The first two episodes of the new Ahsoka series have come and gone, and I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. I know, I know, it’s just getting started. Gotta give it some time. The benefit of the doubt and all of that. But after doing that with The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the disappointing third season of The Mandalorian, I feel less inclined to heed Jimmy from Rebel Force Radio’s advice to #justenjoystarwars.
But let’s not rehash the failures of those two highly anticipated shows. I was genuinely excited for Ahsoka. I wasn’t one of those early adopters with this character or The Clone Wars. I remember seeing the movie in the theater and because that didn’t do much for me, I never really got into the series. Until later. And even when I did, it still never was something I just loved like so many other devoted Star Wars fans. But one thing that stuck out for me in that show was the character of Ahsoka.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like about The Clone Wars, but I do think that show did a great job of giving Ahsoka an enjoyable character arc. It was fun to watch her grow and mature. When she popped up in Rebels, her character had firmly moved away from the precocious, witty teen we’d grown to love in The Clone Wars. More character growth that I appreciated seeing.
So, yeah, when I heard there would be a show dedicated to the character, I was in. And as a huge Rebels fan, once I started to hear murmurs that this show would have strong ties to that show and that Dave Filoni was highly involved, I was sure we had a winner on our hands.
Now, two episodes into an eight episode season, I am feeling…less sure. But let’s start with what works.
Ahsoka Looks Great
The production values for Ahsoka are undeniably strong. The settings, costumes, props, CGI all look great. This feels like a complete, cohesive, lived in Star Wars world, which was not always the case for The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. There were problems with the design aesthetic and tone of both of those shows. Book of made some very questionable choices from a Star Wars design perspective and Obi-Wan felt downright cheap at times. Almost like a fan film. Ahsoka manages to avoid those pitfalls, fortunately. If anything, I think Filoni understands the visual language of Star Wars, even if he sometimes plays fast and loose with the rules and established mythology of the fictional galaxy.
The action, for the most part, is satisfying. Saber battles were interesting without coming off too flashy (looking at you, prequels). I like the way Rosario Dawson carries herself, her stances, her confidence with her two lightsabers. She comes off as a competent force user without the show needing to tell us she is (something the show fails at with another character, but we will come back to this). Dawson’s Ahsoka isn’t Ashley Eckstein’s Ahsoka, but that’s ok; The character has grown and changed since Eckstein’s portrayal of the character in the animated shows, and it makes sense that Dawson would play her differently.
I remember when the first character reveals for Rebels hit the internets, I thought I’d be skipping the show primarily because of the Sabine Wren character. A graffiti artist female Mandalorian just seemed too hokey and kiddie for me to get past. For whatever reason, though, I gave the show a shot, and even though Sabine was a stumbling block for me, I eventually got over it, and the show won me over. And I actually grew to like Sabine—even the graffiti stuff didn’t bother me. It’s weird when you adapt things from one medium to another, sometimes no matter how much effort is put into it, it just doesn’t work. I think adapting from animation to live action is particularly tricky and seldom actually works. Natash Liu Bordizzo’s Sabine Wren is an example that works very well for me. Like Dawson’s Ahsoka, Bordizzo’s Sabine is not the same as the Sabine we know from Rebels, but somehow her portrayal really works for me. Maybe it’s down to the actress’s performance. Bordizzo does have a commanding presence and plenty of subtle charm. Whatever it is, I accepted her as Sabine Wren right away. In many ways, I feel like this actress and character are overshadowing Ahsoka. I guess we will have to wait and see whether that is to the detriment of the show as a whole or if it ends up as a net positive.
Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll may be the most interesting thing about this show (apart from a problem I will discuss later), and that is a bitter pill considering the actor sadly passed away way too early this past May. I think Stevenson was a versatile actor, and this role is an interesting one to see him step into. He brings gravitas to the show, to this brand of jedi (whatever that is remains to be seen), and makes a very interesting and compelling villain—less straightforward than other saber wielding villains in Star Wars. I don’t know whether the character survives this season of the show, but it will be very difficult to replace Stevenson if he does.
Now, onto the bad.
What is Ahsoka about and why should we care?
Let’s start from the beginning. If I’m a casual fan, I’d be wondering two things right from the get go: What is this show about and why should I care? Most people have not seen The Clone Wars or Rebels. Many avid Star Wars fans don’t bother with the animated shows at all, for whatever reason. These shows need to stand on their own, and from the very first episode of Ahsoka I found myself wondering if a casual fan would be intrigued by the story or simply confused. I gave my wife an overview of Rebels that she said helped clear things up, but without that, she said she would have been pretty lost. The first episode opens with a crawl of sorts, but I think it is woefully inadequate when it comes to catching the casuals up with these characters and the events that have led up to the point we find them in in this series.
