‘Ahsoka’ brings back mystical ‘Star Wars’ in an exciting first half

By Ben Konuch

“Anakin never got to finish my training. Before the end of the Clone Wars, I walked away from him – and the Jedi. Just like I walked away from Sabine.”

When conversations around “Star Wars” spring up in my friend group, I’m usually the guy people look at. I’ve loved “Star Wars” since I was a child and I have my older brother to thank for that. Growing up in the Philippines away from libraries or video stores, we would have to buy a season of the animated show “The Clone Wars” and later its sequel “Rebels” and space the episodes out between a whole year so we wouldn’t run out of episodes before we could get the next season. So when Dave Filoni, creator of those animated shows, announced a live-action sequel series featuring his beloved character Ahsoka Tano, I couldn’t have been more excited. And oh man has Filoni delivered.

“Ahsoka” stars Rosario Dawson in the titular role of Ahsoka Tano, reprising her role from her appearances in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” The series sees Ahsoka, the former padawan of Anakin Skywalker turned rebel, track down information on the whereabouts of infamous Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn, who disappeared and was presumed dead at the end of “Rebels” along with Jedi padawan Ezra Bridger. 

While the rest of the fledgling New Republic seems content to put aside their weapons and rebuild the galaxy, Ahsoka fears that Thrawn may still be alive and discovers there are those still loyal to the Empire who want to see Thrawn return as heir to the Empire.

Old allies join Ahsoka’s fight in live action for the first time, and I’m falling in love with these familiar faces all over again.

Ahsoka isn’t alone on her journey, as old allies join the fight against new enemies. Helping Ahsoka along the way is Hera Syndulla, a rebel well acquainted with Ahsoka from the Galactic Civil War, played in live-action for the first time by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As Ahsoka discovers a vital clue to Thrawn’s whereabouts, she’s sent to reconcile with Mandalorian rebel Sabine Wren – also portrayed in live action for the first time by Natasha Liu Bordizzo – who we discover was briefly Ahsoka’s apprentice. In order to outsmart villainous forces seeking to reach this exiled evil, Ahsoka and Sabine must work together to find their old ally and destroy this threat – or risk the entire New Republic falling to ash.

“Star Wars” has always been held to insanely high standards by its fans, and “Ahsoka” has to meet an even higher standard than normal. Not only does it have to serve as a worthy sequel story to “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” but it also has to translate iconic animated characters into live-action. While “Ahsoka” is by no means a perfect show, I believe it juggles these responsibilities with care and an admirable loyalty to these characters and their stories.

For the most part, the actors who portray these fan favorites breathe new life into familiar roles. While we’ve seen Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka before, the show allows her to bring more depth and nuance to the former Jedi’s portrayal, contrasting this experienced, hardened warrior with the young apprentice we first saw in 2008. 

Bordizzo portrays Sabine in a way that’s much more recognizable to her character, and other than some slight aesthetic changes, does so in a way that feels like the animated character jumped straight into a live-action show.

But surprisingly, my favorite performances in “Ahsoka” weren’t the returning favorites, but the new enemies. In the late Ray Stevenson’s final performance, he brings new excitement into “Star Wars” in the form of Baylan Skoll, a dark Jedi who opposes Ahsoka with his own dark apprentice. In contrast to the cruelty and hatred of some other “Star Wars” antagonists, Baylan serves as an antagonist with his own set of beliefs and system of honor, contrasting Ahsoka’s code with his own in a fascinating battle of moralities. He portrays this character with such quiet wisdom and haunted knowledge that it’s hard to see him as a villain even as he fights for Thrawn’s return. It’s one of my biggest regrets as a “Star Wars” fan that Stevenson passed away before he had the chance to see how much the community loved this character of his.

Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati are some of the best new faces in “Star Wars”

“Ahsoka” isn’t just all style with no substance, however. “Ahsoka” offers captivating episodes that are well-paced with excitement but still allow enough downtime for moments of quiet character exploration. These moments allow “Ahsoka” to flesh out the gaps after “Rebels” in a way that seems natural and not expression-heavy, delving into the failed apprenticeship of Sabine, the guilt of having lost Ezra and the scars Ahsoka still carries from her past. While not quite as action-packed as “The Mandalorian” yet not quite as slow-paced as “Andor,” “Ahsoka” offers a middle ground with both exciting action and character-driven storytelling. 

The action sequences boast great visual effects and exciting stunt work, with the exception of one or two moments in fight scenes that seemed a bit underwhelming. For the most part “Ahsoka” looks to be the best “Star Wars” on television, and with a solid story that has only just built up to its turning point, I’m excited to see where “Ahsoka” leads “Star Wars” next.

I give “Ahsoka’s” first four episodes a combined score of 8.5/10.

“Ahsoka” is now streaming on Disney+

Ben Konuch is a junior Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.

Images courtesy of Lucasfilm.

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