Last week's episode of Ahsoka was a stunner packed with both excellent lightsaber duels and at least a couple of big surprises that promised to briefly derail what had been a pretty straightforward journey up to that point. The Dave Filoni-led show has garnered a positive reception from Star Wars diehards so far, and after Anakin Skywalker's huge return in the last scene of 'Fallen Jedi,' we've spent an entire week biting our nails in anticipation and reading plenty of wild theories.
In 'Shadow Warrior' (both a reference to The Clone Wars season 4 episode 4 and Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha), we go back in time (sort of) to explore Ahsoka Tano's relationship with Anakin Skywalker. Meanwhile, Hera Syndulla along with Jacen, Chopper, Huyang, and her squadron) try to figure out where their allies have gone. It's a big episode of Star Wars T.V. for fanatics, but also a surprisingly restrained chapter that doesn't get lost in the woods of hollow nostalgia and fan service.
If you've fallen in love with Ahsoka just as we have and want to see more of our snippy heroine, then we highly recommend checking out the 10 episodes of Star Wars to watch before Ahsoka (or, you know, right now).
Spoilers ahead for Ahsoka episode 5: 'Shadow Warrior'
The first scene of the episode takes place on the surface of Seatos, at the location where the star map was cracked open. After losing some pilots and watching Morgan Elsbeth's Eye of Sion make a seemingly impossible hyperspace jump, Hera is looking for answers and her lost friends. Huyang is also there, half-mourning the loss of Ahsoka and Sabine Wren, but no one's ready to give up on them.
Inside the World Between Worlds (or Ahsoka's mind), things are more complicated. The reunion with Anakin quickly turns into another fight when he claims she still hasn't finished her training. Still, no red lightsaber nor Vader for now. This is the Chosen One as we saw him in Revenge of the Sith, and we must underline how much better Hayden Christensen as pre-Sith Anakin looks here (thanks to some smooth de-aging) than in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, where he seemed much older and wrinkled even though that flashback was supposed to happen before Attack of the Clones.
Another big positive of this episode – and the show as a whole so far – is that the lightsaber fights are once again easy to follow and well-choreographed. It's easy to spot some classic moves from Anakin, and Ahsoka also has a distinct style when using a single saber or dual wielding. They also strike a nice balance between raw and visceral (like in the sequels) and dance-like (what George Lucas constantly gunned for in the prequels).
Elsewhere, Hera and her team are getting frustrated in their search for Ahsoka and Sabine, finding no life signs whatsoever near the location where they disappeared. There's also the problem of the New Republic command coming after them, as the mission is unsanctioned despite Hera's rank. Thankfully, little Jacen senses there's something odd about the waves below them.
We already saw in the previous episode that the kid was strong with the Force, and here he's able to both notice the lightsaber fight happening somewhere in the mystical plane and guide his mother to open her mind and feel it too. Again, like in Ahsoka episode 3, this show is making a big point about democratizing the Force and reminding us of Lucas' more religious and less mechanical views about a mystical energy that everyone can tap into. You can be born gifted and trained to fully harness it if you're an apt pupil, but the Force connects all living things.
The actual trip down memory lane begins when Ahsoka is knocked off a pathway by Anakin and lands as a younger version of herself right in the middle of the Clone Wars. More specifically, during one of her very first missions alongside Anakin: the Battle of Teth, seen in the Clone Wars movie that preceded the show. After several rumors over the past few months, the role of young Ahsoka was ultimately played by Disney veteran Ariana Greenblatt (child Gamora in 'Avengers: Infinity War,' one of the best Marvel movies), who's also enjoying tons of success this year with Barbie.
We could say the Volume's limitations (the LED screens tech they use for backgrounds in these shows) can be felt in this scene, but the following jumps to other major battles of the Clone Wars (the Ryloth campaign and the infamous Siege of Mandalore) are presented in a similar fashion: most of the action is happening in the background around Ahsoka and Anakin, with dust surrounding and clouding the entire battlefield. Lady Tano isn't experiencing the real events, and these flashbacks aren't about the battles at all. Instead, she's reflecting on how she felt during the long-lasting conflict and what she learned from her unorthodox master.
