Star Wars: Ahsoka Slowly Gears Towards Excitement

From cartoon to live action, Ahsoka brings back a very familiar Star Wars universe of characters

Ahsoka talks to Hera
(L-R); Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in Lucasfilm's AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This review of Star Wars: Ahsoka was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars Rebelsyou’ll likely be entertained by Ahsoka. If you’re unfamiliar with Rebels, you may be bored with Disney’s newest Star Wars show. Ahsoka plays as a continuation of Dave Filoni’s popular cartoon series, which makes sense, as Filoni is writing this entire series and directing the first episode.

From references to impressive special effects, Ahsoka is a step in the right direction for a Star Wars show. The first two episodes play as a large setup to what may be a thrilling series ahead—something I’m hoping for, as much of the overlong exposition can grow tiring. Unless you’ve seen Rebels, you won’t be impressed by who appears. Without giving much away, the show wastes no time revealing that this is a live-action sequel to Rebels

The story starts with a red font title that looks like it was made in Adobe Premiere, setting up the plot. The Empire was defeated after the death of Emperor Palpatine. Since the disappearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn, there have been rumors of his return. The one in search of Thrawn is former Jedi Knight, Ahsoka Tano.

The story starts with a bang when two inquisitors board a New Republic vessel. Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) are searching for a map with Thrawn’s location. Unfortunately for them, Ahsoka got it first. But how long will she have it? 

Added to the mix are familiar characters from the animated Star Wars series interpreted for live-action. Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a once Rebel turned general who acts as Ahsoka’s second in command, assisting her in finding the location of Thrawn. Ahsoka’s former padawan, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), acts as a helping aid to Ashoka’s mission.

Ahsoka is a heavily female-driven show that doesn’t pander to a target audience. It’s all in the vein of Star Wars, where it’s not the crude matter of muscles that matter but rather the psychological strength one possesses—force user or not. 

From Cartoon To Live Action

Hera Syndulla
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Hera Syndulla. Courtesy of Disney+

Ahsoka‘s continuation of a cartoon series can be confusing for newcomers, but luckily not too confusing if you haven’t seen Rebels. The one thing that could be a tad puzzling are character names and how they met. All of which were detailed in the Rebels animated show. For those unaware of these characters’ origins, they’ll get an idea of who they are, but won’t know their full history. We get who these characters are without needing to see Rebels. We get that Hera is a former Rebel turned general. Apparently, anyone who was once a Rebel becomes a general in Star Wars. We also get that Sabine Wren was once a Jedi who still possesses a lightsaber. Sabine is similar to Ahsoka, who’s a once Jedi turned independent protector of the innocent. Ahsoka isn’t reliant on action like Season 3 of The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett was. It doesn’t use action to dictate the story, but story to dictate the action. 

Like Andor, Ahsoka is a series that relies more on character development over explosions and constant lightsaber fights. It’s stylistically similar to Obi-Wan Kenobiwhere some of the editing has its warts. I respect the fact that Ahsoka is a series that is focused on having a slower pace. But there are times when the camera would linger a little too long on a character during a conversation where I’m waiting for the moment for the director to call cut. Secondly, some of the editing during the lightsaber fights cut too close to the actors instead of staying wide where we can see all the beautifully choreographed action. The lightsaber combat in Ahsoka is similar to what it was like in the prequels, where the movement is fluid, like a dance. 

The character development in Ahsoka is respectable, if a bit flimsy. Much of Ahsoka is rooted in developing a plot around a MacGuffin. Like The Force Awakens, Ahsoka’s plot is about a map that will lead our heroes to someone they’re searching for. In The Force Awakens, it was Luke Skywalker; in Ahsoka, it’s Grand Admiral Thrawn. 

A Looming Threat

Grand Admiral Thrawn returns
Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

For those who don’t know who Thrawn is, he’s an established character from the expanded universe that used to be canon until Disney tossed it out. There’s a three-part book series about Thrawn’s threat to the original trilogy of Star Wars characters that I admittedly haven’t read. However, those who also haven’t read the Thrawn novels can catch him in Star Wars Rebels, a series where Thrawn is voiced masterfully by Lars Mikkelsen, who soon will be playing the live-action version of the blue baddy in this show.

For the first two episodes of the eight-episode series, Ahsoka makes a promising start establishing our heroes. Unfortunately, some of that establishment gets lost in a plot centered around the starmap. Instead of seeing any grand drama, we have characters circling a 360-degree map, discussing where it will lead them in more scenes than one.

Seeing as Ahsoka is premiering its first two episodes in its week of debut (August 22), Episode 3 might have some thrilling story and action beats coming. Like a Jedi, Ashoka asks the viewer for patience as there’s more to come. As a fan of Star Wars, I urge you not to watch the later trailers as they reveal some cameos that would have best been revealed when the show comes out. 

Ahsoka, so far, is neither exhilarating nor boring but somewhere in between. There are moments of action that are amazing to watch, where the visual effects dazzle and subtle moments between characters resonate on screen. Between those moments that work are dull moments of exposition. I’m grateful to see a Star Wars property take its time in establishing its story. The VFX are phenomenal to look at in certain instances. Gone are the days when TV effects look cheap, at least if you’re on Disney’s budget. Also gone are the days when the acting in a Star Wars property is bad. 

There are moments when characters can sound a bit flat. Without giving much away, I’m expecting one particular actor’s return to not wow me with their acting. Yet, I’ll be happy to see them come back. So far, the casting in Ahsoka has been clever. Reprising her role from The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Rosario Dawson adds a dimension of calmness to make Ahsoka appear to be a wise former Jedi, even if she left the order. Oddly, Dawson’s performance has less personality than original Ahsoka voice actress Ashley Eckstein incorporated into the character. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a colorful soldier who moves to the beat of her own drum as does Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s character. A performance that does stand out as particularly villainous is from the late Ray Stephenson portraying Baylan Skoll. Stevenson’s hulking visual presence and articulate voice makes for a wise, chilling inquisitor. 

If you’re a Rebels fan, you’ll love what Ahsoka has in store. You’ll likely only enjoy the show if you’re a traditional Star Wars fan. If you’re a casual viewer, you’ll probably find Ahsoka boring. There are many references to Star Wars lore that got me excited. But will it delight someone not deeply entrenched in the Star Wars universe? Likely not. So far, Ahsoka is leading up to promises that will hopefully pay off in the long run. Judging by series writer Davie Filoni’s past with the Clone Wars, and Rebels, we could be in for one hell of a ride, even if it can be a middling, bumpy way there.

Written by Mike Crowley

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