The Force Is Familiar With This One — Ahsoka (TV Review)

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the show being covered here wouldn’t exist.

It feels like there’s a lot riding on . On paper it’s an easy win for , with bringing his beloved animated characters together in a big-budget, live-action show. But is in a precarious spot. As big as is, fans are waning after each season. The Book of Boba Fett was pretty much a disaster. Andor was one of the best shows of 2022 but its grounded take didn’t gel with every Star Wars fan. Does Ahsoka capitalise on its premise to make everyone across the galaxy happy and satisfied? Well, sort of.

Unlike the other live-action shows that attempted to break new ground, Ahsoka feels more like classic Star Wars. That’s not just because there’s lightsabers, the force and Jedi, but thematically and structurally it feels like it’s big screen counterparts. The first two episodes offer the promise of adventure and a galaxy-trotting journey, a prized ancient MacGuffin, pretty clear good vs evil themes, and fun comedic side characters – there’s even an opening crawl. It’s a solid start to a series that provides a fun adventure, but there’s some issues that will frustrate not just sceptics but fans too.   

Ahsoka flies out of the gate by introducing us to Jedi-turned-baddies Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) as they break out Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto, last seen in The Mandalorian season 2) from a New Republic ship in menacing fashion. The titular character’s introduction doesn’t fare as well, however, as we watch Ahsoka () solve non-descript puzzles in an ancient temple for a mind-numbingly long time. Thankfully it doesn’t take long for lightsabers and spaceships to reappear, picking up the tempo as well as the story. Turns out Ahsoka was tomb raiding to find a map, one that could lead her to the dastardly Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) and heroic Jedi Knight Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), who both went missing after the finale of Filoni’s . Of course, the baddies are after the map and Thrawn too for their own nefarious plans. 

Those who haven’t kept up with the storylines and lore weaved throughout the different animated and live-action shows – nevermind the feature films — may feel overwhelmed at the start but Filoni does a fairly good job of bringing people up to speed by the end of the first couple of episodes. The dynamics between Ahsoka, Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and New Republic general Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are clear and a lot of fun. Ahsoka and Sabine have a tense relationship as they meet up again after abandoning one another but Hera is the glue that keeps the gang together and in check. 

Fans of Rebels and will be most rewarded, with the much-loved Ghost crew lovingly realised in live-action. Winstead and Bordizzo breathe new life into their fan favourite characters whilst Filoni teases compelling arcs for them both. Dawson is fine as usual as Ahsoka, and the journey in finding Thrawn isn’t exactly a new, exciting prospect, but her relationship with Sabine does add an interesting element to her character. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars project without some cute and endearing side characters, and here we have the hilarious droid Huyang (David Tennant) and the adorable Loth-cats that thankfully took a page out of Grogu’s book in not relying on CG.

Talking about CG, across the board it’s a noticeable step up from previous shows. The use of the Volume has been under scrutiny for some time now, and rightfully so, but for the most part it isn’t so noticeable in these first episodes. It might be because reviewers saw the Ahsoka premiere on a giant cinema screen, but visually the show feels bigger than other live-action Star Wars shows. The Volume is better implemented, there’s some great sets and production design, and the CG robots and creatures look better than ever. That isn’t to say there aren’t any technical issues. Some Volume shots stick out like a sore thumb but worse than that is the uninspired visual design. The internet mocked the very grey aesthetic but that is certainly true of the final result, and some shots and sequences just look flat. Hopefully we’ll see more eye-popping visuals as the rebels embark on their journey.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with Ahsoka so far but it all feels safe, for better and worse. The action is serviceable but not thrilling, there’s already an egregious death fake-out in these two episodes, and narratively and thematically it’s all charted territory. But there’s no denying how much of a blast it is seeing these characters together on screen again in a classic adventure across a galaxy far far away.           

Ahsoka premieres exclusively on Disney+ on August 23rd.

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