The word manipulative comes to mind after watching Disney’s most recent Star Wars show, “Ahsoka.” Even after so many disappointing shows, I expect nostalgic fans were enticed, as I was, by the news that “Ahsoka” includes flashback scenes to the Clone Wars and a few new scenes with Anakin.
Unfortunately these scenes are blatantly paper-thin. This is yet another Star Wars show with decent visuals but a depressingly poor attempt at scriptwriting. I’ll admit, it felt great finally seeing Ahsoka and Anakin on screen together in live action. It felt great catching a glimpse of Captain Rex and seeing clone troopers again — but it was all hollow. This show could have had these moments while making them meaningful and fulfilling. It did not.
The plot of “Ahsoka” is quite easy to summarize, because frustratingly little happens in its eight episodes. Ahsoka and Sabine, popular characters from the “Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” animated shows, attempt to prevent the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn while rescuing the Jedi Ezra, both of whom are trapped in another galaxy. After over half a season of largely filler, the cast finally get to the other galaxy. Once there, they hang around with very little urgency despite the fact that their only way home — the enemies’ ship — could leave at any time. After a fight in the last episode, Ahsoka and Sabine are left marooned in the other galaxy.
Aside from several shots with unconvincing CGI and often underwhelming fight choreography, the show is visually impressive. Clearly an especially large amount of care was put into the visuals of “Ahsoka,” but it feels like the writers expected to coast by on the impressiveness of the visuals and cameos without actually putting any work in.
While eight episodes ranging from around 40 minutes to an hour don’t sound like much, it’s more than enough time to deep-dive into these characters and tell a compelling story. Remember that films often do that in two hours or less.
If you’ve only seen the Star Wars films, you’re missing the context and nostalgia of seven seasons worth of “Clone Wars” and four seasons of “Star Wars Rebels” that “Ahsoka” certainly relies on.
The only similarities characters in this show have to their previous iterations are in appearance only. Hardly anyone in the show behaves like a real person. Characters never act as though their lives are in danger, as if they’re aware of their own plot armor. When Sabine believes Ahsoka to be dead, she barely acts concerned because the audience knows Ahsoka is fine.
Once you realize just how many scenes are expressionless characters giving short, vague responses after pausing for sometimes hilariously long amounts of time, the show becomes somewhat entertaining.
After leaving the Jedi Order, Ahsoka blazed her own path, still using the force and fighting for good, but not working under the rules of the Jedi. She was meant to be a character that didn’t fit in any normal category.
However, here she’s more of a copy of a generic Jedi than ever before. Rosario Dawson has proven in shows like “Daredevil” that she’s more than capable of emotional acting, so I assume it’s because of poor direction that her performance is frustratingly wooden.
It’s clear the writers were going for more of a stoic character, which is so backwards for her given her history as Anakin’s padawan. In the “Clone Wars” she left the Jedi Order because of behavior she is now mirroring. It’s revealed she began training Sabine but stopped because she didn’t trust her not to turn to the dark side — the exact type of mistrust that led to her leaving the order.
Her arc during her near-death experience episode is unclear but seems to be that she must come to terms with taking life for a good cause — something that Ahsoka already came to terms with at a young age. This episode only exists to bait fans with memories of the Clone Wars.
By far the most interesting character in the show is Baylan Skoll. Played by the late Ray Stevenson, this former Jedi Knight is a dark side user working as a mercenary. Baylan is the closest the show has to a functioning character. He’s not perfectly written, but he’s intriguing.
Stevenson’s acting stands out. There’s an intimidating calmness and maturity to his character. He also has a distinct fighting style; he’s very direct and it looks like there’s real power behind his strikes.
While he’s clearly a dark side user, he’s not really a sith. His agenda feels different, more contemplative than aggressive. According to him, he’s taking the idea of the Jedi and turning it into something more. He’s also more principled than the average antagonist — when he gives his word to his enemy he intends to honor the deal.
It feels like the writers didn’t want to go through the effort of writing a backstory and motivation for Baylan so they just rely on vague platitudes that hint at an interesting history and plan while never elaborating.
Baylen keeps alluding to beliefs he may have while never fully explaining his plans. He speaks of wanting to put an end to the cycle of Jedi and Sith, which sounds fantastic in this era of unimaginative repetition. Unfortunately we know the sequel trilogy comes after this, so clearly nothing comes of this. Still, it’s refreshing to see a character depart from one of the several cookie-cutter roles every character in the galaxy is pushed into.
Unfortunately Baylen is very underused and the finale forgets he and his apprentice exist until just before the credits. It’s a shame this talented actor died and we’ll never see more of this character that had real potential.
It’s hilarious that in this universe the possible return of a character that occasionally possesses basic common sense is treated as a world-ending event.
Thrawn’s intellect is underwhelming — his attempts to kill the protagonists keep failing and he simply claims everything is going according to plan. His schemes keep failing while he just copes and then everything works out for him in the end.
His troopers have a neat Roman Empire vibe, but after roughly a decade of exile it would have been interesting to see more of how they had to change to survive.
The cycle of repurposing old Star Wars characters for new content has made its way to the animated shows of our childhoods and young adult lives. It’s frustrating that writers feel they can get away with dangling crude versions of our favorite characters in our face, but they’re partially right. People will watch this show and enjoy it because it reminds them of better stories.
If you want the cameos, just watch the fifth episode of “Ahsoka” or find the clips on YouTube. If you miss meaningful Star Wars stories, watch “Andor” on Disney+. It’s a surprisingly impressive story that’s the opposite of “Ahsoka” in every way. You won’t see any lightsabers, but you will find great characters and a unique look at the world of Star Wars. Until more support goes to stories like that, all we’ll get is more hollow shows like “Ahsoka.”