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REVIEW – ‘Star Wars: Ahsoka’ Carries the Torch Lit by ‘Rebels’

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Star Wars returns to Disney+ with the much anticipated series Star Wars: Ahsoka starring Rosario Dawson as the title hero. First introduced in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2008, Ahsoka has become one of the most beloved and ubiquitous characters in all of Star Wars, subsequently appearing in Star Wars: Rebels, The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Finally getting her own live-action series, Ahsoka follows the former Jedi as she picks up the threads that Rebels left behind when the series ended in 2018. While it’s no doubt exciting for fans of the popular animated series to see their favorite characters return, in live-action form, Ahsoka feels less like the solo adventure that the title implies, and instead seems like a re-packaged fifth season of its animated cousin.

One thing is clear, Lucasfilm spared no expense in ensuring that Ahsoka is a beautifully cinematic experience, with visuals and action sequences that are comparable to that of the Star Wars feature films. Sprawling landscapes, well choreographed lightsaber action and realistic spacecraft, Ahsoka looks incredible. It remains to be seen whether the series is one that all audiences can enjoy, or one that is a special treat for fans willing to invest in 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Rebels.

Ahsoka premieres August 22nd on Disney+ with two episodes, followed by weekly episodes for the rest of the eight-episode season. This review covers the first two episodes. Light spoilers below.

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. To support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.

Ahsoka Poster
Ahsoka Poster

Official Synopsis

Set after the fall of the Empire, “Star Wars: Ahsoka” follows the former Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano as she investigates an emerging threat to a vulnerable galaxy.

“Ahsoka” stars Rosario Dawson, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ray Stevenson, Ivanna Sakhno, Diana Lee Inosanto, David Tennant, Lars Mikkelsen and Eman Esfandi. The episodes are directed by Dave Filoni, Steph Green, Peter Ramsey, Jennifer Getzinger, Geeta Vasant Patel and Rick Famuyiwa. Dave Filoni is the head writer and executive produces along with Jon Favreau, Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson and Carrie Beck. Karen Gilchrist serves as co-executive producer.

Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: Ahsoka” launches on August 23, exclusively on Disney+.

THE GOOD

Star Wars on Disney+ has been a roller coaster ride over the last several years. While The Mandalorian and Grogu gave the franchise a jump start, and Andor set the standard for exceptional Star Wars storytelling, other shows like The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and even the subsequent seasons of The Mandalorian have left much to be desired. The inconsistent nature of the shows have given many fans some anxiety heading into Ahsoka, which features one of the single best Star Wars characters ever.

If the first two episodes are any indication, it seems that Ahsoka is more likely than not to be considered one of the better Star Wars shows to date. It’s the most cinematic Star Wars series yet, which reflects the considerable resources that Lucasfilm clearly put into the project. That should come as no surprise since the series is executive produced by Dave Filoni, who served as Star Wars creator George Lucas’ padawan back during The Clone Wars days. Filoni of course created and developed the character of Ahsoka over the last 15 years and obviously cares deeply about ensuring that her story is told well.

The visuals in Ahsoka are so impressive that it’s almost a shame that the series will be seen by most on smaller screens, because it’s certainly worthy of the big screen treatment. While some other Star Wars shows have suffered from costumes and sets that didn’t quite meet the standard set by the films, Ahsoka looks and feels like Star Wars.

Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren in Star Wars: Ahsoka
Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren in Star Wars: Ahsoka

Ahsoka essentially picks up where Rebels left off, and even though the entirety of the Original Trilogy took place in the interim, those events don’t seem nearly as important as the that of the animated series. As the story begins, Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) is seeking the location of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), whose fate was left in question at the end of Rebels. Ahsoka isn’t the only one seeking Thrawn, as two mysterious dark side users, Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) are also on the hunt. The key for both parties is a map, the location of which is known to Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), who was first introduced in the second season of The Mandalorian.

Ahsoka quickly learns that she is outnumbered and must seek allies. Naturally, that brings her to seek her former Rebels family, including General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). This sets up a race to the map between the light and the dark and potentially the answers to fate of not just Thrawn, but Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi) as well.

