(SPOILER WARNING: plot points from the Ahsoka series are discussed below.)
The long-anticipated (and sure to be critically viewed) Ahsoka series has finally made its way to Disney+. The eight-episode series aired with a double-episode offering on August 23rd, with single episodes to release over the next six weeks. I’ll recap the series weekly as the episodes are released, but first, here’s the briefest of primers on Ahsoka Tano, and why she is important to the Star Wars Galaxy.
Who is Ahsoka?
In Star Wars lore, the story of Ahsoka dates back to the Clone Wars, where a young Ahsoka Tano (created by George Lucas and Dave Filoni) begins her Jedi training as a teen, under the tutelage of Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka’s training and her Jedi journey are chronicled in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The series is excellent, and details the trials of a young Jedi in an increasingly troubled Republic. The short version of this story is that Ahsoka left the Jedi order prior to finishing her training, landing her apart from her Master Anakin and away from the battle on Mustafar, where he ultimately turned to the dark side of the Force and became Darth Vader.
After narrowly surviving Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66 whereby his clone army turned to hunt down and kill all Jedi, Ahsoka laid low (like so many other Jedi) for several years. Seeing the rise of the Empire and the fall of the Republic, Ahsoka joined the Rebel Alliance, where we see her interact and team up with the crew of the Ghost in a follow-up series, Star Wars: Rebels.
Rebels ends on a powerfully heroic/tragic note, with the loss of two key Jedi members – Kanan Jarrus, who sacrificed his life to save some of the crew from an explosion, and Ezra Bridger, who gave himself up to the Empire’s Grand Admiral Thrawn in what became a successful trick to carry both himself and Thrawn (as well as Thrawn’s star destroyer and some of his army) to a place heretofore unknown. A short epilogue at the end of the series’ final episode suggests that Ezra is still alive, and out there in the galaxy (no word on Thrawn in the epilogue, but logic says if Ezra is out there, then Thrawn could be out there too).
Following her brief interlude with the Rebel Alliance, we don’t see or hear from Ahsoka again until she makes a couple select appearances in the “Mandoverse” – which takes place in the years following the fall of the Empire in Star Wars: Episode 6 – Return of the Jedi. We see her in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, where she is actively pursuing some information from Morgan Elsbeth – an ally to Grand Admiral Thrawn during his time with the Empire. We learn during that episode that Elsbeth may know the location of Thrawn (or at least some information on how to find him).
Those are the brief highlights on what Ahsoka has been up to, as we head into Part One of Ahsoka.
Ahsoka – Part One – Master and Apprentice
Coming in at 57 minutes, the premier has some heft, and for good reason. There is a significant-sized table that needs to be set for viewers. For many Star Wars fans, Ahsoka will feel like a reunion with old friends, as Ahsoka prominently features several characters from Star Wars: Rebels, including Ahsoka Tano herself (played by Rosario Dawson), the Mandalorian Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), Rebel General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and several other minor characters from both The Clone Wars and Rebels. For the more casual Star Wars fan, who hasn’t followed the animated series or read any of the supporting lore, there will be a bit of a learning curve.
As such, showrunner Dave Filoni, who directed this first episode, took his time introducing the audience to the characters. The episode surrounds each character with enough context and backstory to get the casual fans up-to-speed, without bogging down the story to annoy the more hard-core fans. Filoni successfully accomplished his mission, as the pacing of this first episode achieved both goals, adequately reaching out to both fan bases.
For those who love the nostalgia of “old Star Wars” – we have an opening crawl! Though not the typical golden letting accompanied by the Star Wars fanfare, the crawl in Ahsoka scrolls by in an ominous red color, supported by an uneasy rhythm leading to the opening scene. The crawl succinctly gets viewers up to hyperspeed and into space.
A Mon Calamari New Republic starship – looking frighteningly lonely in the middle of space, is approached by a shuttle requesting to board with an “older Jedi” access code. The New Republic captain suspects the visitors are not Jedi, but foolishly lets them board, intending to confront them himself. Sure enough, two Force wielders – posing as Jedi – make quick work of much of the ship’s crew en route to busting Lady Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) out of New Republic custody. The pair’s deep orange colored lightsabers have been the subject of much discussion and rumor since they were seen in series trailers months ago – suggesting a dark side (though maybe not quite Sith?).
Some time later, General Hera Syndulla is called in to investigate the attack. Hera is clearly established here as a general in the New Republic. She carries herself well, even if her lekku head tails appear a bit heavy and cartoonish. Seeing the talents of the Force-wielding pair involved in the crime, Hera contacts Ahsoka to help make sense of what has happened.
Ahsoka, in the meantime, is first seen exploring an ancient-looking temple. In what I can best describe as a complete Indiana Jones moment, Ahsoka finds and unlocks a treasure (which proves to be a star map) and narrowly escapes a dangerous brush with some ominous-looking droid foes.
Meeting up with Hera to discuss the breakout of Elsbeth, Ahsoka admits that she hasn’t been able to “unlock” the star map, which she hopes will reveal the location of Grand Admiral Thrawn (and hopefully their friend Ezra too). Hera suggests that their friend and former team member Sabine Wren may be able to unlock the map.
