TV Reviews

Ahsoka (Season One) – TV Review

Contains spoilers.

Ahsoka was going to have to do a lot of things. When it was announced that the character was going to be getting her own series, and that it was going to be a continuation of the beloved animated series Star Wars Rebels there was pressure for it to do justice to the show. It was also, of course, going to be a continuation of Ahsoka’s story which began in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and has featured throughout several other shows. And then they went and announced at Star Wars Celebration that Dave Filoni was going to be directing a film, and that this series was leading up to that (along with the other shows set in that era). The series was going to have to manage all of that, and yet still be an entertaining piece all itself. No easy task by any means.

The story begins continuing on from when we first saw Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) in live action in The Mandalorian, with former Imperial Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) being transported by the New Republic to stand trial. However, the ship she’s on comes under attack by a pair of lightsaber-wielding mercenaries, Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), who kill the crew and release Elsbeth. Morgan uses her newfound freedom to continue her mission to find and rescue the missing Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), who went missing almost a decade ago.

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She isn’t the only one looking for Thrawn, however, as Ahsoka discovers an ancient device in an old Night Sister temple on a deserted world. Ahsoka brings the device to her ally in the New Republic, General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), hoping that it might prove the threat of Thrawn’s return. Knowing that it might also be the key to finding their missing friend, the Jedi Knight Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), Ahsoka brings the device to the former rebel Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who has been watching over Ezra’s home in his absence. However, when Elsbeth’s forces come for the device it begins a race against time to stop the return of one of the galaxy’s biggest threats, and a journey that will lead to a whole new galaxy of danger.

Ahsoka is a show that plays it sly. At the beginning things feel very familiar, even if you’ve not seen the animated series that this show is a continuation of. We’re in a time that we know thanks to The Mandalorian, we’re fighting the threat of the Imperial Remnant, and even the introduction of a couple of dark side Force users and a surviving Inquisitor add a bit of something new for our heroes to fight; yet it’s also something that we’ve seen elsewhere. The first few episodes are ‘grounded’, in as much as this fantastical universe is ever grounded. However, as the series goes on it begins to introduce more and more fantastical elements, eventually creating one of the most magical experiences in Star Wars.

©Disney.

The biggest of these is the fact that Ahsoka takes us to another galaxy, something that has never been done in Star Wars. We find out where the Purgill took Thrawn and Ezra at the end of Star Wars Rebels, and the answer is more surprising than most people considered. Not only is it in another galaxy, but a world filled with mystery, magic, the Force, and more questions than you’d expect. The series takes us to a world that belongs to the Night Sisters, (bringing them into live action fully for the first time) a world where their dark magics rule supreme, and ancient secrets are lying in wait. And some of our heroes get there by flying across galaxies inside of a giant space whale. It’s magical, and it’s so wonderfully Star Wars.

And that sense of magic and wonder permeates the show. In what is perhaps the greatest episode of any Star Wars show ever made, Ahsoka finds herself in the World Between Worlds, a place outside of time and space. Here, she comes face to face with her old master, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) who helps her to deal with the trauma that she’s been carrying about his fall. He does this by taking her through her memories, and we go back to the Clone Wars, complete with a young Ahsoka played perfectly by Ariana Greenblatt. We get to see the animated series brought to life in live action, witness the Siege of Mandalore. And whilst all of this could be happening in Ahsoka’s head as she lays dying in the ocean, the fact that the son of Kanan Jarrus can hear her through the Force shows that it was real. It’s the kind of magic that often feels lost in the world of Star Wars.

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For those fans of Star Wars Rebels hoping to see their beloved characters brought to life in the show, Ahsoka doesn’t disappoint. Mary Elizabeth Winstead feels like a war weary Hera, a slightly older Hera who has gone from the leader of a small rebel cell to one of the key generals in the Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic. She also plays the part of a mother beautifully, and the inclusion of a young Jacen (Evan Whitten) was a moment that brought genuine tears.

Natasha Liu Bordizzo is fantastic as Sabine, and brings a lot of the character’s anger and rebellious spirit to life well. She’s also a character who’s been through a lot, who has lost her entire family in the Night of a Thousand Tears, which saw Mandalore destroyed, and even spent some time training with Ahsoka. The continuation of her training first begun by Kanan in Star Wars Rebels is a big part of her journey in Ahsoka, and her trying to become a Jedi and tap into the Force is something that feels like an unusual, but also very believable next stage in her journey.

One character that everyone was anxious to see make the leap to live action was Grand Admiral Thrawn, a beloved EU character that was brought into the new canon in Star Wars Rebels and brought to life wonderfully by Lars Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen brought gravitas to the character, made he feel threatening and powerful just through his voice. As such, people were clamouring for him to reprise the role, and Dave Filoni listened. Lars returns as Thrawn, and there’s just no one else who could play that role. At first it is a bit jarring hearing that voice coming out of a living person rather than animation, but Lars has been playing this role for so long that he returned to the role without it feeling like he ever left. This is Thrawn, the same ruthless, calculating, and strangely charming character that dominated Star Wars Rebels, and come the end of the season his threat to the rest of the galaxy feels very, very real.

©Disney.

The most surprising new actor for the Star Wars Rebels cast, however, is Eman Esfandi as Ezra. The first time we see him in the show he’s playing the hologram version of Ezra that was left behind at the end of the animated series. The mannerisms and the way he speaks felt just like Ezra, but it’s not until he returns that you really get to see just how perfect he is for the role. He not only looks like an older Ezra, but the way he moves, the way he stands, his speech pattern, all of it screams Ezra Bridger. Whilst the show brings so many of the characters to life in amazing ways, he is perhaps the most perfect, even beating Lars who played his character in animation.

