I have watched this show, this much I am absolutely clear on.
Sometimes, if I don’t have to rush in for an early shift, I’ll chat with my wife about something meaningless and light while she’s getting ready for her own day. Something airy and silly, to help clear her mind before she embarks on a full day of patient care. Sometimes it’s hard to think of something that really fits the bill there, but lately I haven’t had any problem coming up with a topic at all. That’s because, for the last two months, I’ve been watching Ahsoka.
This will be my third “review” of a Disney Plus season and I find myself desiring to take it in a new direction compared to my prior ventures. For Andor, I poured about a dozen hours into what basically became an essay about the damn thing that would have earned me at least a B+ from my Cinema 101 professor (and therefore, one notch higher than what she gave me on my analysis of 28 Days Later that “mAnKiND aRe THe rEAl mOnStERs!”). I did that because I developed an immense respect for the show and I wanted to express that on the page. For Mandalorian Season 3 I tried to be a bit more direct in a criticism, since that particular run of “Star Wars” inspired me in all the wrong ways, to the point I literally felt compelled to tear it apart.
I’m just going to get this one out of the way so I’m not distracted: the reverse grip stance was invented by Hollywood to insult your intelligence in making you believe that exposing the top half of your body makes any damn sense. Opinions on this subject tend to have a direct relationship with the number of actual katanas someone has in their house.
Ahsoka is different. As the fourth (!) series based on the continuing adventures of an already-established character in the fiction, it managed to stand out in its own way, and I hoped to reflect that in the way I “reviewed” it. No essays this time, I’m going to simply take you through the experience as I had it, and I’ll be curious what conclusions you shared with me and where our views differed.
Prologue: Me watching the trailers to this show
“Wow people who didn’t watch the cartoons are really gonna have some trouble following the story!”
But did they?! Read on to find out!
Episode 1: “Who the fudge is Morgan Elspeth?”
I’d hazard a guess that 80% of viewers could not answer this question going into the first episode, even if they did watch that episode of Mandalorian three years ago. “Where…is…Thrawn!?” Ahsoka menacingly demanded of her at the end of that episode, a tantalizing (?) preview of what was to come. It seems whatever she answered mattered little, since she is headed off to space jail while Ahsoka goes tomb raiding. The Republic officers on that ship are quick to demonstrate how The First Order won a war against them with one shot, by simply inviting strangers on board to a military vessel on an important mission…which goes poorly for them.
Meanwhile, Sabine reminds us that she misses Ezra by besmirching his memory in abandoning a chance to publicly recognize and remember him on his home planet, despite clearly having committed to the affair to local leadership. It’s at this point that my fears about this series are confirmed: non-cartoon watchers aren’t going to have anything more than the faintest clue just what the hell is going on here. Showrunner and “Father of 3D-Animated Star Wars” Dave Filoni does have an array of talents, but resisting self-indulgence is not among them. Oh boy! An E-Wing!
Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka seems already to float passively (shout out to Episodes 4 and 5!) through the story rather than being the one in charge of driving it. She’s…very…stoic. For someone who memorably forsook the order she sure walks the walk these days. Why? Shin Hati has a neat look to her though, I’d be curious about what makes her tick as a character, but it seems Filoni disagrees so the thought fades as OH NO SABINE GOT STABBED!
Episode 2: Nothing Happens
This is where the “don’t think about it too hard” vibes started to kick in, as we dive deeper into the entire concept of Ahsoka taking on Sabine as an apprentice. Didn’t she already go through an arc where she learned how to be an expert lightsaber combatant and overcome her lack of discipline with Kanan?
In the middle of the episode, I get a text from my dad. He’s watching it too, and with my mom no less…and neither of them have a damn clue about anything that has to do with the cartoons. Perhaps it’s for the best, I wonder, because this apprentice storyline will make more sense to someone who doesn’t know that she has zero ability with the Force but also has basically already been through this.
We end up on a MacGuffin chase that was so reminiscent of the middle third of Rise of Skywalker that my mouse began to hover perilously over the “skip 30 seconds” button to start clicking like a madman, but I got distracted when some guy yells “for the Empire” then politely waits two seconds before trying to shoot at Ahsoka. Finally some comedy!
