The latest “Star Wars” series on Disney+ seeks fresh life in classic formulas.
The Star Wars TV program has reached a stage similar to that of the Marvel superhero series: franchise enthusiasts continue to avidly devour everything new, but viewers suddenly don’t have time in their schedules to commit. Is Ahsoka a crossover thriller, like the last few episodes of The Mandalorian (only Seasons 1 and 2) and The Book of Boba Fett? Is it merely fan service, like with the majority of Boba Fett, the current Mando, and Obi-Wan Kenobi?
We don’t really know after a double bill of opening bills that introduce us to Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and her new adventures. Ahsoka shows flashes of turning Endor and early Mandalorian into a type of rollercoaster, but it suffers from the same problem as Bad Star Wars: it’s so enamored with franchise mythology that it forgets to capture our attention.
Our heroine is a former Anakin Skywalker apprentice, the man who became Darth Vader but did not fully join his master on the dark side. Though it’s difficult to discern who Ahsoka actually is, she’s not a standard main character in the traditional sense; she’s more of an adviser, sleuth, or fixer—a delicate figure in an era of advancement, but one who projects a serene yet severe image. The enormous Galactic Empire is on its way down, but there is still hope for a comeback. Ahsoka’s objective is to discover Grand Admiral Thrawn, a reclusive behemoth of the destroyed empire, and she’s learned that a secret map may indicate his hiding spot. When two suspected mercenaries with Jedi-like abilities approach, they, too, exhibit interest in the map, triggering a chase. But this isn’t a race in which anyone can quickly acquire an advantage.
Ahsoka is so far set in a galaxy that it hasn’t even coined a term for the cliche of writing ancient scripts that begin late and end early. Consider the sequence in which Ahsoka seeks a lost planetary center. This dusty, barren bazaar, like everything else in the show, is wonderfully created, and it has a swashbuckling Indiana Jones atmosphere as hidden doors swing open, artifacts are discovered buried in the sand, and a stone obelisk is maneuvered into the perfect position to trigger a hidden power. The enigmatic Force and its unlocking fountain But it all happens at such a deliberate pace that if you haven’t grown to love Ahsoka—and fans have spent over a decade watching her develop in the animated series Clone Wars and Rebels—you might wonder why you had to spend several minutes watching a woman find a map.
Finally, despite examining many powerful CGI landscapes and situations in which individuals stroll about before doing anything, a group appears. They are motivated to take a risk, but they need Ashoka’s assistance to interpret the map. Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), her skilled but troubled former apprentice, is put in charge of this. Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a compassionate general in the peaceful New Republic, provides more dependable aid.
The capacity to play a sensitive, character-driven role on space escapades is illustrated in this all-female ensemble as Mother Ashoka and Aunt Hera foster their untamed warrior powers. Although Ashoka is somewhat enigmatic, at times shaking her head in mute irritation at the nonsense around her, Hera’s major identity thus far is that her face is green and she’s dynamic.
Not that the program doesn’t offer enough action: Sabine’s enthusiasm ensures that a hoverbike chase or run is never far away, while Ashoka routinely shows off her superb abilities in a lightsaber battle, securely clutching her weapon in a reverse grip. Meanwhile, a fact-finding trip to a booming spaceport reveals Endor-like insight into fascism’s resilience. It becomes evident that, while the Empire is no longer in charge, everyone in charge has seen the light.
The foundations are in place, so if the show remembers that Star Wars at its finest is fast and entertaining, not plodding and serious, there’s another golden potential as a droid voiced by David Tennant (doubling down on his role in Clone Wars). He enjoys delivering a butler’s voice, caring for a robot, and causing mischief. However, in a program, when a scene has to establish anything, the characters frequently just stand there and talk about it. Another literary guideline that hasn’t escaped the universe’s journey is “the show doesn’t tell”—Tennant frequently gets trapped in trying to convey odd sentences in a comic voice. He, like everything else, might have been far better if he had been given more direct enjoyment.