The first episode of Ahsoka features a crackerjack opening full of everything most fans would consider to be Star Wars‘ greatest hits. A smaller shuttle lands inside a much larger ship. Mysterious emissaries emerge. Terse words are exchanged, hands waved, lightsabers ignited, and the Force used. Before long, a prisoner has been sprung and a new threat put in play. Should we mention there’s an opening text crawl, albeit in red and not vanishing into the background like The Clone Wars‘ final season?
Amid the familiar trappings, Ray Stevenson proves a perfect fit, enunciating this universe’s made-up words with the gravitas of Alec Guinness and giving us yet another reason to mourn his untimely passing in real life. As Baylan Skoll, he appears to be a former Jedi youngling who now serves as a “neither Jedi nor Sith” mercenary. And like so many real-life people who say they’re centrists, by taking “no” side he has effectively taken the bad side. His voice, however, could convince you otherwise, with compelling notes of both calm and sinister.
Snips, No Longer Snippy
Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson), in becoming more or less a full Jedi, is found at her least interesting – meditative, detached, still an awesome fighter but with the personality of a sober monk. It’s almost the polar opposite of her introduction in The Clone Wars movie as a bratty teen who gave everyone “funny” nicknames, and an indication that indeed, the characters who wield the Force could use the same balance as the mystical power itself. Her only companion is Huyang (David Tennant), the familiar droid who copilots her ship but generally refuses to do anything that she ought to have a Padawan for.
Both she and Skoll’s employers seek a map, not to Luke Skywalker this time, but to the Unknown Regions where Grand Admiral Thawn and Rebel hero Ezra Bridger presumably ended up at the end of the Rebels animated series. If you didn’t catch that one, don’t worry – the show offers enough context that you won’t be lost. You may, however, not care as much as showrunner/writer Dave Filoni (who directs episode 1, with Steph Green on episode 2) does to finally linger on his animated creations in live action.
The first two Ahsoka episodes add up to a movie’s length of run-time, but not a lot actually happens. Given the chance to simply spend down time on Lothal, or with Ahsoka or Sabine Wren, Filoni takes it. There’s a feeling of overcompensation here – no longer forced to tell a jam-packed, kid-friendly action cartoon, he errs a bit on the side of art-house. Who knew he nursed a secret desire to do Chloe Zhao’s Star Wars? It’s a nice try, but Zhao he is not, at least yet.
Ahsoka and Sabine, we learn, have been Jedi training together, but something happened to make the former walk away. Reunited in the hope that her apparently unique artistic skills can decode the map, the two have a bit of a rough reunion. Meanwhile, their mutual friend General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in a position to offer the full assistance of the New Republic. Two episodes in, there’s no sign of her kid, or Zeb (who’s probably too expensive an effect to be a TV regular), but Chopper’s still around, making those semi-profane sounding noises he does.
Winstead feels like she’s playing Hera a little younger and less jaded than she was before – motherhood doing wonders? — while Natasha Liu Bordizzo feels exactly the way an older Sabine should. (If you aren’t familiar with Sabine, well, it’s fair to say she’s a liberal Mandalorian and acts like it.) As for other returning characters, Ezra (Eman Esfandi) appears via previously recorded hologram to assert that his bond with Sabine is fraternal (no sexy thoughts allowed on Disney+, people!), and Thrawn is nowhere to be seen yet.
Amusingly, one actor we do see is Clancy Brown, surprisingly in Star Wars but not using his height and scary face to threatening advantage. Instead, he comes really close to using his Mr. Krabs voice from SpongeBob. For those of us who’ve always had trouble mentally reconciling the two, it’s an “a-ha!” moment. And it is perhaps a waste of his talents in such a small role, but maybe he’ll do more later. It’s tough to judge a series this early on – Andor’s first episodes were by far its best, but one hopes a picking up of the pace is in store for Ahsoka.
Ever since Darth Maul survived bisection, Star Wars has annoyingly walked back the damage a lightsaber can actually do, with the Obi-Wan series featuring two characters surviving impalement by the Jedi weapons. Ahsoka continues this trend, which retroactively makes Qui-Gon Jinn’s death in The Phantom Menace seem stupidly preventable (or perhaps the result of another broken heart). Regardless, if characters know at this point that a saber through the waist isn’t certain death — and they should — they ought not treat it like a killing blow either.
To its credit, Ahsoka (the show and the character) doesn’t go on endless side-quests like The Mandalorian or rely on foregone-conclusion flashbacks like The Book of Boba Fett. However, it doesn’t offer a lot to replace them except stillness, which is great for the mind of a Jedi, but maybe not so much for a show called Star Wars. They’re clearly doling out effects sequences within the budget, but viewers are probably less interested in every nook and cranny of Sabine’s home than they are in her getting her crap together and joining in the mission at hand. Just hanging out in the Star Wars universe felt novel in The Mandalorian, but we’re past that now.
If you like Star Wars, there’s not much to offend here, and a few moments that stand out, particularly whenever Baylan Skoll is onscreen. But if you were hoping for more than that, keep hoping. They’d better not leave Thrawn’s return for episode 8, though at the pace they’re going now, it feels like a distinct, and dull, possibility.
Grade: Incomplete, but 3/5 for now.