‘Ahsoka’ review: Disney+ ‘Star Wars’ series is often plodding but also promising
In the production brief for the new live-action “Star Wars” series “Ahsoka,” its creator and writer, Dave Filoni, says you need not know anything about the goings on a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to follow the story.
While that’s technically true, there’s a reason some are calling this show the fifth season of “Star Wars Rebels.”
“Ahsoka” brings back key characters from that animated gem, including heroines Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren, now portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, respectively.
And the new series’ namesake, onetime Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano, was featured intermittently in “Rebels.” However, the co-creation of Filoni and the father of “Star Wars,” George Lucas, was introduced in the 2008 animated theatrical release “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and became a fixture in the series of the same name that followed it.
The character, who long ago left the Jedi Order, made her live-action debut in the second season of “The Mandalorian,” where she was portrayed by Rosario Dawson.
Dawson’s incarnation is, of course, front and center in this new Disney+ offering.
Based on an advanced look at the two episodes debuting on the streaming service this week, “Ahsoka” is uneven — or unbalanced, to use a more “Star Wars”-y word.
Some of the good: The exciting action sequences that bookend the Filoni-directed first episode.
Some of the bad: All the standing around and talking that dominates the scenes between those exciting moments characterized largely by the clashing of lightsabers.
Much of that dialogue no doubt is designed to get viewers — especially anyone who didn’t watch “Rebels” — up to speed on who these characters are and how they relate to one another.
Plus, we learn that Ahsoka — the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker before he turned to the dark of the Force and became Darth Vader — had taken spirited Mandalorian artist Sabine on as her apprentice. (Wait, Sabine is Force-sensitive? Well, kinda maybe sorta.)
Refreshingly, that first episode, “Master and Apprentice,” begins in a VERY “Star Wars” fashion, with a crawl of text against a backdrop of stars — it’s helpful for viewers to know the show takes place after the fall of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic — followed by an overhead shot of a ship moving through space.
Yeah. Let’s do this.
That ship soon is boarded by two cloaked figures, revealed to be Dark Side users Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), another master-and-apprentice tandem. They have come to rescue the captive Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), a mysterious woman loyal to a highly effective Imperial military leader, the lost-in-space Grand Admiral Thrawn (a yet-to-be-seen Lars Mikkelsen, who voiced the character on “Rebels”).
The mechanics involved in Baylan and Shin gaining access to the ship do not represent the strongest writing of Filoni — nor does the fact that both Morgan and Ahsoka are looking for a star map that will lead them to Thrawn. (Yes, it’s the MacGuffin from 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” recycled, with Thrawn being the buried treasure instead of Luke Skywalker. Sigh.)
As “Rebels” fans know, if Thrawn can be found, that means would-be Jedi Knight Ezra Bridger also could be saved. We briefly see Ezra (now played by Eman Esfandi) in a recording played by Sabine. He meant a lot to her and is the reason she is willing to set aside frustrations with Ahsoka to help her try to get to Thrawn before Morgan does.
There is, however, one more dark side user standing in their way: a masked, double-bladed lightsaber wielder referred to as Marrok (Paul Darnell). One online theory as to who exactly he may be is a lot of fun.
For the most part, fun is lacking in “Master and Apprentice” and in the Steph Green-directed second installment, “Toil and Trouble,” which takes Ahsoka and Hera to a planet familiar to longtime “Star Wars” fans for a bit of detective work. (One bit of fun in the latter episode: our reintroduction to Hera’s feisty astromech droid, Chopper, whose way of speaking sound’s nothing like R2-D2’s.)
The casting of the “Rebels” characters is solid, with Bordizzo (“The Voyeurs”) and Winstead (“Birds of Prey,” “10 Cloverfield Lane”) feeling like extensions of the characters voiced, respectively, by Vanessa Marshall and Tiya Sircar.
On the other hand, Dawson’s Ahsoka continues to feel almost distractingly different from the Ashley Eckstein-voiced version. Nevertheless, Dawson (“Rent,” “Dopesick”) is a terrific actor and was desired by many fans for the role, so you can’t complain too much. She simply brings something different to Ahsoka.
Lastly, Stevenson (“Kill the Irishman”) — who died in May — slides comfortably into the world of “Star Wars” as an older Force user. You can’t help but wonder what may have been planned for the intriguing villain beyond this season of “Ahsoka.” (Appropriately, “Master and Apprentice” is dedicated to “our friend, Ray.”)
We shall see what the future holds for Ahsoka, who was a little annoying as a spunky kid in that aforementioned “Clone Wars” film — she referred to Anakin as “Skyguy” (shudder) — but has evolved nicely and become deservedly beloved. Rumblings suggest Disney-owned Lucasfilm would like to make a second season of “Ahsoka” if this one is well-received. Furthermore, it is believed she will be a key figure in the announced big-screen adventure to be directed by Filoni in the coming years.
These first two episodes of “Ahsoka,” which account for a quarter of the season, are a little slow but hopefully will prove to be effective table setters for a thrilling adventure. After all, we must allow that we found the first episodes of fellow “Star Wars” series “Andor” to be downright dull, only to conclude after all 12 first-season episodes had debuted that the compellingly dramatic show is the strongest “Star Wars” work of the Disney era.
Here’s hoping “Ahsoka” has a similarly rebellious streak.
How to watch: Disney+
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