“For our friend, Ray.” Those words appear at the end of the first episode of Ahsoka, the new Disney+ original that is both a spinoff of The Mandalorian and a live-action follow-up to Star Wars Rebels. Its connections to those two series mean Ahsoka is overflowing with familiar faces, including Rosario Dawson’s eponymous former Jedi, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Hera Syndulla, and Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s Sabine Wren. But there are also several new faces featured in Ahsoka, and none more notable than Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll.
Ahsoka marks Skoll’s Star Wars debut and — due to the actor’s untimely death earlier this year — will be the only project in which he’s played by Stevenson. As those who have seen Ahsoka’s first two episodes can now attest: That’s a real shame. In just his first few appearances as the character, Stevenson has already made an indelible mark on the Star Wars universe. His take on Baylan, a morally gray Force user who exists in the liminal space between the Jedi and the Sith, feels both long overdue and refreshing.
As tragic as it is that his turn as Baylan will be limited to Ahsoka, though, the role is already shaping up to serve as a fitting send-off for Stevenson. For years, the actor showcased his ability to combine fury, sadness, hard-knuckled brutality, and honor on-screen, and proved himself uniquely capable of playing anti-heroes like his scene-stealing Ahsoka character.
Ray Stevenson’s Most Memorable Roles
Stevenson’s filmography includes plenty of franchise titles, including Starz’s Black Sails, the Divergent series, Dexter, The Other Guys, and Marvel’s first three Thor films (in which he played Volstagg, a member of the Warriors Three). But when this writer thinks about Stevenson’s career, the first things that come to mind are his nuanced, layered performances in HBO’s Rome and 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. In the former, Stevenson played Titus Pullo, an occasionally hot-headed Roman soldier driven just as much by his loyalty to his friends as his allegiance to his country.
A brash, jovial warrior, Titus is one of Rome’s most striking and memorable figures, one who both endures and inflicts considerable violence but holds onto his own romanticism and optimism. As the character, Stevenson is simultaneously hard-edged and gentle, passionate and clear-eyed, impulsive and thoughtful. It’s his soulful performance that resolves Titus’ various contradictions and renders him a living and breathing, multi-faceted character.
A year after Rome prematurely ended, he pulled off a similar feat in Punisher: War Zone, a cartoonishly violent, purposefully over-the-top comic book movie that’s anchored by Stevenson’s measured turn as Marvel’s darkest anti-hero, Frank Castle.
Even amidst the movie’s many exploding heads, slit throats, and sprays of blood, Stevenson never fails to communicate the sadness of his endlessly violent vigilante. Fifteen years after War Zone’s release, it remains an unfortunate reality that Stevenson never got the chance to fully explore Frank Castle’s turbulent, jagged psyche the same way that Jon Bernthal has. Stevenson, nonetheless, made a lasting mark with his sole turn as The Punisher, which brings a compelling stillness to both the inherent emotional tragedy and bone-breaking cruelty of the character.
Whether he was playing a comic book vigilante, Roman legionnaire, or a legendary pirate, Stevenson managed to imbue his best characters with a humanity that grounded them — no matter how outsized their external lives might be. As memorably over-the-top as his performance in last year’s RRR was, too, it’s satisfying to see Ahsoka give Stevenson one last chance to do what he always did best.
Lending Dignity to the Mysterious Baylan Skoll
Two episodes into Ahsoka’s run, little is known about Baylan Skoll. It’s been confirmed that he’s a former member of the Jedi Order who survived the carnage of Order 66, but his personal motivations for helping Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) locate and save Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) remain unclear. His relationship with his apprentice, Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), as well as his clear sadness over the prospect of killing Ahsoka, add layers of emotional complexity to the character. Stevenson, for his part, brings them to life with the same quiet, formidable dignity that is present in all of his best performances.
All this to say, while Stevenson’s Ahsoka appearances are destined to carry a certain melancholic edge, the chance to learn more about Baylan is already one of the most appealing things about the show. In a series overflowing with fan-favorite, pre-existing characters, he’s immediately carved out a space for himself, and we can’t wait to see where Stevenson takes Baylan from here.