Episode 3: Too Close For Guns I’m Switching to Sabers
We are quarter into the series, but thankfully we are “already” getting very close to finding out what the plot is. That said, I do appreciate Filoni’s sense of “place” as a director as well as his ability (and willingness) to plan out a nice long Star Wars dogfight. I felt robbed by the complete lack of any fang fighter vs. TIE fighter action at the end of Mando S3, and on top of sating my hunger for space lasers I actually felt like the action here had purpose. Ahsoka wanted to scan the ship then escape to the planet, and all the while she was getting chased by new fighters that looked like F6F Hellcats but (apparently, based on the damage-per-hit) with weapons that wouldn’t have actually cut it in World War 2 either.
This is around when I started to key into two things about this show. First, Huyang is the only character whose dialogue I liked consistently. Second, that everyone else’s dialogue was often a lot better when it was in the middle of the action rather than in the interstitial scenes between it. The whole fighter scene really does work on all cylinders, with nice music, Star Wars-ish banter, and decent tension. Was it dumb that the fighters shot at Ahsoka instead of the rather huge ship when she gets out there? Yes, but that was “Star Wars dumb,” and there was plenty more where that came from in this series! Unfortunately, this episode also had some actual “doesn’t compute with most human beings” dumb too. Speaking of which…do those space whales have baleen?? Are they eating space kr-
Back at the Republic Fleet, I start getting flashbacks to Mandalorian’s most hilariously bad scene, but this time it’s the good guys who are effusing silly words in each other’s general direction via hologram. Not one but two senators begin clunking us over the head immediately with phrases that tell us (GASP!!!) the Republic is not taking pro-Imperial sentiment seriously enough! They harrumph about how fake the Empire threat is, right after they found out one of their biggest shipyards was literally being run by Imperial sympathizers? How many ships could they have sabotaged or booby trapped, how much intel did they gather for the Remnant? “Eh, no big deal.”
Unfortunately, Hera ripostes in-kind with her own verbal flubber. Instead of leveraging her status as a veteran to tell an actual story about how Thrawn’s tactical mind was second to none, and that the Rebellion would have ended early if it wasn’t for some sweet last-minute tricks involving f$#^ing space whales…she just lays on some personal insults to the Senators. Then, instead of mentioning anything about how good he is at war she says “he killed my friends!”
If I was one of those Senators this is where I’d say “death sticks killed my friends too back in college but at least I learned to leave that part of my life behind me, GENERAL!” If you ask me, they made the right call to say no, Hera does not exactly come across as a font of wisdom here.
Oh, they put Jacen in the show eh? It feels like a cameo no one asked for, and my mind boggles at the genetic implications not only of how how he exists at all but why he is basically just a human with green hair, but it doesn’t matter I’m sure he’s just on his way to school. Bye Jacen!
“Hi mom, it sure is nice feeling this protected, safe and snug in an unassailable capital ship! Where ya goin’?”
Episode 4: Hera is a Bad General and a Worse Mother
Whoops never mind, he’s getting dragged into danger by his mom who is refusing orders by checking this business out.
I am sure that Filoni loves all these characters, but I honestly feel like Sabine and especially Hera are sometimes done just plain dirty compared to their origins. The Hera I know from Rebels is calm, confident, competent, and cared greatly about the safety of her friends. The Hera in this show drives a squadron directly in front of a ship jumping into hyperspace leading directly to the deaths of two pilots. Mary Elizabeth Winstead often plays her with a sense of insecurity that feels foreign to the character. This especially stands out because her colored contact lenses, that are probably augmented with CGI, are SO prominent and are often wide with a quiet panic. I think it’s unfortunately a mix of acting, writing, and direction…also did I mention she brought her son, an actual child, along for this dangerous and illegal mission?!
Baylan Skoll’s melancholy for the Jedi order and the injustice that the galaxy had to suffer their failures was definitely an interesting sub-plot, but unfortunately not one that gets a ton of screen time. Instead, we get to see Sabine possibly doom the galaxy to see her friend Ezra one more time. By the way…
Interlude: The list of very legitimate questions the non-cartoon audiences would have by the end of this series
- Who is Ezra? How did he end up trapped with Thrawn?
