Ahsoka Thrillingly Brings Back the Most Underrated Era of Star Wars Storytelling
The newest Star Wars series finally finds a balance between the franchise’s recent varying tones.
Ahsoka Tano has always had to fight to prove her worth.
Deftly inserted into Star Wars canon 15 years ago as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, Ahsoka became an easy scapegoat for fans unimpressed by the animated storytelling of The Clone Wars. “All this new Ahsoka character brings to the table, other than a lightsaber-sized gash through the heart of continuity, are giggling one-liners,” one review said. “I just want to go up to that Padawan and slap her,” another said.
But while she may have started as a fresh-faced cartoon alien in an unfortunate tube top (voiced by the incredible Ashley Eckstein), Ahsoka grew into a powerful Force user, a Rebel leader, a wise mentor, and ultimately, a live-action character played by Rosario Dawson. Star Wars fans got to watch her entire arc play out in real time (not counting a few canonical blind spots). Now, she’s reached another critical inflection point: a starring role in her own adventure.
Ahsoka is the latest in a slew of Star Wars streaming shows and one of several that’s loosely connected to The Mandalorian. But if you’re worried we’re in for another disappointing spin-off like The Book of Boba Fett, you can rest easy. Under the careful watch of Dave Filoni (a disciple of George Lucas who’s shepherded Ahsoka every step of the way), Ahsoka achieves the perfect balance of new and old, giving hardcore fans the latest chapter in a 15-year journey without alienating an audience that’s just getting to know the former Jedi.
Along the way, Filoni and Dawson tap into something that we didn’t even realize Star Wars was missing: a return to the style, era, and aesthetics that spawned Ahsoka in the first place. By channeling the best parts of the prequels era (and ignoring the worst), Ahsoka brings fresh energy to the franchise to tell a story unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Ahsoka begins the best way any Star Wars property can: with an opening crawl. As the blood-red text floating across a sea of stars explains, Ahsoka has turned over Morgan Elsbeth (the villain introduced in The Mandalorian Season 2) to the New Republic to pay for her crimes. Meanwhile, our hero is investigating the early evidence of a new threat: the return of Grand Adm. Thrawn. While Ahsoka looks for clues, a new threat begins to emerge, forcing her to rally her old allies for a new-yet-familiar fight.
For a certain type of Star Wars fan, this means the return of a lot of familiar faces. Ahsoka could be considered a sequel to Rebels, the animated series in which she played a supporting role to a ragtag rebel cell. This new show brings back many of those characters (now in live-action), but it smartly avoids picking up where the cartoon left off.
We pick up many years after the Rebels finale. While Hera Syndulla, Sabine Wren, and even Ezra Bridger appear in the series, enough time has passed that it feels like these characters are starting fresh. Most of the events referenced in the first two episodes provided for review aren’t even from Rebels, instead drawing from the unexplored time in between the two shows. This makes it easy for casual audiences to keep up, though some hardcore fans may feel confused when the show introduces new backstories — like Sabine receiving Jedi training from Ahsoka.
There’s a lot of pressure on Ahsoka’s cast not to mess up these characters. While Rosario Dawson already earned her role in that one episode of The Mandalorian, other newcomers like Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Hera) and Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Sabine) more than rise to the challenge. The time skip also helps smooth over any changes in demeanor. If Sabine seems a little different, it’s just because she’s been through a lot since Rebels.
Behind the scenes, however, Ahsoka’s true hero is composer Kevin Kiner. Best known for his work on The Clone Wars and Rebels, Kiner’s contributions to the franchise are vastly underrated especially due to John Williams’ long shadow. Finally working in Star Wars live-action, Kiner instantly cements himself as a legend. From the almost tribal drums under the opening crawl to the energy coursing through every combat scene, he single-handedly brings this series from good to great.
Thanks in part to Kiner, Ahsoka has the feel of classic Star Wars. There are star maps, MacGuffins, mysteries steeped with political intrigue, and mysterious masked villains who are almost definitely recognizable faces. And despite all that, it’s also a simple enough story that the characters can take center stage. It might be thrilling to watch Ahsoka cut through assassin robots, but it’s just as fun watching her share a knowing smile with an old friend.
While the bar for new Star Wars stories might not be particularly high at the moment (even The Mandalorian Season 3 felt uneven at times), there’s one entry that every new show will unavoidably be compared to: Andor. Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller set a new standard with its morally complex storytelling and use of practical sets. But that’s not really a fair comparison. Andor was a singular story about one man, while Ahsoka zooms out to the galaxy as a whole. It brings back the space opera tone that has been missing throughout Andor’s prestige TV and The Mandalorian’s space western, all while finding the perfect balance of character-driven story and worldbuilding.
It’s never been enough for Ahsoka Tano to just exist and be a badass. She’s always compared (sometimes unfavorably) to other Jedi, from Anakin and Obi-Wan to Luke and Rey. So why should Ahsoka be any different? But just as the character eventually won over even the harshest Star Wars fans, the series seems likely to do the same in just eight live-action episodes.