After an uneven 2022 ultimately saved by Andor, Star Wars – currently expanding through Disney Plus shows – has given us a handful of distinct takes on the universe created by George Lucas this year. Of course, The Mandalorian's third season first comes to mind, but we shouldn't ignore the presence and impact of the two animated series which pleased fans worldwide a few months ago: The Bad Batch season 2 and Star Wars Visions' second volume.
Star Wars animation is especially important going into Ahsoka, a series that first and foremost is interested in continuing character and story arcs that started in Star Wars Rebels (and even before that in the case of the titular character). That series wrapped things up quite nicely as a prequel of sorts to the original trilogy of movies, but also used its space and own cast of characters to chart new paths for the Star Wars mythos and reframe much of the universe's more mystical side.
Ahsoka Tano wasn't a lead character in Rebels, yet her presence in it was extensive, especially towards the end. And, even if that show had had a closed ending, it'd be hard to ignore for too long that Anakin Skywalker's unexpected Padawan during the Clone Wars is still wandering across the galaxy after the fall of the Empire. With her creator (and Star Wars animation mastermind) Dave Filoni at the helm, Ahsoka’s own series aims to explore what her place in the larger story is while also setting up the menace that lurks beyond known space as the New Republic tries to rebuild many worlds and nurture lasting peace.
Spoilers ahead for Ahsoka episodes 1 & 2: 'Master and Apprentice' and 'Toil and Trouble'
It's clear from the get-go that Ahsoka is a special series, not only for Filoni, but also for Star Wars' larger plans, which now include a theatrical event movie that will unify all the story threads of the New Republic era shows: The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka, and the upcoming Skeleton Crew (so far). One undoubtedly cool thing about the post-Disney Star Wars projects is that each one – especially outside the sequel trilogy – has been allowed to bend the franchise's audiovisual language to stand apart from the rest. It's often said the franchise struggles to separate itself from the events of the Skywalker Saga, and that's definitely true, yet we've experienced a number of tonal and narrative shifts in recent years that we couldn't have anticipated prior to Star Wars' on-screen resurrection.
In Ahsoka, a red and sombre opening crawl sets the mood for a new tale that instantly feels both classical and progressive. We hadn't had one of these in any Star Wars spin-off (theatrical or made for Disney Plus), so that's a way to let audiences know bigger things are coming with this show. Similarly, the first scene is a transparent inversion of A New Hope's, with a small ship approaching a larger vessel which belongs to the New Republic.
Things instantly go south as two mysterious Force users (the late Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno) with orange-red lightsabers crush any and all resistance between them and an important prisoner: Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), the minor villain we met in The Mandalorian Chapter 13, 'The Jedi' (Ahsoka's debut in live-action). Last time we saw her, she had lost control over the population of the planet Corvus after a brief duel with the Jedi outcast. Also, she had given up vital information of Grand Admiral Thrawn's whereabouts, who had vanished into hyperspace alongside the Padawan Ezra Bridger during Star Wars Rebels' series finale.
Meanwhile, Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) is searching for a relic on an unknown planet. Her introduction feels both Kurosawa-ish and Indiana Jones-y, styles we've come to expect all the time from Dave Filoni, who's always stuck close to George Lucas' most basic inspirations while opening up the universe's possibilities, often through its more mystical elements.
Grabbing the object is rather easy, as this is far from her first adventure inside ancient ruins, but she's instantly surrounded by a group of HK-87 assassin droids (first seen in The Mandalorian serving Elsbeth). Tano makes short work of them, but they're carrying explosive charges as a plan B and, oh boy, do they cause destruction. Still, she escapes the planet in the fancy ship we know from Rebels and alongside the ancient droid Huyang (David Tennant), who carries plenty of Jedi lore in his databanks.
