*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for episode five of Ahsoka.*
The episode I feared the most in Ahsoka is finally here, and…yep. It wasn’t good. Some of it was, though the core of the episode is heavily reliant on shameless fan service in replicating several elements of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in live-action form instead of, I dunno, expanding upon Anakin Skywalker’s (Hayden Christensen) relationship with Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson).
The conceit itself works: Ahsoka is in the World Between Worlds alongside a projection of Anakin, who tells “Snips” that she hasn’t finished her training and there is still more to learn to become a Jedi. The two immediately start a duel, where Anakin gives her a choice between life and death, but loses the battle and gets transported to the past, where a younger version of the character (played by Ariana Greenblatt) battles alongside Anakin in The Clone Wars. And that’s where the episode started to lose me.
I’ll admit there are a few engaging action flourishes: the orange hue permeating the landscape feels highly reminiscent of the attack on Arrakis in Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune, and a few moments in the heat of the battle that amped up the tension. Of course, the landscape is purposefully empty (since we’re in the “World Between Worlds”), but did it have to look this ugly? This is one of the first times in the series where its visual style didn’t do it for me, especially coming off the heels of the incredible fourth episode. It also didn’t help that Christensen didn’t need any de-aging, and it felt extremely discombobulating seeing him with a CGI mask on his face again. Does he look that older from his time in Revenge of the Sith? I highly doubt it.
Regardless of my personal feelings against de-aging, Christensen did a much better job here than in Obi-Wan Kenobi. For once, he wasn’t shadowed in the Darth Vader suit for most of the episodes and had much better-written material to work with in this episode than in the entirety of the Obi-Wan series. He’s also much more confident playing Anakin at his prime than in the prequels, which feels welcomed. I don’t know why he never reprised his role to voice him in the series, but it’s great to see the character maintain continuity from animation to live-action as if the same actor played him. He shares great chemistry with Dawson and Greenblatt, who does a terrific job of capturing Ashley Eckstein‘s spirit from the animated series.
However, we don’t learn anything of note in these moments. Yes, we’re reminded of how close they were in The Clone Wars and how devastated she felt when she learned he became Darth Vader in Rebels. The episode incessantly reminds us that Anakin became Darth Vader through visual flashes of Anakin channeling his inner Sith Lord, alternating between his Jedi/Vader form as if no one on Earth knew that – gasp! – Anakin is Vader. But there’s nothing else beyond that.
If anything, Anakin’s presence in this episode seems only to be there for Dave Filoni to replicate key shots from the animated iteration of The Clone Wars into live-action, just so audiences can lose their minds, point at the screen, and know what it is. Good for them, but beyond the artificiality of its replication, you feel absolutely nothing. There’s a reason why The Clone Wars was animated while Ahsoka isn’t, and the aesthetic difference between the two is quite staggering.
Some have mocked Christensen’s appearance as “glup shitto,” but it makes sense that he’s here. He was his master, after all. But the presence of Captain Rex (Temuera Morrison) and Mauldalorians do teeter very close to how Star Wars has purely become a glup shitto affair, where audiences point at the screen in glee because they recognize things, but without emotional pull to the story. Anakin and Ahsoka is crucial to the plot and development of the show’s titular character. The other cameos? Not so much. It also doesn’t help that, visually, a battle from The Clone Wars and a later fight in The Siege of Mandalore looks completely indistinguishable from one another. Maybe it’s how the “World Between Worlds” was conceived in live-action, but it still wasn’t impressive.
On Seatos, Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Huyang (David Tennant), and Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Huyng Lee) look for Ahsoka and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). After they ultimately find Ahsoka, who tells them Sabine has gone with Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson), Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), and Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) to find Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), and Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) tells Hera to come back to Coruscant (with Ahsoka) before they are taken into custody.
The two devise a plan for Ahsoka to escape and find Sabine, which will require the help of Purrgils. The latter part of this B storyline worked, but the rest was amazingly dull, especially regarding Jacen’s (Evan Whitten) arc with Huyang and Hera. It’s not as interesting as Filoni hopes it is and consistently grinds the show’s pacing to a halt, while the World Between Worlds sections are more engaging than the rest. However, we’re now at a point where the story will kick into gear, and we may get a glimpse of Thrawn’s plan next week. Now that will be something to remember, far more than Anakin’s appearance this week.
The fifth episode of Ahsoka is now available to stream on Disney+.