Star Wars: Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars live action series from Disney+, starts off with a bang with an exciting fight between the title character, a former Jedi-in-training, and some nasty looking robots who want possession of a dingus she has discovered in an abandoned and crumbling ancient city.
No. Scratch that.
Star Wars: Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars live action series from Disney+, starts off with a block of expositional text, framing the story as taking place between the original and sequel Star Wars trilogies, in the same time frame as the other two Star Wars Disney+ series – The Mandalorian and The Book Of Boba Fett. The exposition drops us off midway into the story, with former Jedi-trainee Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) having captured someone who could provide her with information about Thrawn, an Imperial Grand Admiral who went missing in the early days of the Galactic Civil War and who is rumored to not be dead but possibly returning from where he had been for all these years. However, this person, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto0, is freed from New Republic custody by former Jedi Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevens) and his younger apprentice. Meanwhile, Ahsoka has found a map (and fights off previously mentioned nasty looking robots) which may lead to Thrawn has been, which coincidentally is also the same place Jedi Padawan Ezra Bridger disappeared to. Ezra’s former Rebel Alliance compatriots Hera and Sabine are quickly recruited to first unlock the secret of the map and then to head out after Thrawn and Ezra.
Got all that?
In the lead up to the premier of Ahsoka, some online wags dubbed the new show “Rebels Season 5,” given the number of characters that animated series that were shown to be making their live action debuts here. And yes, it turns out that the jibe does hold more than a grain or two of truth. Ashoka series creator Dave Filoni has been pretty much the mastermind of the animated side of Star Wars, overseeing the series The Clone Wars and Rebels. Ahsoka originally appeared in Clone Wars and then showed up in the later half of Rebels‘ four year season run. As such, Ahsoka the character comes with a lot of baggage. But Ahsoka the series continues a number of storylines that the show tries to fill the audience in on, but only manages to give just the broadest of strokes about these events. And there even some things – like when the second episode recreates the coda scene of the Rebels series finale – that just go by unexplained. How well this will serve the more casual Star Wars viewer and fan who has passed on giving the animated side of the galaxy a try and probably doesn’t know a Dathomir Witch from Lothal Cat remains to be seen.
Granted, given the amount of exposition needed to be dropped, there is an inordinate amount of characters standing around talking in the first two episodes of the series which Disney premiered last night. As such, the series is somewhat languidly paced. And while the fifty-minute episodes don’t necessarily drag along their run time, they don’t crackle with a propulsive narrative energy either. Even the action setpieces seem somewhat underwhelming and lacking in visual dynamism.
And to be upfront about something, I honestly have never felt any desire to see the return of the Ezra Bridger character. The four seasons of Rebels gave the character a great arc from street urchin to fledgling Jedi who sacrifices himself for the greater good. (And yes, to remove the character from the board so there is no wondering why he never showed up to help Luke Skywalker and company during the original Star Wars trilogy.) At its core, Star Wars is basically a story of heroic legends. (Remember George Lucas’s fondness for Joseph Campbell?) And Ezra’s sacrifice certain qualifies as heroic as he disappears into the far reaches of hyperspace. To hint that the character will be returning before the end of this eight episode run, feels like it cheapens that sacrifice and that storytelling moment. I should note that I felt something similar back in the 1980s when they announced Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, but I eventually came around to thinking it was a good idea based on how they used the character going forward. So who knows, maybe I will again.