It is here that we get our first taste of the tension that will exist between Ahsoka and Sabine for the remainder of the episode, and possibly beyond. We hear sentiments of apprehension from Ahsoka, with mindful retorts by Hera. Some form of reconciliation is clearly needed between Ahsoka and Sabine, if for no other reason than to come together for the benefit of potentially finding Ezra – their friend who has been missing along with Thrawn since their disappearance about a decade ago.
We first meet Sabine after she plays hookie from a public event in her adopted world of Lothal (this is a very familiar place to Rebels fans). The event was a dedication of a memorial to her friend Ezra, who gave his life (or so we think) saving the planet from Thrawn in what was effectively the first big battle between the Rebellion and the Empire. The loss of Ezra still rings painful to Sabine, which is why she ducked out of the ceremony at which she was supposed to speak. Back in her apartment atop an old control tower, Sabine watches a holo message from Ezra that she’s kept all these years, clearly wishing she had her friend back.
The time spent learning about Ezra and his connections to the group is important to the story, as it gives an emotional balance (finding Ezra) to the tactical strategy (finding Thrawn). The casual fan does not need to have seen four seasons on an animated television show to care at least a little bit about who Ezra is and why he is important.
Sabine sleeps uneasily, and wakes the next morning to the arrival of Ahsoka on Lothal. When the two reunite, Ahsoka’s droid partner Huyang (voiced by David Tennant) could cut the tension with a knife. Completely dispensing with any pleasantries, Ahsoka informs Sabine that the map could hold the key to finding Ezra. It’s telling here that Ahsoka highlights Ezra as the prize at the end of the map to appeal to Sabine, whereas Ahsoka’s priority is to find (and presumably eliminate) Thrawn. The tension mounts as the two trade verbal barbs, and we learn that Ahsoka was, at one point, training Sabine in the ways of the Jedi, before the partnership seemingly ended poorly.
Here, the playing field is even for all viewers. A Jedi apprenticeship between Ahsoka and Sabine was not featured in Rebels or any other Star Wars lore up to this point, so we are all learning about this conflict together.
Sabine requests to borrow the map from Ahsoka, to spend some private time trying to decode it. Ahsoka refuses, elevating the tension even further. Easing up on the moment, Ahsoka takes a moment with Huyang to learn more about the two dark Force users. Huyang reveals one of the figures to be Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) who is a former knight of the fallen Jedi Academy, and a possible apprentice (listed in the credits as Shin Hati – played by Ivanna Sakhno). While Ahsoka is distracted, Sabine slips out with the map and retreats to her home to decipher it.
In the meantime, Morgan Elsbeth, along with Baylan and Shin, visit the location of the temple where Ahsoka found the map. Elsbeth reveals that the temple was built by the Nightsisters, a clan of witches from whom she is descended. With nothing but wreckage remaining in the temple, Elsbeth orders Baylan to send Shin to Lothal to find the map, somehow (not revealed) knowing Ahsoka would need Sabine to help her unlock its secrets. If you haven’t yet noticed, the success of Ahsoka is riding heavily on the meaning of the double-Macguffin search for Thrawn and Ezra. Stay tuned to find out how well the emotional impact resonates.
By the way – regarding the Nightsisters – this is a huge addition to the live-action Star Wars. This clan (society?) of witches once called the planet Dathomir their home. Who else originated from Dathomir? Darth Maul. Yes, the dark side of the Force is strong on that planet.
Back in her tower-top apartment, Sabine is able to decode the map, just in time for Shin and a few thugs to have tracked her down. Shin’s thugs steal the map and destroy Sabine’s notes, while Shin engages Sabine in a lightsaber duel. Sabine’s unrefined lightsaber skills are glaring here. She is easily overmatched by Shin, who stabs her in the abdomen before fleeing.
Part one ends with Sabine laying on the ground, as Ahsoka rushes to her aid. Will this be a fatal blow, or will Sabine pull through to see another day? Based on trailers, we will see Sabine again. And based on Star Wars history, stab wounds are rarely fatal (except in the tragic case of Qui-Gon Jinn).
Ahsoka’s end credits beautifully display a series of mapping locations, along with hints of things to come, like the purrgil “space whales” that Rebels fans will be familiar with, who arrived in a fleet to carry Thrawn and Ezra away to regions unknown.
Overall, the first episode of Ahsoka flowed at a very deliberate speed. The pacing of the show suited me fine, as I’d rather spend the time to properly set the scene (as was done to perfection in Andor) than to rush through to the action, leaving the story as an afterthought. I can see how some fans may get impatient with the pace, but in my opinion it worked nicely.
While the show is titled Ahsoka, this first episode really felt like an ensemble cast, each given their own time to establish themselves. Even the Morgan Elsbeth and the dark Force users had moments to reveal a bit about themselves.
Did the first episode feel a bit like a continuation of Star Wars: Rebels? Sure, in some ways it did. But Filoni did a nice job bringing everyone else up to speed, and we are always up for a good cliffhanger (although with Part Two releasing the same day as Part One, it isn’t a very high cliff).
What’s your opinion of the first episode of Ahsoka? Chime in, either with a comment here or on social:
Keep following here for a continued discussion of each episode in the series.