The Rebels reunions don't take too long to happen, as Ahsoka quickly meets with both the Twi'lek New Republic general Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and the Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). This is beneficial to the pacing of the first two episodes, as the time we spend with Dawson's Ahsoka is mostly quiet and more reflective. This character has gone through a lot and is way calmer and more methodical than before, but as good as this portrayal of the Togruta Jedi is, the calmer scenes here aren't as smooth as the rest of the package.
Hera Syndulla has also grown into a mature leader since we last saw her, going from hitting the Empire as part of the Rebellion to hunting down the remaining loyalists. She definitely can't handle a couple of rogue dark Jedi without Ahsoka's guidance, but what gets her into the main storyline is the opportunity to finally find and bring back Ezra, her late partner's Padawan. It's what Kanan Jarrus would've wanted.
The opening crawl already does an excellent job of setting up the show's premise and where we're at in Star Wars' increasingly complex history, but the biggest obstacle this time around was to get audiences who haven't touched Star Wars animation invested into a story that comes directly from seemingly unimportant side narratives. Despite all the name drops and constant references to past events, this story – at least for now – works just fine on its own and will probably cause the opposite effect of what many fans feared: getting casual viewers to watch The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.
Things get even more exciting for Rebels fans when we jump to Lothal, the home planet of Ezra, which once suffered under the Empire's weight and was freed thanks to his and his master's sacrifices. Sabine Wren has stayed there, apparently supervising the New Republic's reconstruction (and modernization) efforts. However, the main reason why she's still stuck on the peaceful planet is because she misses Ezra terribly. Hell, she's even staying at his place (Loth-cat included).
This might be Ahsoka's show, but the soul of the first episode is Natasha Liu Bordizzo and her portrayal of Sabine, who's as cool as ever but downbeat as well. To make matters worse, it appears there was a falling out between Ahsoka and her after the Rebels finale (though before the epilogue, which is retold at the end of this show's second episode).
Rebels fans know Sabine had a whole character arc built around Mandalore's mighty Darksaber, but it never explicitly teased she was Force-sensitive. And yet, this show is constantly telling us she trained with Ahsoka as her apprentice. Huyang takes things even further, saying she wasn't too good with the Force, which implies Ahsoka saw something in her at some point after the end of the war. While this sets her up for strong payoffs, it came out of left field and is presented in a strange way. We'll trust Filoni for now.
As we said before, the pacing kind of grinds to a halt when Ahsoka arrives at Lothal and meets with Governor Azadi (played by Star Wars veteran Clancy Brown, same as in Rebels) and Sabine. Their relationship is almost ice-cold despite their mutual respect. Sabine is waiting for an apology from Ahsoka (again, we'll have to wait to learn what happened that sent the Jedi away from her), but still wants to figure out the mysterious orb in order to find Ezra. Thanks to her knowledge of art and curious nature, she cracks the puzzle and activates a map that charts a safe hyperspace jump to… another freakin' galaxy!
In episode 2, we learn that ancient beings created that orb and had plenty of knowledge about this other galaxy, but it's still a pretty big deal, not only for this storyline, but for the Star Wars universe as a whole. A good bet, especially after The Rise of Skywalker's exploration, was that Thrawn and Ezra were lost in the Unknown Regions, but the Chiss Ascendancy (where Thrawn's people live) is located within that space, so that wouldn't have been a big enough obstacle for the Grand Admiral. This is a much more interesting choice and opens up so many possibilities moving forward.
Meanwhile, Ahsoka learns from Huyang – who had been studying the evil Force users' lightsaber hilts from the security recordings – that the dark Jedi master is called Baylan Skoll and was one of the few survivors of Order 66. Unsurprisingly, the bad guys also did some research of their own and learned about the orb's new location, which allows the Padawan to steal it back from Sabine, destroying the information she had accessed in the process. Droids aren't much of a problem for the agile Mandalorian warrior, but the Force user is. Sabine definitely gives her some trouble using Ezra's lost lightsaber, but is eventually impaled. Oh well.