The return of Elsbeth as one of the primary antagonists is a delight. Elsbeth and Ahsoka first squared off in one of the most memorable and beautifully shot episodes of The Mandalorian, which was written and directed by Filoni himself. Carrying her character over to Ahsoka is a perfect way to strengthen the connective tissue between the various Star Wars shows in a way that isn’t burdensome. Audiences do not have to have watched the specific episode of The Mandalorian to understand the two characters, but having seen it does enrich the experience. Inosanto, whose father Dan Inosanto is a martial arts legend and was a student of Bruce Lee, brings a sinister elegance to the role and is a worthy adversary to Ahsoka. Great heroes are defined by great villains, and if there’s one franchise that understands the value of iconic antagonists, it’s Star Wars. Inosanto’s performance elevates the first two episodes of the series, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to delve deeper into her character and backstory.

Diana Lee Inosanto as Morgan Elsebeth in Star Wars: Ahsoka
Diana Lee Inosanto as Morgan Elsebeth in Star Wars: Ahsoka

The reintroduction of Rebels characters, including droids Chopper and Huyang (David Tennant), are sure to be crowd pleasers for fans of the animated series, and Sabine seems primed to be just as important of a character to the story as Ahsoka is. It’s fun to see the popular characters in a new format, which gives the series a familiarity from the every beginning. In fact, Ahsoka feels like the culmination of many years of Star Wars storytelling, with characters we know and events we’ve seen or heard of in the past. Most of them come together to provide dedicated fans (as if there are any other kind when it comes to this franchise) a series full of easter eggs and references that are likely to fuel speculation for the future.

THE BAD

As exciting as it may be for Rebels fans to revisit their favorite characters, less acclimated viewers may feel like they missed the memo (or 75 memos). The tension between characters, particularly Ahsoka and Sabine, depend completely on some awareness about their past from the animated series. Those who didn’t watch Rebels might be confused about the dynamic between the two protagonists, leaving the emotional moments to fall flat.

The balance between making Ahsoka a series that stands on its own or a fifth season of Rebels, is one that the show will have to find as it progresses. From the first two episodes, it’s not clear which the show seeks to be. If indeed, Ahsoka is a Rebels sequel, then it might have been better served to simply name it Rebels. However, if this is truly Ahsoka’s story, then the series will need to refocus more on her development and avoid the distraction of answering the questions that Rebels left behind.

Even as a potential Rebels sequel, the series faces the tall hurdle of satisfying the expectations of animation fans. It’s hard not to compare the performances of Winstead, Bordizzo and Dawson to Vanessa Marshall, Tiya Sircar and Ashley Eckstein, who voiced Hera, Sabine and Ahsoka respectively. While the comparisons are a bit unfair given the differing mediums, one can’t help but wonder if Ahsoka should have been an animated series or even what the series would look like if the voice actors were given the opportunity to reprise their roles in live-action.

Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Ahsoka
Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Ahsoka

There’s a cognitive dissonance that often comes with seeing animated characters in live-action, one that Disney’s live-action remakes of films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin have been grappling with to varied success. At least with Ahsoka, fans have had the chance to adjust to Dawson in the role. But with Hera and Sabine, they feel more like imitations of characters we know. Whether the story and the performances in Ahsoka can allow fans to eventually embrace these live-action versions will be critical to the series success.

THE POC-Y

Ahsoka is one of the most diverse Star Wars projects ever. With Dawson and Bordizzo leading the light and Inosanto on the dark side, this series is not only full of diverse actors and characters, but also specifically features women of color. That diversity notably extends behind the camera, as Ahsoka directors include Rick Famuyiwa (episode 8), Geeta Vasant Patel (episode 7) and Peter Ramsay (episode 4).

If there’s one area where the Star Wars shows have shined, it’s in giving more diverse directors the chance to play in the Galaxy Far Far Away, and Ahsoka definitely continues that trend.

THE RATING – 3/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 3
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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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