Even as someone who’s never watched The Clone Wars or Rebels, I immensely enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of Ahsoka. It is quintessential Star Wars and its first two episodes (all of which press has been given access to thus far) open with a bang that establishes the where and the when of the Galaxy this story takes place and sets the stakes for what’s to come.
Set roughly during the same period as The Mandalorian and sometimes after the fifth episode of that show’s second season. Ahsoka has captured Morgan Elsbeth and is in a race against time to locate Grand Admiral Thrawn. His mere mention is almost enough to fracture the delicate peace newly established in the wake of the Empire’s defeat.
In the first two episodes of Ahsoka, Writer/Director Dave Filoni is the most successful at bringing Star Wars to the small screen. The Mandalorian is a very close second, but Filoni’s knowledge and understanding of Star Wars shine through. No series or feature film since Revenge of the Sith has captured the essence of Star Wars quite like Ahsoka does.
Filoni brings a perfect combination of prequel and original trilogy energy and flavour to the screen. We’re not sequestered within the prequels here, which given Ahsoka Tano’s origins, could very well have been the case. Instead, Ahsoka expertly weaves the original and prequel films’ aesthetics into one cohesive whole. It’s a tall order. As someone who was 14 when The Phantom Menace was released, I remember how different the prequel series looked and felt. Here, all six films and what they each brought to the universe are included equally.
Ahsoka herself is not a character I am hugely familiar with. I know of her, but having not seen any of the animated series she’s from I don’t know what to expect from her as a character. So far, in Ahsoka, she is the Obi-Wan. She is seasoned and wise, patient and cautious. Rosario Dawson is flawless in this role, imbuing Ahsoka with grace and wisdom with a flicker of knowing danger behind her eyes. She is always watching and waiting but gives the appearance of being at peace.
That’s not to say she’s not a badass. She is. In the first two episodes, there are a number of scenes where Ahsoka gets to show off her combat prowess and her skills with the dual sabers. It’s in these scenes (and a few other action sequences) that Filoni also demonstrates his command of the camera. The action shifts between u being right up close to wide shots and back again in a frenetic display meant to evoke the speed and disorientation of a lightsaber duel.
Elsewhere, Ahsoka delivers space battles, chases, planetary vistas, starship docking, alien flora and fauna and many other classic Star Wars visual tableaus. Similarly, many of the prerequisite character archetypes are present and accounted for as are the elements of a good story. Right off the bat, Ahsoka is hunting a MacGuffin said to lead to Grand Admiral Thrawn. Once it’s in her possession, it’s not long before the bad guys snatch it back and the race to reach Thrawn first is on.
The late, great Ray Stevenson is stunning as Baylan Skoll, former Jedi turned mercenary after the Clone Wars. His motives remain unclear though he does struggle with the notion that Ahsoka must be killed in order for his mission to succeed. He wonders aloud if Ahsoka could be left to live as it would be a shame to kill a Jedi since there are so few left. Skoll cuts a shadowy figure and one that I’m not quite sure what to make of yet.
Less ambiguous is Diana Lee Inosanto as Morgan Elsbeth. Every bit as intense as she was in The Mandalorian, Elsbeth is hellbent on locating Thrawn, recovering him and rebuilding the Empire. Inosanto is brilliant as the scheming Elsbeth and makes her more than just a caricature of a villain. When Elsbeth speaks you understand what’s at stake for her and her powerfully she is drawn to Thrawn.
Unfortunately, the same praise can not be given to Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren. I was surprised when reading the social reactions to Ahsoka’s first two episodes that Sabine Wren was so popular. I took an immediate dislike to her, both her character and Bordizzo’s performance. Understandably, there’s a history to the character that comes from previous shows but none of that context is present in Ahsoka so whatever drives Sabine Wren isn’t immediately obvious.
And so, to me, she is obnoxious, disrespectful, arrogant and painfully entitled. When we first meet her she has ditched an event in which she is supposed to publicly speak. Instead of fulfilling her obligations she speeds off down a highway and engages in some stunts in order to avoid responsibility. Later, Ahsoka gives Sabine some advice which she promptly ignores leading to the loss of the MacGuffin. Every other character in Ahsoka has a point of view I can understand but Sabine Wren seems to embody that horrible Lisa Simpson stereotype of rebellion for rebellion’s sake.
Bordizzo plays Sabine with this unearned air of confidence and an almost winking to the camera that is utterly infuriating. Sabine appears to be a character that is above everything that’s going on and simply can’t be bothered to engage unless it’s on her terms. I don’t understand why this kind of character continues to be so prevalent, especially in sci-fi. I can only hope that as more episodes are released more of her story is told and I come to understand why she is so insufferable.
This is perhaps the one major flaw with Ahsoka; assumed knowledge from The Clone Wars and Rebels. It does an admirable job of welcoming viewers who’ve not seen the animated series, however, there are plenty of gaps and they’re not always completely filled in. Sabine’s backstory and reasons for being dreadful are perhaps the most overt example. You’re certainly not going to need to go back and watch The Clone Wars or Rebels to enjoy Ahsoka, but it’s also not just fun easter eggs or winks to fans you’re going to miss either. Without a full understanding of Filoni’s previous works, Ahsoka is only ever going to engage you about 80-85%.
That being said, Ahsoka is still the best Star Wars series so far. The Mandalorian is excellent and Obi-Wan phenomenal but I still think Ahsoka is the most satisfying. I’m only two episodes in and I can’t stand Sabine Wren but that has to tell you how much I’m enjoying this show. With this and The Mandalorian under his belt, it’s pretty clear that Dave Filoni is the man that best understands what makes Star Wars. He also proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s just as capable to bring Star Wars to life in live-action as he is in animation.
Ahsoka is 46 years of world-building and filmmaking distilled into a sublime production. Just about everything about Ahsoka is flawlessly envisioned, crafted and performed. It bodes well for the future of the franchise and the first two episodes bode well for this series.
Ahsoka is streaming on Disney+.