- Why does this boy have green hair?
- What is Dathomir?
- Ahsoka Tano was and has always been a Jedi (this isn’t a question, but an incorrect assumption the show will suggest to the non-cartoons)
- How did this Jedi droid with a closet full of Jedi stuff survive the Empire?
- Why is Thrawn such a big deal when there’s a bunch of other Imperial numbskulls kicking around?
- Did that Jedi droid call Kanan Jarrus (who is that, by the way?) “Caleb” once, then go back to saying Kanan? Why did he do that?
- Where did these old ladies come from and why are they helping Thrawn? (Ok, I admit I still don’t really get this one either)
Episode 5: The One with Anakin
Oh hey he looks pretty good when he’s not in the hazy blue dream world anyway! He certainly looks better than in Obi-Wan, where we naturally wondered why Ewan McGregor was training someone older than him. He did well performing alongside Ariana Greenblatt, who also played little girl version of Gamora in Infinity War and thus is dangerously close to being type-cast as the actress who can play the younger version of badass alien ladies. Is that Rex? THAT’S REX! That Vader transition was pretty sick! Rage Hayden is my favorite Hayden.
Man this was pretty sick not gonna lie
So uh…what was Anakin’s lesson exactly?
LATER THAT EVENING!
I bring up the baleen thing with my local playgroup, questioning its utility when everything I’ve read about space whales suggests that they rely on some kind of gas to give them energy. They of course give me crap about it for asking too many questions, and assure me facetiously that it’s to keep asteroids out of their throats. Troglodytes…
Dinner with my parents the day after Episode 5 aired
My folks live just a couple hours away and it had been my mom’s birthday so we paid a visit, and naturally they brought the show up. I spend ten minutes explaining who Ezra and Thrawn are. My dad decides he wants to watch Andor again, we spend some time talking about how neat the references to real life history were on that show and how good the writing was. My mom says that she misses Baby Yoda.
I begin to wonder if Ahsoka will be renewed.
I watch the Anakin sequence twice more after I’m scolded for not “getting it”
He wants her to be more decisive, that much is fairly clear, but why would she be worried about creating another entity like Vader? Is she worried about Sabine becoming a new Vader? She doesn’t even know Force Push! It would be a shame if the show waited to actually explain this fear until three episodes after this sequence happens.
Episode 5 but with my wife this time
I ask my wife if she’d watch this one with me because I wanted to get her perspective on all this. I bring her up to speed with the necessary plot details and then we dive in. She genuinely laughed at Huyang being kind of an ass to Jacen (obviously, an intended reaction) and then also genuinely laughed at the Death Watch Mandalorians (unintended, but warranted). “Why do they have horns on their helmets?” she giggled, to which I responded “if you believe it, it was to show deference to Darth Maul, who survived getting chopped in half?” Her face changed, and I knew it was time to stop trying to explain.
After commenting herself at why these space whales had baleen (on both sides of their mouth, which seems like an art whoopsie since real whales…oh never mind) and tentacles, and also wondering how they’re staying afloat in atmosphere (she’s got me there) she observes that despite the celebration of this show starring three women…their central plot points (Anakin for Ahsoka, Ezra for Sabine, Thrawn for Hera) all revolve around a man in some way. To be fair to Filoni, the way Hera is dismissed by the senate is emblematic of the way women are often treated when they give expert opinions, but the fact that Mon Mothma is in charge of those meetings dulls the blade a little there. This isn’t to say he shouldn’t have made the female characters the stars, he deserves some credit for doing so, but it seems to me that he really didn’t stick the landing.
This was also the same night my brother (he’s a pilot, “whoop-de-doo”) watched it, he didn’t mind the baleen but did get upset that Ahsoka was able to walk out of the cockpit at that altitude without a mask or enviro gear for the bracing cold, and also that she wasn’t blown off by altocumulus winds (around 50 mph, which is full gale force technically, the kind that can uproot trees). Sheesh, I guess everyone really is a critic!