When gone am I, the last of the jedi will you be (except for Ahsoka, Ezra, Grogu, Reva, Baylan Skoll, Marrok, Sabine…)
This is not helped by the fact that a lot has happened off screen and isn’t even clear to hardcore fans who have followed all of the animated shows. Sabine was a padawan of Ahsoka’s? When did Sabine become a force user? Why didn’t Ahsoka or, hell, Kanan recognize that she was force sensitive ages ago? Sabine was a member of the Ghost crew long before Ezra came on the scene. Apart from that, I just don’t think this is the way to go with this character. Sabine is already a Mandalorian. She’s badass enough without needing to add her as another force sensitive in a galaxy already too populated by force sensitives. And without getting too nerdy, this just opens up plot holes in a franchise already teeming with unnecessary plot holes.
The show tries to downplay her abilities with the force—I guess as a hedge against just the sort of criticism I raised above—but it doesn’t make this plot point any more palatable. For one thing, jedi are interesting when there aren’t many of them. Modern Disney Star Wars has retconned the post prequel era such that new, undiscovered jedi pop up all the time, rendering Yoda’s line to Luke in Return of the Jedi “When gone am I, the last of the jedi will you be” a big fat lie. And this is a problem for another character I actually like in this show: Baylan Skoll. Ahsoka can be explained away by a technicality. She isn’t an actual jedi. She renounced her place in the order at the end of her arc in The Clone Wars. She’s something different. Which is actually interesting to me. But it raises another problem and potential plot hole with this show: Sabine is referred to as having been at one point Ahsoka’s padawan. Sabine even refers to Ahsoka as “master”. Ahsoka refuses to teach Grogu in the episode of The Mandalorian that she appears in. So which is it? Is she a jedi or is she not? Does she take on padawans or not?
And all of this could have been avoided by simply leaving Sabine as she is: a competent warrior from another martial tradition. Why change her to a jedi? Even if something in the story later warrants this decision, I am not in love with the idea. I just think there are times when Star Wars can’t manage to get out of its own way to tell an interesting, cohesive story, and this is yet another example of that. Unfortunately.
Faster and More Intense
There’s a running joke among the stars of the original Star Wars films that George Lucas had no idea how to direct actors and that the most direction they got from him was to do their scenes “faster and more intense”. As a protege of Lucas, Dave Filoni has seemingly taken on this desire to keep the story moving. Filoni has even said as much regarding Ahsoka, explaining that he wanted to keep the runtimes down to keep them “tight and fast”. Now, I’ve got no complaint with longer run times. I like my Star Wars, and if the story is good, I will take as much as I can get. So that is not my problem here. But if Filoni meant to keep the episodes moving at a fast pace, he has failed miserably right out of the gate. Episode one is very nearly what I would call boring. Many scenes feel flat and lacking any of the warmth, humanity, and humor that I loved so much in Rebels.
The music on its own is fine. Good, even. But it stuck out to me several times as feeling tonally off for the mood of the scene. And jarringly so. I’ve only watched both episodes once, so it’s hard to know for sure exactly what is really at fault here, be it the score, the dialogue, or the acting. But something is off. Scenes and transitions from one scene to another didn’t flow and just lacked cohesion. Transitions seemed abrupt. Maybe the show needed a different editor, because I think the individual parts themselves are actually of a high caliber. It’s something about the way they are put together or utilized together that doesn’t work for me.
I come back to a question I asked earlier: Why should casual fans (or anyone unfamiliar with the animated shows or old Star Wars EU) care about any of this? Who is Thrawn and why is he worth worrying about? What about Moff Gideon? Isn’t he the Empire’s big bad at this time? And for that matter, when is this show occurring in relation to The Mandalorian Season 3, the last Star Wars thing we saw? How does this tie in with the events of The Mandalorian, Return of the Jedi? And where the hell is Luke?
Where is Luke?
In a galaxy where only one actual jedi is supposed to exist (you know, the one bad ass mofo in black who saved the whole galaxy?), you would think that when two new ones pop up and start running amok, taking over and wiping out the crews of New Republic starships, the first person they’d be trying to get on the com link would be Luke Skywalker. But Ahsoka doesn’t even mention him. Around the time of the sequel films, someone (it might have been JJ Abrams) said that every time they wrote Luke into a scene, the story became about him. And that wasn’t the story they were trying to tell. As much as I dislike Abrams as a filmmaker, I see his point. But in-universe, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It’s like benching Michael Jordan in the NBA finals. Scratch that, it’s more like telling him to stay home. Why would you tell your star player you don’t need him in the biggest series of the season? His absence would be glaring to the fans and his fellow teammates, wouldn’t it? People at the games would be whispering “Where’s Jordan? Why aren’t they playing him? Did he quit the team? Is he hurt?” And they would be right to ask those questions. Ahsoka is plenty competent as a force user, but two on two is a safer bet than one on two, isn’t it? And if you throw Marrok and Elsbeth into the mix, it’s one against four. Surely Luke Skywalker would even up the odds, wouldn’t it?
