When the prequel films first came out it was an era of derision for ‘fans’ of Star Wars. They weren’t what people were expecting, weren’t what they saw as Star Wars; they disliked the characters, the writing, the acting, everything. Think of how people treat the sequel trilogy now and it was pretty much that. But over the years, as people had longer to sit with the films, opinions changed, and through additional material like Star Wars: The Clone Wars the era was given more depth and time to grow, and has become a firm favourite amongst many fans.
The Clone Wars have long since ended, both in universe, and for viewers, after Dave Filoni brought season seven back to screens to finish those stories. And whilst Disney seem to be focusing on building the times every side of the original trilogy, with projects like Andor and Obi-Wan Kenobi showing the rise of the Empire, and The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett showing the time after its fall, we get to go back to an earlier era with the latest animated Star Wars series for six short episodes in Star Wars: Tale of the Jedi.
This new series, set during the time of the prequel era, has a very specific mission: to tell stories about the Jedi, and how their lives changed over the years. The first season picks two characters to focus on, with each of them getting three episodes. And at first glance the choice for Jedi seem a bit unusual: there’s Count Dooku (Corey Burton), and Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Ahsoka makes some sense, as she’s a character created by series showrunner Dave Filoni, and is one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise, but Dooku seems like an odd choice as he’s a character viewers never got to see as a Jedi. But that’s absolutely the point.
Both of these characters are ones that were part of the Jedi order, who trained for years to become the perfect Jedi, and they both left the order. Dooku would go on to leave to become the leader of the Separatists, and a Sith, whilst Ahsoka left after being falsely accused of treason, and basically told the Jedi to stuff it. They’re characters who gave up on the Jedi (kind of), so why not tell the stories about what that means for two people walking so similar yet opposing paths.
The Dooku stories are by far the best on offer in this season, and we get to see him at three different points in his life that flesh out his backstory and show the reasons for him turning his back on the Jedi. The first sees a very young Dooku, looking like a fresh-faced Christopher Lee, and his padawan Qui-Gon Jin (voiced by Michael Richardson, the son of Liam Neeson), travelling to a world to free a senator’s son. The second story, set years later, sees Dooku and Mace Windu (T.C. Carson) investigating the death of a Jedi Master who was protecting a senator. In both stories Dooku sees a darker side of the Republic senators, begins to see the place of the Jedi within the Republic as being opposed to what they’re doing. You start to understand why he would look at the Republic as corrupt, and why he’d choose to leave the order to get away from that.
However, it’s the third episode of his story that hits the best. Set during the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, it shows us the final meeting between Dooku and Qui-Gon (played by Neeson this time), how Kamino got removed from the Jedi archive as part of Palpatine’s plans, and the final fall of Dooku to true member of the dark side. The episode also heavily features Yaddle (Bryce Dallas Howard), a character that appeared briefly in the background of one film, but has had fans’ attention for decades. We finally get to spend some time with her in this episode, and she’s wonderful, and her scenes with Dooku are fantastically done. Whilst we had so little time with her here, hopefully she might be a character who gets a similar focus in future seasons.
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The Ahsoka stories, in contrast, feel a little different, as there’s no clear theme to them. They’re not showing her reasons for leaving the Jedi like Dooku, as we’ve already seen that. Instead, they show three important points in her life. The first is her origin, and we’re there for the birth of Ahsoka, a moment that was surprisingly more emotional than I was expecting. We see the baby Ahsoka with her family, a family that she’ll come to lose, and get to see the life her people had. The episode shows the moment when her people learn that she has force powers, a moment that essentially seals her fate to become a Jedi. It’s a wonderfully different episode, one that feels unlike what we come to expect from prequel era animation, and takes its time, soaking in the beauty and peace of its setting.
The second story is set during the events of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and shows Anakin (Matt Lanter) training Ahsoka. We see that Ahsoka is a good fighter, that she passes the Jedi’s tests, but that it’s not good enough for Anakin, who wants to push her harder. Training with the clones of the 501st, including Rex and Jessie (Dee Bradley Baker), she trains to defend herself from human targets, blocking their blasts, getting knocked out countless times in the process. She gets pushed further than any other Jedi, spending years training against the clones. But this isn’t just to show that she’s trained differently to other Jedi, that Anakin was a more unorthodox teacher, this shows us how she was different enough to survive Order 66. She wasn’t special, she was trained to do it, over and over and over. Anakin’s desire to keep her safe, his refusal to act like a regular Jedi saves her life, and the episode’s final moments add to a scene in Star Wars: The Clone Wars that was already emotional enough.
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Ahsoka’s final episode is one that, if you’re a Star Wars fan, I’m sure you’ll have heard some discussion of by now. Set after the events of Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, this story is a condensed retelling of the events of the Ahsoka novel. Just like in the book we see Ahsoka hiding out on a farm planet, and she has to fight an Inquisitor to try and save the people there. But compared to the book, it’s short, has no depth, and omits a character that has come to mean a lot to some fans, replacing a queer black character with a white woman. This episode feels like a quick summary designed to bring non book readers up to speed on how she went from a former Jedi to fighting back against the Empire, but the changes make little sense, and it feels a little disrespectful to the novel, especially as this is yet another time Filoni has altered events from print for the screen. Whilst not a bad episode by any means, those who care about the book will probably come away feeling a bit odd about this one.
Overall, the stories in this first season are great, and add a lot to both characters, and whilst some work more than others they do leave you coming away feeling like you understand these two a little more, especially Dooku. This series has some of the best Dooku moments, makes him a hugely more interesting and nuanced character, and also makes a background character in one film into a character that can easily sit on a favourite Jedi list.
The series has some fantastic visuals, and the animation has really been pushed and improved since the beginning of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There are moments where it’s genuinely stunning, with the opening Ahsoka episode and her home world looking beautiful throughout. The backgrounds and tiny details that make these worlds feel like real, lived-in places have come a long way, and make this some of the best looking Star Wars animation we have. The characters also move really well, and some of the more unusual movements from early seasons is gone, with things having much more realistic feel during the action moments. Ahsoka’s fight with the Inquisitor is particularly well animated, and had me yelling at the screen for how good it is.
Kevin Kiner, the composer on both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels returns for this series, and the music throughout is as beautiful as we’ve come to expect. The series uses some familiar musical themes in new an interesting ways, such as Ahsoka’s theme in her opening episode using more woodwind instruments to give it a different feel that works with the quieter, less futuristic setting. Key moments are enhanced through Kiner’s music, and he’s quickly become one of the best composers for the saga.
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi isn’t perfect, it does have some issues that book readers will find fault with, but as an overall show, and one for those that haven’t read that one novel, it’s fantastic. The Dooku episodes are amazing, and any extra Ahsoka content is always going to be welcome. With the concept being open to telling stories about any Jedi from any era this is perhaps one of the more exciting series for the franchise right now. There’s no telling where the next season might go, if we’ll see more familiar faces from the prequels, stories about Luke and Leia, Rey, or even the High Republic. Whatever the show chooses to focus on next, if it’s as good as this season, it’s sure to be great.