Ahsoka Episode 8’s Underwhelming New Villains Reveal A Bigger Star Wars Problem
Instead of fighting stormtroopers today, we’ll be fighting... stormtroopers.
In The Mandalorian Season 2 finale, Din Djarin and his allies strap on their invincible body armor, board Moff Gideon’s flagship, and promptly massacre everyone inside, effortlessly gunning down the Imperial villains who try to stop them. According to the good folks at listofdeaths, our heroes kill 107 people, who collectively put up about as much of a fight as children playing paintball against commandos. If we saw their families back on Coruscant weeping over their bloody bodies this would be utterly horrifying, or at least a scene more befitting Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Gideon. But they’re stormtroopers, so we’re supposed to forget about them the moment they vanish from the screen.
That’s why stormtroopers are faceless, interchangeable goons, and why previous Star Wars antagonists have included clones and droids. Our heroes need hordes of baddies they can kill en masse without feeling guilty, or even acknowledging at all. We’d say Ahsoka killed Morgan Elsbeth in the finale, but we wouldn’t say she killed 100 space farmboys who saw Imperial propaganda and joined up to escape their two-bit planets because they didn’t have their own personal Obi-Wans to guide them. Those were just natural obstacles with limbs.
So when Ahsoka Episode 8 unleashed its biggest twist — that Nightsister magic can bring Thrawn’s defeated soldiers back to life as freaky zombie troopers — it landed with a wet thud. Star Wars has spent decades treating stormtroopers like zombies, bumbling disposable nobodies who exist only for our heroes to annihilate. How does making them literal zombies change anything?
Part of the problem is that stormtroopers fight with tactics that were outdated by the Crimean War. Thrawn’s supposedly crack troopers, fanatics who volunteered to stay behind and die for their Admiral, fought how stormtroopers have always fought: they clumped together in a big group and walked slowly towards the Jedi until they all died. Ahsoka, Sabine, and Ezra freaked out when the troopers rose up as zombies, but… why? The threat wasn’t changed or elevated. Our heroes didn’t have to adapt. The undead terrors just resumed their leisurely stroll. It was the exact same scene replayed with a green tint.
This isn’t to say that Star Wars needs to become Band of Troopers or All Quiet on the Space Front. That wouldn’t fit the tone of shows like Ahsoka. But stormtroopers need to fight back against decades of Star Wars cliches and offer some threat, some evidence that any sentient thought goes through their bucketheads. Even the most reprehensible villains need a glimmer of humanity, especially before they’re zombified. Otherwise, “What if our heroes, who have killed hundreds of stormtroopers without breaking a sweat, have to face a terrifying new threat… a few more, slightly cruddier stormtroopers?!” isn’t a scary plot twist. It’s an invitation to watch Ahsoka make stormtrooper sashimi.
It didn’t help that the big zombie showdown was filmed on a bland, featureless soundstage, or that the fight choreography looked like the intro to a ‘90s Star Wars game that Lucasfilm no longer admits to making. That kind of penny-pinching filmmaking is anathema to compelling action, which needs sets and props — space and tools our heroes and villains can employ in their mortal struggle — to be compelling. A battle that might as well have been held in front of a green screen with “Nightsister Temple” scrawled on it gives you what you pay for, which is nothing.
Thrawn escaped at the end of Ahsoka Season 1, and it looks like he’s plotting to unleash an undead army on the New Republic. If so, let’s hope he lives up to his reputation as a tactical genius and puts a little thought into how his new weapon is employed. Otherwise, the citizens of the Republic can rest easy while Ezra holds off the invading army with his lightsaber. Or a butter knife.