Rosario Dawson headlines the latest Disney+ original and the best Star Wars series to date.
PLOT: Set after the fall of the Empire, Star Wars: Ahsoka follows the former Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano as she investigates an emerging threat to a vulnerable galaxy.
REVIEW: Disney and Lucasfilm need a win. After the box office drubbing of Indiana Jones and The Haunted Mansion and perceived MCU burnout, the House of Mouse needs badly to reclaim the early success of The Mandalorian. While Andor was critically acclaimed, both The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi were divisive amongst fans and critics. With the industry still at a standstill due to the ongoing writer and actor strikes, the latest Star Wars live-action series, Ahsoka, needs to thrive despite no interviews or publicity from the cast and crew. Luckily, Dave Filoni’s continuation of stories featuring characters from the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels speaks for itself. Ahsoka is exactly the Star Wars production that fans have been hoping for, big screen or small, with a blend of legacy characters, new creations, and top-notch special effects. Having seen the first two episodes of the series, I am confident that Ahsoka will resonate with all Star Wars fans.
Opening with a twist on the familiar Star Wars opening crawl, Ahsoka delivers an introductory scene that is the boldest start to any entry in the science fiction franchise since 1977’s A New Hope. The first episode, titled “Part One: Master and Apprentice,” introduces former Jedi Baylon Skoll (played by the late Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) as they rescue Thrawn ally Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) by massacring a crew of New Republic soldiers. Instead of The Mandalorian‘s familiar chapters, Ahsoka aims to be less episodic and more like a feature film broken into sections, similar to Andor and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the hour-long first episode, it is also evident that Dave Filoni is striving for Ahsoka to serve as the next volume of The Clone Wars and Rebels by quickly introducing General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). After retrieving an orb from a desolate planet where Elsbeth hid it, Ahsoka heads to Syndulla to inform her that it may lead the way to find Thrawn as well as rescuing Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), missing since the finale of Rebels. Hera recommends that Ahsoka enlist Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) for help decoding it.
If most of these names do not ring a bell, you owe it to yourself to watch Rebels before checking out Ahsoka. The dynamic between Hera, Ahsoka, and Sabine is vital to this series, especially in the first two episodes establishing their place in the world since Rebels concluded. Taking place at the same time as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka takes place in the years before The First Order became a presence in the galaxy. The Empire, and those faithful to it, are still a threat, and the arrival of Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) presents the biggest obstacle since the fall of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. Interestingly, while this series feels more like Star Wars than the Jon Favreau-created Disney+ series does, there is no mention in the first chapters of anyone outside of Dave Filoni’s creations from his prior series. These two episodes do not feature Mikkelsen as Thrawn or Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, but their presence looms large over the epic start to Ahsoka.
Rosario Dawson fully realizes her portrayal of Ahsoka Tano through the first two episodes. Rather than emulate Ashley Eckstein’s original voice performance as the padawan turned Jedi master, Dawson gives the role her own flair. It is fantastic to see lightsaber battles on screen again, this time given a distinct flair by the new orange sabers wielded by former Jedi Baylan and his apprentice. Ray Stevenson, who unfortunately passed away before this series debuted, is a great addition to the live-action Force users we have seen and is more of an ambiguous antihero rather than a villain. Diana Lee Inosanto is the main antagonist, making Morgan Elsbeth a cool connection between a familiar race of Star Wars beings from the animated realm. We also get the inclusion of David Tennant as the voice of the Clone Wars character Huyang, a droid that used to make lightsabers and now travels with Ahsoka. Apart from a brief recording of Esfandi as Ezra Bridger, these episodes are focused on Ahsoka, Hera, and Sabine as they contend with Baylan, Shin Hati, and Elsbeth.
There are a lot of action sequences in these episodes that instantly rank among my favorites in all of Star Wars, including the aforementioned opening homage to A New Hope, a cool speeder race on Lothal, and Ahsoka using her two sabers opposite an Inquisitor named Marrok (Paul Darnell) who wields a spinning double-bladed saber and wears a formidable and dark suit of armor. This series has significant production values, eclipsing all of the Star Wars series on Disney+. Dave Filoni has ensured that anything featured in his animated series was created physically as much as possible, giving the loth-cats a tangible quality and personality to droids like Huyang and Chopper. There are familiar and new planets in these episodes, which feel far larger and grander than CGI landscapes in the previous Disney+ series. The planet Lothal, especially, looks fantastic. The production values echo the Original Trilogy’s look and the Rebels‘ aesthetic, giving this series a different style from The Mandalorian.
Dave Filoni wrote all eight episodes of Ahsoka, and of the two available for this review, he directed the premiere. Steph Green handled duties behind the camera for the second episode, “Toil and Trouble.” Filoni and Green helm another episode each this season, along with Peter Ramsey, Jennifer Getzinger, Geeta Patel, and Rick Famuyiwa. Filoni sets a great tone in the opening episode, which uses George Lucas’ trademark wipes and transitions while forging a tone that is decidedly Star Wars but also more mature than the animated series. Among many series, composer Kevin Kiner, who scored The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch, and Rebels, delivers a grand score that I expect to get even more sweeping as Thrawn enters later in the season. So far, Dave Filoni has proven his aptitude for live-action directing and even more that he truly understands the storytelling of Star Wars and what makes it so popular.
Ahsoka is easily the best Star Wars series to date. I love all the series so far, and Andor may be the most distinct of the bunch, but Ahsoka is the series that feels the most like Star Wars. Blending legacy with new voices, building on what came before it but forging a new vision for the saga, Ahsoka is a blast. Rosario Dawson easily proves that she is perfect to play the title character. Still, the addition of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Natasha Liu Bordizzo cemented that bringing Rebels into live action was worth the effort. If anything, Ahsoka also proves that we lost Ray Stevenson too soon, as he has given us one of the best new Star Wars characters in recent memory. With more episodes to come, Ahsoka has delivered the best beginning to a Star Wars series yet and is sure to have fans excited again about what Lucasfilm has in store.
Ahsoka premieres with two episodes on August 22nd at 9pm EST on Disney+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/star-wars-ahsoka-tv-review/