Celebrating Shaak Ti, The Forgotten First Female Jedi Of 'Star Wars' Animation

In a galaxy far, far away, a Togruta Jedi fought for the greater good. She appeared in a Star Wars television series called Clone Wars. She won my heart. She was badass. She was emotional. She was competent. She experienced failure, but plowed through her insecurities. She was the first onscreen forefront female Jedi of the Star Wars galaxy.Star Wars fans know whom I'm talking about. No, not that Togruta Jedi – not the breakout character Ahsoka Tano. I'm talking about Jedi Master Shaak Ti.Before the popular 2008 CGI-animated The Clone Wars series led by Dave Filoni, there was the 2003 hand-drawn micro-series Star Wars: Clone Wars created by Genndy Tartakovsky. Although it drifted into the proto-canon archives, Star Wars: Clone Wars remains integral to the history of Star Wars animation. Aside from the sweeping and kinetic animation, as expected with that Tartakovsky Touch, Clone Wars holds an overlooked vital component of Star Wars history: Shaak Ti is the first onscreen female Jedi of prominence.Sure, Shaak Ti wasn't leading the story of Clone Wars like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. But she led a fraction of the B-story in season three as she set off to rescue Chancellor Palpatine. I didn't remember why Shaak Ti stood out to the 12-year-old me, who was just diving into Star Wars around 2006, well before Disney's acquisition. But I found myself rewinding her combat scenes. While I couldn't explain it, it was surreal for a little girl like me to hear the voice of a female Jedi.As an adult, it hit me why Shaak Ti stood out to me. She was the first forefront onscreen female lightsaber-wielder. She came before Ahsoka Tano, before Rey of the Sequel Trilogy. While Clone Wars was male-led, Shaak Ti did not wander the background like the other female Jedi in the movies; she stood at the forefront fighting battles. Before the old Expanded Universe material was declared Legends, I was aware of Mara Jade, aware of Jaina Solo, and aware that Princess Leia of the Legends era had the Jedi mantle. But witnessing a female Jedi materialize glued my eyes to the screen.I remembered how Shaak Ti wore her turmoil in the open as a Jedi Master. Her demeanor isn't always collected, but she always had control. There was something bold about her showing fright. Despite her outright terror at General Grievous, she wielded her saber with skill. She leaped with vigor to do her duty. She showed cunning when she used the Force to tie General Grievous's cape to a train to send him away (yep, that happened). While Shaak Ti doesn't have much character development, Grey DeLisle's voice performance and rare moments of smiling at her comrades suggest an internal world in her head and a habit of living in the moment when she isn't frazzled by war.Every Star Wars fan has favorites they attach to for whatever personal reason, whether it's Rey, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, or some other background Jedi with a Wookiepedia entry. For a time, the hand-drawn Shaak Ti was mine. I watched the Revenge of the Sith deleted scenes for her, gasped when General Grievous impaled her in a deleted scene and even tried searching for another deleted scene where Darth Vader stabbed her. I wanted more of her. I consumed fan fiction and fan art of Shaak Ti. I even consumed fan fiction that shipped her and General Grevious.Then the CGI Clone Wars dominated the Star Wars television universe. The hand-drawn Shaak Ti all but faded from my consciousness—until now. Her CGI portrayal in Filoni's canon had larger speaking roles, but I didn't find her as memorable as her hand-drawn prototype. Both Ahsoka Tano of The Clone Wars and Rey of the Sequel Trilogy films would accumulate mass followers as the stepping-stones of foregrounded female lightsaber-wielders who would inspire many young girls and women. But although Shaak Ti doesn't have a grand following like Ahsoka or Rey and I wished we honored her hand-drawn animated identity more as a milestone.In the micro-series, Palpatine tells Shaak Ti, "[Your] selfless sacrifice will be long remembered in the archives of the Jedi Order," before she confronts an entire droid army alone. She doesn't know it's a mock-compliment from a clandestine Sith Lord conspiring to wipe out her and the Jedi. Even the hidden Sith Lord seems impressed that Shaak Ti made it this far in staring down the droid forces. In her final scene in the old Clone Wars, the Jedi Master is tied up and muttering, "I failed." Though her fate ended in a failure, that's not what I remember. She may be history, but Master Shaak Ti is still my legend.