As for the lead character, I’ve seen some people complain that the live action version of Ahsoka felt colder, and more detached than she did in animation. And I’d agree with that to a certain degree. Whilst Rosario Dawson captured the physicality of the character well, it did feel like parts of her character were missing. Of course, this was a part of the story, and the fifth episode of the season addresses that head on. After her time with Anakin, after she confronts the pain and guilt she feels for not being there for him when he needed help the most, she re-emerges changed. Not only does she don new clothing (Ahsoka the White, as fans have dubbed her), but it’s like a weight has been lifted from her. She’s smiling, she has faith in the Force, and she seems to be at peace even when things seem at their worst. This series might be heavily about the Ghost crew and their journeys, but it in no way forgets about its titular character.

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The series also added some new characters in the form of Baylan and Shin, mercenary Force users allied with Elsbeth. Baylan, played by the late Ray Stevenson, is a former Jedi Knight who survived Order 66, and has become somewhat disillusioned with the galaxy since. Stevenson plays this wonderfully, and there’s a sense of honour and decency to the man that you tend not to find in most depictions of dark side users. This is hinted at in his saber, which isn’t the pure red that we’re used to seeing, but a deep orange instead.

There are hints that there could be some good in him, and he keeps proving this throughout the series by being a man who doesn’t just want to see the galaxy burn, as a man who keeps his word even to his enemies. The series ends in a hugely important way for his character, bringing in more mystery and more mysticism that will get any fan excited to see what will happen next. Sadly, with us having lost Ray Stevenson even before the first episode aired it looks like Baylan’s story will have to either end in this form, or continue on with another actor in the role. Either way, Stevenson has created a character that fans have quickly fallen in love with, and who has left a lasting mark on Star Wars, which is a wonderful tribute to him.

Ahsoka is perhaps also one of the best looking series that has been made for Star Wars. Whilst Andor was a phenomenal series, and looks fantastic, it was a very grounded show, and made the Star Wars universe feel more real than ever before. Ahsoka goes in the opposite direction, and makes it feel more magical than before. Giant star whales flying through space, dark magics, a world ringed with the bodies of Cthulian beasts, giant statues of ancient Force gods, magical swords, and the undead all make the series different. Star Wars has never been hard science fiction, and has always been science fantasy, and this show embraces that part. If Andor is the gritty and realistic war story, this is The Lord of the Rings of Star Wars. The beautiful, wondrous elements of the show are jaw dropping, and give the series a scope that others have failed to capture.

©Disney.

Because it’s a show with multiple characters with lightsabers you expect the series to feature decent action, and it more than lives up to that. Each of the characters has their own feel to them when it comes to combat. Baylan Skoll is a medieval knight who walks slowly and hammers through your defences with hard strikes. Shin Hati is chaotic, she moves quickly and in unexpected ways. Sabine is not really able to tap into the Force, so she’s clumsier with the saber, and relies on her Beskar armour to help out, blocking blows with her gauntlets and using her other weapons. Ezra has survived without his weapon for almost a decade, and fights hand to hand using the Force to augment him. All of the fights in the series feel different and unique because each one is telling us more about the characters, how they approach combat, and what it says about who they are.

The two best fights in the series, however, involve Ahsoka. Dawson has clearly been training a lot, and whilst there are likely times when stunt doubles are used, for the most part it looks like she did the majority of the combat herself. Her fight with Anakin stands out due in part to Hayden, who steps back into saber combat like he’s just come off the set of Revenge of the Sith. He still moves like Anakin, and we get to see him pull out some iconic moves in a fight that feels like The Clone Wars brought to life. The final episode’s confrontation between Ahsoka and Elsbeth is also worthy of note. Diana Lee Inosanto is a trained martial artist and sword fighter, having grown up around fighters. And you can tell that in her fight. She moves with a fluidity and skill that you don’t normally see in actors who’ve been training for weeks or months, and she may be one of the most skilled combatants the franchise has had.

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The series music is also worthy of note, and features the return of Kevin Kiner, who has composed the music on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. The music here brings back several important themes, and for those who’ve been watching since the animated series began it’s a big part of why the show feels so damn good. We get to hear Ahsoka’s theme in a way we’ve never had it before, the music that accompanied the Purgil in Rebels adds to the magic of seeing them on screen in live action, and Thrawn’s entrance is chilling because of the music. Even the end credits music of the show, which is a beautiful melding of Sabine, Hera, and Ahsoka’s themes into a new piece is something that both adds to the magic of the series, and indicates to the audience the merging of these characters narratives. The Ahsoka soundtrack is a beautiful piece of work that I’ll be listening to again and again, and Kiner needs to be the person to score Filoni’s movie.

With so many things that the show had to do, to continue Rebels, to move Ahsoka’s story on, and to set the stage for the next part of the journey towards the Thrawn movie, does it do a good job? Yes, without a doubt. Ahsoka is one of the most magical and rewarding stories in Star Wars. It brings back beloved characters, it adds more wonder to the universe, and it feels like a love letter to some characters and stories that began fifteen years ago. As someone who has been following Ahsoka’s story since it began, and who has loved this character for so long, this was an amazing experience. I was filled with awe, I was excited to find out what came next, I laughed, I wept, and I kept on wanting more. I’m sure there will be some who will hate this series, and the complaints and nit-picks are already all over social media, but for me, this was perfect Star Wars.

Ahsoka is now streaming on Disney+.

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