The back half of Ahsoka's first season (we're expecting a season 2 announcement any time now) has been one of the boldest explorations of Star Wars' stranger side, elevated by the fact many of its elements hadn't been featured in live-action works before. For long-time followers of not only Star Wars animation, but also Legends, this show often feels like a dream coming true, and its season finale commits to finishing the story arc presented in the first two episodes while also setting up whatever comes next for these characters.
In 'The Jedi, the Witch, and the Warlord' (yet another fun literary reference in these titles), The Mandalorian veteran director and executive producer Rick Famuyiwa returns to wrap up what has largely felt like a Force-centric season 5 of Star Wars Rebels. His work here rarely comes across as clean and energetic as what he cooked up for season 3 of The Mandalorian, but it's obvious that by now he feels comfortable playing in the ever-growing Star Wars sandbox.
Speaking of which, need more Ahsoka goodness? These 10 episodes of Star Wars to watch before Ahsoka (well, after works too) are all available on Disney Plus, as are the best Star Wars movies and Star Wars T.V. shows. With so much happening in the galaxy far, far away, you might want to brush up on the Star Wars timeline and be at one with the Force.
Spoilers ahead for Ahsoka episode 8: 'The Jedi, the Witch, and the Warlord'
So far, we hadn't seen Grand Admiral Thrawn use much of the Great Mothers' magick despite an ominous tease at the end of episode 6, but that's fixed in the finale. Morgan Elsbeth has been a fine servant for years and succeeded at finding Thrawn and giving him the chance to return to the galaxy we know to rebuild the Galactic Empire. The reward? Becoming a true Witch of Dathomir, creepy black eyes included. As a bonus, she also gets Mother Talzin's sword from the Great Mothers; an amazing deep cut for those who've been following all the shows created by Dave Filoni.
Meanwhile, our heroes are preparing for the inevitable battle to come, as they lack the means to leave the galaxy on their own. Remember that purrgils only approached the world of Peridea to die out, which is the only reason why Ezra Bridger was still stuck there. The lost Padawan gets even more time to shine in this final episode, as he gets to learn more about his late master and builds a new lightsaber to fully become a Jedi again. We were half-expecting him to remain a monk-like warrior of sorts, but who can say no to a good lightsaber? Or a cool lightsaber fight for that matter?
It's also about time that Ahsoka and Sabine Wren talked about the rift between them and the latter's big mistake. Lady Tano seems to be above all the drama after her near-death experience and reconnecting with Anakin's teachings, so she's quick to forgive her apprentice's lowest moment so far. As Filoni has explored in depth in this show, such disagreements are almost unavoidable in a proper master-apprentice relationship and, at the end of the day, the White Jedi remembers that Anakin always stood beside her even when they didn't see eye-to-eye. Again, fans of the cartoons know this very well.
All the bonding and reminiscing stops when a couple of TIE fighters – surely another calculated distraction by Thrawn – start firing at the Noti caravan and Ahsoka's Jedi shuttle. The strike is a success, as their principal means of transport are deactivated, though Thrawn knows full well Jedi are extremely persistent, especially if they're related to Anakin Skywalker.
Howlers once again prove to be the most useful creatures in recent Star Wars memory, only behind purrgils. With just two mounts, the Jedi trio set off to ruin Thrawn's long-awaited departure. The Chiss leader has more tricks up his sleeve, but first tries to wear the team down with a turbolaser bombardment that barely scratches them because plot armor (also called the Force in this universe).
Inside the ancient structure below the Chimaera, things get more interesting as the three Jedi cut through a group of "night troopers" in style. Sadly, the use of the Volume (the LED screens tech they use for backgrounds) here and in some of the following scenes is among the worst we've seen in the Star Wars shows so far, so part of the immersion is lost. This is especially confusing as Famuyiwa is one of these series' best recurring directors, but the final result simply isn't too great. After several episodes that looked perfectly fine and consistent, this is odd and made us wonder whether they've had to rush through the VFX and CG process for this one to miraculously meet the deadline.
Back to the Jedi action: Ahsoka maintains a more defensive stance, slowly culling the enemy troops with graceful moves, while Ezra also gets to show off with his surprising Force-powered martial arts. As for Sabine, her physical performance underlines she still has much to learn, but the basics are there, and her Mandalorian experience is so useful that even Ahsoka asks her at one point to switch to blasters. We're here for an unorthodox group of Jedi Knights.
