The Light and the Dark

Star Wars: Ahsoka: Season 1

As I was going through, preparing my review of The Bad Batch: Season 3, I realized that in and around all the Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. reviews I’ve done over the last couple of years (because, seriously, Disney has released a ton of Star Wars recently) I somehow missed posting a review of Ahsoka (which we should now refer to as Ahsoka: Season 1 since it’s been confirmed that a second season is in development already). I watched it, I enjoyed it well enough (for a Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars. Star Wars show) but I somehow forgot to review the thing. I don’t even have a good excuse for why that happened, it just happened.

I really like making sure I review everything I can from a franchise, though, going out of my way to find whatever ephemeral materials I can so I can add reviews to this site (one day I will make it through Ewoks: Caravan of Courage, but it’s just so unwatchable). Having a major release like Ahsoka missing from the site is a major gap and I simply cannot let that stand. So, almost a year after it came out, let’s go back and discuss Rebels: Season Fi- I mean, Ahsoka: Season 1.

The series more or less picks up after the events of Rebels: Season 4, with the first two episodes taking place right before the last scene of that previous series, and everything else coming immediately after (it’s a little weird, and ret-con-y, but you just have to roll with it). Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) is on the trail of a Jedi artifact, which she digs up in a (surprisingly easy to solve) rotation puzzle in the middle of an ancient Jedi temple. Unable to tell what this weird artifact, a Jedi puzzle sphere, is supposed to do, she goes to her old friend (and, apparently, old padawan), Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) to try and figure out what it could be. Sabine, being a tech wiz, spends some time working on it at her shop, and she does manage to get the sphere to open up its secrets: it’s a map, leading to a distant galaxy, one where, everyone assumes, both their old friend Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi) and the evil Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) are waiting. The goal is to keep the map out of the hands of the bad guys to prevent the return of Thrawn.

So, of course, the bad guys come and take the sphere and run off. Ahsoka then takes Sabine with her on a quest to find the dark Jedi: Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice, Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). These two stole the sphere and took it to their employer, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), so that she, in turn, could use it, alongside a massive hyperspeed ship, to get to the world where Thrawn is waiting. She needs that world as it’s an ancient home for the Nightsisters, and she wants their power for herself. And, of course, this then gives Thrawn a way back to the main galaxy, which he absolutely plans to use. It’s up to our heroes to stop the return of Thrawn, prevent Morgan from gaining her new power, and maybe save Ezra as well. All in a day’s work.

And none of this story makes any sense. Not at all. Not from a character perspective. Not from a logic perspective. None of it. It’s all pretty damn stupid.

The first issue that comes up is in the basic premise. At the end of Rebels, which this series is absolutely a sequel to and continuation of, Ezra had the purgils (aka, the star whales) drag Thrawn’s ship, which Ezra was on, off and a way to a place where Thrawn could never return. Thrawn was shown to be an insidious commander, one dedicated to the cause of the Empire, with an intelligent mind and ruthless desire to win. Ezra sacrificed himself, in effect, to stop Thrawn, sending them off to a place no one knew about and where no one could track, to save the Rebellion.

So how is it that an ancient relic in a hidden temple knows the exact place where Ezra and Thrawn are living? Sure, it’s a relic that leads to the ancient homeworld of the Nightsisters, and Ezra and Thrawn just happen to be there (which is its own stupid coincidence) but everyone in the show, good guy and bad, assumes the relic will lead them there. Which it does, because the writing on this show is bad, but that doesn’t answer the questions of why or how? This is a sphere that somehow, what, knows the migration patterns of the star whales which, up until Ezra proved he could communicate with them, weren’t even studied in any detail? Really?

It’s a McGuffin meant to move the plot along, a weird puzzle box construction (in this case, almost literally) that Star Wars has become all too familiar with. Just like in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, one item leads to another, which leads to another, and the only logic that’s actually in the story is the linear path the characters take. It doesn’t have to matter if it actually makes sense in the context of the world, the characters have to follow the breadcrumbs because that’s the story they’re provided. That’s it.

