‘Ahsoka’ is perfect for fans of the animated Star Wars universe, but it might confuse the less initiated
The newest foray into Star Wars canon is ‘Ahsoka,’ a live-action show based on characters from the Dave Filoni-helmed animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels. And if you enjoyed those shows as much as I did, you have every reason to be excited for this one.
Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, it seems as though it treats fans of the prolific property to a new entry of the a galaxy far, far away every few months. This, of course, isn’t a bad thing; I’m old enough to remember the dark, desolate years between 1983 and 1999 when the mere idea of any new Star Wars that wasn’t a comic book, “extended universe” novel or video game was but a mere dream. The current deluge of Star Wars content has proven overwhelmingly satisfying for many of us, as it’s blessed us with bright notes like The Mandalorian and Andor, even if The Book of Boba Fett let more than a few of us down even despite its magnificent theme song.
But if you’re not already familiar with the adventures of Ahsoka Tano, Sabine Wren, Ezra Bridger, Hera Syndulla and the crew of the Ghost, you might find yourselves at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to catching up on the plot of the latest offering. There’s a lot of content between The Clone Wars and Rebels (roughly 104 hours), the latter of which delved into some of the most trippy fantasy elements in the entirety of the Star Wars canon, like talking force wolves, hyperspace whales, a mythological trinity, and travels to the nexus of all space and time.
But at the heart of it all is a scrappy crew of resistance fighters doing their best to stick thorns in the Empire’s paws during the years leading up to “A New Hope,” including a couple of Jedi, a Mandalorian, a hulking purple alien, a talented pilot and her irascible astromech droid. All in all, Rebels was a fun yarn with more than its fair share of tense and emotional moments.
‘Ahsoka’ picks up exactly where Rebels left off, in the years following Return of the Jedi, during which the New Republic attempts to build back after their victory over the empire. Rosario Dawson reprises her role from The Mandalorian as former Jedi and Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, whose current mission is to track down her Jedi friend Ezra Bridger, last seen summoning the aforementioned space whales to ferry the evil Grand Admiral Thrawn into unknown space at the climax of the Rebels series. To do this, she needs a special map, which she finds fairly easily in the show’s opening scene, and which also gives us some cinematic nods to Akira Kurosawa and Indiana Jones. Find the map, find Thrawn and Ezra. Easy right?
Of course not. First of all, she needs to decipher the map n, which Ahsoka can’t do on her own, forcing her to reconcile with her old ally Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a former Mandalorian bounty hunter and one-time wielder of the famous dark saber who’s now just hanging out on the planet Lothal, a central location from the Rebels series, avoiding her ceremonial duties and tooling around on a speeder bike listening to Japanese space rock. As we now learn, the pair had a falling out at some point, when Ahsoka attempted to train Sabine in the ways of the force, which treats us to some juicy character tension.
Also complicating matters is the fact that Ahsoka isn’t the only one looking for the lost Grand Admiral. Enter the bad guys, chiefly Morgan Elspeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), whom we met in one of the best episodes of The Mandalorian’s second season. Turns out, she’s not just an Imperial magistrate, but a Dathomirian Night Sister with some sinister connections to the Dark Side of the Force.
At her side are two baddies new to the Star Wars universe, another former Jedi named Baylan Skoll and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). Though not quite Sith, the pair sport orange-bladed lightsabers, dark cloaks, and a clear dedication to the dark side, and they quickly prove themselves to be formidable adversaries for Ahsoka and Sabine. Interestingly, there are no actual Jedi or Sith here; two masters and two appearances, each on opposing spectrums of the force without laying allegiance to any particular creed.
The first two episodes of Ahsoka treat us to plenty of well-choreographed lightsaber combat, chase sequences, and a couple of thrilling spaceship battles as the race to locate Thrawn and Bridger kicks into high gear. From teasers, we know it’s only a matter of time before we encounter Lars Mikkelsen’s Grand Admiral, a role he’s reprising from his voice work on Rebels, as well as Eman Esfandi’s Ezra Bridger.
In the meantime, it’s safe to say that Ahsoka is off to a ripping start. The casting here is brilliant, to the point where it’s difficult to imagine any of these roles being played by another actor, which is quite the feat when you’re trying to translate animated characters to live action. Dawson, Bordizzo, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead fill the boots–and hairstyles and head tendrils–of Ahsoka, Sabine, and Hera with aplomb. You have to give it to Filoni: the man takes fan service seriously. Seeing these actors inhabit their respective cartoon characters is a genuine thrill for fans of the animation.
Not that the new characters are any less beguiling. As Skoll, in particular, the late Ray Stephenson embodies his role with a sinister intelligence and bad guy cool that just oozes dark confidence. Stephenson’s tragic recent passing will obviously rob fans of a more extended character arc, though I have a feeling this series might make for a fine swan song, as bittersweet as that is to write. On the more fun and frivolous end we get the 11th Doctor himself, David Tennant, reprising his voicework as the centuries-old droid professor, Huyang, whose expertise lies in lightsaber construction and lore, and he makes an amusingly droll sidekick and comic relief for Ahsoka’s more dour tendencies. He’s delightful as always.
So yes, there’s cool action, compelling characters, great sets and costumes, impressive special effects, starships, lightsabers, space wizards and witches, thousands of callbacks and references to both the movies and animation…pretty much everything that should, in theory, slake the nerd thirst of any Star Wars aficionado. There is one very large caveat with Ahsoka, however. If you haven’t, like this writer, greedily gobbled every episode of Rebels (and also at least a good chunk of The Clone Wars), the bar to entry here might prove dauntingly high.
The uninitiated will almost certainly spend most of their viewing time trying to figure out who these characters are, what the hell they’re up to, and why we should care about them in the first place, a problem we didn’t face with, say, The Mandalorian, which had almost all new characters and required an entire first season of filmmaking to establish character traits, histories and motives. Not so with Ahsoka, unfortunately.
Hence, I wouldn’t blame anyone for throwing up their hands in frustration and pivoting their attention to Antiques Roadshow or Jeopardy! or anything else that doesn’t require hundreds of previous viewing hours to fully enjoy. That said, if you’ve put in the leg work, “Ahsoka” will undoubtedly reward you handsomely for your efforts with a ride that’s both thrilling and gratifying.
I guess you could say this one is the Star Wars franchise’s version of Only Fans. Right?