Did you know that a Blue Whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant?
Episode 6: THRAWN! THRAWN! THRAWN!
Baylan continues to be the most intriguing character on the show, suggesting more and more that he came to this far away planet to try something fairly momentous on his own. He wants to break the cycle of light vs dark, and I wonder if there’s something about this planet that could affect the way the Force works in the rest of the galaxy. Well, no matter, who has time for that when our favorite Azure Admiral is ready for his close-up.
I watch and listen in disbelief…are these God of War™-themed stormtroopers really chanting “Thrawn” over and over? At first it makes me sigh, but then I allow the show to release my brain into the silliness of it all and by 10 seconds in I’m already enjoying it. Then we have this guy Enoch who is dressed like Tigris of Gaul and we wonder if he’s actually just some kind of golem under there. Magnificent! The momentum is only slightly slowed by the conference of bad guys that follows, where EVERY. SINGLE. LINE needs to be accentuated with a tiny bow of the head, as if they’re all in karate class. I begin to wonder how many katanas Dave Filoni owns.
I’d gladly chant for Grand Admiral Grond though
I also enjoy the dog-horse things, which my friend Paul observed had the most understandable motivations of anyone on-screen (accurate) and I was pleased to find out that it was in fact a horse with green-screen wrap. I’m never going to say no to a pleasant-looking combination of practical and CGI effects. Honestly, a running high-mark of the show is that it consistently looks really good, which is either a testament to improved working conditions for the CG artists in a post-pandemic Hollywood, the talent of Dave Filoni with directing animation, or most likely both.
The reunion between Sabine and Ezra ultimately feels like a let-down. Sabine supposedly thought of Ezra as the only family she had left and had no proof he had been alive for a decade. Ezra may well have just been assuming he was going to spend the rest of his life bumming around with trailer-park koopas. When they see each other, they start with some awkward smarmy jokes, and then move in for an unexcited hug? It’s another example of Filoni feeling as if he doesn’t need to make the effort to show what he is telling.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in The Force, trust also in me”
Episode 7: Not-Quite Fury Road
Seeing Threepio appear to bail Hera out is bittersweet. On one hand, it’s touching to be able to escape into this fiction where Leia is alive and stirring up trouble like always when Carrie Fisher has tragically been gone for a while now. On the other hand, this represents a gross misuse of political power, disrupting the constitutionally mandated oversight of a senate sub-committee merely because she was friends with a criminally insubordinate officer. Hopefully Ben Solo was busy watching Space Bluey at the time, if not then this would have taught him a dark lesson indeed!
At first, Filoni does a nice job demonstrating that Thrawn is smarter than your average generic imperial officer through the fact that he withdraws his fighters from a perilous chase through a thick debris field…I’m pretty sure that’s the first time that happened in Star Wars like ever. As time goes on, it gets to be a little much though. Are we supposed to nod in approval that he sends two LAAT’s full of stormtroopers to go after his enemies instead of sending an entire wing of fighters to obliterate an enemy with basically no anti-air?
It’s nice of Sabine to keep hiding the truth from Ezra about the circumstances that got her there, very becoming of a best friend! Not that it matters much once the fighting starts, which amounts to a relatively slow chase where it seems the most danger the koopas are ever in is that they’re going to miss lunch because they have to repair their trailer shells. Baylan parts way with Shin, who fails again to finish the job and who is very inexplicably allowed to live by Ahsoka. I resign myself to the realization that one episode is not going to be enough to tie up this Baylan thread, and that the fate of these storylines is going to be in Bob Iger’s “loving” hands.
My brother wrote a beautiful bluegrass song about this episode, shared here for your cultural growth:
🎶 🎵 Space truckin’ hermit crabs, riding west with Jesus. Hiding out from Blue Elon Musk, hope he doesn’t see us. 🎶 🎵 🎵🎶Circle up the wagons, these suckers fight in’ like Krayt Dragons. Hit ‘em with my slingshot, oh hey. She’s got a robot.🎵🎶 🎵🎶That ship's called a Laat. Most viewers will not know that. Kind of like the plot, if you don’t watch cartoons a lot.🎶🎵
Episode 8: Chekhov’s Force Push
We are given a cold open where we awkwardly watch Morgan get promoted “Sword Witch” for three and a half minutes that I’ll never get back. We then see that the episode is titled “The Jedi, The Witch, and the Warlord” which allowed me to quickly settle in to dumb cheesy Star Wars mode.