There’s a tangent I can go down with this character, but I will leave that to another article. Without saying anything else, though, it makes no sense to leave Luke out or to make absolutely no mention of him. It’s a glaring omission, and these series aren’t happening in a vacuum. For better or worse, they are tied to a larger narrative that really should make sense when you stand back and look at it as a whole.
Time to Pick Some Nits
Star Wars loves to recycle ideas, bits of dialogue, imagery, scenes, etc. George Lucas said it was like poetry—it rhymes. Ok, fair enough. That has worked to varying degrees over years and over the course of different Star Wars related projects. Sometimes it’s downright nauseating, especially in the case of the comics. Star Wars writers have taken the reveal of Vader as Luke and Leia’s father to mean that everything and everyone in the Star Wars galaxy needs to be tied together through blood or shared events and experiences. At least one character must say “I have a bad feeling about this” in every Star Wars story. This is a rule. In the Disney era of Star Wars, a few new ones have been added.
The use of maps as some kind of plot device is one of these. As far as I know, this started with the star map that led to Luke’s location on Ahch-to, which was introduced in The Force Awakens. Which was then followed up by the so-called sith dagger in The Rise of Skywalker, and has now found its way into Ahsoka. For the most part, I liked the Indiana Jones-esque opening sequence where Ahsoka finds the map that will supposedly lead to Thrawn, but I don’t know that the concept makes a whole hell of a lot of sense. Rebels ends with Ezra and Thrawn being carried off through hyperspace by some space whales to who knows where. Far away is the implication. If memory serves, Ezra’s companions aren’t even sure he is still alive. One thing is certain, though, neither Ezra not Thrawn planned for it to happen. So a map pointing to the location of the feared Grand Admiral doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And if I’m being honest, none of these uses of maps makes much sense when you really think about them. And I know we aren’t meant to really think about them. We are supposed to just accept that this is a thing and go with it. But it’s hard to do that when the thing we are meant to go along with is stupid.
Let’s talk casting for just a minute. For the most part, I think the cast is great. With one exception. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not Hera Syndulla. I don’t know which character she is playing, but it’s not Hera from Rebels. It doesn’t help that her dialogue is just poorly written. Hera is not a boastful character. Her actions speak for themselves. She’s a level-headed, competent, quick-witted, warm character. Winstead manages to carry off the warmth at times, but she is not at all convincing as a general or person of authority. The script tells you she is, but that doesn’t really come across on screen. And some of her lines of dialogue make her sound like an entitled, self-important character, which is not at all how the character is portrayed in Rebels. And it’s a shame, because I can’t see any reason why the actress who portrayed her in Rebels couldn’t have done so in this. Vanessa Marshall is by no means too old to portray her, and since she’s in heavy makeup, I don’t see why star power should have any bearing on the casting of the character in live action.
The last nit I will pick before I turn the floor over to you is the stupid trope of Star Wars characters surviving deadly injuries like lightsaber stabs to the abdomen. What is with this? Remember what a lightsaber did to a solid metal wall in The Phantom Menace? Remember what Darth Maul’s saber did to Qui-Gonn Jin at the end of the same movie? Are lightsabers weaker in the Disney era of Star Wars than they were before Disney bought the franchise? And why doesn’t anyone stay dead in Star Wars? Really, this is the bigger issue. There are no stakes in modern Star Wars. Everyone can be brought back to life, saved, mended, patched up—and in less time than it takes me to recover from a bad bout of Tex-Mex-induced diarrhea. For all we know, Han Solo isn’t actually dead. If Maul can survive being bisected and thrown down a bottomless shaft, why can’t Han? This shit is stupid, and it’s completely avoidable. There were other ways to get the map thingy from Sabine without running her through with a lightsaber. So why go this route except to leave us on a cliffhanger that probably wasn’t a cliffhanger for most people because they didn’t have a clue who Sabine Wren was prior to this episode anyway?
All in all, these were not the worst Disney+ Star Wars episodes I have seen (that honor probably belongs with The Book of Boba Fett), but they’re not the best either. For me, Ahsoka needs to pick up the pace, even out the tonal issues, give us some idea what Luke and the gang are doing and why they aren’t involved in stopping the next galactic war from happening, and it needs to convey to the casual audience who these characters are and why we should care.
But that’s enough out of me. What did you think of the first two episodes of Ahsoka? Were they just what you expected or did they fall short? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you there.