by Hunter Johnson
[Editor’s Note: The following contains minor spoilers for “The Mandalorian” Season 2, Episode 5]
When it comes to “Star Wars,” hype can be a strange thing. Whether it’s the films, novels or TV shows, fans of a galaxy far, far away build up expectations in their minds only to find ways to be disappointed by the end result.
With the thirteenth chapter of “The Mandalorian,” showrunner Jon Favreau risks potentially disappointing fans’ expectations. After twelve years of animated shows, one year of online rumors and casting announcements, and four episodes of buildup, the time has finally come for the beloved Ahsoka Tano to make her live-action debut.
Played here by Rosario Dawson (“Rent,” “Daredevil,” “The Defenders”), this episode marks the first time Ahsoka has ever been portrayed by anyone other than voice actor Ashley Eckstein (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars: Rebels”). Favreau’s decision to not have Eckstein portray Ahsoka in live-action risks losing long-time fans who have been rooting for just that for years.
However, because of the warm reception that “The Mandalorian” has received among fans and the involvement of Ahsoka Tano creator Dave Filoni as both the writer and director of this episode, it seems that fans have been willing to give Dawson a chance in the role. Thankfully, that willingness does not go unrewarded.
“The Jedi” takes the prequel-era character of Ahsoka Tano and blends her with the original trilogy tone of “The Mandalorian.” This episode’s aesthetic is gritty and down-to-earth, but the lightsaber action is as sleek and polished as any of the iconic prequel duels.
The decision to bring on professional stunt-double Caitlin Dechelle (Rey in “The Rise of Skywalker,” Diana in “Wonder Woman”) to perform as Ahsoka pays off immensely, resulting in action reminiscent of the fast-paced, dynamic duels from the prequel trilogy rather than the weightier choreography of Disney’s sequel films. While it made sense for untrained characters like Rey and Finn to fight more recklessly, Ahsoka Tano is a seasoned Jedi trained in the arts of lightsaber combat, and maintaining that aspect of her character is key to her live-action portrayal.
Thanks to some stellar work by the costume and makeup department, Dawson looks the part, and her performance feels true to the character as well. Playing an Ahsoka who’s twenty-eight years older than her younger, pluckier self in “The Clone Wars,” Dawson brings an experienced edge to the role, continuing the legacy of one of the most well-developed characters in all of “Star Wars.” Her interactions with Djarin provide vital answers to questions that fans have long asked regarding her own personal journey and the Child’s possible connections to the fallen Jedi order of the prequel era.
All in all, the potentially disastrous situation of bringing Ahsoka Tano to live-action goes off without a hitch. Fans are loving Dawson in the role, and Filoni’s handling of the character sets up exciting potentials for where her journey will go next.
Unfortunately, while Filoni may have a grip on Ahsoka as a character, the same can’t quite be said for his directorial ability. “The Jedi” may have its strengths, but the episode as a whole is one of the more clunkily-paced episodes of the series, right up there with last season’s “The Gunslinger,” also directed by Filoni.
Scenes throughout the episode feel awkwardly chopped together and even out-of-order. Some pivotal moments feel cheap and poorly produced, which would be understandable for a TV series if it weren’t for the fact that, up to this point, this whole season has been filled with blockbuster-level visual spectacle.
Filoni may simply not be on par with the other directors involved in the series. Ahsoka’s scenes are indeed impressive, but outside of that, this episode feels by-the-numbers and uninspired. Like George Lucas, Filoni is a brilliant storyteller, but he may be a little too similar to Lucas, with similarly cumbersome directing tendencies.
One of the least inspired aspects of the whole episode is the villain, Morgan Elsbeth, as well as her mercenary, Lang. Playing these characters are Diana Lee Inosanto (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) and Michael Biehn (“The Terminator,” “Aliens”), respectively. Biehn isn’t particularly bad in his role, but his writing is very inconsistent, with his character going from quietly brooding in the corner to casually cracking one-liners with no rhyme or reason.
On the opposite spectrum, Elsbeth is not a poorly written character, but Inosanto is very miscast in the role. Elsbeth is written as a savage Imperial warlord with a heartbreaking past, but Inosanto plays her with a complete lack of emotion, resulting in a fight sequence that, on paper, is an epic duel of grand scale, but on-screen, ends up being boring, predictable and utterly bereft of urgency.
Despite these negatives, “The Jedi” builds on the mythology of “The Mandalorian” in many great ways. The emotional connections that Ahsoka builds with both Djarin and the Child make for great character moments, and the translation of the famed animated Jedi into live-action results in a satisfying dose of fan service.
Hunter Johnson is a Senior Theatre Performance Major and an A&E writer Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, directing off stage, and critiquing the endless amounts of content that Disney pumps out.