The following recap contains spoilers for Ahsoka Episode 8, “The Jedi, the Witch, and the Warlord” (written by Dave Filoni and directed by Rick Famuyiwa). 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 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
In a not-so-subtle play on words from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the eighth episode of Ahsoka, “The Jedi, the Witch, and the Warlord” is the latest in a string of episodes from this first season to pay homage to classic literary and cinematic genre tales that have influenced the Star Wars stories and their creators over the years.
The classic book and this season of television do share several broad themes and plotlines, namely of cunning and tyrannical rulers who are trying to use dark magic to achieve their goals and their aims. In each story, a band of young and often inexperienced warriors battle against the dark forces to try and save a kingdom (or a galaxy) from falling deeper into the hands of witches and warlords.
But the similarities stop as the consumer of these two works reaches the final pages or the final minutes of the respective works. Famously, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was able to neatly wrap up the multitude of storylines that existed within the Pevensie children’s journeys to Narnia while still leaving a mysterious door open to what would later become six more novels about The Chronicles of Narnia.
Ahsoka, on the other hand, might have adequately (maybe I should say “marginally”) set up whatever future project Dave Filoni plans to use to draw more “galaxy far, far away” storylines together, but it completely missed the mark in addressing any of the various open-ended questions raised throughout the course of the eight episodes.
Much like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Season 1 of Ahsoka will now be known as the beginning of something larger in the future, but it will not be known as something that provided near the payoff of the original C.S. Lewis classic. It turns out Ahsoka was the beginning of a fast break and not the slam dunk. It was the construction of a lightsaber (as Ezra and Huyang humorously do in this episode) and not the duel, and certainly not the end of the duel.
Star Wars fans following the progression of the franchise knew that there were far bigger plans ahead with these characters and these stories, particularly how they lead into the rise of the First Order and the events of the sequel trilogy. But for Rebels or Clone Wars fans who waited five years or more to find resolutions and answers to questions around motivations, mysteries, and mysticism, the payoffs we did get in this finale were so obviously and messily shoved into a compact 43 minutes that I found myself wishing for the first time that Disney+ had given us more or longer episodes to tell this story.
(Again, if you have not already done so, go treat yo’ self to what competent storytellers did with 12 episodes of Andor last year.)
I’ll start with the least egregious storytelling and save my most incendiary thoughts for a Bayan Skoll-sized rant later.
Throughout Star Wars Rebels and this series, we are taught and trained to believe that Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most brilliant strategic military minds in the galaxy (and now the other galaxy too, I guess). But his insistence on playing chicken with Ahsoka, Ezra, and Sabine defies all logic, as he stated many, many times throughout the series that his objective was to get off of the exiled planet as soon as possible and back to the galaxy formerly controlled by the Empire.
Why, then, does it take so long for the soldiers to load all his cargo onto the ship (this literally took three full episodes)? Why does he continually play the “slow them down” tactic on the good guy squad instead of the smarter “move us out” move? He must know that without Ahsoka’s ship hitching a ride on the Eye of Sion that Thrawn will be traveling on, there is no way for Ahsoka, Ezra, and Sabine to follow him back to the other galaxy. Instead of getting them out of Dodge, Thrawn’s slowly paced movements eventually allow Ezra and Sabine to catch up to the ship, where Ezra goes into stowaway mode when they finally do jump to hyperspace.
How Ezra actually makes it onto Thrawn’s ship in the first place is another contrived ending to an outstanding question that has been lingering since the very first episode of the season. We know that Sabine and Ahsoka had a falling out at some point in the past (according to Huyang, it was apparently because Ahsoka thought Sabine would be too dangerous should she reach her true potential because of the trauma of losing her Mandalorian family? I guess that’s plausible considering what she now knows what Anakin became after suffering so much loss, but don’t you need more weapons against Thrawn and not fewer?), but Sabine has “tried, really tried” to continue developing her connection to the Force.
However, in Episodes 3 through 7 it’s made abundantly clear that Sabine has not made much, if any, progress. She can’t move a cup even a fraction of an inch. Even in this episode, Sabine is not able to dispatch laser blasts with her lightsaber like Ahsoka and Ezra can, so Ahsoka tells her she should switch to blasters instead. After all those failures, Sabine instantly has two huge successes as they approach Thrawn. When a dark trooper has her in his grasp, she is able to summon her fallen lightsaber and ignite it through his head. Later, she is able to Force-push Ezra onto Thrawn’s ship when he easily had to jump at least 150 feet to get there.
This is a massive leap in ability for someone who had shown next to none in previous episodes. In fact, Huyang commented earlier in the season that Sabine is someone who would have been kicked out of the Jedi Academy because of her lack of abilities. Her displaying these two huge steps in succession would be like if I “tried, really tried” to practice hoops at my local YMCA for a long while and then walked on to a college team one week and then started for an NBA team the next.
There is speculation that Sabine was “awoken” by the end of Episode 7 when she can sense Ahsoka calling out to her similar to Luke calling out to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back or Rey hearing a calling that she is someone special and not a “nobody.” But if Sabine is so awake now, why does she just get a strange sense at the end of Episode 8 instead of being able to see the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker when he appears to Ahsoka?
