Limited Series [Episodes 1 + 2]
Aired On: Disney+
Release Date: 08/23/23
Action. Adventure. Drama.
"After the fall of the Galactic Empire, former Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano investigates an emerging threat to a vulnerable galaxy."
Disney+ has rolled out its newest live-action Star Wars series with Ahsoka. Dave Filoni, who takes the directing helm here, created the character of Ahsoka Tano who debuted in the animated Clone Wars series about 15 years ago. Rosario Dawson reprises the role of former Jedi Ahsoka Tano here after appearing in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Having seen the first two episodes of this series and considering Filoni’s direct influence, I feel that Disney+ may finally be vectoring itself back toward the light side of the Force. Especially after the dismal outing from the last season of The Mandalorian, and the less-than-enthusiastic responses to series The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Ahsoka (Dawson), a former Jedi Padawan and apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, is in pursuit of finding the exiled Imperial Admiral Thrawn, thrown into deep space after the fall of the Empire. Ahsoka is assisted in her journey by New Republic General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a lightsaber-crafting droid Huyang (voiced by David Tennant), and her former padawan Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Also, in pursuit of finding Admiral Thrawn is his ally, the villainous Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). Morgan employs former Jedi turned mercenary Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson) and his tenacious apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). The duo is a menacing pair of hammers, and I am excited to see how they play off each other in the coming episodes.
Growing up considering the original Star Wars trilogy, and later the prequel trilogy, to be the apex of Star Wars lore, I have yet to fully dive into the animated series that came out later. I was worried going into Ahsoka that I would have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll address the elephant in the room right away. The casual audience member does not need to see The Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels to appreciate this show. Ahsoka is, so far, simple, and easy to follow. Exposition is appropriately written in to explain the characters, their motivations, and their circumstances. Undoubtedly, the more die-hard Star Wars devotees who have seen all the animated series will have a richer experience. But Ahsoka plays it safe enough and is so non-committal; I feel the show met me where I was at with the lore and showed me what I needed to see in the context of this pocket universe.
The first two episodes do what they should: introduce the characters, set the scene, and ignite the plot. From its first scene, I worried Ahsoka would be a fetch-quest type of show, retreading what we’ve seen in The Mandalorian. While the main plot point is just that, looking for Admiral Thrawn, these first two episodes spend more time building a world and reconnecting people. I’m happy to report Ahsoka doesn’t spin its wheels too often. The two episodes, “Master and Apprentice” and “Toil and Trouble,” balance set pieces, action, and character development very equitably. Some sequences have pacing that starts slow but pay off well. Quite a few scenes show characters having to figure out a problem slowly, frustratingly, and methodically. Characters with obvious history show vulnerability when trading dialogue. These tender touches were missing from previous live-action Star Wars shows and it shows growth in the writing here. In only two episodes, the relationship between Ahsoka and Sabine says so much with arguably very little dialogue. With all this breathing room, I can sense the tense master/padawan past between these two. I am rooting for them.
This show looks gorgeous. The cinematography, the lighting, the blocking, the sets, all of it is a feast for the eyes. The sound design is absorbing, enriching the landscapes. Kevin Kiner’s score embodies the Star Wars signature triumphant marches and the mysterious tension-swelling string sections. Ahsoka looks and feels like Star Wars, not a Star Wars spin-off, or well-funded fan fiction. But like… Star Wars. The action scenes would feel right at home on the big screen. Like the previous Star Wars shows, Ahsoka dabbles in weighty themes too. The Mandalorian tapped into nature vs. nurture; Boba Fett explored revenge and isolation; Obi-Wan Kenobi was a study on depression and guilt. Ahsoka follows suit but with a more cathartic result, as the first two episodes give off vibes of ethical morality and reconciliation. Yes, there is lore and backstory, and other nuances to these characters. None of that is required to enjoy where Ahsoka begins. Ahsoka focuses on forward momentum to tell its story, not relying on the backstory to push it, which is why Ahsoka will be accessible to any audience.
Ahsoka isn’t flawless either, but my gripes are minimal. The main villain, Morgan, isn’t as interesting as Baylan and his apprentice. Except for one scene, she is a walking trope, a brooding piece of wardrobe barking orders; that is boring. The show’s tone is often feels too serious. The droid Huyang offers levity and some funny lines without becoming the typical comic relief character. But the atmosphere (no pun intended) usually feels cold. And lastly, I hope Ahsoka, the character, loosens up. Dawson plays the hero a little stoically with a stiffness that challenges our ability to connect with her. The show is called Ahsoka, but I was siding with her former padawan Sabine the entire time they shared a scene.
I’ll throttle back on that last critique because there are six episodes to go for Ahsoka. The younger and more animated (pun fully intended here) Ahsoka from Clone Wars and Rebels is a distant star now, a far cry from the weathered and weary Ahsoka here. I am confident her creator, writer/director Dave Filoni, has charted her for the next great chapter in her canon. Being something of a generational franchise, Star Wars has had the casual fan base (myself) and then the younger fanbase who came of age when Ahsoka Tano arrived on the scene. Both groups had their moments but Ahsoka is going to connect with both camps. Walking in mostly blind on the lore from the animated series, I can basically understand Ahsoka where more devoted fans could appreciate. But all indicators suggest that I will soon welcome the hype for this character, and the other characters here finally making their transition to live-action. Gimmicks that other shows pull, like big twists and cliffhangers, are unnecessary. The creators did their job well here. After the second Ahsoka episode ended, I was ready to watch the next one, not for lightsabers or spaceships. But because this show exudes adventure and fun, the essential spirit of Star Wars, with its story and the characters that fill it.