The main lesson here appears to be that, much like Anakin, Ahsoka has to keep fighting in order to survive, even when she doesn't want to. The galaxy needs her, and she's part of a larger legacy. Her master didn't fail as a Jedi even if his son, Luke Skywalker, had to bring him back from decades of evildoing – Anakin's fall to the dark side of the Force had nothing to do with his actions as a loyal warrior during the war. Revenge of the Sith made this very clear, with the Jedi Order's judgement being clouded by the ongoing war, but no one embracing darkness just because they had become warriors instead of the guardians of peace and justice they were supposed to be.
Before we move past the Clone Wars flashbacks, we must say it was a bit disappointing that Captain Rex's role in them was limited to a background and small voice cameo. However, it's nice to finally hear Temuera Morrison as our favorite clone ever, as excellent as Dee Bradley Baker's performance has been over the years.
At some point during the Siege of Mandalore sequence, it appears that Ahsoka has figured out what she's wrong about, but instead blames Anakin for his fall to the dark side and brings up the matter of Darth Vader. As a direct result, she gets the rematch she asked for. An easy trick here would've been to jump to their mighty clash on Malachor (Star Wars Rebels), but Dave Filoni shows us he's above weaponizing nostalgia just because he can. The ensuing duel is fast but impactful, and seeing Rosario Dawson's Ahsoka and a version of Darth Vader who didn't burn on Mustafar clash inside the World Between Worlds is memorable enough for us.
Like in Return of the Jedi, Vader is bested by compassion and not just raw strength or technique. Ahsoka forgives Anakin and fully embraces his teachings without fear of becoming the monster he turned into. She must fight as hard as she can, but with renewed focus and trust in her allies, especially Sabine, her Padawan. Ahsoka has everything that was good about Anakin and none of the bad, as long as she stays on course.
The back half of the episode is a bit weird when it comes to the pace at which the events are told. If the first 25 minutes or so are among the most packed in the brief but intense history of Star Wars television, the remaining 20 stretch a couple of narrative beats out needlessly. The rundown is that Ahsoka "exits" the World Between Worlds (likely just a Force trip between life and death, like that cave in Dagobah) and is rescued from the ocean by the New Republic pilots. After resting for a rotation, she wakes up renewed and swaps out her old outfit for something more Gandalf-like. Very subtle stuff, yes. Then, she figures out how to make an intergalactic jump the old way.
Dave Filoni prefers to let scenes and the characters that inhabit them breathe thanks to the extra minutes not available when making cartoons, that much we can easily tell, but it's been more than a few times now that his live-action Star Wars episodes have slowed down to a crawl. While it might be a non-issue for many fans, it could become a bigger problem in his upcoming event movie. The oddest thing about this phenomenon is that it seems to be limited to the episodes he directs, so it doesn't appear to be something that happens on a script level. At least that's how we feel about it.
While (the extremely patient) Carson Teva and Hera try to figure out how to delay the New Republic forces coming to bring them back to Coruscant, Ahsoka chooses to trust the Force and play the only card they have left: Repeating what Ezra Bridger did when he made the jump into the big unknown. Previous episodes had shown us Seatos was the "jump point" of an intergalactic migration path used by the purrgils, so hitching a ride in full Pinocchio style might just work. Hopefully, Lady Tano and Huyang will arrive at the same destination Ezra and Grand Admiral Thrawn did.
The final scene, with the entire pod of purrgils leaving Seatos and making the jump to hyperspace, is full of the sense of wonder that Filoni excels at invoking when he really goes for it. As the episode ends, we're left with three big questions: What will they find on the other side? How will the New Republic react to this strange occurrence and what Hera has to tell them? Is Grand Admiral Thrawn finally showing up next week? We can't wait to find out!