The new Star Wars streaming show “Ahsoka,” produced by John Bartnicki and written by Dave Filoni, serves as a perfect encapsulation of recent Star Wars television: action-packed and fun yet familiar and risk-averse. This show will certainly be a fan favorite, but its reliance on familiar themes is indicative of larger trends which weaken the franchise as a whole.
The show follows title character Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), an ex-Jedi and one of the few Force-wielders remaining during the reign of the New Republic, which was established in the aftermath of the Empire’s collapse.
Ahsoka, with the help of her reluctant mentee Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is in search of a map which may lead to the long-missing Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelson) as well as their friend Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), who disappeared at the same time.
With the map, Ahsoka hopes to prevent Thrawn’s return; he is the only one capable of rallying the scattered Imperial remnants and sparking a new war with the fledgling Republic. However, she must contend with Imperial sympathizer Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) and her fallen Jedi ally Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson), who seek the map to hasten Thrawn’s return.
Those familiar with previous shows taking place in the Star Wars galaxy, particularly the animated series “Star Wars: Rebels,” are likely to recognize many of the characters in “Ahsoka.”
Indeed, the show often feels less like the first season of a new show as it does a continuation of stories which came before. The premise of the show is itself a follow up to loose ends left by the series finale of “Star Wars: Rebels” in 2018, and it leaves “Ahsoka” feeling like an odd middle chapter without a distinct identity of its own.
Die-hard fans will be pleased to finally receive answers to long-held questions, but those less familiar with the Star Wars canon may quickly find themselves alienated by the glut of story “Ahsoka” is built upon. To compensate for this, the show maintains a continuous stream of exposition which flows throughout the first few episodes, slowing the story’s progression to a snail’s pace.
Things pick up dramatically by the fourth episode. However, that leaves just four episodes remaining before the season’s conclusion.
This reliance on familiar faces as well as the show’s not-so-subtle purpose as setup for a Marvel-style crossover with its sister shows is emblematic of an issue dragging many Star Wars shows down.
“Ahsoka,” as well as the deeply disappointing “The Book of Boba Fett,” came about as spinoffs to the critically acclaimed series “The Mandalorian.” Although that show’s first season balanced nostalgic elements with novel ideas in a strong, standalone story, the show ended up falling into the same pit as its spinoffs in the second and third seasons. These shows spend so much time setting up future projects that it pulls focus from the shows themselves, leaving them feeling hollow and unsatisfying.
That said, “Ahsoka” is much more solidly crafted than “The Book of Boba Fett” or the third season of “The Mandalorian,” and looks far better than either show. The effects are easily on par with the films, and the show’s dynamic locations avoid feeling like small, static sound stages as they often do in other Star Wars shows.
The show’s locations also serve as backdrop to a series of energetic action set pieces which inject much-needed energy into an often plodding first few episodes. Ahsoka’s use of her twin lightsabers is genuinely inventive, helping her duels stand out among the multitude that litter the franchise.
Dawson’s performance as the wizened Ahsoka, a character which audiences have seen mature over the course of several television shows, is a highlight. However, Dawson’s Ahsoka can almost be a little too stoic and at times saps energy from interactions with other characters. Though, that could also be due to the characters surrounding her — chiefly Winstead’s Hera and Bordizzo’s Sabine — seeming a little unenthusiastic despite being charming in their respective roles.
Another highlight is the late character actor Ray Stevenson’s turn as the fallen jedi Baylan Skoll. The steadfast and often poignant Skoll has a quiet nobility to him which, paired with his firm presence and strong sense of honor, solidifies him as one of the most likable characters in the show.
Sadly, Stevenson recently passed away at the age of 58. The first episode of “Ahsoka” is dedicated to him, with the words “For Our Friend Ray” appearing at the end of the episode.
Overall, “Ahsoka” offers energetic action and classic Star Wars fare. Though, it might serve best as background noise while doing other things as the show’s more engaging qualities are weighed down by its extensive lore and lack of creative risks.
The show will certainly satisfy long-time fans and most casual viewers. Just don’t set your expectations too high.
Four episodes of “Ahsoka” were screened for this review. The sixth episode of “Ahsoka” debuts on Disney Plus on Sept. 19.
Noah Fellinger is the Arts Editor for The Daily Cardinal. He has covered new film and television releases, labor issues in the performing arts, and has written analysis of the relationship between art and contemporary politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Noah_Fellinger.