At the start of the season for Ahsoka, I questioned the validity of investing an entire series around Ahsoka Tano, the kinda/sorta fallen/redeemed Jedi/nonJedi that writer/director Dave Filoni clings to with an almost fetishistic attachment. It isn’t that I disliked the character because nothing could be further from the truth; she was a solid and relevant addition to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but I thought she grew a bit uncharacteristically wise with her portrait in Star Wars Rebels. There was just no connective tissue to justify the Togruta’s evolution from scrappy warrior to self-appointed sainthood, though I’m guessing Dave was tickled pink with such private knowledge. I did keep watching, however, hoping that the gap would eventually be filled, but such information was never forthcoming. A few hints and/or suggestions don’t make up the absence of pure facts, so I – and anyone else watching along in confusion – were just along for the ride.
But my point remains: at best, Tano was still a fringe addition – one known only to diehard fans of Star Wars animation – and regular viewers were going to need a helluva lot more to invest in someone appearing practically out of nowhere (from their perspective) who was being awarded a reputation equally Obi-Wan Kenobi’s, Darth Vader’s, and Luke Skywalker’s. Perhaps this series was going to do that; and, if so, this would be effectively both ‘righting the ship’ and positioning the franchise for its next, fateful chapter.
And – if I’m being both perfectly fair and honest – Star Wars, to a degree, does have to evolve. No, no, and no: I’m not insisting that, thematically, it’s old or worn out because nothing could be further from the truth. I suspect that there will always be an audience for stories of good versus evil, and what better universe to set such yarns in as one with space warriors, flying starcraft, laser swords, blasters, robots, and princesses? None of these exist in our everyday and humdrum reality, so these elements are best suited for those hungry to escape somewhere far, far away.
Still, the sad truth is that no actor or actress lives forever – so far as earning a paycheck is concerned – and the real-life loss of Carrie Fisher won’t be the last change felt on show and movie production. Eventually – if Star Wars is to survive – someone will assume the role of Princess Leia Organa – be it live-action and/or canonical animation – and I read some commentary yesterday of Lucasfilm considering such an effort for 2024. Think what you may, that ‘deep fake’ technology can only prop up a franchise for so long, so audiences might want to prepare themselves emotionally for such a change now.
The same must happen in Star Wars.
Of course, haters will immediately shriek and point their fingers at 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story as evidence to suggest such a change will fail; and they’re entitled to their opinion. No one ever said change was easy; the point is that it’s a necessary evil for long-term stability. Because I’m of the generation that grew up with Harrison Ford in the role, I understandably might have the greatest difficulty accepting any other face in the captain’s chair of the Millennium Falcon. Still, it will and should happen. I can only hope that there will be greater attention paid to what stories to tell at that time: most of my gripes with Solo involved why this particular collection of vignettes were chosen, but I’ll leave such dissection for another day.
So … in one regard, I think Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, creative director Dave Filoni, and anyone else involved in the production of Ahsoka thought they were, instead, positioning Star Wars to go off on a somewhat different trajectory, falsely believing “this is the way.” Dare I say – now that all episodes of Ahsoka’s first season have aired – they’ve erred in their strategy?
Here is just a short list of narrative shortcomings exhibited across these eight installments:
- Ahsoka Tano really had no effective introduction. Audiences were given no affirmative reasoning as to why they should spend time with her and journey with her into Star Wars’ future. Instead – as many pointed out – the show felt better when the character wasn’t even around. While she may’ve had a redemption arc, far too much subtext and context was required of new watchers for it to feel truly authentic.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn was positioned as being the greatest threat to galactic peace without there being any demonstrated background as to how this level of threat was established. There were no hints of things he’d done previously. There was no discussion of dastardly doings in his dark past. Instead, viewers were prompted to accept such a reputation at face value, never being given so much as a single visual accounting of what Thrawn’s tactics would mean for all of civilization. None. Zero. Zilch.
- Ezra Bridger was – equally – positioned as ‘a new hope’ that would be the only effective counter to Thrawn’s treachery. Here was a character that – like the grand admiral – apparently had history-altering potential; and yet the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm couldn’t be bothered with showing so much as a single scene of his purported greatness on film. (None. Zero. Zilch. Again.) Once more, the audience was assured ‘just wait until you see what this guy is capable of,’ and there was no effective delivery of how Bridger was gifted with such legendary status.
- Introduced as a Jedi Knight who had mysterious avoided the big purge, Baylan Skoll did have scenes and sequences demonstrating his skills and prowess with a lightsaber; and viewers were treated to vignettes of his managerial competence … which, sadly, boiled down to his standing around, looking menacing, and yet sending off his apprentice Shin Hati to do all the dirty work. Always mysterious, he remained steadfast in his commitment to a personal mission, one that was given absolutely zero explanation throughout these eight episodes. We were treated to his standing on a big statue – much like a pigeon does on monuments in parks all across America – and you can color me underwhelmed.
All of that said, I’ll concede that Ahsoka – as a standalone entity – might not have been a complete failure.
Its viewership stats – depending entirely upon which version you believe (Disney has been pushing numbers which could be true based “on a person’s point of view”) – haven’t been impressive, but even they suggest that “if you build it people will come.” There’s an old adage in stage theater that simply goes, “Some audience is better than no audience,” and maybe that’s all Lucasfilm wanted. Perhaps all they intended to do was gauge the percentage of viewers who would show up for something different, that way the company could effectively diagnose how much money and resources to expend on like-minded fare in the future. Yes, that’s risky and isn’t exactly good business sense, but Mouse House’s track record in this regard hasn’t been – shall we say? – admirable at this juncture. Now that they know what potential market share Ahsoka might command, maybe they’re better positioned for a second season, as one has been long promised.
Clearly, Lucasfilm wanted the show to be a massive, cultural investment in girl power. Hell, even Dave Filoni is on record insisting that anyone showing up for this next chapter in the expanding Star Wars Universe had better damn well get comfortable with women calling the shots (interesting that he’s a male, no?). The heroes were female, the villains were female, and even The Force itself is female (if you believe Kathleen Kennedy). The New Republic is seemingly being run entirely by females, so maybe it isn’t any wonder why such a galactic government is doomed to fail – sorry, haters, but it does fail, as anyone can tell you if he’s seen the Sequel Trilogy. So … how’s that girl power looking now, folks?
And might I point out: the single Force ghost watching over all of it and seemingly powerless to do anything about it in the season’s closing scenes?
It was a man.
In case you missed it, Dave and Kathy? It was a man who brought balance to the Force.
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.