Speaking of Ahsoka, if it seems weird that she isn’t heavily mentioned until this far down the piece, it’s because she was almost completely minimized in this episode. She does have a reconciling conversation with Sabine as they track Thrawn (perhaps contributing to Sabine’s “awakening”), and she does have the best battle of the season when she takes on Morgan and Blade of Tarzin. Ahsoka is put to the test in the battle (even losing one of her own sabers), but she eventually kills Morgan and we will never understand what compelled her to come all this way for Thrawn other than a vision. Morgan had just been granted her Make-A-Wish by being anointed an official Nightsister, but the honor would be short-lived, literally.
Ahsoka stayed behind to battle Morgan despite Sabine repeating Huyang’s words that they should “stay together!” Ahsoka insists they shouldn’t, which is what causes her to not be present for Sabine’s graduation into Force-sensitiveness and eventually leads to the two of them being stranded on Peridea. If they had stayed together this whole season, soooooo many of the failures could have all been avoided.
With Ezra able to make it aboard Thrawn’s ship and travel back to our original galaxy, that means—if you’re keeping score—we are essentially in the same position we were in when the season started. Ezra, Thrawn, and apparently a Night trooper army are back home and Sabine, Huyang, and Ahsoka are stranded. Our Galaxy 1.0 is down one important droid and one Jedi, but at least they gained an Imperial army!
Ahsoka comments as the episode nears its end that Ezra is “where he needs to be, and so are we.” You are? How do you figure? You’re STILL not in the same galaxy as Thrawn, you’re still not in the same galaxy with Ezra, and now Thrawn and his allies have access to the Imperial remnants and factions that have been emerging in this series, in The Mandalorian, and the Book of Boba Fett. I think where you need to be, Ahsoka, is where the greatest threat is. We know from other Star Wars clues that there are only a mere handful of Jedi left in the galaxy at this time, and you seem to be just fine on the sidelines of a threat you just hours and days ago thought was an existential problem.
Ahsoka and Sabine, sadly, are not the only characters that are left on the sidelines in this episode. If you have been following my thoughts on this series, you know I feel the most intriguing parts have been the mystery surrounding former Jedi Baylan Skoll and his apprentice Shin Hati. Baylan came to this planet of “dreams and madness” not just to help find Thrawn, but also in search of something deeper, something more meaningful. He tells Shin that he is there in search of something powerful that can break the never-ending cycle of the rise and fall of Jedi and the Empire.
They went their separate ways, disappointingly, in Episode 7 as Baylan believed their paths were leading them to different places. What exactly those places were was set up to be one of the more interesting questions of this show and I was anticipating the answer to these questions more than any guess about whether Thrawn would escape this galaxy (of course he was going to). So, when the timecode on my television reached minute 36 of the 43-minute show, I was officially in panic mode. It turns out, that was the right reaction.
After Thrawn and Ezra make their hyperspace jump and Sabine and Ahsoka come to grips with their new reality, we finally get some screen time with Baylan and Shin. And by “some” I mean almost nothing. The two of them appear for a total of 58 seconds in this episode. FIFTY-EIGHT SECONDS! And they don’t appear together, which means each got less than 30 seconds of time in this finale after all the conversations and mystery and build-up for these two brand-new characters.
Sabine finds herself among the raiders who attacked Sabine in Episode 7, offering up her lightsaber to show her power. Baylan had informed her that her path lay in some greater purpose with the Empire while he chose to search for the origins of the Force and find a way to better understand its power. Our parting shot (and only shot) of Baylan Skoll is of him standing on the Gods of Mortis mountain that pays homage to The Ones who may be responsible for the beginnings of the Force. The mountain we see shows the Father pointing out into the distance to a glimmer of light. Next to the father is the Brother, who is supposed to represent the dark side of the Force. On the other side, the Sister has crumbled, leaving nothing behind. The Sister represents the light side of the Force.
Why has this one crumbled? What does that represent? Who or what is responsible for that? These are the most compelling questions left unanswered in the series and we may now not ever have a resolution to them. I don’t envy what has to come next for the showrunners. Dave Filoni and his team are in the awful position now of having to decide whether to recast the monolith that was Ray Stevenson (he passed away in May) or throw this story in the trash. I fear that it might be the latter considering how minimized he and Shin were in this episode. I would have loved to explore that story and would gladly accept a recast if it meant going down that mountain for more.
Where this episode ultimately fails for me stands in contrast to how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe succeeds. The first book in The Chronicles of Narnia series can stand alone or it can be digested as part of a much larger story or universe. Ahsoka can be the latter, but it can never, in any way, be the former. I hate feeling as though the devoted Star Wars audience spent eight weeks devouring this story of some of the most beloved characters in recent Star Wars history. But in the end, it feels like all we got was a Freaky Friday body swap where we are in the same place we started just with different names.
At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Professor Kirke hears of the children’s adventures and assures them they will certainly return to Narnia one day. We know that we will return one day to Star Wars with these characters as well, the difference being that the Pevensie children could return to Narnia one day. After the end of Ahsoka, the truth is we have to return to these places again in the future. The story that Filoni and company created during this season is one that can never stand alone, which was part of the criticism from the beginning. The show was in such a rush to get to the next big thing, it never slowed down to produce the one everyone wanted.