Episode 2 'Toil and Trouble'
Episode 2 is a breezier one, lighter on information and heavier on action, landing closer to The Mandalorian's brand of weekly adventures. Still, Ahsoka is an entirely different kind of show, focused on telling one continuous story à la Andor or Obi-Wan Kenobi (thankfully, it's way more competently made than the latter).
As we know, lightsaber injuries aren't too bad in the Star Wars universe unless they're clearly fatal, and thankfully Sabine is fine as her enemy's blade didn't damage any vital organs. The fact medical treatments in Star Wars are super good also helps. This downtime gives the titular character and Hera more screen time, as they head out to find their enemies on Corellia. It's Sabine who gets that information out of a defunct droid's hardware though.
Before we return to Han Solo's home planet, it's important to highlight the importance of Hera in healing the rift between Sabine and Ahsoka, letting the apprentice know her master probably had serious reasons to step away from her, and talking some sense into the Jedi by reminding her of her troubled relationship with Anakin during the Clone Wars. Our favourite Twi'lek is still the glue that holds the former Rebel cell together.
Another important stop takes us to Seatos, a planet once inhabited by the ancient people who created the orb. There, Morgan Elsbeth reunites with the two dark Jedi to learn about Thrawn's location. She's slowly been building a massive spacecraft with strong hyperspace jump capabilities, as she suspected her lost ally was outside the known galaxy, but she lacked the necessary information to reach him. So, it seems that both Ahsoka and the witch (yes, she's a descendant from Dathomir's magick users) were looking for the same thing all along.
It's perhaps one of the most universe-expanding scenes we've had in live-action yet, and to make things even better, we get to see a bit of Dathomir magick too. It also gives us some insight into the two Jedi and what they're after. Skoll simply states they'll find power that's hard to dream of. There's an intriguing degree of sadness to Stevenson's performance and his dialogue, as if the former Jedi is ashamed of what he's been doing during the Empire's reign to stay alive. Even if his motivations are unclear, he's already an interesting bad guy to follow.
Ahsoka and Hera's trip to Corellia isn't too long, as they quickly find out Morgan Elsbeth's Imperial-era shipbuilding operations never actually ended. The New Republic trusted that workers and administrators would fall in line and not undermine the new government, yet there are folks loyal to the Empire and what it represented, even if Imperials don't sign the checks anymore. For a show content with doing classic, straightforward Star Wars, this was a nice touch that directly connected rampant capitalism to unchecked fascism. A nice touch of Andor's bluntness.
The action here is split between Hera – with the help of the beloved astromech Chopper – chasing a gigantic hyperspace drive being taken away and Ahsoka facing against an assassin droid and Marrok, an Inquisitor who no longer has an Empire to serve and is also collaborating with Elsbeth. For now, he's just a regular "mini boss" for Ahsoka to fight ahead of Baylan and his apprentice, but the Inquisitors' unique spinning lightsaber can still make for pretty memorable moments.
Steph Green's direction in episode 2, surprisingly, isn't that different from the notable work Dave Filoni did on the first chapter. However, that's okay, as the entire double-episode premiere looks remarkably clean, and the production values shine like in many of The Mandalorian's most technically impressive episodes. Andor remains king of the live-action Star Wars shows when it comes to presentation though.
At the end of the episode, we see the Eye of Sion (Elsbeth's massive starship) being constructed over Seatos, which suggests an expedition into the unknown is closer than we originally anticipated. As for our protagonists, Chopper managed to throw a tracker on the ship that took the hyperspace drive away, so they have a lead.
Sabine – now wearing Mandalorian armour – also seems ready to move forward, though it may be a while before she connects with Ahsoka again. It's clear that, despite all the ambitious universe-building and plot elements floating around, the show's heart will be all about masters and apprentices, and we're quite sure that Ahsoka will have to learn from her past and Anakin's teachings in order to be a better guide for both Sabine and Ezra (if he's found). As it stands, this was an amazing (albeit not perfect) start to this year's most anticipated Star Wars project. Let's pray the Force is with this one all the way through.