Following the defeat of the Galactic Empire, Anakin Skywalker’s former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, continues her quest to investigate an emerging threat to a vulnerable galaxy. Following the clues provided in ancient tombs and star-maps she is still trying to track and locate Admiral Thrawn, the ruthless imperial leader whose mysterious disappearance could still lead to a return and a new round of galaxy-wide war.
But if she’s going to succeed, she’s going to need the help of some rebellious friends and allies… and that means she’s going to attract a range of enemies and obstacles… new and very old…
Disney+ have at least two major franchises on which to hang their platform – the worlds of both Marvel and Star Wars. This alone should theoretically be able to sustain the streamer, but the output to date has proven a mixed bag for both. Marvel has chosen to highlight a lot of their connective tissue characters but often fail to stick the landing after a promising start. The Star Wars series (including The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor) have had mixed reviews, depending on what a viewer wants from the franchise. (Andor may have had the best reviews for its slow-burn socio-political and subtle character-building, but its arguably the greatest distance from the original trilogy of films in tone).
So, it’s interesting that there’s a case to be made that in its first episode, Ahsoka is the closest to those original adventures in a galaxy far, far away, albeit building on several light years of subsequent universe-building away from the specific Skywalker legacy. You don’t have to know the chronology of the acclaimed animated series such as Clone Wars and Rebels (honesty alert: I really don’t) but with obvious references and supporting characters galore, it would definitely help. However, some exposition aside, we’re headlong back into galactic conflicts, lots of swirling light-sabers, robots of varying loyalties and pinnacles of gleaming sky-scrapers with austere politicians… all the ingredients you need.
I’m all for serialised television having – by its nature – less overt momentum than a feature film, but even by those standards, the pacing here is just a little uneven. There’s Uncharted levels of moving relics around to solve puzzles but some of the scenes where our heroes tomb raid old artefacts do lead to some gazing into post-production projections waiting for better-late-than-never ‘aha!‘ moments. But it is a relatively minor grumble given you know what you’re signing up for…
Feeling far more than the often merchandise-led mandate of The Mandalorian (though certainly with scope for a new range of action-figures and accessories) and entertaining enough to forego the deeper angst of Andor, Ahsoka strides the middle ground well, light-saber fun and intrigue without a too-lightweight or too-weighty approach and that might be exactly the key to its success as it continues…
The second episode (which streams together with the first this week) gives more details on the ‘quest’ nature of proceedings. The late Ray Stevenson (with enough quiet charisma and stoicism to fill a Death Star) as ex-Jedi Baylan Skoll and Ivanna Sakhno as his apprentice Shin Hati are tracking a path to the missing Admiral Thrawn which is given form in Toil and Trouble and present a very Stargate–meets-Game-0f-Thrones vibe (carried through to the end credits) with more projections amongst ancient ruins.
Cast-wise we’re on top form with a female-led ensemble (which the complainers-on-principle are just going to have to live with). Rosario Dawson has already proven her worth with her Ahsoka cameo in The Book of Boba Fett appearance and, fully committed on both a physical and performance-level, continues to personify the warrior – providing exactly the kind of anchor we needed and were promised. The talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, Birds of Prey and also, trivia-buffs, Mrs Ewan McGregor) turns a Hulk-like green for Hera Syndulla in an interpretation that should keep purists happy. Natasha Liu Bordizzo brings Mandalorian/revolutionary leader Sabine Wren (originally voiced by Tiya Sircar) to life with aplomb, though anyone looking for a seamless connection to Wren’s stories in her animated incarnation will note that as well as recreating a scene from the series finale of Rebels, there’s some important chunks of narrative regarding her potential Jedi-training that must have taken place off-screen). Diana Lee Inosanto (goddaughter of martial-arts legend Bruce Lee), returns as imprisoned ex-Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth and gets to give more depth and mystery to her role – becoming a more mystical figure with knowledge of the ancient arts.
If you’d forgotten – or missed the announcement at all – that David Tennant would be (returning to) voice wry-sounding lightsaber-creating droid Huyang (for which he won an Emmy Award in 2013 in the Outstanding Performer in an Animated Programme category) then it won’t take you more than a single scene to recognise his distinctive brogue even if it’s ever-so-slightly enhanced. Director Dave Filoni also reprises the role of loyal droid C1-10P (a.k.a. ‘Chopper’) and Clancy Brown returns for a brief appearance as Ryder Azadi, a role he also originated on Rebels.
The choreography is balletic and stylised but fun and the CGI is the generally high-quality that we’ve come to expect… with only a few static moments indicating the use of green-screen and the Stagecraft digital wall technology. A starship pursuit between Hera Syndulla‘s shuttle and an escaping Imperial ship above a dockyard in the second episode might be rendered by computers but has the old-school feel of a Saturday morning serial created with models – but is no worse for it in the moment.
It’s clear that there’s been some time taken to get the feeling of the show just right and it delivers on much of its initial promise. Feeling far more than the often merchandise-led mandate of The Mandalorian (though certainly with scope for a new range of action-figures and accessories) and entertaining enough to forego the deeper angst of Andor, Ahsoka strides the middle ground well, light-saber fun and intrigue without a too lightweight or too-weighty approach and that might be exactly the key to its success as it continues…
- Production Design / VFX9