Directed by: Dave Filoni, Steph Green, Rick Famuwiya, Jennifer Getzinger, Geeta Vasant Patel, Peter Ramsey
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Jeff Sparks
Ever since the premiere of “The Mandalorian” Disney has been churning out series after series of “Star Wars.” After being used in glorified cameos in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett,” Ahsoka Tano now has her own. Although Disney’s “Star Wars” content has often appealed to casual viewers, “Ahsoka” actually requires quite a bit of homework. Not only does the show serve as a follow-up to the fourth and final season of “Star Wars: Rebels” but the character of Ahsoka has seven seasons of backstory from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” which first aired in 2008. Besides bringing a plethora of characters from the animated series into live action, “Ahsoka” also pushes the entire “Star Wars” franchise into unprecedented territory as this series takes place the furthest in the timeline before the sequel trilogy takes place. Kathleen Kennedy’s failed experiment left many unanswered questions, one of which is “How did the First Order rise to power and overthrow the New Republic? “The Mandalorian” has flirted with answers to this question but “Ahsoka” offers a potential answer.
After decades of war, Ahsoka Tano has finally seen an end to the bloodshed that has been the structure of her life, until she learns of a plot to rescue the MIA heir to the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen). The series stars Rosario Dawson. Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ray Stevenson, Ivanna Sakhno, and Diana Lee Inosanto. Writer Dave Filoni picks up where he left off after the finale of his show “Star Wars: Rebels” by directly following up that storyline and bringing many of those characters into live action for the first time. Some of the new versions are done well, others not so much. Bordizzo’s Sabine Wren is a welcome portrayal but Winstead’s Hera Syndulla leaves a little to be desired. If Disney has done one thing right with these series, it’s been their willingness to recast the actors who originally played these characters. “Ahsoka” though doesn’t have as many familiar faces on screen. As much as I like Mary Elizabeth Winstead it’s a shame that Vanessa Marshall couldn’t reprise her role as Hera. Other casting decisions I can understand, like the replacement of Tiya Sircar who doesn’t match Sabine’s visual appearance the way that Bordizzo does.
After her limited screen time in other shows, Rosaria Dawson officially takes the reins of Ahsoka Tano from Ashley Eckstein who has voiced the character in every other appearance by her. Dawson’s version is not only older but quite foreign compared to her animated roots. In the first episode, it’s clear that the bubbly, curious young woman we used to know is a shell of her former self. Eckstein’s Ahsoka was headstrong and happy-go-lucky while Dawson’s is stoic and mindful. Many longtime fans won’t be fond of Dawson’s version but I happen to find her portrayal to be compelling. To me, Ahsoka is the way that she is now due to the recent death of Darth Vader, her former master, she finally has had time to reflect and allow her feelings to settle. After being a teenager in the Clone Wars and an adult in the rebellion she now finds herself without a purpose and wonders what her life would be like if she had done things differently. Those regrets aren’t the only thing that bothers her all these years later, but her time as a child warrior continues to haunt her.
Her trauma and her regrets are elaborated on in the fifth episode in which Anakin Skywalker visits her in a dream while she is knocked out. After a short dialogue, she wakes up as a teenager surrounded by dust. As she begins to look around a lone Clone trooper emerges out of the fog, sprinting past her. Then another. And another. Chaos begins to unfold around her as she realizes she’s reliving one of her first major battles during the Clone Wars. Explosions erupt in the background as her soldiers get shot and collapse all around her. After a short skirmish, she finds herself in a makeshift camp where she tears up as she holds the hand of a wounded trooper. “This isn’t what I trained for,” she tells Anakin. In the ensuing discussion, it’s clear that Ahsoka has struggled to come to terms with the amount of bloodshed she was involved in, especially as a commanding officer. The Jedi were supposed to be peacekeepers but before she even finished her training the Jedi Order required her to fight in a galactic war. This battle would be one of the first times that she questioned the direction that the Jedi order was heading in, which would eventually lead to her departure.
As the shelling begins again Anakin rushes forward with his troops. As fire and smoke surround them Ahsoka sees his silhouette interchange from Anakin to Vader and back to Anakin in one of the most striking shots from the whole series. This shot represents Ahsoka’s long-time questions about what went wrong with her master. Did the carnage of the Clone Wars change him? Had it changed her? She’s given no time to think as they’re transported to the siege of Mandalore, which was the last major battle before the end of the war. Here Filoni’s attention to detail shines in this quick scene where her troops don the orange and blue paint they wore on their helmets to celebrate Ahsoka’s return to the Grand Army of the Republic at the end of season seven of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Temeura Morrison also makes a small appearance as the first live-action representation of Captain Rex. Here is where the episode begins to pull its punches. Instead of delving deeper into Ahsoka’s traumas the next dialogue between her and Anakin focuses on her confused feelings about him as a master and the effect that her relationship with him has had on her since the last time she saw him alive. That is a necessary topic to switch to for the plot of “Ahsoka” the show, but not Ahsoka the character. If the point of this episode was to bring Ahsoka’s traumas to light then it missed a major mark by not delving into her experience with Order 66 that was portrayed in the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” final episode “Victory and Death” that sees Ahsoka forced to kill many of her own men who were ordered to turn on her and the rest of the Jedi. We saw how the deaths of her men affected her earlier in the episode but that was only one aspect of her grief regarding the Clones.
Instead of delving deeper into this final trauma “Ahsoka” turns the focus back onto why she doesn’t want to be a master to an apprentice, which is a subplot that has been shoehorned in. In this series, Sabine Wren has been given the ability to use the force, something that wasn’t present in her character previously. According to some exposition, Ahsoka had apparently been training Sabine but gave up, fearing that she would abuse her powers. This addition to her character isn’t just random but also stretches the limits of believability. Sabine has zero success with the force up until the last episode in a dire moment where she is able to use it at will. This type of convenient writing is present all over the place in “Star Wars” but “Ahsoka” in particular feels over-reliant on it.
The core premise for the show is good, but it’s apparent that this season is just a setup for something larger. The final episode sees Grand Admiral Thrawn make his way to Dathomir with his remaining forces and the Nightsisters in tow. Meanwhile, his now rogue mercenary Baylan Skoll finds statues of ancient Mortis Gods in his search for a way to end all wars. With the unfortunate passing of Ray Stevenson, it remains unclear how and if Disney will continue Skoll’s storyline in the future. On the other hand, it’s still unclear how the entirety of the storylines presented in “Ahsoka” will move forward. Will there be another season of this show or will these stories continue in another upcoming series or even movie? Whatever Disney chooses to do it will be an exciting part of the “Star Wars” franchise as they have the opportunity to set up a whole new era in the franchise since the time between “Ahsoka” and “The Force Awakens” is currently blank.
“Ahsoka’s” greatest strength is simultaneously it’s biggest weakness when it comes to the reception of the mass audience. Unlike most other “Star Wars” releases this one isn’t for everyone. Most of the characters and storylines in this carry over from the main two animated series. If you haven’t sat through the seven seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or four seasons of “Star Wars: Rebels” then you may be feeling lost for much of “Ahsoka.” Casual fans may not care about this series but as someone who has done their homework, I found the viewing experience to be rather rewarding. Whether it be the occasional location from “Star Wars: Rebels” being seen in live action for the first time or the rich dive into Ahsoka’s past, Dave Filoni and company reward the longtime viewers with a detailed and continuous story.