Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Lucasfilm.
TL;DR: With a show that manages to expand the “Star Wars” universe in a quite literal way, it is unfortunate that “Ahsoka” still manages to keep up with the trend of recent “Star Wars media” being stale; overly relying on nostalgia, and having too much focus on lore expansion than actual storytelling.
With a notable performance from the late Ray Stevenson, and on top of that the introduction of very compelling characters in Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati, it is bogged down by unfulfilled character arcs and storylines, clunky dialogue in the closing episodes of the series, and strange character design choices that are a bit disorientating upon first glance.
All in all, while introducing some new ideas, this show feels more concerned with lore than it does with telling a complete story. Its setup for an inevitable second season leaves a show that feels incomplete and one that honestly should’ve just been animated. It’s an okay watch, but “Ahsoka” missed the mark.
I remember when I was four years old when I first watched “Star Wars.”
I grabbed the VHS set that my parents had and placed “A New Hope” in the VCR player under my brother’s TV and watched the whole movie in all its grainy glory, with my butt firmly planted in a Yankees-themed saucer chair.
It was around the same time that “Revenge of the Sith” (RoTS) first came out, and I was immediately sucked into the vast universe that was “Star Wars.” The epic space dog fights, the dizzying yet alluring lightsaber combat, the generational drama and the tragic romance.
How was I not going to become addicted?
Ever since, I have only grown to appreciate the series more and more. Although the prequel trilogy has its criticisms (and let’s be honest only RoTS is the only “good” prequel), the impact the overall saga had on me defined key parts of my personality.
The media that has come out since the prequels has had tremendous effects on the series for better or worse. “The Clone Wars” TV show not only redeemed the prequels for many but it became a benchmark in animated storytelling.
“The Force Unleashed” video games–although with some janky gameplay–gave the franchise a jolt that has yet to be replicated fully even by the critically acclaimed “Jedi” games of “Fallen Order” and “Survivor.”
But there was always the question of new movies.
Ever since 2005, people have wanted not just new shows, comics or games, but a new trilogy. A new saga that can further expand this beloved franchise back onto the silver screen.
Then Disney bought Lucasfilm, and we got the sequel trilogy, which depending on who you speak to was either the greatest gift or the biggest middle finger to the fansbase. If there is one thing that everyone universally agrees on about the sequel trilogy, it is that the “Rise of Skywalker” is pretty awful.
But that’s a topic for another time.
What this drawn-out introduction is leading to, is that ever since Disney acquired the rights to Lucasfilm, there has been a significant overhaul as to how this series is produced, specifically with the production of the many different miniseries like “The Mandalorian,” “Book of Boba Fett,” “Andor” and now the latest entry, “Ahsoka.”
And ever since these shows started getting produced, there has been an unavoidable feeling that seems to have infected nearly every entry since “The Mandalorian.” Aside from the noticeable decline in writing, production design and even fight choreography (especially in “Ahsoka”), there is this dreadful aura that now hangs over the franchise and its live-action productions:
“Star Wars” doesn’t have a soul anymore.
That may sound dramatic but after coming to the end of “Ahsoka,” I couldn’t help but feel that many of the recent projects from the franchise have nothing to say.
Ever since the “Rise of Skywalker,” there has not yet been a single entry in the franchise that explores the aftermath of the sequel trilogy and any content we have exploring the universe before the prequels, like the High Republic Era, has been sparse at best with a few books and comics to be released.
Virtually all new media has hyperfocused on the Skywalker Saga, with light deviations from that norm. From a business perspective that may make sense (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it after all) but leading to “Ahsoka,” it has led the franchise to become stale and sometimes downright meaningless.
So what about “Ahsoka”? What about this show made me so inspired that I had to write this?
Let’s get to the point. It isn’t a bad show.
It has cool moments that draw not only on past iconic moments in the franchise but also expand the universe in a way that we haven’t seen before in quite a literal way.
The performances were fine, with a notable performance from the late Ray Stevenson as Baylan Skoll who by far was the most interesting and most wasted character in the whole show (more on that in a bit).
The music is…well it’s Star Wars so what else will you expect?
The set design was fine for the most part but it certainly was a strange choice for our introduction to a new galaxy in the universe the first planet is bafflingly stale and boring, with the whole place essentially being a rocky wasteland.
The character design is a bit strange.
While it is interesting to witness “Rebels” characters in live action for the first time, what is particularly jarring is the choice to stick to the exaggerated eye colors of these characters, like Ezra and Hera, which I could just not get over and only added to my feeling that this show should’ve just been animated.
As for the story, there barely is one.
There are themes of the challenging relationships between a stubborn apprentice and a hard-nosed and stoic master such as the relationships of Ahsoka and Sabine and Baylan and Shin. And then there is the woefully undercooked theme in the fourth episode of what I can only best summarize as “don’t give up” which is a strange lesson to teach an older, wiser Ahsoka who by this point should already know this lesson by now.
