By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
Original Ahsoka Tano actress Ashley Eckstein recently opened up about her initial experiences playing the character in the 2008 animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars, saying that she “sobbed” at the cruel reaction some viewers gave to her new hero and detailing just how much the negativity affected her. In the years since, however, those negative reactions from a small minority of audiences were drowned out by an outpouring of love and affection for Ahsoka, so much so that she has now become one of the most popular and beloved Star Wars characters of all time.
It’s not surprising, then, that such a monumental character would eventually get to lead her own story. That’s where Ahsoka comes in, a new television series from creator Dave Filoni that puts the former padawan of Anakin Skywalker into the spotlight. Set in the same mini-universe, as some fans have dubbed it, as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka tells the story of a race against time to stop Imperial loyalists from finding Grand Admiral Thrawn and beginning another war. Tying into that story is the continuation of the journeys of the main heroes from Star Wars Rebels, who fought Thrawn in the animated series and were the ones responsible for banishing him to the unknown regions, including Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead), and Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), who is also lost in space alongside the villain.
Ahsoka marks the first time that Dave Filoni has taken the sole lead on a live-action show of his own, after previously working hand in hand with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. While Favreau is still creatively involved in Ahsoka, Filoni is credited as the sole writer of all eight episodes of this season, highlighting the responsibility that he’s been given with this series. The question then becomes whether or not Filoni can repeat the same sort of success with being the creative head of Ahsoka that he had on The Clone Wars and Rebels, and the answer is a resounding yes. Filoni shows his maturity as a filmmaker, both in his writing and directing, in the first two episodes of the season, and tells a character driven story that feels like it’s giving the future of the Star Wars franchise a real sense of direction and purpose.
Dave Filoni’s infectious love and adoration for Star Wars and its fans, along with his work on previous episodes of live-action television, could lead some to believe that Ahsoka would shape up to be a fast-paced, adventure driven story that breezes by in an incredibly entertaining fashion. Make no mistake, Ahsoka is entertaining and maintains the sense of adventure that Star Wars stories are known for, but it’s executed in a slower paced manner with a drawn out narrative. In doing so, the characters feel properly fleshed out, particularly Ahsoka and Sabine (the stars of the first two episodes), and allows the growing threat of Thrawn’s return to emerge.
This isn’t the first time that Rosario Dawson, who took over from Ashley Eckstein on the live-action side of things in 2020, has played Ahsoka. Dawson has appeared in both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, but now she takes center stage in her own story. With that position comes some responsibility to continue to make Ahsoka thrive in the main role just as Eckstein did with the character towards the end of The Clone Wars. Dawson succeeds wholeheartedly, going from strength to strength as Ahsoka and proving just how excellent of a choice she was for the role. Eckstein’s incredible work in the role can be seen as an influence to Dawson’s performance throughout, which is a great example of how smooth the transition has be and the way in which Dawson has built on the animated iteration of the hero.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo also takes center stage as the second main character alongside Dawson’s Ahsoka. As mentioned previously, Bordizzo plays Sabine Wren, who appeared as a member of the Ghost crew in Star Wars Rebels. Her character hasn’t been seen since the series ended in 2018, however, but now Wren is back and with a real sense of direction to boot. Her role alongside Ahsoka in this series feels natural, in a way that both serves the story of this show while also continuing Sabine’s character arc from Rebels, and much of that success has to do with the performance of Bordizzo. The Australian actress enters the Star Wars franchise with a confidence and swagger that, just like with Ahsoka, makes the transition from animation to live action feel seamless. There’s no doubt that Sabine in Ahsoka is the same character that appeared in Rebels, and vice-versa. Bordizzo brings a level of believability to her role that is admirable and improves the impact of the show and its story substantially.
There are plenty of new characters that appear in Ahsoka as well, mainly Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati, two dark side force users that are seemingly hired as mercenaries by prominent Imperial remnants to assist them in bringing Thrawn back. Skoll is played by the late Ray Stevenson, who tragically died in May, and who the first episode is touchingly dedicated to when the credits begin. Stevenson is one of the highlights of the series thus far, and much like Bordizzo, he too brings a sense of believability that makes Skoll feel more fleshed out and, therefore, a more convincing villain. What’s interesting about Skoll, and much of this comes from what Stevenson is able to convey through his performance, is that he is a layered antagonist. It’s established early on that he is a former Jedi, something that the creative team revealed prior to the release of the show, and that history can be felt throughout in his scenes. His past affiliation with the bygone Order is palpable, which makes his turn to the dark side, where he now works with the very individuals that helped destroy the Jedi in the first place, even more disturbing. Stevenson has a real screen presence that he brings to the table here as well that makes his character more threatening to the heroes in the process. A particular highlight comes when Hati, the apprentice of Skoll, asks him what will happen when Thrawn is found, which gives Stevenson ample opportunity to deliver a chilling monologue about the power they will hold when they succeed with their mission.
Plot wise, Ahsoka succeeds by simplifying the hunt for Thrawn and Ezra into a two-sided chase for a MacGuffin. The general story is extremely similar to The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, in which the heroes and villains are both hunting for a map which leads to Luke Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine respectively. Those connections aren’t a bad thing, especially as it’s that base that gives those sequel trilogy movies the opportunity to succeed. Now that Ahsoka and co. are working to find Thrawn, it has the sense of impending danger and doom that, in turn, gives the Star Wars franchise a fresh sense of direction and purpose. It’s now fully clear where these Mandalorian-era shows are heading towards, and what the story of Dave Filoni’s upcoming Star Wars feature film will focus on. The bouncing around approach that Lucasfilm have used for the last few years, in which each project takes place in a relatively different time period in the the galaxy, allowed fans to see unique stories in this fictional history. As good as that was, and as good as it will continue to be in the future, there’s now an added sense of excitement coming from the interconnectivity and post Return of the Jedi war that the creators are building towards.
If there’s one criticism to be had for Ahsoka, it’s that the series displays an inconsistency in its visuals. Some locations look and feel enthralling, particularly Lothal and the dark side planet that Skoll and Hati meet Morgan Elsbeth on, while others aren’t so impressive. Some planets, like the world that Ahsoka first appears on in Part One and Corellia in Part Two, not only appear too similar visually, but they’re also relatively bland and boring to look at as well. Star Wars has a high bar for its visuals, and it’s certainly an achievement that this new series is more visually interesting than much of The Book of Boba Fett or Obi-Wan Kenobi, but one can’t shake the feeling that there’s still progress to made in this regard.
Dave Filoni showcases why so many have described him as the successor, or padawan, to Star Wars creator George Lucas in his new series Ahsoka. By far the most refined of the Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni created series on Disney+, Ahsoka is refreshingly slow paced, which allows for the story to breathe and the reintroductions of the characters from Star Wars Rebels to come naturally. Rosario Dawson, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, and Ray Stevenson are the highlights, and their performances help to make Ahsoka one of the best Star Wars shows yet.