Ahsoka Goes Beyond the Galaxy Far, Far Away (And Over my Head)

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Ahsoka Goes Beyond the Galaxy Far, Far Away (And Over my Head)

I have what I consider to be an extensive, nay unhealthy degree of Star Wars knowledge (and opinions), regarding everything from its cinematic influences (all of them) to its truly trivial offshoots. So when I say that Ahsoka is starting to get to be too much homework even for me, I want to stress that I don’t know how that could possibly be, either.

Ahsoka is pretty okay! It has some long cuts or redundant shots that seem to suggest creator Dave Filoni—who studied at the feet of the latter-day animation greats, from Mike Judge to the Avatar: The Last Airbender crew—still has some stuff to learn about the pacing of live action shows. It handles the political realities of the New Republic (that is, the government that has arisen since the defeat of the Empire from the original trilogy of films) with less nuance than Andor did, but it’s not trying to be that angry, rabble-rousing show. It’s got more of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who is welcome to adopt me at any time.

Like most Star Wars stuff at this point though, whether or not it’s good is less interesting than whether it does anything new or worthy of note, and unfortunately, like a lot of recent stuff, Ahsoka is less about what it’s about and more about referencing things that have come before and setting the table for some later work. Star Wars has felt obligatory lately, in the way Disney’s other big intellectual property, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has felt obligatory for the past decade. If you skip Ahsoka, there is going to be a bunch of stuff you won’t understand when the next Star Wars property, the one you might actually want to watch, comes out.

Ahsoka picks up more or less exactly where the cartoon Star Wars: Rebels left off, with the eponymous character (now portrayed by Rosario Dawson) and Mandalorian bad-girl Sabine (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) joining forces to try to find their friend, Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). Ezra—whose character arc in Rebels leaves you wondering why the rebellion even needs Luke Skywalker—sacrifices himself heroically in the very last act of Rebels, and in so doing removes the threat of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen, reprising his role from the cartoon). Thrawn is a brilliant tactician, and the sort of figurehead who Ahsoka believes could reunite the defeated Empire and pose a new threat to the fledgling Republic.

Accordingly, the show begins with her trying to hunt down a map to another galaxy, where Ezra was able to lure Thrawn at the end Rebels (it involves intergalactic space whales, making it officially the second-hardest-to-explain sci-fi narrative revolving around whales in space). Why anybody made this map is unclear! Perhaps they were the same people who made the map to Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, or any of the two or three maps in The Rise of Skywalker. Sabine joins Ahsoka despite the tension between the two: Sabine has a limited amount of talent in the Force, but her willingness to learn the ways of the Jedi and Ahsoka’s ability to teach them to her without grating on her are at odds. This is complicated further by the fact that a faction of bad guy Force users are hunting for the very same map, because it will also lead them to Thrawn. (How did they know about it? Why are both sides scrapping over it at the precise same time?)

The latest episode finally brings the growing tension between Sabine and Ahsoka to a head, with Sabine essentially giving in to her desire to save Ezra over eliminating Thrawn forever, and in so doing, turning herself and the macguffin over to the enemy. As I sat to watch and rewatch these episodes, Sabine’s giving in to temptation didn’t feel right to me in a very specific way, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how until it did finally hit me.

Ahsoka recalls for me Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, a game set during this exact same time period in the vast and splintering lore of Star Wars—after the fall of the Empire—and using a lot of the same conceits: A group of evil non-Jedi Force users who are hell-bent on reviving the Empire, or some other incarnation of it. It’s another of the late-’90s Star Wars adventures that fell during a magical period between when Return of the Jedi came out and when the prequel trilogy debuted, and various novelists and videogame designers were riffing on the original films in a million exciting new ways. The character of Thrawn comes out of that same tradition, being a creation of author Timothy Zahn, who wrote Heir to the Empire, set five years after the fall of the Empire.

In Ahsoka, the bad guys are fallen-Jedi Baylan (the late Ray Stevenson, bringing the most gravitas of anyone) and Shin (Ivanna Sakhno), and a former Nightsister, Morgan (Diana Lee Inosanto). They all look right out of that same era of Star Wars—dour, sinister, hell-bent on traveling the maximum distance possible to execute their evil plans. As of the mini-series’ fourth episode, we haven’t exactly figured out their deeper motivations beyond vague desires to see the Empire return. This is all to say: There isn’t a whole lot new here, and what is here is tough to follow if, like me, you aren’t caught up on more than a decade of cartoon shows.

That exhaustion I feel with Ahsoka surprises me, because I used to love diving that deeply into this stuff. I could name off Rogue Squadron’s line-up for you, fill a spreadsheet with the roll call of Luke’s New Jedi Order, rattle off the model numbers of droids and starfighters that appear nowhere in any of the original films. Some time between Thrawn’s original appearance in 1991 and now, though, that changed, and I actually felt relieved when it became clear that Disney was just sweeping everything off the board and starting fresh with The Force Awakens. Thank goodness, I thought, we can try something new, without any baggage.

But a decade of sequels, TV revivals, and a mountain of tie-ins have heaped that lore up again, and Ahsoka is a show for people who have been following along with all of it. Hera having a kid, Sabine living in a certain abandoned home on Lothal, and even the freakin’ space whales are all things that I’m sure hit other viewers much harder than they did me. To me, those elements are passing details that I have a vague impression are important. As I once wrote about another Marvel property, there’s a difference between referencing other works and requiring other works to be legible in the first place, and Ahsoka is over that line far more often than it isn’t, particularly in the last scene of its fourth episode.

Right before Sabine’s conflicted heel turn, Ahsoka takes a dive off a cliff, and it looks like maybe she’s been shuffled off to some afterlife. (I am informed by other articles that she is in a place called the World Between Worlds, established in, you guessed it, one of Filoni’s earlier cartoons.) And it’s here that the return of another character is revealed, one we definitely know is really most sincerely dead.

I know this tugged heart-strings. I see why it did, and I can respect why it did. But I also see how it’s another in a decades-long effort to rehabilitate the Star Wars prequels, which were just not very good movies. It is okay that they were not good; not everything in a nearly 50-year franchise is going to be good. Sometimes Han Solo is going to buy Leia a planet as a wedding gift, accidentally crash land them on it, and have a Doc Savage-style adventure there. Ahsoka is part of the wider Star Wars effort to retroactively reassure everyone that no, really, those movies were fine, because they’re connected to all the better stuff we’re making now. You should buy more of it!

There’s plenty to like here, from some decent fights to some good performances. I am always here to see dark-siders tempt heroes with the quick and easy path. Like The Mandalorian, a show that was way better when it was just doing space samurai stuff and doing it extremely well, all the references to earlier lore just don’t leave the series enough room to be its own thing.

Kenneth Lowe didn’t expect to see you here so soon. You can follow him on Twitter @IllusiveKen until it collapses, on Bluesky @illusiveken.bsky.social, and read more at his blog.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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