Some of this is owed to the way I try to approach each and every property: I strive to give it as much of an independent critical examination as I can, trying to dismiss any preconceived notions and/or expectations I might have owed to what I’ve read or seen previously. That isn’t always easy – especially when you’re dealing with an ever-expanding universe like Star Wars provides – but I do believe that series and films do need to be evaluated entirely independently of what’s come before: audience goodwill can only stretch so far, and when the producers take fans of the material for granted the end result can be a mixed bag.
So … Star Wars: Ahsoka does have the benefit of – unlike the Sequel Trilogy (to a degree) – of having an incredible well of material upon which writer/director Dave Filoni can draw upon. Added to the fact that he’s known as the creator of not only Ahsoka Tano but also many within this program he’s developed and finally delivered, one might expect that he could conceivably “knock this one out of the park” right from the get-go. Well, I’m here to assure you that – so far as this longtime Star Wars junkie is concerned – this first episode is a very respectable launch. It may not have everything that fandom comes to expect, but it is about as efficient an introduction (and a welcome return) to Filoni’s corner of that galaxy far, far away as might have been possible.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the episode’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A valuable prisoner escapes New Republic custody; a search for answers reunites two old friends.”
Launching a new series with an already established character can be a huge, huge, huge risk.
For starters, a storyteller risks offending the audience previously familiar with the character by moving a bit too slowly for the benefit of newcomers. That’s the biggest risk out of the gate for Ahsoka, but I think putting the commodity into the capable hands of longtime Star Wars TV scribe Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Star Wars Resistance, and The Mandalorian) is a bet worth taking … and, thankfully, Disney+ has agreed. While I could get into a debate with readers of this space (new and old) as to whether or not an audience was clamoring for an Ahsoka series, I’ll set that aside for another day. My bottom line is that she’s a character known mostly to serious fans and not the casual viewer, but – as I said – we’ll let that sleeping Mynock lie.
Still … you folks know me all too well, and not everything is going to get that easy a pass.
In the central role of the heroic Tano, actress Rosario Dawson hasn’t quite found her footing yet. While I’ll concede that she definitely milks the action well enough as an extension from what began Ahsoka’s signature fight moves from the animated series, I’m still not thrilled with the portrayal. For those who missed it, Tano started out as a wild card, always with a quip; and then she was allowed to mature a bit more when her character moved from The Clone Wars to Star Wars Rebels. But even then I wasn’t all that enamored with her polished maturity; in fact, I wondered at one point in Rebels whether or not she might have been operating from a hidden agenda mostly because the performance was a bit too adult. A bit too polished. Dawson is doing little more than continuing in this vein, so I’ll be watching to see whether or not she’ll given greater range or if Filoni is going to pigeon-hole this warrior into something resembling Obi-wan Kenobi of the Original Trilogy.
And – for that matter – Tano never quite achieved Jedi status. She walked away from it, turning her back on the Jedi Order at the end of her arc in The Clone Wars. As to what may’ve taken place after that time, there have been a sprinkling of hints onscreen and across fandom; and I hope this gets clarified.
Yes, yes, and yes: I’m aware of her development proposed during The Book Of Boba Fett. Heck, I’m even aware of some of the theories out there in cyberspace suggesting that (cough cough) it may’ve been Tano who trained with or alongside Luke Skywalker in the OT timeframe and/or just after. Until all of these particulars have been spelled out clearly onscreen, however, I’m apt to remain suspect. Hopefully, viewers will be supplied with information that might just clear up Tano’s massive steps forward; and, hopefully, it’ll make sense with what we’ve all already come to know within this universe.
As for now? Well, Tano has a stoicism that doesn’t sit well with me. I can appreciate that she’s matured; she still seems a bit too emotionally detached for my tastes.
Actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo is the show’s other big star. Filling out the shoes of Sabine Wren – an apparently Force-sensitive ‘padawan’ to Ahsoka who also walked away from training (or vice versa) – Bordizzo manages to smirk and smile a lot more than perhaps was expected in this first episode, showing hints of what Ahsoka herself was like in her early days as a character in this universe. That may be narratively what Filoni is going with here – maybe Ahsoka saw a bit too much of herself in Sabine and that’s why the teacher/student relationship went sour – but we’ll have to see more in order to have that question answered. Hopefully that, too, will be up for debate.
All of these points aside, I did experience one massive disappointment with the pilot episode. I saved this for last because it does harken back to my familiarity with other Star Wars shows, so I thought it significant but not a central issue.
One of my personal joys in the wider galaxy far, far away are those characters who are not Force users. Because they’re – say – less special and closer to ordinary folks, I think storytellers have to go to greater lengths to give each of them their own uniqueness. For example, there’s a whole cadre of fans out there who worship at the trough of Wedge Antilles, and they do so because he’s a face that goes along with all of the Original Trilogy’s heroes entirely as a second fiddle. His actual screen time is quite brief, but he still manages to represent the ‘Average Joe’ toiling out there between the forces of dark and light in Star Wars. Similarly, Han Solo – about as far from a Force user as you can get in the Lucas-inspired property – is that cynical hotshot who thinks he knows everything about the world and more; despite not being able to stand toe-to-toe with Vader and Boba Fett, he still manages to give them a good run for their money. This also speaks volumes to fans, giving them hope that they – with their own cynicism – can find a way to exist out there.
Aboard Star Wars Rebels, I saw this dynamic largely filled by the character of pilot and space captain Hera Syndulla; and she’s brought to life in Ahsoka by actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Whereas in Rebels the very capable and very commanding Syndulla swept into the middle of any situation and knew precisely what to do about it (or made it by the seat of her Twi’lek pants), Winstead – a very, very, very respected and awarded talent – is given nearly nothing to do to stand around and look ‘alien’ much of the time. It’s almost as if she’s only here because she’s visually different and a reminder that we’re in Star Wars territory (in case you missed it), and that’s a huge disservice both to the actress and (more importantly) to the character. Hera even had to deal with an incredible heartache in Rebels – the loss of a loved one – and I can only hope and pray that Filoni has something more in store for her here than window dressing. Sorry if I sound like I’m upset, but that’s damn near criminal in my mind.
It’s Star Wars, and as a longtime fan I feel somewhat obligated to give Star Wars: Ahsoka an endorsement … but it won’t be a ringing one. Like so many of their Disney+ shows, this one has something to offer if you’re willing to sit through it, be patient, and don’t overthink it. While I’m no huge fan of the character, there’s a comfort and familiarity to her situation and circumstances. At this point, I’m hoping for it to improve, and maybe Filoni can prove that his first time at bat in the realm of live action storytelling is warranted.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’m beholden to no one to provide a review of Star Wars: Ahsoka streaming series as I’m presently a subscriber to Disney+ … which might be changing in the future as their programming has really gotten a bit stale.