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'Ahsoka' Review: Room to Breathe, Time to Think Before Acting
Rosario Dawson returns as Anakin Skywalker's former apprentice, ready to sniff out a new threat to the galaxy. With Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ray Stevenson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
It's getting mighty crowded in the Star Wars universe.
Lucafilm has released a slate of live-action series on Disney Plus, which began with The Mandolarian in November 2019 and continued with The Book of Boba Fett, debuting in December 2021; Obi-Wan Kenobi, debuting in May 2022; and Andor, debuting in December 2022.
So far, each series has featured some great moments and several excellent episodes. Of the four, only The Mandolarian has premiered multiple seasons, which have made it abundantly clear that the decision to focus on characters who are known for their face-covering helmets above all else was probably not the best choice for a live-action series. Andor is my fave, in part because of its gritty suspense-thriller vibe.
Now comes Ahsoka, starring Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, a character created for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and introduced as a live-action character in The Mandalorian, appearing again in The Book of Boba Fett. Created by Dave Filoni, who wrote and directed the first episode, and also wrote the second episode, directed by Steph Green, Ahsoka continues the storyline that was first explored in the animated series Star War Rebels, co-created by Filoni, with other characters from that series also appearing in the new live-action series.
Do you need to know any of that to enjoy the show? No.
Undoubtedly, it helps to know that Ahsoka takes place after Return of the Jedi (1983) and before The Force Awakens (2015). Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), with her distinctive look, was a teenage apprentice to Anakin Skywalker before he turned to the Dark Side. She has a demeanor that appears placid and calm, yet she's instantly ready to fight, wielding a lightsaber with each hand, when the situation calls for her to do so.
Her former apprentice, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) is young, feisty, and excitable. She's in a different place mentally and emotionally than Ahsoka, though it's apparent that she might mesh well with Ahsoka. She still hopes to find her missing best friend Ezra Bridger, which leads her first to Ahsoka and a mysterious device, and then somewhere else.
Ahsoka also works with Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, covered in green skin), a pilot and New Republic General, and the supportive droid Huyang (voiced by David Tennant), who can also wield a mean lightsaber.
On the dark side of things, a mysterious twosome -- Baylan Skroll (Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) -- form a formidable fighting duo, quickly using the Force to kill multiple people in the opening sequences of the first episode. They seek to meet up with Morgan Elspeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), who is in apparent league with Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), a former high-ranking official in the Galactic Empire.
The first episode introduces most of these elements at a snappy pace. It might sound like a lot, and it is, but the episode always allows room to breathe around its major plot points, which helps to establish Ahsoka herself as the eye of the storm that surrounds her.
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The action sequences themselves play out in a fashion very similar to every other action sequence in a Star Wars series so far; "this is the way," as The Mandolarian would say. So expect every action sequence to be filled with visual effects to minimize the bloodshed and the human wreckage that is left behind.
Beyond that, though, I was struck by the quiet between the action beats. Those quieter, more reflective moments, in which the characters are making decisions as to what they will do next, serve as breathers both for the characters and the audience, which feels a bit different than what I've seen in the other series so far.
We'll see how things are handled in the succeeding episodes, but that breathing space also allows for a greater cumulative emotional impact. That also deepens the wounds that are inflicted, and allows for a greater consideration of the consequences. In short: watch it and see what I mean.
Subsequent episodes of the eight-episode series will debut every Wednesday. [Disney Plus]