo Koon may represent the very best of what the Jedi can be. There’s no doubt that he’s a brilliant warrior and able general, but his serenity, kindness, wisdom and respect for others are what truly make him shine.