I spoke to a friend about their experience with the show. Alexis Garzon, a North Bergen resident, and die-hard Star Wars geek like myself, was excited about not only the development of the new characters but how the current lore would be expanded.
We went back and forth on a couple of key points of the show, namely one of my primary issues with the show being how the show’s most interesting characters, Baylan and Shin, get little to no development save for a fractured relationship at the end that isn’t elaborated on much by the end.
Although there is a lot of subtext between the characters that can be grasped from Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno’s performances, a lot of their appeal comes mainly from the audience putting obscure pieces of information together themselves, rather than the actual writing doing the work.
Garzon saw it differently.
He felt that the mystery of these characters, especially Baylan, was the point. A character shrouded in mystery, whose motives are not yet known but has an imposing presence.
“Season 2 is gonna be something we’ve never seen before,” he said. “Baylan is super badass! They wanted to hide back some of his [story] because they’re setting up for something bigger and better.”
He noted how “Ahsoka” doesn’t make much sense if you have never seen “The Clone Wars” or “Rebels” anyway, so it is only natural that the fans be treated not only with a live-action adaptation but also an expansion of these beloved series and characters.
And of course, lore is important.
It is Star Wars after all. Worldbuilding and expansion come par for the course in sci-fi, let alone arguably the most iconic and globally recognized piece of sci-fi media ever.
And Lucasfilm, still being a business, has to set up future seasons. Tying every story element together by the end of the season doesn’t do much to build hype for future productions. Cliffhangers are a must in the age of streaming.
The problem is when cliffhangers become the point, and world-building comes before storytelling.
Building an Olympic-sized swimming pool means nothing if it is only an inch deep. And while “Ahsoka” expands the series to new horizons, it barely covers your ankles when you step in.
Take a show like “Only Murders in The Building,” a comedic whodunit with a new murder mystery every season. Coming to the end of its third season a few weeks ago, the show has now built a reputation for its cliffhangers. However, unlike “Ahsoka,” it manages to tell a complete story, with completed arcs and fleshed-out themes that wrap up the season with an actual message, and then hit the audience with the preview of a new mystery in the final few minutes.
My question now with “Ahsoka” is what arcs were completed really?
What is this show trying to say by the end?
As a big fan of this franchise I just can’t help but scratch my head. By the end of the show, Sabine manages to use the force, Ezra returns home, Ahsoka fully accepts the responsibility of being a master, Thrawn is back, Shin is a gang leader (I think) and Baylan discovers an ancient ruin dedicated to the Mortis Gods.
Those are things that happen, but what is my lesson? What is my takeaway other than just new information?
The closest someone comes to an arc is Ahsoka but as I explained before, it’s an arc that feels not only unsophisticated but also unnecessary.
When it comes to Baylan especially, although the mystery is intentional, I still find it odd that the audience isn’t given at least some clue as to what he wants.
Power? Peace? Control?
Baylan points out to Shin in one episode about the constant struggle in the force and how this destructive cycle keeps repeating, implying that he wishes to stop this.
But in the earlier episodes, he points to freeing Thrawn as a way for him and Shin to gain more power in the galaxy. So which is it? Is it power to shape the galaxy or to achieve his version of balance in the force?
To some, like Garzon, these questions peak interest and build hype, but for me, it is plain frustrating. While I like being left with questions, if that is most of what I have to say for a character, I feel there has been a misstep.
As for Shin, it is a shame we get barely any dialogue whatsoever. Hopefully, she receives more screen time in the second season, but it is a testament to the dedication of fans to make a character with less than eight minutes of screen time the most popular character of the whole show.
We can’t forget the inclusion of Hayden Christensen returning once again to reprise his role as Anakin.
I, like many fans, got emotional seeing him in his “Revenge of the Sith” era Jedi robes and dueling with his apprentice in his classically flashy yet dominating fighting style.
But while I appreciate his appearance, I wish that his inclusion in the story was coupled with a more impactful arc for Ahsoka and more consistent lore. With the mystifying “World Between Worlds” being the setting of Anakin and Ahsoka’s reunion, the sequence only raised more questions about what this realm is supposed to be.
Is it time travel? Dimension hopping? Is it just a scenic view of the Star Wars timeline? Is Anakin a force ghost? An illusion of the force? A mortis god?
I don’t know! And I don’t believe Dave Filoni knows either.
My final note, which contributes to my earlier point that this show should’ve been animated, is the fight choreography goes from standard to just plain awful in the last episode. Ahsoka–a Jedi known for her stylized and swift dueling technique that combines precision strikes with dizzying flips, pirouettes and more–couldn’t have felt any slower in this very disappointing show.
Overall, I feel Ahsoka left a lot to be desired.
Like many of the new live-action shows, it keeps to the standard of prioritizing style over substance, but even the style is starting to degrade. While it is watchable, and fans will have some things to enjoy in the show, the messy arcs, off-beat fight choreography, unfocused direction and shaky dialogue will make some more picky fans of the franchise more disappointed.
“Ahsoka” missed the mark.