Ahsoka has landed on Disney+ and I’ve finally caught up on the first two episodes. I admit, the closer we got to release, the more I felt the dread seep in. When it comes to Star Wars—in both Disney’s stewardship and George Lucas’s—all I can think of is:
In some ways, the brilliance of Andor has only made matters worse. When Season 3 of The Mandalorian came out, I was shocked and appalled at how bad it was in comparison. Riddled with cameos, bad dialogue and lacking almost everything that made the first two seasons of the show so great, not even Baby Yoda could charm me into submission.
Ahsoka is an interesting premise, picking up where creator Dave Filoni’s Star Wars Rebels show left off, serving effectively as that show’s fifth season—though now live-action instead of animated, more’s the pity.
In any case, I’ve watched the first two episodes now and I have mixed feelings. I’ve listed them out below in the “patch notes”.
Star Wars Ahsoka Patch Notes v1.1
Visuals & Sound
- Ahsoka is a nice visual upgrade from Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Mandalorian Season 3 but these are such low bars it hardly matters. Compared to Andor the visual still look cheap and amateurish.
- Fight scenes are decent, though nothing particularly special. We’ve seen a lot of lightsaber duels at this point. If you want to impress you’re going to need to go full Butcher of Blaviken.
- Costumes are decent, and the casting choices for most of the animated characters are good in purely visual terms. Live-action Chopper and Huyang, however, both impress more than any of the leading ladies which is unfortunate.
- Composer Kevin Kiner’s work here is good but not super memorable. I can’t hum any of the melodies in my head as I type this the way I can instantly conjure all the classic Star Wars tunes. Nor is it as unique as Nicholas Britell’s trippy Andor score. I can’t imagine anything in Ahsoka will make me feel such unrelenting sorrow as this track, for instance.
Dialogue, Writing & Story
- Some significant downgrades to dialogue have been added to Ahsoka. Lines like “Well, here’s a new order. Get lost,” really don’t land the way this show thinks they will.
- Worse, dialogue pacing has been nerfed pretty badly. Long pauses feel more awkward than anything. Ahsoka has been given far too many staring sequences where I guess we’re supposed to feel like she’s having Very Deep Thoughts but it just ends up being weird.
- Plotting has largely been lifted from previous Star Wars stories. In order to find Admiral Thrawn (more on him in a minute) Ahsoka tracks down a magical space map. This is a lot like Rey tracking down Luke Skywalker or the knife map they use to get to the Sith world in Rise Of Skywalker. How about this, Disney: Never use magical space maps as a plot device again. Ever.
- Also can we avoid making characters dumb just for the sake of it? Why did the New Republic captain in the opening sequence let the bad guys onto his ship like that? Also, in the shipyard why did the Imperial guards attack Ahsoka and Hera instead of finding a more clever way of delaying them? So stupid!
- Admiral Thrawn is being misused here already compared to his character in Timothy Zahn’s excellent Thrawn trilogy. The point of this character is that he’s a tactical genius. He’s not well-loved by his Imperial compatriots who are largely racist (and he’s not human) and he’s not some magical figure that witches and dark Jedi would track down to bring back as some evil messiah. In fact, given the Imperial factions and power-squabbles, I suspect that nobody on that side would even want him to return as they’d see him more as a rival than a savior. It’s honestly just an astonishingly stupid way to bring his character into this story (especially on top of the dumb map gimmick).
Acting / Casting
- Rosaria Dawson is a fine actor but a terrible choice for Ahsoka Tano. I didn’t care as much when she was a small part in The Mandalorian but here she is relentlessly bland. None of the personality from her animated counterpart shines through except in the briefest glimpses. Someone with a bit more spark would have been better.
- I am not impressed by Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine despite her looking the part. She comes off very flat. This may be more direction than acting, it’s a little too early to say.
- Normally, I’m a big fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead who I thought was terrific in Fargo, Scott Pilgrim, 10 Cloverfield Lane etc. but her Hera comes off as bland as the other two leading ladies.
- Also: It’s so weird how these three interact with almost zero chemistry or friendship vibes. It’s like they’re all strangers rather than old friends who fought in a war together. Something is just really badly off here.
- The clear winners in the acting category are Ray Stevenson as the dark Jedi Baylan Skoll who is instantly the most interesting character in the show. His reluctance to kill Ahsoka because “there are so few Jedi left” is quite compelling. (RIP Stevenson, you will be missed). David Tenant as the droid Huyang is also quite brilliant, with more range than most of the live-action cast.
- Of the female characters in the show, the one I’m most interested in is Ivanna Sakhno’s Shin Hati, a dark Jedi apprentice (I’m not sure if they’re dark Jedi or Sith or something else entirely, but I’m going to keep saying dark Jedi for now). Shin has a wildness to her that I find compelling, and a nice contrast to the bland heroes in this show.
- Chopper is great. I’m curious to learn more about Morgan Elsbeth, a Nightsister from Dathomir, which we’ve explored in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and learned a bit about from the games. What’s with a Nightsister trying to track down Thrawn? Seems weird, but I am curious.
Weapon and Gameplay Changes
- One of the biggest changes to modern Star Wars has been the nerfing of lightsabers as a deadly weapon. The first nerf took place during Obi-Wan Kenobi when two different characters (Reva and the High Inquisitor) survived direct fatal blows from a lightsaber. Now, Sabine survives without even having to take a sojourn in a bacta tank. I’m not sure why Disney and LucasFilm feel the need to keep nerfing the most popular weapon in Star Wars, but I guess the writing was on the wall when Luke tossed his “laser sword” away back in the sequel trilogy. Somebody at Disney clearly does not like lightsabers.
- Puzzles have also been nerfed pretty extensively. The show’s two big video game puzzle sequences are almost laughable. Ahsoka figures out how to get the map orb out of its temple tomb by . . . rotating three circular pillars a couple times. Later, Sabine figures out how to use the MacGuffin map . . . by turning it a few times like a Rubik’s Cube designed for babies. Both these scenes are long, slow and don’t involve audiences in any meaningful way. Both are setup as these big, important triumphs that are supposed to make the heroes look smart, but don’t.
- Here’s an idea. The basic idea of the map is to find Thrawn and possibly Ezra, the Padawan from Rebels who essentially sacrifices himself to remove Thrawn from the galactic chess board. This happens vis-a-vis space whales known as purrgil, who transport the two into hyperspace. We learn they’re in a different galaxy, basically, and that’s where both the villains in this show and the heroes are now headed, too, which could be kind of cool! But why not this: Why not instead of a magic space map, the characters discover that it was the purrgil and figure out a way to track their migration patterns through actual research and science? This allows them to chart a course for the galaxy where Thrawn and Ezra are, while giving viewers a bit more exposition to help them lay anchor in the broader story.
In any case, I’m feeling pretty mixed on this show overall. I feel like most of the Star Wars IP has been given to people who are only mildly talented half the time. Dave Filoni has done some great work but he’s also done some really bad work, and this is him doing something in the middle—something middling at best.
The writing is all over the place. The plot is slapdash and derivative. The casting choices are okay but the performances are largely flat. The action and combat sequences are fine but nothing special.
It’s better than Obi-Wan, Boba Fett and Season 3 of The Mandalorian but when you compare it to Andor you see what a difference actual writing talent and attention to detail make. I’ll keep watching, but my expectations remain quite low. I hope it can at least be a fun story, and I suppose it’s nice that Rebels gets another season of content if nothing else. But I really do wish Star Wars had quality control to match its budget.