Do you know what this episode needed? Zombies! Well, not really, but we're thankful for them. Fans of the Witches of Dathomir already had their suspicions about the weird looks of Thrawn's new troopers, and while we don't get full confirmation they had died before, seeing their corpses rise to keep fighting mindlessly wasn't much of a surprise if you're a Star Wars diehard.
Like in any notable work of zombie fiction, the shamblers aren't very dangerous alone, but a horde of them spells trouble. Again, Thrawn is just throwing everything he has at the Jedi in hopes of slowing them down just long enough to return to the known galaxy without extra passengers. Since Baylan and Shin are now strays, his biggest weapon is powered-up Morgan, who remains loyal to the Empire and is willing to stay behind and get the rematch she wants.
And so we arrive at one of the most – if not the most – interesting duels in this season of Star Wars television, with Diana Lee Inosanto getting to shine once again as a veteran martial artist and stuntwoman. It becomes quite clear that Filoni connected the dots and gave her a legendary weapon from the deep lore that fit her skills, as the final result is a pretty convincing and fast-paced melee between the Witch and the Togruta Jedi.
The rest of the kerfuffle involves Ezra and Sabine having to deal with two beefy zombie death troopers (yes, that's what they were called in the Empire) that also seem to deal just fine with laser shots to the chest and lightsaber stab wounds. Regardless, they're hardly a match for two Jedi. The real exciting moment atop the structure comes when Ezra and Sabine have to leap across the massive gap between the tower and the star destroyer (which is already departing). Here, the "jump and I'll Force-push you" trick from Rebels makes a return, and Ezra is the first – and only – to get on the Chimaera thanks to Sabine's big "trust the Force" moment. Those always hit hard, especially when the right music kicks in.
For a second, we're tricked into thinking the only Jedi left behind will be Ahsoka, who keeps battling Morgan and her soldiers. Ultimately, however, Sabine stays behind and fulfils her arc in this season by fighting alongside her master no matter what they lose. The battle is won when Morgan is felled by Ahsoka and Huyang picks them up before the Chimaera fires on the ancient building, but it's a bittersweet win as Thrawn talks to the Jedi one last time – and acknowledges her excellent performance – before departing that mysterious galaxy.
Staying with the friendly Noti for now doesn't sound too bad, but this is an outcome neither we nor the heroes were expecting. Of course, Thrawn always had to return to the known galaxy to kickstart the events that will lead into the announced movie directed by Dave Filoni, but leaving both Sabine and Ahsoka stranded in exchange for Ezra is perhaps the boldest move in an otherwise safe season finale.
Speaking of Ezra, his long-awaited reunion with Hera Syndulla is among the most emotionally cathartic moments in modern Star Wars. Small gestures and few words can say a lot, and this payoff was beautiful. We also can't wait to see how Kanan's Padawan interacts in future stories with his son Jacen. Absolutely zero Zeb presence in this show though!
In the season's final moments, and before one last nostalgic nod, we get to see where the villains are heading next. Thrawn's immediate plan is to keep amassing forces on the spooky red planet of Dathomir, which makes his menace in the long run even more terrifying. Baylan Skoll looks at a shining mountain on the horizon of Peridea while he stands on the hand of a massive ancient statue of the god-like Father, a mythical figure we met in the excellent Mortis arc of The Clone Wars. Let's just say … things will get weirder in season 2. It's such a shame the late Ray Stevenson won't be able to reprise this role.
Meanwhile, Shin Hati shows up at a camp of the red-armored bandits we'd met before, ready to lead them by being the strongest warrior among them all. It'll be interesting to see where the fallen Jedi end up, especially within the context of series that are building up towards an event movie that will take place elsewhere. Ahsoka and Sabine will cross paths with them again, we're sure, but impossible to see, the future is.
Last but not least, ending with one final shot of Force ghost Anakin at peace and proud of his apprentice was the perfect note to end on and elevates his character and Hayden Christensen's part in the bigger story even higher. Despite some early pacing issues and head-scratching moments, this Star Wars tale has its heart in the right place and adds to the larger mythos in compelling ways. We can't wait to see what comes next.