Taking the puzzle box and trying to solve it is also an inherently stupid decision, one based on poor character motivation. It’s Ahsoka that finds the sphere, and she’s the one that hands it off to Sabine so it can be solved. While Ahsoka met Ezra and knew him, they didn’t have a close connection, not in the same way Sabine did with Ezra. The smartest, and most logical, decision Ahsoka should have made was destroying the puzzle sphere the second she found it, especially when once she gets it she’s immediately attacked by hunters sent by Morgan (not that Ahsoka knows who sent them, but that’s made clear pretty quickly). If she destroys the sphere (which is easy to do as the dark Jedi do it later) she stops anyone from ever finding Thrawn, which is her whole goal to begin with.

Yes, sure, that leaves Ezra stuck in another galaxy, but he sacrificed himself to stop Thrawn. His whole goal was to stop Thrawn and, one would think, invalidating that by then letting a sphere (that leads to a coordinate that leads to another galaxy that leads to Thrawn) fall into enemy hands in an entirely predictable fashion would be the last thing he would want. Hell, it’s the last thing any reasonable Jedi (which, despite her leaving the Jedi order, Ahsoka still is) would want. Her first move should have been destroying it.

The show justifies this by saying, “well, Ahsoka wants to get Ezra back.” But why? Again, she doesn’t really know him that well. He did save her life once, via time travel, but that doesn’t mean she automatically thinks of him as family. That wasn’t the relationship they had on Rebels and this show is, in effect, a direct continuation of that show. She shouldn’t be concerned with Ezra, she should be concerned with protecting the Galaxy. She makes a decision motivated by what the audience wants, not by what she should want, and while it also puts the whole show in motion it’s also the dumbest possible decision she could have made.

It is accurate to say that, at every turn, the characters are stuck following whims outside their own. Sometimes it’s the whims of the audience, such as bringing Ezra back, or having Sabine become a Jedi (yes, this also happens in this show despite the fact she showed no Force connection in the previous series), or having Thrawn return to be, well, Thrawn. Sometimes it’s the whims of the writers, with the characters stuck on a linear path they can’t escape because those are all the ideas the writers have. Follow point A to point B because there’s no other way they could think to get to Point C.

But then, naturally, that leads to the biggest whim the characters have to follow: the needs of the ending. It’s pretty clear this was a show written towards an ending and it didn’t matter what happened so long as that ending was achieved. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that if you wanted an ending that would keep the story going for a while, such as in a second season or follow up movies, then the ending we get is exactly what’s expected. And everything that came before feels like the writers finding a way to justify that decision and get all the characters in place so that can happen. Nothing more.

The characters, really, don’t feel like characters. There isn’t a lot for them to do outside of their prescribed paths, with no character arcs and practically no development. If you went into this blind, without having seen any of the shows these characters were in before (The Clone Wars, Rebels, The Mandalorian) and you just wanted to watch this because it was the hot new thing your friends were talking about, you’d have no clue who any of these people are. There’s no setup, no development, and no arcs for them. They’re literal action figures moving around the screen to do whatever the writers wanted to get to their ending. They’re all shallow and one-note, to the point that I have to wonder why anyone would want to come back to these characters if they didn’t already know who they were (and have affection for them) already.

And that sucks because the cast is great. Rosario Dawson is strong and steely as Ahsoka and I like her performance as the character almost as much as I liked Ashley Eckstein as her voice actor in the animated works. I think Natasha Liu Bordizzo is fantastic as Sabine, charismatic and headstrong, giving a performance for the character far above the script. I thought Stevenson and Sakhno were terrific as the bad Jedi, and I would have loved to have more time with them to understand who they were instead of the show saying, “bad people, bad!” and that was all we got.

The failings of the show aren’t its set design, or its production values, and certainly not its cast. The failures of the show lie entirely with its story and its scripts. This was a show that was clearly designed to tie up (and, in a way, undo) the ending of Rebels so that the crew could be together and a villain they could fight could be on the scene. Whatever comes next might be a better adventure, one that doesn’t have to twist itself into knots to get us where the writers clearly wanted us to be. That wasn’t this season, though, and I don’t know how many fans (many of whom are already getting tired of the middling quality of most Disney+ Star Wars shows, are going to bother coming back for the next adventures of these characters. This was the chance to revive Rebels and do it write and Ahsoka failed them… and us.