“Ahsoka” is a Disney+ Star Wars series that premiered this past August and follows the story of Ahsoka Tano. Tano as a character was introduced in the 2008 animated movie “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which served as a feature-length pilot for the series of the same name that ran from 2008 to 2012.
Fans were initially weary of Ahsoka’s place in the Star Wars story as the padawan apprentice of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. For a couple years, she was seen as annoying by many viewers.
As her character developed through, she quickly became a fan favorite. Thus it was no surprise then when showrunner Dave Filoni brought the character back for multiple subsequent series. So far, she has appeared in “The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars: Rebels,” “The Mandalorian,” a revival season of “The Clone Wars,” and now her own show.
“Ahsoka” picks up the titular character’s story after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and her appearance in “The Mandalorian.” Ahsoka, after spending the years during the original trilogy helping the rebellion from the shadows, begins a quest to find a lost friend and stop a dangerous foe.
Apart from some minor issues, I am absolutely delighted with the series. Filoni, who directed two episodes and wrote all eight episodes, has succeeded in crafting a series that treads new ground while also honoring what came before.
As for the casting, I am thrilled. Initially, I had reservations about the choice of Rosario Dawson to play Tano in “The Mandalorian” Season 2. But after seeing her portray the character in her own show, I have come around on the choice. In my mind, Ahsoka will always be the animated character voiced by Ashley Eckstein, but Dawson’s live-action version is a worthy adaptation.
Transitioning a character from animation to live-action is always a difficult task. Fans have strong feelings and expectations, and actors must walk a fine line between meeting those expectations and making the character their own. Luckily for us, Filoni has proven himself capable of making that leap. Many of the characters in this show are returning from “Rebels,” and each does justice to their animated origins.
Apart from the titular character, “Ahsoka” focuses most on members of the “Rebels” crew, including Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). They are also joined by the astromech Chopper, a foul-mouthed and reckless droid adored by fans.
Winstead’s portrayal of Syndulla was the only performance in the show that felt lacking. That is not to say it was bad, but it fell short of what I expected for the bold and devoted matriarch of the “Rebels” crew.
Bordizzo and Esfandi’s portrayals of Wren and Bridger, however, leave little room for improvement. Both embodied their characters and made their scenes feel as though they were from an episode of “Rebels,” full of hijinks and banter.
Ray Stevenson, who played a mysterious dark Jedi named Baylan Skoll, gave a stunning performance. His presence was palpable and his acting helped create one of the most intriguing Star Wars characters to date.
Unfortunately, Stevenson passed away in May, just three months before the show’s premier. It is a shame that he did not get to see how much viewers loved his character. I was familiar with Stevenson from his role as Titus Pullo in HBO’s “Rome,” another excellent performance. Stevenson put his heart into both of these characters, and it shows.
It is currently unknown if there are plans to recast the character of Baylan Skoll. If Disney and Lucasfilm do decide to recast, whoever steps into the role will have very big shoes to fill. Skoll’s storyline is not resolved by the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see how they navigate the situation.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Ivanna Sakhno plays Skoll’s apprentice, Shin Hati. Hati’s performance is fun to watch, and she gives an almost feral energy to the character. David Tennant voices the droid Huyang, reprising his role from “The Clone Wars.” Huyang remains a favorite of mine, and Tennant excels at mixing the robot-like logic with sass.
The most anticipated return was that of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. The Star Wars saga is that of the Skywalker lineage, and “Ahsoka” utilizes the great opportunity it had to explore the dynamic between Anakin and Ahsoka, especially after the events of the original trilogy. Christensen reprised the role last year in “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” a miniseries following Skywalker’s master between the prequels and original trilogy.
Christensen’s role in that series was fairly limited, but he is allowed to shine in a few sequences in “Ahsoka.” He brings Skywalker’s charm and characteristic volatility to bear and helps reinforce the show’s themes about cyclical trauma. He seems to genuinely enjoy playing Anakin, something prequel fans certainly enjoy seeing.
Another returning character is Grand Admiral Thrawn, a ruthless and calculating Imperial officer. Thrawn was originally created in 1991 by Timothy Zahn, an author responsible for some of the best books in the Star Wars expanded universe. After being de-canonized following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, Thrawn returned to canon in “Rebels” as a primary antagonist to the show’s band of heroes. Voiced by Lars Mikkelson, Thrawn quickly became a fan favorite.
Mikkelson reprises his role as Thrawn in “Ahsoka,” which certainly helped the character’s transition to live-action. Maintaining the character’s imposing presence and aura of tactical genius, Mikkelson is undoubtedly a highlight of the show for me.
One of the very few problems I see with the show is how interconnected it is. “Ahsoka” relies on literal years of prior storytelling. Its plot is driven by story arcs beginning in “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” and it has countless callbacks and references.
As someone who has religiously consumed Star Wars content since I could say the word “Jedi,” I have been immersed in all the lore and storylines over the years. I absolutely enjoy “Ahsoka,” but I recognize that my enjoyment is probably predicated on having grown up with these characters and being engaged with these storylines.
But for someone who has only seen the movies, or even worse, is new to Star Wars, I imagine the series could be confusing. There is just too much prior knowledge expected from the viewer for some. Watching a show should not require hundreds of hours of homework beforehand, but that’s a larger trend in the media environment and not limited to this series.
Another issue, which I feel is more substantial, is one that can be levied at most recent streaming shows. That issue is the number of episodes and their length. The days of television shows having seasons with 20–30 hour-long episodes seem to be in the past, which is a shame. Mini-series with 8–12 episodes coming in at 30–40 minutes a piece have seemingly become the norm.
Unfortunately, it also seems Disney has a problem with accurately gauging how long a story takes to tell. Marvel’s “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” was given nine episodes and struggled to pad out that runtime. Meanwhile, “Ahsoka” is hampered by an episode count of just eight, for a story that easily could have been stretched to 10 or more.
The story would have been greatly improved by giving it a little more breathing room. A setting like the Star Wars universe requires world-building and lore. That is where the magic is. Don’t get me wrong, “Ahsoka” adds to the mythos of the galaxy far far away. But climactic events and emotional character reunions ended up being cut short by the short runtime.
“The Mandalorian” Season 1 is a great example of how to do it right. Some fans decry the use of “filler episodes,” but they can be used to great effect, providing amazing world-building and tying into the larger story. If given the room to explore the world around the story, “Ahsoka” could have gone from good to great.
Despite my issues with its length, I am very happy with how Ahsoka Tano’s story has been told and expanded upon. A character that was once a grating sidekick has been fleshed out by Filoni to be one of Star Wars’ most quintessential characters.
Filoni and others’ efforts have gone a long way in filling out the story between the original trilogy and sequel trilogy. I am excited to see what comes next in their grand vision, and certainly look forward to Season 2 of “Ahsoka.”