Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars series on Disney+, wrapped up its season last night in an ending that fell as flat as the rest of its episodes.
It’s a disappointing run for a show featuring a fan-favorite character in Ahsoka Tano, who rose to prominence thanks to the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. After her live-action debut in The Mandalorian, Ahsoka was supposed to be an injection of energy and excitement back to the Star Wars franchise.
That didn’t happen, and is a lesson in how challenging it is to continuously build upon a big property. But to see an example of where it worked well, you only have to look at another piece of genre content in Netflix’s live-action adaptation of anime classic One Piece.
At first glance, the two properties don’t have much in common. One is about the conflict between good and evil in space, while the other is about pirates with crazy powers. But both shows are rooted firmly in fleshed out, fantastical universes, with Star Wars doing it over multiple films, shows, books and comic books, and One Piece through more than a thousand chapters of manga and anime episodes. Both have huge and loyal fan bases. Both feature characters that those fans know and love.
But watch both shows, and you’ll see a huge contrast in style, with One Piece by far the more enjoyable experience. Here are five reasons why One Piece beat Ahsoka at the genre game. (Some spoilers ahead!)
One Piece, best exemplified by main character Monkey D. Luffy, fully embraces its emotions. It’s earnest, sincere and, despite the violence and tragic backstory, is wholesome. The show could’ve easily focused on the cool-looking characters and action (we’ll get back to that later), but took the time to build the connections between the characters and show how they care about each other. That in turn helps us form connections with the characters ourselves.
While an avid anime fan, I’ve never watched One Piece or the manga, and went into the show fresh. I came out fully invested in Luffy, Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp and Sanji.
Contrast that with Ahsoka, which should have been a treat for me as I’ve long been invested in characters like Ezra Bridger, Sabine Wren and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Yet it seemed at every turn, the show kept any sense of warmth or connection restrained. The most egregious example is the reunion of Sabine and Ezra. What should’ve been a moment of emotional catharsis was played off as a quick, cool moment with a quippy exchange. These two characters haven’t seen each other in a decade – this isn’t how people actually act! Likewise, what should’ve been an emotional reunion between Ezra and Hera Syndulla cuts away before they can truly interact.
Ahsoka herself was also a far cry from the energetic and passionate character we saw in Clone Wars or even Rebels, with Rosario Dawson playing her in a far more reserved, restrained manner. I lit up in the few moments when she smiled or showed any enthusiasm, but it felt like she had her arm crossed for much of the series.
There’s a scene in the penultimate episode in which New Republic Chancellor Mon Mothma asks Hera about what they should do with the looming threat of Thrawn’s return. Hera’s response: We have to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.”
Uh, what? Instead of anything pithy or memorable, she doles out the most overused statement ever. It’s followed by a drop to the title scene, but it’s completely lacking in any weight.
The show is filled with this kind of dialogue. Coupled with wooden delivery, and an odd direction for the actors to pause extra long between exchanges, and at times Ahsoka made for an awkward watch.
Compare that to a One Piece scene in which Nami asks Luffy for help. Luffy responds “Of course I will” and repeats the phrase until he shouts to the sky in dramatic fashion. The scene is loaded with emotion and energy, and you can’t help but feel captivated.
Ahsoka’s lack of energy is palpable. Things just sort of happen, and characters seem to have the most muted reactions.
One Piece, on the other hand, is almost pure energy. It perfectly translates the anime and manga’s insane pace into live action, almost to the point where it may be too much for some audiences. The show is weird, with really bizarre characters, settings and situations. But there’s an infectious energy to the whole thing that helps you buy into it.
With Ahsoka, you’re just expected to buy into things because they’re important to some bigger puzzle that will likely involve another Disney+ show or an upcoming film.
I’m not the biggest fan of the prequel trilogy (I’m clearly too old), but I did appreciate the step up in fight choreography. I was excited to see what Ahsoka, with her two lightsaber blades, and Ezra, who had a frenetic fight style on Rebels, would bring on this show.
The fights are…okay? The final episode saw Ahsoka, Ezra and Sabine face off against a squad of Night Troopers and the characters looked like they were moving in slow motion. Some of the one-on-one fights, like the final confrontation between Ahsoka and Morgan Elsbeth, were better, but again, that lack of energy was pretty evident.
One Piece, on the other hand, clearly put a lot of emphasis on fight choreography and cinematography. Taz Skyler, who plays high-kicking Sanji, trained as a kickboxer for the role, and it shows. There’s an almost silly Power Rangers-like aspect to the wire fu, and Luffy’s rubber limb special effect isn’t the most realistic. Yet it all works as a cohesive package because you can see the effort put on the screen.
One Piece’s first season represented just a small fraction of the grander story, which hasn’t concluded in anime or manga form. Yet the eight episodes told a fairly complete story, introducing the main players, setting up and vanquishing a big antagonist, and setting the show up for the next adventure. There’s clearly more to the story, but you’re left satisfied with the season you got.
The story is where Ahsoka may have stumbled the most. As the title character of the show, Ahsoka actually didn’t do that much, or even had a pivotal aspect on the plot. Much of the show was building up to the introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn and his plot to escape his forced exile.
But even Thrawn’s tease wasn’t wholly satisfying, as it felt like a tease to a future Star Wars project.
One of the most intriguing additions to the cast was Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll, who appeared to be positioned for something bigger in only a brief glimpse of him in the finale. Tragically, Stevenson died before the show premiered, meaning we’ll likely never get to see what that tease was about.Even if there is some sort of payoff for these threads down the line, the fact that we have to wait for another show or pay to see another film (creator Dave Filoni is expected to tie a lot of these shows up with his upcoming film) means you’re left with an unsatisfying experience with Ahsoka. It’s just an incomplete puzzle piece, and that’s not what a Star Wars show should aspire to be.