By Ben Konuch
(The following review contains spoilers)
“Ahsoka” had a solid four opening episodes to its season, but a cliffhanger cameo appearance at the end of its fourth episode teased a complete game-changer not just for “Ahsoka,” but for “Star Wars” in its entirety, and that fifth episode completely delivers on this promise.
After her duel with Baylan Skoll, Ahsoka finds herself within the World-between-Worlds, a mystical realm first discovered in “Rebels.” It’s here that she comes face-to-face with her old master Anakin Skywalker, once again portrayed by Hayden Christensen. This marks a monumental moment for “Star Wars” as this is the first time these beloved characters have interacted in live-action. It’s both a sentimental and heart-wrenching reunion for both fans and the characters, as Ahsoka is torn between the joy of seeing her old master and the guilt and condemnation from the knowledge of what Anakin became.
This reunion isn’t just nostalgia fuel, though. Anakin has appeared to Ahsoka in this mystical realm to teach her an important lesson, but she doesn’t seem to even understand what she’s supposed to learn. After a heated exchange and brief duel, Ahsoka is sent tumbling deeper into the World-between-Worlds, and when the smoke and haze clear, she finds herself in the middle of a memory straight from the Clone War.
This is where episode five finds its strongest footing. What ensues is a sort of flashback sequence to something from “The Clone Wars” as we watch the violence and the trauma unfold in live-action. Ariana Greenblatt portrays young Ahsoka in a picture-perfect recreation of her younger animated appearance, except now, the audience can truly see how young Ahsoka was when she was thrust into a war. We don’t see the warrior we’ve been watching all season, but a young, frightened girl forced to fight and watch the men around her suffer and die in powerlessness.
Anakin is there in his wartime armor, as cocky and brash as “Clone Wars” fans remember him, but he’s in this memory for a purpose too. As young Ahsoka grapples with the weight of the deaths around her, Anakin is there to guide and mentor her. He gives advice and serves as an example of how to not just lead in a battle, but how to mourn the losses while not being dragged under by them. It’s here that Ahsoka starts to understand the lesson Anakin is trying to show her: that she must start choosing to truly live instead of just surviving.
This flashback and the next, a sequence during the deadly Siege of Mandalore days before Order 66, shows the truth about Ahsoka. She’s been forced into a fight as a child and she’s never truly escaped it. Though she’s moved on and kept running, the survivor’s guilt from every battle she’s fought and every friend she’s lost has put a weight on her that has become stifling.
The highlight of this episode comes when Ahsoka understands the lesson that Anakin wants her to learn, but rejects playing by his rules. This snaps Anakin into a glimpse of his Dark Side power, and what ensues is one of the most thematically weighted and visually entertaining duels in Disney’s era of Star Wars as master and apprentice clash for not just survival, but liberation from the past. The way the duel and the episode then conclude ends a character journey that has spanned fifteen years and multiple storytelling mediums in a way that bridged the gaps between three eras of “Star Wars” stories.
Episode five isn’t just perfect in its storytelling and theming but is some of the best-directed “Star Wars” television we’ve seen. Showrunner Dave Filoni has the opportunity to take charge behind the camera in this episode and puts together beautiful cinematography and visual shots. The flashback sequences to the Clone War are especially well filmed, with a dense, atmospheric fog hanging over scenes as a physical reminder of the haziness of Ahsoka’s recollection of these traumatic events. Filoni uses this fog to spectacular effect multiple times, most notably during a shot of Anakin disappearing into the smoke charging into battle only for his silhouette to change to the figure of Vader in an instant.
The performances in this episode also elevate it to something special, most notably in Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. While I’ve always loved the Prequels, it’s undeniable that Christensen had to deal with the blunt of their awkward dialogue, and suffered unfair criticisms for his acting because of it. Yet in “Ahsoka” he’s been given so much better material to work with and creates a version of Anakin that previously only existed in animation. He shows a perfect mix of charisma, depth, lightheartedness and gravity in dire situations, contrasting with the wide-eyed innocence of Greenblatt’s young Ahsoka. Mere words in this article can’t do the performances or his charisma with both Greenblatt and Rosario Dawson justice.
All in all, “Ahsoka” episode five isn’t just a great chapter in Ahsoka’s story, it’s a fantastic chapter of storytelling for all of “Star Wars.” It utilizes powerful themes that have profound repercussions on Ahsoka’s story and life and finds the perfect balance of nostalgia and purpose in its flashbacks and fanservice. The deal is sealed by beautiful, artful cinematography, electric emotionally charged fight sequences and one of the best comeback performances of all of the franchise. “Star Wars” is so back, and I couldn’t be happier.
I give “Ahsoka” episode five a 10/10
“Ahsoka” is 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