My brother and I are both Star Wars fans, although the difference in degree is dramatic. He loves the films (mostly the original trilogy), The Mandalorian and owns a few shirts.
I’ve watched every film, read a fair number of the “expanded universe” novels, played several games and kept up with its flood of animated and live action shows. There may be a model kit or two of certain Rebel and Empire fighters in my office too.
That difference is why I was so keen to see his reaction to Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars show on Disney+. Even before the show premiered on Tuesday, he acknowledged doing a little prep work.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing that people need to do their homework for this show,” I quipped.
Which is why I both love and hate Ahsoka. As someone who watched every episode of Star Wars Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, I ate up the way Ahsoka creator Dave Filoni (who also created the animated shows too) and the cast and crew breathed life into the live-action version of characters like Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren and planets like Lothal. There were Easter Eggs aplenty, from Clancy Brown’s cameo as Governor Ryder Azadi to the subtle images of space whales found on the projection from the star map.
But at the same time, I got the nagging feeling that Ahsoka wasn’t for everybody. And even for a casual fan like my brother, the show might feel a little too inaccessible. This isn’t a show I would bother to recommend to my wife, who is an even more casual fan. Like a lot of the Marvel shows and films these days, it feels like there’s a lot of lore to get through to truly appreciate what’s going on.
A lot is riding on Ahsoka. The state of the Star Wars franchise is on shaky ground following the conclusion of the last trilogy, and after The Mandolorian broke out as a massive hit, the follow-up shows have failed to catch on, with Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan and even the last season of Mando underwhelming fans. Beyond Star Wars, Disney+ is looking for a crowd-pleasing hit to generate some buzz, especially ahead of a planned price hike. Like Obi-Wan and Boba Fett, Ahsoka is a fan-favorite character that fans of the animated shows have grown to love over the years.
Yet I’m sorry to say this likely won’t win over the masses like The Mandolorian – there is no Baby Yoda to melt our hearts. What is there is a show that is oozing with high production values, slick direction and strong performances Natashia Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren and Ray Stevenson as the mysterious former Jedi master-turned mercenary Baylan Skoll. Rosario Dawson looks fantastic as Ahsoka, but she’s surprisingly given little to do beyond a few set pieces and some awkwardly-paced conversations.
The show also nailed the genius that is the astro mech-with-attitude Chopper.
There’s so much to enjoy, but it’s undermined by a central premise that may prove perplexing too anyone who isn’t a fan of Rebels or Clone Wars (and especially Rebels). The first two entries in the six-episode season set up the search for Grand Admiral Thrawn, a famed military leader of the former Empire briefly teased in The Mandalorian. He played a key role in the latter part of Rebels, but fans of the early series of Star Wars novels will truly appreciate the genius and threat of the character.
As a kid, I read Heir to the Empire and the entire Thrawn trilogy, so I was suitably excited by the development and eagerly anticipate his live-action debut.
On the flip side, Ahsoka, Hera and Sabine are looking for Ezra Bridger, the lead character of Rebels who ended the show by disappearing with Thrawn amid a school of those aforementioned space whales (it’s a ridiculous-sounding premise that makes sense if you watch the show). Find Thrawn, and presumably you’ll find Ezra.
But for anyone who hasn’t watched Rebels, do you care about Thrawn or Ezra? Thrawn has only been mentioned twice on The Mandalorian, but is talked about A LOT in these first two episodes. Ezra appears for a few seconds as a hologram, and there are some teases and a bit of exposition dropped about his character, but is that enough to pique the interest of viewers? It’s a question that nagged me as I watched the first two episodes.
Filoni had previously teased Ahsoka as the fifth season of Rebels, so I was prepared to an extent. But I was shocked at just how unapologetic he was about moving forward with the plot, with fans expected to hang on or do their homework, with precious little exposition to help them out.
I asked my brother about his thoughts on the first episode, and he said that he was “kinda intrigued” so far. He noted the lightsaber battle was “meh” but said little of the plot.
For his sake and the sake of casual fans everywhere, I hope that Ahsoka does the legwork to properly explain why the return of Ezra and especially Thrawn are such a big deal. It’s a momentous occasion for fans of Rebels and Clone Wars, and all Star Wars fans should be able to appreciate it.
Correction: Referenced the wrong Ezra in the first reference to the Rebels character.