Once again, Huyang serves as an effective fixed point in a well-written and acted scene between him and Ezra as the latter builds himself a new lightsaber. We are also given the explanation of why Ahsoka was concerned about training Sabine, that she did see potential but was worried she’d become another dark side rage-muppet. This is useful information…that is given to us about six episodes too late for it to have been helpful to understanding this subplot. The scene that follows it between Sabine and Ahsoka, however, suffers from dialogue that feels like all fluff and no substance…the actors do the best they can with it but by the time the TIE fighters show up it feels like a welcome release.
After being treated to some textbook plot armor in dodging a turbolaser barrage with wargs, we are finally shown why (I’m assuming here) these stormtroopers have these wrappings. At first I was wondering if these stormtroopers were trying to get themselves killed since their tactics seemed even dumber than normal but, to my surprise…turns out they really were! This was more good old fashioned Star Wars silliness and I thought it worked well, they were corny but also a little intimidating because of their green eye glow and general hardiness.
Morgan kindly lets Ezra and Sabine go, trusting that the
dead death night death death-death troopers will handle them, but Sabine finally learns how to Jedi which did at least feel believable in the context of mortal panic. This sense of belief and trust in the speed of her progression is then turned on its head when she confidently force-pushes Ezra a quarter of a mile so he can land on the Chimera. Oh well, what does it matter it’s just one more good-guy force user whose absence by the time The Force Awakens starts is going to have to be explained so…good luck to whoever has to solve that problem!
There is a bit of denouement to establish that while Ezra did make it off the Chimera (rude of him to not kill Thrawn on the way out) and back to the Republic, the rest of the main characters including Baylan and Shin are still in the other galaxy, followed by an awkward and meaningless reveal that Hayden’s force ghost is watching over Ahsoka even all the way over there. I was watching closely for that moment in the credits where the show triumphantly displayed the words “Ahsoka WILL return” ala Mandalorian but…nada.
“Hi Dave good to see you, great work” (leans in to whisper) “…not…”
So uh…next time, on Ahsoka…(?)
Star Wars’ official social media hyped this as a “series finale” before those posts were deleted, which is equally likely in my opinion to be a simple mistake or a portend. Obi-Wan’s showrunner was wise to tie everything up and assume there wouldn’t be a follow-up, but despite the lack of guarantees Filoni seemingly was unable to help himself. Of course, I am hopeful there is a second season because I think there is potential to make significant improvements in writing for actors who are generally talented…but will Bob Iger feel the same way? He hasn’t exactly been kind to the idea of more Star Wars shows in interviews so far. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of the show’s future is made more depressing by Ray Stevenson’s unexpected and untimely death (he was only 59). This was tragic in its own right but to make it worse he was (to me) the most interesting character in the show. I am sure he would be re-cast, but it will be a tough act to follow.
At the end of the day, this show did its job in the most basic sense, it passed the time. It “felt like Star Wars,” it was visually cool and sometimes stunning, the music was strong, and the action was decent. Most importantly, I was never bored (hi Obi Wan) or so embarrassed by what was on screen that I melted into my chair when I was watching it with my non-Star Wars superfan co-workers (hi Book of Boba), but it nonetheless left a lot of potential on the table. It was a passable season of television that was ultimately mostly for hardcore fans, and one that wasn’t in my opinion likely to generate a lot of new ones – which is, in fact, a huge problem when your budgets are this big. I just hope that Filoni’s hubris in assuming it as a fait accompli does not result in disappointing dedicated Ahsoka’s faithful with threads that will never be tied up.
Do you have thoughts on the show, or more importantly, its reckless treatment of cetacean anatomy? Let us know in the comments section below or on Facebook!