Ahsoka Episode 5 Recap: “Shadow Warrior” — Live or Die

Ahsoka faces Anakin as he uses his lightsaber
Photo Courtesy Disney+/Screenshot

The following recap contains spoilers for Ahsoka Episode 5, “Shadow Warrior”  (written and directed by Dave Filoni). Some elements of the Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars series are also discussed in this recap.

Editor’s Note: This piece 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.

Dave Filoni and the current Star Wars creative crew often reference the work of acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in their modern galactic stories. In Ahsoka Episode 3, “Time to Fly,” Ahsoka refers to the training technique Sabine is using as “Zatochi,” which is a riff on Zatoichi, the long-running film series about a Japanese blind swordsman. Zatoichi and the famous Yojimbo are prominent in Kurosawa’s work and even George Lucas proclaimed he was a fan of the director. The Jedi also have direct influences from jidaigeki, movies that are commonly referred to as period pieces about Japanese warriors.

The title of the latest installment of Ahsoka, Episode 5’s “Shadow Warrior,” is the next in a long line of references to Kurosawa. He directed a 1980 film by the same name about a political decoy who is installed as the daimyo of a powerful Japanese army because of his resemblance to the deceased leader. Much of the movie is spent with this shadow warrior trying to not only imitate a powerful leader but learn through experience and trial what it means to possess a role of leadership and what that power can do to its owner.

It’s a fitting representation of not only the leadership trials that Ahsoka faces in the epic Episode 5, but also what in this series still remains unseen (or, in the shadows) as we turn the corner into the last third of this inaugural season.

Anakin talks to a young Ahsoka during the Clone Wars
Photo Courtesy Disney+/Screenshot

More than any other single episode in Ahsoka, Episode 5 was billed as the most anticipated, most exciting, and—interestingly—most cinematic. Disney+ made the bold move to release just this one episode in select theaters around the country in anticipation of the hype surrounding it. And while the episode was without a doubt very cinematic, your experience with Star Wars content over the last 15 years will determine whether or not you found it to be climactic.

Episode 4, “Fallen Jedi,” left us with Ahsoka trapped in the ethereal World Between Worlds after being defeated by Baylan Skoll in a legendary lightsaber duel. The episode ends with Ahsoka coming face to face with Anakin Skywalker (played by a de-aged Hayden Christensen). The fallen Jedi was her old master, who, of course, succumbed to his dark side tendencies, murdered Jedi children, and took the form of Darth Vader.

As Hera, Jacen, Huyang, and our old friend Carson Teva (from The Mandalorian and The Book of Bob Fett) search for Ahsoka on the surface of Seatos after Sabine was taken captive by Baylan and Shin Hati, Ahsoka begins a series of Sisyphean trials that force her to confront her troubled past. Ahsoka has long been referred to as a “Grey Jedi,” partially due to her straddling of morals that exist on a razor’s edge between the Dark Side and the Light Side, but also because she left the Jedi during the Clone Wars series after they falsely accused her of treason. As her droid Huyang commented in a previous episode, Ahsoka does “come from a long line of non-traditional Jedi.”

Those Jedi include Anakin Skywalker, Count Dooku, and Qui-Gon Jin, but the most important of those, of course, was Anakin. He has come to give her the final test that will send her down a path of what kind of Jedi she will ultimately become.

Ahsoka holds a lightsaber to Anakin's neck
Photo Courtesy Disney+/Screenshot

Their relationship as master and padawan can make a case for the most compelling in Star Wars history. Before Anakin fell to Emperor Palpatine and the Dark Side, he trained Ahsoka from a very young age. His emerging internal conflict led to strained moments in their relationship (her snark earned her the nickname “Snips,” and she referred to him as “Skyguy.”) But there was also a deep intimacy as they wrestled with the political order of the Jedi way against their obligation to protect others.

The Clone Wars cemented their relationship as they saved one another several times, and when she sees the vision of Anakin in the World Between Worlds, he uses those Clone Wars moments in battle to test her. Does she want to be a warrior, continuing in what Baylan described in Episode 4 as a legacy of “death and destruction,” or does she want to be more of a savior?

