I remember watching The Phantom Menace and the Jedi Master Depa Billaba popping off the screen right away, specifically the jewelry on her forehead and the bridge of her nose that would come to be known as the Mark of Illumination. But, like most female characters in the Prequel Trilogy, she had no lines of dialogue and we would come to learn everything about her from canon filler content. And as canon started to fill in the blanks outside of the films in novels and comics, Depa’s identity began to take shape. She is the former Padawan of Mace Windu and the former Master of Kanan Jarrus. However, Depa’s identity was not informed by stories centered around her, but by other male characters.
Star Wars has made some strides in Asian representation. In Rogue One, you had three Asian actors in the main cast. For women, it is still a mixed bag. Even Ming Na Wen’s Fennec Shand, who shined in the second season of The Mandalorian, took a step back (along with Boba Fett to be fair) in The Book of Boba Fett.
But Southeast and South Asian female representation is a rarity. We will see Indira Varma in Obi-Wan Kenobi as an Imperial officer. But before any of this, there was Depa Billaba.
Despite the slight differences from the comics, Depa was still killed during Order 66 on a planet that is probably still Kaller. Therefore, the only way to continue her story is to go back. This is nothing new for Star Wars and, given her relationship with two of the most popular Jedi, not out of the realm of possibilities. With a new animated series named after the old EU comic series Tales of the Jedi potentially coming, there is an opportunity to get more Depa Billaba during two points in her life.
Her Time as Mace Windu’s Padawan
And most of her character is Kanan Jarrus speaking about her in Rebels. Surely, Lucasfilm can do better than that? And they can start from the beginning. Like many Force-sensitives, Depa had a tragic beginning that involved her parents being killed by Space pirates (not everyone is as merciful as Hondo Onaka). Depa and her sister, Sar Labooda (who gets even LESS development), were rescued by Mace Windu and brought to the Jedi Order.
From that point to her time as a Jedi Master on the Jedi Council, there is a gap ripe for more storytelling. Star Wars fans (and Samuel L. Jackson himself) are pushing for a Mace Windu return and this could be a way to bring him back without having him miraculously survive being thrown out a window, continuing using that de-aging technology Disney loves, and tell Depa’s story.
There is so much backstory left unexplored for Billaba, specifically in her early years in the Jedi Order and her relationship with her sister. Sibling relationships, dichotomies, and bonds have always been a strong part of Star Wars and so has found family. By focusing on this time, you could also develop Sar Labooda who became a Jedi Knight before her death on Geonosis. Star Wars fans could have Mace Windu back, and we could get a new story about Jedi sisters. Having rescued both sisters, Windu must have had an emotional investment in their growth within the Jedi Order, much like Obi-Wan did with Anakin. It would be great to explore that more and see that side of Mace Windu, who is notoriously stone-faced and unyielding.
Mace Windu and Depa Billaba did not have a single conversation during The Prequel Trilogy. Billaba was not even featured in The Clone Wars until the last arc of season seven, episode “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” which was more of an easter egg for Rebels/Kanan Jarrus fans.
Her Recovery from General Grevious and Ultimately Choosing Kanan as a Padawan
Depa Billaba should have had more of a presence in Star Wars Rebels besides an occasional mention. She directly influenced Kanan’s philosophy and approach to the Force, which he tries to pass down to his Padawan, Ezra. In Kanan: The Last Padawan, 12-issue Marvel comic series, Kanan’s present-day experience on a mission to Kaller triggers memories of losing his Master in Order 66 and his time as her Padawan. But there is also a story nestled between Kanan’s (then Caleb Dune) journey to becoming her Padawan. Depa is recovering from a showdown with General Grievous where her Battalion was wiped out. Caleb Dune, a Masterless Padawan, sees Depa recovering in a bacta tank and instantly feels a connection with the Jedi Master.
“I am not yet fully healed, Caleb Dune. Or rather, I am healed, but not whole. I could easily become a liability out there.”Kanan: The Last Padawan #8 (2015)
After Billaba makes a full physical recovery, she still suffers heavy emotional trauma. This concerns the Jedi Council, including her former Master Windu. Through her growing connection to Caleb and confining some of her fears to him, she starts to make progress. Eventually, Billapa chooses Caleb as her Padawan and begins to forge the connection that will stay with Caleb through the Clone Wars and into his new identity of Kanan Jarrus post-Order 66.
Depa’s understanding of her strengths and earnestness of her weaknesses is very different from her former Master and most of the Jedi Council. And that earnestness was passed on to her Padawan, Caleb.
When Caleb becomes Kanan and tries to establish a connection with his Padawan, Ezra, he often mentions his former Master’s wisdom and strength. While Kanan’s story has also ended, Ezra’s whereabouts remain a mystery after Rebels, but he is rumored to appear in the upcoming Ahsoka series.
And this comes down to legacy. Depa Billaba has been ignored twice in content that she should have had a larger presence in with The Clone Wars and Rebels. And nothing substantial between Kanan: The Last Padawan in 2015 and The Clone Wars season seven.
So, Lucasfilm can expand on her relationship with Mace Windu, which would inform both of their characters, or go back to Caleb/Kanan’s Padawan days (which might be more tempting to have a live-action Kanan if Ezra is in Ahsoka). And, even though we had more time with Depa and Kanan in his Marvel comic run, it is still very little compared to Kanan’s presence in Star Wars. And Depa’s legacy is worth more effort from Lucasfilm.