*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for episodes one and two of Ahsoka*
“For our friend, Ray.”
Well, here we go again—another Star Wars series. The cynic in me was ready to eviscerate the first two episodes of Ahsoka after a string of mediocre Disney+ outings with The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (thank God we have Andor!). My hopes weren’t very high when Ahsoka was announced, especially as it looked to be a purely engineered piece of content to satiate fans of Star Wars: Rebels and bathe in consistent fan service where audiences point at the screen because they understand what’s in front of them. But that’s neither entertainment nor art. It’s just boring.
Still, if you’ve not watched Rebels, you shouldn’t even watch Ahsoka. It’s almost fascinating to see this series greenlit by Disney when most casual viewers have not seen the four-season Disney XD animated series whose entire show rests upon it. You should watch it because it’s a terrific piece of Star Wars storytelling and drew some of the best post-Disney acquisition character arcs you’ll ever see in any Star Wars media. As a Rebels fan, I understood every reference (and character) the show alludes to, but what about Mandalorian fans who want to learn more about Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson)? It may prove a daunting task.
If you’ve not seen Rebels, you do need to understand that Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi) has gone missing after disappearing with Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) to ensure he was defeated for good. In Ahsoka, Thrawn plots his return, and a thingamajig that unlocks a map will lead to his (and potentially Ezra’s) location. Former Jedi turned mercenary Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson in one of his final roles), and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) are on the lookout for the map and free Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) for the map’s location.
However, Ahsoka finds the map first and goes to Lothal to reunite with Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) to decipher Thrawn and Ezra’s location. The two have not been speaking for some time, likely since the events of Rebels, but Wren accepts Ahsoka’s proposition after she knows where to find Ezra. After Wren unlocks the map, she is attacked by Hati, who stabs her in the stomach with a lightsaber during an incredibly tense duel.
The second episode focuses on Wren recovering from her injuries and finding the droids who aided Shin Hati in the attack to a shipyard in Corellia. Ahsoka and Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) investigate the shipyard, and a battle between former Empire members and the two characters ensues. They find out that a hyperdrive is being built for Morgan to travel to Thrawn’s location, and Hera (with the aid of her trusty droid Chopper!) attaches a tracking device to the hyperdrive as they fly into space.
Naturally, the first two episodes set up what the show will be about: Ahsoka, Hera, and Sabine will go to Thrawn to find Ezra, while Baylon, Shin, and Morgan will do the same but to unleash a “new” order in the galaxy. Thrawn may now be the main threat in Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau‘s Mando-Verse, which could lead up to the movie they announced at Star Wars Celebration (whether it gets made remains to be seen). And as much as I was ready to be disappointed yet again, I absolutely adored the first two episodes of Ahsoka, but I doubt people who haven’t watched Rebels will understand much of what’s going on or understand the character ars being developed in this show.
Maybe it is the Rebels fan in me that got suckered into the show’s incessant pointing at the screen to the animated show, but the continuity here is astounding: Lothal looks incredible in live-action, the animatronic Lothcats are to die for, and the inclusion of Clancy Brown‘s Ryder Azadi proves how deep it goes into the Rebels references. Seeing live-action iterations of Hera, Chopper, Sabine, Ezra, and even Huyang (David Tennant) from The Clone Wars felt a bit cathartic, as the animated shows are such an integral part of my childhood and love for Star Wars that has unfortunately felt stale over the past few years.
But all of this nostalgia would have been fleeting if the first two episodes weren’t good, and they very much are. Filoni’s emphasis on silence is incredible. There are plenty of scenes where the characters don’t utter a word, but their actions and facial expressions convey everything we need to know about their complex baggage. Natasha Liu Bordizzo is exceptional as Sabine, who, in the first episode’s best sequence, uses only her emotions as a guide to make the audience understand where the character is at this point. I honestly cannot wait to see more of her and Shin Hati. Sakhno seems to understand how Filoni approaches silence. Her piercing eyes as she looks at her master seem to hint at her past being explored in future episodes. Filoni excels at letting the characters speak for themselves without speaking, which is what Sergio Leone did so well in his westerns. It’s clear Filoni is a fan, and he can’t hide references to some of his films in the first two episodes.
Again, if you don’t have the Rebels baggage, maybe you won’t feel it as closely as fans of the show, which is part of why it’ll never be perfect because some of it seems inaccessible. Time will tell if the show will veer into glup shitto territory, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll (at least) be the case for a while. For instance, the lightsaber battle between Sabine and Shin is great, but it’s a bigger investment for audiences who have seen Rebels. Sabine is not fighting with the Darksaber anymore, but with Ezra’s lightsaber (that she slightly modified) in the hopes that he’ll eventually return. When Sabine fights Shin with that emotional baggage, it’s a bit hard to watch her attempt to defeat someone with such a tormented mind that it’s hard to decipher exactly what she’s feeling. Those who haven’t seen Rebels will enjoy the fight on its own, but those who have seen it will come out on top. I had a hell of a time watching that scene unfold in real time.
Look, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, as trite as it may be. Dawson’s portrayal of Ahsoka may be extremely flat and doesn’t do Ashley Eckstein’s vocal performance justice (so is Winstead as Hera, looking completely bored throughout the two episodes), but I still got suckered into the series and began to appreciate how respectful Filoni is of the characters he created. He clearly loves each of them with all of his heart, and we see it in every single frame of this show. Here’s hoping he’ll deliver with the remaining six episodes because Ahsoka deserves an all-timer of a Star Wars series after everything she’s lived through in The Clone Wars and Rebels.
The first two episodes of Ahsoka are now available to stream on Disney+.