Anakin, sensing the conflict in her, tells her that the last thing he needs to do to complete her Jedi training is to give her the choice to “live…or die.” Ahsoka must reluctantly use the blades Anakin gave her in Clone Wars to defend herself against her old master and make a choice about which of them will live and which will die. She eventually bests Anakin, grabs hold of his lightsaber, and ignites it perilously close to his neck. This moment is where Ahsoka must choose what path she will take as the Grey Jedi.

The path of the Dark Side leads to revenge, retribution, and a long-awaited crippling of the order that would not believe in her. The path of the Light Side of the Force leads to forgiveness, inner peace, and a chance to free her mind from the burden that just maybe her desertion of the Jedi pushed Anakin over the edge to fall to the Dark Side. Ahsoka looks him in the eye, and plainly says “I choose to live.” Anakin’s dark demeanor subsides and just as a proud parent would exclaim, says “There’s hope for you yet.”

Anakin gives lessons to young Ahsoka
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The question over whose test this actually was covers the entirety of this episode just like the Force covering all living things. Was this truly the Force ghost of Anakin that Ahsoka was seeing, wanting to meet with her one more time in a plane outside space and time to complete their Jedi training? Or, as I believe, was this the test Ahsoka’s subconscious was giving herself? Was it a test to determine where she could break free from the psychological burden of abandoning her Order, of leaving her Master, and of not understanding who she was called to be?

During the Clone Wars flashbacks with Anakin in this episode, he keeps yelling at her to move “Forward!” as they find themselves back in the throws of the war. But Ahsoka now knows her only true way forward is to put the warrior side of herself in the shadows and come into the light.

After this encounter, there is some striking baptism imagery as Ahsoka is pulled from the water by her friends, who rescue her after her vision ends. When she wakes up on their ship sometime later, the formerly stoic and serious Ahsoka is noticeably different in her demeanor, her purpose, and—most visually—her clothes. Emerging from the ship, she is no longer wearing the dark grey robes of her conflicted past. Instead, she is wearing white, symbolic of a Gandalf-like character who has a new sense of purpose and morality.

She also emerges more clairvoyant as she confers with the team on a plan to connect with the purrgils as a way to jump through deep hyperspace and find Sabine, Baylan, Shin, Morgan, and ultimately Grand Admiral Thrawn. This space whale mind-meld was likely worth the price of admission for those who saw it in theaters, and majestically set up what is sure to be a tumultuous journey through space to find their friends, and their foes.

Ahsoka prepares to bond with a purrgil to travel to hyperspace
Photo Courtesy Disney+/Screenshot

When Ahsoka does find them, she will inevitably face another test. Does she destroy Thrawn, Morgan, and Baylan because she fears they will lead to another Empire uprising? She knows what they are capable of and knows everyone should be afraid of it. But what will she decide to do with that fear? After all, as Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” She passed the latest test from her former master, but her biggest test may be yet to come.

A few other notes from this episode:

  • So as not to shortchange the “ground crew” who were searching for Ahsoka, young Jacen did some masterful work in this episode and is clearly showing how strong he is in the Force. It’s almost inevitable at this point that he will become a key player in future Star Wars stories told by Dave Filoni.
  • The scene at the beginning of the episode where Hera discovers Huyang looking at Sabine’s helmet after Sabine and Ahsoka have both disappeared is surprisingly moving. With Huyang’s performance in Episodes 4 and 5 and B2EMO in Andor, this crew sure does know how to use non-living objects to pull at the heartstrings.
  • Young Ahsoka in this episode is played by Ariana Greenblatt. She has had quite an extended moment over the last few years. She played young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War and just played Sasha in Barbie.
  • I’m glad newfound glory Ahsoka could come up with the purrgil plan to find Thrawn and company. But wasn’t Hera there in Star Wars Rebels when Ezra and Thrawn were taken into hyperspace by purrgils? Why didn’t she come up with this idea some time ago?
  • This likely sets up our first meeting with Thrawn at the end of Episode 6 after the crew travels through hyperspace to another galaxy. I don’t know whether I was expecting more than 25% of the season would include one of the more iconic Empire villains in Star Wars history, but I guess I was more hopeful that it would. Thrawn can pack a lot of punch into a few short scenes, so I expect his presence over the end of the season to loom large.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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