Ahsoka is a mixed bag for this Star Wars fan… Some parts I loved, and others left me cold. Read ahead for my thoughts on this season.
*Some vague spoilers ahead*
Ahsoka Tano is on the hunt for Morgan Elsbeth! Will she find Elsbeth before she frees the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn from his exile? Along the way: reunions with the crew of Star Wars: Rebels, and two force-sensitive mercenaries with their own agenda.
Ahsoka doesn’t feel like a well-contained season of TV. It’s an ongoing instalment of Star Wars Sequel era TV– which encompasses The Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett, and now this one. And none of these seasons work very well unless you’ve seen the whole story in order, from Mandalorian S1. I know these are CALLED different shows… but they’re not. They’re effectively one long, broken up show which pulls focus each season.
Onto the show itself now: The season’s macguffin is suspiciously similar to the map from Treasure Planet, in form and function. But it’s still cool. I enjoyed the gradual lead-up to its use: first its retrieval, then a mystery about its purpose, then a study of its contents, until finally it’s put to use. The series gave each step of the process its due– really built the gravity of this thing, and the consequences for its use.
But cool macguffin artifacts and the adventures surrounding them are only as good as the locations in the story! I, for one, am enamored with the idea of archaeological remains of ancient civilizations (so is Lucasfilm, traditionally). And Ahsoka has a tonne of those! These impressively detailed sets are where the production design shines– with thought and care put into every location. Star Wars devotees, especially, will marvel at the wealth of Easter eggs (writings and stylistic choices unique to rarely mentioned species in canon lore, references to The Clone Wars and Rebels, etc).
I’m also pleased to report that the volume isn’t so muddy-looking anymore. And the visual renders are more seamlessly-integrated. Now my main gripe is with the lazy lighting effects. Ahsoka is so ideally keyed that it’s like a documentary: too real and natural. There aren’t enough shadows to pull our focus where it ought to be, like with classic cinematography. And this lack of effect makes every shot look and feel the same.
The volume has come crazy far in a short time. But its next step is to utilize intentional shadow. Classic cinema was filmed in dark rooms which required intentional lighting rigs to create their desired styles. Now, cinematographers must work in a room of lights and add DARKNESS to achieve the same looks.
Besides the volume, how were the special effects? They’re mostly convincing, save for the horse-like mounts which the characters ride on that one planet. Most of the show looks phenomenal though! The animatronics and puppets were especially notable for their intricacy and (mostly) life-like movements.
Ahsoka is one of the few times I’ve had this specific complaint with action scenes: but, for once, the camera work and editing are BETTER than the choreography! I could see everything clearly, and had a good sense of space and flow… but I was largely bored. Characters are too showy, with unnecessarily obvious moves and big swings (though this style works in some cases). The fights lack obstacles, inventiveness, and emotional investment. They’re cool and competent, don’t get me wrong. But I mostly felt nothing while I watched them.
Onto characters now: Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka performance is… acceptable, but not ideal for this Clone Wars fan. I see hints of the character I know. But Dawson plays Ahsoka with a stoicism she never used to possess. Of course Dave Filoni maybe directed Dawson to act this way– as a commentary on Ahsoka’s evolution into a more traditional Jedi than she’d probably want to be. I don’t seriously believe that though.
Yet Ahsoka grows over the course of her series, and regains some familiar traits. Fans of the character have to be patient for these changes– although, as I’ve stated, Dawson never FULLY feels like the Ahsoka we’ve come to know. My biggest issue with Ahsoka’s development is that it peaks halfway through the show! The last three episodes aren’t about her emotional arc whatsoever (’cause she already finished it). That’s a weird choice to make with your titled character…
Sabine (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) started the show strongly: she’s a former Mandalorian/ Jedi who’s all but left both traditions behind. I love how much she struggles to be a jedi– because emotions cloud her judgment, and because her aptitude for the force is pitiful. She has to earn whatever power she gets, and that somehow feels refreshing in 2023!
But Sabine’s story never coalesces in a satisfying way. She makes a HUGE choice half-way through the series, which should have wide ramifications… and it’s practically ignored. It’s the kind of decision which should REQUIRE a redemptive arc. But neither Sabine, nor her friends, want to acknowledge that she is responsible for a tidal wave of bad things.
I was also never sold on Bordizzo’s portrayal of the character. She doesn’t feel like the Sabine from Rebels, and her performance isn’t interesting enough to stand alone. In fact: I’d probably have found her downright unlikable if I didn’t already have an emotional connection to the Sabine character (which this series somewhat tarnished).
Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is effectively useless… My favourite Rebels character got nothing to do, other than show up and fail to be interesting. Mary Elizabeth Winstead at least plays her well– though more subtly than I might have expected. Most of her performance is in her kind yet threatening gazes and smiles. I chalk this performance up to Hera’s new role in the world: she can’t be a maverick rebel anymore when so many people look up to her for leadership. But the old Hera peeks through every now and again.
Ahsoka‘s version of Ezra is the only character adaptation which I PREFERRED to the original. I didn’t connect with him in Rebels. But I love Eman Esfandi’s portrayal of this zen dude who isn’t SUPER powerful, but still badass, quick-witted and resourceful.
Also stand-out is David Tennant’s Huyang, whose deadpan banter offered the show’s best comic relief. He’s an almost tragic character, having served the Jedi for 25,000 years, and outlived everybody he ever knew. But his adherence to the order’s traditions, and reverence of its history, make him the purest conduit of Jedi philosophy that we’ve ever seen!
Now onto the show’s best part: its villains! I’ll begin with the good, though still disappointing, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). I ONLY say she’s disappointing because Ahsoka underused her. Though Inosanto maintained a strong sense of authority, with a nuanced motivation. And her martial prowess makes her one of the best on-screen combatants in Star Wars history.
Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) is an exceptional antagonist! His chillingly cold demeanour, dead red eyes, and monotone voice are intimidating enough on the surface– but beneath them lays the greatest strategic mind in the Star Wars galaxy! This whole series is one big game to him. Our heroes can surprise him, but never TRULY best his brain. Because they only think one move at a time, where Thrawn’s planned the whole game before he’s even sat down to play.
But the real stand-outs of Ahsoka were Baylan and Shin (Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno). Shin is what Riva should have been. She’s legitimately menacing, confident, and badass; yet she can be OVER-confident and lacks scope of the bigger picture. She’s exceptional because she communicates a lot about herself with hardly any dialogue. Shin is the Darth Maul of the sequel era: the mostly silent, yet memorably awesome apprentice.
What of her master though? Ray Stevenson (in what’s tragically his final performance) crafts one of Star Wars’ all-time most memorable characters with Baylan. I didn’t know it was possible to deliver such gravitas with literally every one of his lines. Stevenson brought every word to its greatest potential in every scene. His calm but melancholy facade showed us a tired old man, sick of needing to fight. Yet fight he would for his ideals, no matter what stood in his way.
Baylan was immediately intriguing for his morally gray philosophies. He helps the badguys, without wanting to kill the good guys; he’ll take the upper hand, and still keep his word; he wistfully remembers his youth as a Jedi, though is wise enough to acknowledge why he left that path. And he works for his own goals, which… are still unclear, but had me constantly intrigued throughout Ahsoka.
NOTE: Baylan and Shin’s story was unfortunately short-changed by the end of Ahsoka. I don’t know why, but it was the biggest let-down of the series.
The season’s overall pacing is fine. It began slowly, and gradually picked up till it reached an epic peak (in episode 5), before it casually coasted to the end. The first 3 and last 3 episodes could probably have been cut down to two for each chunk. I appreciate deliberate pacing as much as the next guy, but not enough happened overall in this series to warrant 8 episodes.
That said: I love Ahsoka‘s vibe. This feels like the New Republic era I grew up with, in the old EU. We gladly get more New Republic politics (infuriating though the politicians may be), see the state of its defense force, and see the instability of their new government.
The main problem with this on-TV era of Star Wars is the absence of Han, Luke, and Leia during its stories. I know Luke appeared multiple times in these shows already… but his absence in stories like Ahsoka‘s is notable. ‘Cause he should definitely be involved– as would Leia on the government side of things. It’s a huge oversight which I mostly have to ignore, for logistical reasons (AKA the original actors are too old for this time in their character’s lives/ deceased).
Kevin Kiner’s score runs the gamut of emotional beats, and perfectly underscores every scene. The sheer thrills he evokes are reminiscent of John Williams’ work! Though I appreciate how Kiner experiments with genre and tone to give us unexpected treats, like Star Wars punk music. Much of this score is ominous, intense, and conveys the threats well. Just listening to it (removed from the visuals), I experience all the emotions Kiner wants me to feel. Then I remember the respective scenes in which they’d be placed, and it those emotions accurately represent the intention of the show. It’s incredible work!
Ahsoka isn’t the franchise saviour we fans hoped it’d be. But it was a decent season of TV which sets up a future with more promise. I was entertained, and generally impressed.
Ahsoka is Pretty Darn Good for die hard Star Wars fans.
Though casuals should only check it out If You’re Bored.
FURTHER ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF AHSOKA ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP!
Are you excited for Dave Filoni’s Mandalorian era movie? What did you think of Ahsoka? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,