The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Star Wars: Tales of the Empire

By George & Josh Bate

Tales of the Empire review
Barriss Offee (center) and Clone guards in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Ever since its inception, Star Wars has made it a tradition to pose questions that linger and remain unanswered for quite some time. In 1977, Ben Kenobi introduced the idea of the Clone Wars and it took 25 years for George Lucas to eventually provide context for this reference. Darth Vader, the primary antagonist of the original trilogy, had a background shrouded in mystery for decades until the prequel trilogy released and finally explained how Anakin Skywalker turned into the dark lord of the Sith. In more recent years, the fate of Barriss Offee has served as yet another lingering question. After 11 years of speculation of what came of her character following her dramatic betrayal of the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars, this question is finally given an answer in the new Star Wars series Tales of the Empire.

A follow-up to 2022’s Tales of the Jedi, Tales of the Empire presents six original Star Wars shorts, three of which focus on Morgan Elsbeth and three of which focus on Barriss Offee. The origins of Morgan Elsbeth, one of the main villains in Ahsoka, are revealed in three shorts that chronicle the Nightsister’s traumatic loss at the hands of the Separatists and how she came to align herself with Thrawn. The latter three shorts, meanwhile, explore Barriss Offee in the aftermath of Order 66 as she is recruited to join the Inquisitors and hunt down the remaining Jedi. Unlike Tales of the Jedi, which presented shorts out of order and flip-flopped between Dooku and Ahsoka stories, Tales of the Empire leaves the first half of its season solely dedicated to Morgan Elsbeth and its second half dedicated to Barriss Offee. 

Morgan Elsbeth in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

The first short packs an extraordinarily strong emotional punch, which is particularly commendable given its brief length relative to most other episodes of Star Wars animation. This first episode introduces Morgan Elsbeth as a young Nightsister plummeted into a deadly massacre of her people at the hands of General Grievous and the Separatists. This event has been depicted and referenced in various other stories, including The Clone Wars, Jedi: Fallen Order, and Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade, but it has never been afforded the particular attention and nuance that Tales of the Empire does. Experiencing the Dathomirian massacre on the ground-level through the eyes of an innocent Nightsister evokes a range of emotions – empathy as we see violence and loss of innocent people and, even more strongly, terror.

Much of this terror can be attributed to the show’s portrayal of General Grievous, who, in an admittedly limited role in the series, taps into the visceral horror movie monster-esque qualities that made Genndy Tartakovsky’s portrayal of the character in the now-Legends animated micro-series so memorable. Grievous’ haunting laugh in Tales of the Empire will go down as one of the scariest and most unnerving elements in the Star Wars universe to date.

Tales of the Empire review
General Grievous in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to the first Morgan Elsbeth story is that it provides an emotional context to the character that, in turn, makes the Ahsoka series an even better watch now. There is a real history and trauma in the background of Diana Lee Inosanto’s character, and understanding this makes Morgan Elsbeth a far more complex villain by the time she’s introduced in The Mandalorian.

Somewhat less striking are the following two shorts, which are probably characterized as prequels to The Mandalorian Season 2 and Ahsoka. When introduced in “Chapter 13: The Jedi” of The Mandalorian, Morgan Elsbeth was already Magistrate of Corvus and serving Grand Admiral Thrawn. The latter two Elsbeth shorts in Tales of the Empire depict how Morgan got to such a position in her life with episodes that entertain more than they effectively flesh out the character. Morgan’s true motives for doing what she does on Corvus and eventually for the Empire never really come into clarity, making these two shorts more muddled than one would hope. The episodes are undoubtedly entertaining, especially as they feature exciting hand-to-hand combat, gorgeous environments, memorable dialogue, and connections to Heir to the Empire that continue to build upon how Timothy Zahn’s classic novel has been reimagined in The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch. The episodes also flow seamlessly into “Chapter 13: The Jedi” of The Mandalorian Season 2 and provide the sort of connective tissue between Star Wars stories that we love to see.

Tales of the Empire review
(L-R): Thrawn and Morgan Elsbeth in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

The final three shorts of Tales of the Empire pivot away from Morgan Elsbeth and center around Barriss Offee. Akin to how the Dooku installments of Tales of the Jedi were more effective than the Ahsoka installments, the Barriss Offee installments of Tales of the Empire prove to be far more engaging and well-written than the Morgan Elsbeth installments. Much speculation regarding the post-Clone Wars fate of Barriss Offee has circulated over the years and, without getting into spoilers, be assured that it is worth the wait to see what came of the character in Tales of the Empire. The beloved former Jedi is handled with immense care and craft by creator Filoni and the episodes’ writing team.

