Inside a giant space-whale, Ahsoka and Huyang have more than enough time to ponder Sabine’s apparent betrayal. Sabine herself is a prisoner aboard the hyper-ship and aware that she may have made one of the biggest mistakes of the life – even if it was for good reasons.
As the ship arrives in an entirely different galaxy, over the apparently desolate graveyard world of Peridia, Baylan Skoll is also considering the events that brought him here and the possible future ahead for all concerned. The voyagers are not alone – potential threats new, old and very old await them on the planet below, but what cost will this fateful journey bring for them and what groundwork is being laid for a bigger battle beyond the stars?
When you start your episode by having David Tennant vocalize (in character) the classic line: ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away…‘ to start a story, you know that one of two things is happening. Either you are in for a mythological sf tour-de-force or the ties that bind that mythology are being yanked so hard that they’d give the most resilient Jedi a case of on-the-nose, mixed-metaphor whiplash. Given that Huyang and Ahsoka are subsequently confined to the pre-credits sequence, it turns out to be a little more of the latter.
Last week we had no idea what had happened to Baylan Skoll, Shin Hati, boo-hiss madam Morgan Elsbeth and the forces that hyperspaced to another galaxy even further away. This week is the flip side, with all the action happening at the destination (leaving Ahsoka to arrive next week to help save the day?).
After some pretty impressive (and impressively pretty) VFX full of star-whales and genuinely dazzling star fields, Baylan Skoll and his cohorts find themselves in a star-system that previously existed only in ancient legend and whispered about around Jedi campfires. But it looks remarkably, well… not that different….though to be fair, the desolate world of Peridia, below them, feels more like Mordor than any Lucasfilm landscape to date. There’s also no denying that then seeing a Star Destroyer loom large over that horizon, dwarfing all before it, does carry some visual oooomph and weight and there are moments when the episode has the feeling of a Ridley Scott endeavour, full of grandstanding world-building and dirt-laden, golden-hued production-design. (If there’s any part of you thinking ‘Enoch – that Stormtrooper with a golden samurai-esque mask – isn’t going to prove important‘ (or, at least, a collectible action-figure) then you should likely turn in your fan-boy credentials immediately. That clear eastern influence, more attractive than logical, also flows into the ‘local’ warriors that Sabine encounters when she’s ‘released’ later.
…it’s telling that in an episode that’s full of moments genetically-designed to please hardcore fans, it’s actually Ray Stevenson’s quieter scenes as Baylan that are some of the strongest. He’s a warrior clearly at odds with elements within himself, internally knowing why he’s made the decisions he has and willing to stick with them…but fully aware of the costs he’d rather not have paid. Every time we see him on screen is a reminder of how big a loss Stevenson’s premature death early this year is to the screen…
We’re quickly introduced to three Macbeth-adjacent witches, the high priestesses of witches of Dathomir – Aktropaw (Jeryl Prescott Gallien), Klothow (Claudia Black), and Lakesis (Jane Edwina Seymour). It’s always a delight to see Black in a science-fiction offering and though the veteran of Farscape, Stargate SG-1, Uncharted and The Nevers is plastered in gothic make-up and scarlet ceremonial dress, there’s no mistaking her voice and stature as she greets our weary Imperial travellers to that galaxy even further away. Sadly, she’s so far confined to a few throwaway lines, but maybe we’ll see more of her later?
The series marketing promised a couple of major ‘returns’ and, perhaps unexpectedly, we get both players here. The emergence of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) finally comes to pass with a lot of pomp and circumstance (and patched-up stormtroopers) but it’s likely to mean more to those familiar with the character from his animated appearances than casual viewers or newcomers… because to the uninitiated, he’s a typical Imperial officer, a little more blue in hue, rather full of himself, assured of his assured victory and coldly dismissive of anyone he deems as inferior (ie: anyone). The design seems like a too-literal recreation of the animated version – as if the production so closely adhered to that previous interpretation that there was no room for anything new or benefiting the live-action opportunity. Wait a little while and we also get Eman Esfandi’s debut as Ezra (taking over from Taylor Gray) living as a nomad with a group of Noti. Ezra might not arrive until the third act but he’s found so easily by Sabine and her new ‘boulder-buddies’ that one wonders quite how much effort Thrawn has actually put into finding him to begin with or why Sabine doesn’t know she’s been used.
There will be those who had sympathies with Sabine’s drive to find Ezra, but the search and reunion does rather point to the fact that she had (and has) no real plan. Even after finding him, she has no way of getting them home (and she knows that – hence her reluctance to give him any details of her voyage there). She has gambled the lives of potentially millions and the future of her galaxy on a heartfelt but selfish quest and likely handed Thrawn the opportunity to return to power. Ahsoka has every right to be disappointed and pissed and one suspects Ezra will be too.
There’s a scale to this episode, but a bullet-point list of moments that even a stormtrooper could hit which seem to undermine the sense of ambition that exists on paper. Tonally, the episode is all over-the-place and ultimately far slower than one might expect after the visually-impressive beginning. A majority of Thrawn scenes are merely him browbeating all in the vicinity and the subsequent scenes with Sabine acting as an unwilling bloodhound largely involve cute animals (rat-horses that are well-rendered, but look like anorexic Bantha and feel like just more additions to the unlikely Star Wars menagerie of domesticated creatures) and those rock-people that look like mutant Munchkin hermit-crabs, fresh out of the Jim Henson Creature Workshop. On the other side of things, it’s telling that in an episode that’s full of moments genetically-designed to please hardcore fans, it’s Ray Stevenson’s quieter scenes as Baylan that are some of the strongest. He’s a warrior clearly at odds with elements within himself, internally knowing why he’s made the decisions he has and willing to stick with them…but fully aware of the costs he’d rather not have paid and that may still cost him parts of his soul. Every time we see him on screen is a reminder of how big a loss Stevenson’s premature death early this year is to the screen.
Far, Far Away is…. interesting more than it is enjoyable, stylish more than it is fulfilling. It seeks, somewhat successfully, to be a pay-off for long-term fans of specific characters, to give some depth (both in time and in space) to the mythology that underlies the whole Lucasfilm galaxy, but does so more with the emphasis on visuals than with actual story and all too often feels like characters walking through beautiful sets and architecture and pondering the universe but without the anticipated sense of fanfare or genuine momentum.
If it’s all set-up and the calm before the oncoming storm, then we’re already looking to the horizon, anticipating its arrival…
- Production Design / VFX9