‘Ahsoka’ Review: New Series Is Great Fan Service to the Biggest Star Wars Nerds

Ahsoka is both a spin-off of The Mandalorian, where its protagonist initially appeared in live-action form, and a direct follow-up to Star Wars Rebels, a four-season animated TV series that concluded in 2018. For those steeped in Star Wars lore, it’s an eagerly anticipated continuation of the story of Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), a Jedi

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Ahsoka is both a spin-off of The Mandalorian, where its protagonist initially appeared in live-action form, and a direct follow-up to Star Wars Rebels, a four-season animated TV series that concluded in 2018. For those steeped in Star Wars lore, it’s an eagerly anticipated continuation of the story of Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), a Jedi who was trained by none other than Darth Vader himself, Anakin Skywalker. For everyone else, its premise alone likely ignites a desire for a roadmap and extensive time to study various Wikipedia pages.

As with more than a few of its Disney ancestors, Ahsoka is an attempt to expand the galaxy far, far away by honing in on its nooks and crannies—a paradoxical approach that has yet to truly make this universe seem as big as its inhabitants claim. Set between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, creator/writer/director Dave Filoni’s eight-episode Disney+ affair (streaming August 23) is built upon a Rebels narrative and character foundation.

That it manages to also clue newbies into what’s going on is rather impressive, but make no mistake about it—unless you’re already invested in the exploits of Ahsoka and her anti-Imperial cohorts, this tale’s interpersonal dynamics, fraught emotions and high-stakes drama will feel more conceptual than pressing. No matter how hard it strives for widespread accessibility, it’s a sequel that will be of primary interest to established fans.

(Warning: Minor spoilers follow.)

Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano in Ahsoka.


That’s not to say, however, that Ahsoka is unduly baffling or uninvolving; rather, it simply works best with a degree of familiarity, and engagement, with its material. In the first of many nods to George Lucas’ original trilogy, whose style and atmosphere it faithfully channels, it begins with an expository text crawl that sets the proverbial scene: in this post-Empire period, evil forces are plotting to locate exiled Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), a Rebels Big Bad who seeks to restore the Empire. A secret map is the key to finding Thrawn, and it’s sought by one of his allies: Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), who’s been captured and is being transported on a large vessel to the New Republic for trial.

That ship is boarded by two individuals, Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), who purport to be Jedis. Despite the skepticism of the vessel’s captain, these two robed villains prove their Force-wielding mettle and successfully free Morgan, who promptly embarks on a quest to acquire the map.

They’re not the only people looking for that chart. On a dusty planet, samurai-esque Ahsoka—she of the long zebra-striped head-tails, white face paint, and humorless attitude—discovers its whereabouts, at which point she’s attacked by droids who are no match for her dual-lightsaber skills. This is a standard means of demonstrating Ahsoka’s combat bona fides, and it’s staged with a clean, swift sharpness that characterizes the proceedings’ sturdy action.

Far from her brattier adolescent origins, Dawson’s adult Ahsoka is a stern and methodical warrior, and while that serves her well in battle, she’s something of a bore in the early going, regardless of the fact that she’s paired with her trusty droid Huang (voiced by David Tennant) and eventually reunites with her own former Padawan, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).

Having ditched her Jedi training (and been abandoned by Ahsoka), Sabine is mourning the supposed death of Rebels hero Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), who sacrificed himself in order to rid the galaxy of Thrawn. She’s roused out of her loner life, and into an uneasy alliance with Ahsoka, by the promise of using the map to find Ezra.

Natasha Liu Bordizzo in Ahsoka.


Ahsoka’s first two episodes (which were all that were provided to press) spend considerable energy on explicating these relationships and backstories—much of them having to do with Ahsoka and Sabine’s strained bond—for those not in the know. Moving forward while explaining the complicated past proves to be an inherently clunky balancing act, yet series mastermind Filoni pulls it off with reasonable aplomb. Although too many sequences feature characters taking their momentum-sapping time staring at objects in order to deduce their secrets, the show remains relatively lucid to newcomers, and is bolstered by an enlivening sense of mythic forces at play.

Ahsoka additionally features witches—namely, the Nightsisters of Dathomir, who count Morgan among their members. This allows the material to lean into Star Wars’ more magical aspects, and not unpleasantly. More frustrating is Filoni’s dialogue, which can be clunky to the point of cartoonishness; “You did good,” says one character, indicating that these advanced societies’ grasp of grammar hasn’t kept up with their technological innovations. Maintaining continuity with Rebels means that this live-action adventure occasionally flirts with childishness, and that impression is exacerbated by Filoni staging multiple scenes at a mural of Ezra and his compatriots that’s been drawn in the style of Rebels’ animation—just in case anyone was confused about the franchise lineage that’s persistently front and center.

Additional holdovers from its predecessor include Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a New Republic general who really, really wants to foster star peace between Ahsoka and Sabine; Chopper, Hera’s loyal bleep-blooping droid; and Thrawn, who’s doesn’t appear in the maiden two episodes. Also slated to pop up in Ahsoka are Hayden Christensen’s Anakin and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma, who’ll undoubtedly further link this to its Star Wars forebearers.

Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno in Ahsoka.


Such synergy is to be expected. Even so, the series is most assured when carving out a unique path; the late Stevenson’s rogue Jedi Baylan, and Sakhno’s windswept-haired Shin, are a menacing and mysterious pair who turn out to be this undertaking’s most fascinating figures, their enigmatic histories and intentions far more intriguing than Ahsoka and Sabine’s estranged-buddies rapport.

With six episodes to go, it’s impossible to gauge whether Ahsoka stands on its own as a valuable addition to the Star Wars mythology or is merely a Rebels appendage that excavates micro chronological moments to trivial ends. For now, the former seems as possible as the latter. Still, doubts remain—here epitomized by Hera’s own pronouncement, “Sometimes even the right reasons have the wrong consequences.”

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