Tales of the Empire review
A scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

The first Barriss Offee short proves to be the best of the bunch and, more broadly, the best of the six shorts that comprise Tales of the Empire. This episode picks up with Barriss Offee right after Order 66 has been commissioned and follows the character through this tumultuous event to her time in the Inquisitors. What follows is an insightful look into how the Inquisitors operate and the trials they must go through in order to be accepted, all while Barriss grapples with the fall of the Jedi and the quickly changing state of the galaxy. And, to top it all off, this short features what is easily the best ever animated rendition of Darth Vader and among the best visual portrayals of the character ever.

Unlike the latter two Morgan Elsbeth shorts, the latter two Barriss Offee shorts continue the momentum from the excellent first episode. Star Wars has featured fallen Jedi plenty of times before, whether it be Count Dooku, Taron Malicos, Baylan Skoll, or, most notably, Anakin Skywalker. And, while Barriss Offee falls within that category, there’s far more nuance to the character than a label like ‘fallen Jedi’ can describe. Through excellent animation that brings subtle facial gestures to life to dialogue that fleshes her out as a wholly unique character unlike anyone else in Star Wars, Barriss Offee becomes an even more interesting character in Tales of the Empire.

The most surprising element of the Barriss Offee shorts, however, is not Barriss, but, rather, her mentor – the Fourth Sister. First appearing as a background character in Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Fourth Sister features in a surprisingly prominent role in Tales of the Empire. This prominence is well-deserved as the Fourth Sister ends up being an incredibly compelling character across an arc that parallels Barriss’ across the latter three episodes.

Tales of the Empire review
Fourth Sister (center) and clone troopers in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

If there’s a critique to be had of Tales of the Empire, it’s that it’s difficult not to wish it was longer. By the time each characters’ three shorts end, there is a sense that there is so much more that could be done with Barriss Offee and Morgan Elsbeth. Tales of the Empire is by no means a disservice to these characters, although the short length of the episodes leave a bit to be desired and the ending of the show ends on a somewhat abrupt note. Ultimately, however, the fact that our most significant criticism of the show is that we wish it were longer is indicative of the quality of storytelling here. 

On a final note, Tales of the Empire must be commended for its stunning animation. Saying that Star Wars animation has improved seems like a staple now in any review for a new Star Wars animated project, such is the incredible refinement in visuals from project-to-project. Tales of the Empire particularly excels with its facial animations, especially those of the Fourth Sister. A stark contrast to the character designs in the 2008 The Clone Wars film, seemingly every emotion of a character in Tales of the Empire can be felt, either through poignant dialogue or beautiful animation. Similarly striking visuals are apparent in how the worlds of Dathomir and Corvus come to life. Corvus is a particular highlight, given that this exact same location previously featured in The Mandalorian. Although the hues of the environment don’t necessarily line up, Corvus proves to be an excellent showcase for the detail and attention that goes into Star Wars animation.

Tales of the Empire review
A scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

VERDICT: 8/10

Tales of the Empire continues a strong run of form for Star Wars animated projects. The 11 years since Barriss Offee’s last appearance ends up being well worth the long wait as the character’s story unfolds in profound and emotional directions in the show. Morgan Elsbeth is similarly elevated, largely due to a strong voice performance from Diana Lee Inosanto and a heartbreaking first episode. Both characters’ first episodes prove to be the two best episodes of the season. Meanwhile, the latter two Morgan Elsbeth episodes, while entertaining and intriguing in their connections to other stories, are more muddled and relatively fall flat. Although none of the show quite hits the heights of the Dooku episodes in Tales of the Jedi, stunning animation and carefully considered character development further make Tales of the Empire a refined and thrilling Star Wars story.

The HoloFiles

The HoloFiles is a website and series of social media accounts, including Star Wars Holocron, Marvel Tesseract, DC Motherbox, Film Codex, and Horror Necronomicon. We love cinema and television, and aim to spread positivity across different fandoms. Come to us for news, reviews, interviews, trivia facts, quotes, behind the scenes photos, analytic features, and more!