Fans of the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars: Rebels” will undoubtedly feel redeemed amid the arrival of Disney+’s latest “Star Wars” entry, “Ahsoka.” Set in the same timeframe as the third chapter of “The Mandalorian,” this new eight-episode series follows ex-Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson). After surviving the Jedi purge and being rescued from the clutches of her former master, Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker), Ahsoka finds herself on a quest to save the fragile New Republic.
Having “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett” and the gorgeously dark “Andor” under their belts, LucasFilm has hit its stride when it comes to live-action “Star Wars” entries. It doesn’t hurt that Dave Filoni, who created the Ahsoka character alongside George Lucas, penned all eight episodes of “Ahsoka,” directing two of them. For fans who know every intricate facet of the “Star Wars” franchise, “Ahsoka” is a warm welcome back to well-known lore. Even for novices, the series does lightning-quick Cliffs Notes to orient newcomers into this particular thread of the overarching story.
“Ahsoka” begins in battle. Though previously captured and sentenced to trial by Ahsoka, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), the one-time Magistrate of Calodan and an Imperialist sympathizer, has no plans of surrendering to the New Republic. Instead, she has been playing the long game, a strategy that includes Nightsisters’ magick. With mercenaries Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) by her side, Morgan dreams of freeing her master Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) from banishment and starting a new war.
For her part, Ahsoka isn’t driven by power as much as she is by obligation. When Thrawn was banished into hyperspace, Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), a Jedi in training, sacrificed himself and was sucked through the galaxy as well. Since Ezra once saved her life, Ahsoka feels she owes him a debt. Like Morgan, Ahsoka has set her sights on uncovering the star map leading to Ezra and Thrawn’s location.
While there are plenty of lightsabers, battles and starships, in the first two episodes that were provided to critics, the heart of “Ahsoka” is its characters. Dawson brings a commanding but haunted presence to the meticulous and contemplative humanoid. Fans of the Togrutan fighter will undoubtedly rejoice in the actor’s careful work in bringing Ashoka to life, from the phrasing and pacing of her words to her precise movements during battle. This series divulges the intricacies of her rich and complex history, including connections to Anakin and her old apprentice Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who also has a past with Ezra.
“Ahsoka” isn’t quite as dark as “The Mandalorian,” but the depth of emotion is profound. Since the show is set in the early years of the New Republic, the perils of war and loss act as a cornerstone for this tale; characters are motivated by what has been stolen from them. While Ahsoka has learned to keep her emotions close to her chest, Sabine’s stubbornness and determination to recklessly forge forward are often at odds with her former master. Ahsoka and Sabine’s opposing approaches to their joint effort and General Hera Syndulla’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) strong but nurturing presence at the center of their ragtag group create a perfect trifecta. Thousands-year-old droid, Professor Huyang (David Tennant) and Syndulla’s astromech Chopper are also along for the ride.
Though the core of “Ahsoka” isn’t very different from what’s previously been seen in “Star Wars,” unique elements make the series stand out. Not only is this the first show in which non-humans are centered, but the female-led cast offers a powerful and stunning visual birthed out of a relatively niche segment of the universe. With Filoni at the helm, crisp cinematography and an incredible score from Kevin Kiner, the show fits seamlessly in the extensive IP.
Like “The Mandalorian,” “Ahsoka” soars because it’s not afraid to hone in on a singular serialized adventure while allowing the audience to savor its many exquisite details. Hayden Christensen is set to reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker in the series. Also, Mikkelsen’s casting as the once high-ranking officer of the Galactic Empire, Thrawn, is equally enticing. Mikkelsen previously voiced the character in “Rebels.” These Easter egg-like choices work like catnip for lifelong “Star Wars” fans, at least in the two episodes that critics screened, without alienating those who don’t know a thing about galaxies, empires, Jedis or Padawans.
For those who have never been intrigued by “Star Wars,” the master versus apprentice theme at the core of “Ahsoka” likely won’t be enough to push them to explore such an intensive world. However, for lifelong fans who understood the significance of “Rebels” and fell in love with one of the most iconic female characters of the franchise, learning more about her story and what happened to Thrawn and Ezra will likely be a transcendent experience.
The first two episodes of “Star Wars: Ahsoka” premiere Aug. 23 on Disney+, with new episodes dropping weekly on Wednesdays.
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