208 episodes of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Three Tales of the Jedi shorts. Two episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. One movie. That's everything you'll need to see to truly understand everything going on in the new Ahsoka series on Disney+. For Star Wars diehards, especially those raised on the animated shows spearheaded by Ahsoka creator Dave Filoni, it's everything they've hoped for. Everyone else, though, may find themselves adrift.
Ahsoka deftly brings animated characters to live action — Rosario Dawson remains a beguiling Ahsoka, and she's joined by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Hera Syndulla, and Natasha Liu Bordezzo as the impulsive Sabine Wren — and it wastes no time introducing intriguing villains (especially Baylan Skoll, a former Jedi portrayed by the late Ray Stevenson). The series is a direct sequel to Rebels in almost every way. But while that's great news for fans, the downside is that newcomers to the wider Rebels verse, even those who've seen Ahsoka in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, will have a hard time finding any emotional stakes.
With the previous live action Star Wars TV shows (including the enjoyable-yet-unneccessary Obi-Wan Kenobi series), Filoni and co-producer Jon Favreau tried to ease general audiences into deeper aspects of Star Wars lore. That was most successful in the first season of The Mandalorian, which was filled with new characters and simple emotional stakes. (Protect Baby Yoda, no matter what it takes!) But Filoni eventually managed to bring in some characters from his animated shows, including the nefarious bounty hunter Cad Bane.
For better or worse, Ahsoka feels like a riskier project than most of those other live action shows. Almost everyone refers to events and major characters from Rebels, without explaining much about who they are. We know that Grand Admiral Thrawn seems like a major new antagonist, but the show never says why. We later learn that Ahsoka is driven to find him because that may reveal the location of Ezra Bridger, the main character of Rebels who disappeared at the end of that series. Sabine and Ahsoka share some pensive moments reflecting on their lost friend, but we don't get much about their shared relationship beyond that.
At times watching Ahsoka is like being invited to a party where everyone else are old friends, and who refuse to explain their in-jokes or shared history. It's not their problem if you're not having as much fun as them. Deal with it. I had similar issues with The Mandalorian's third season relying too much on The Book of Boba Fett, but at least those were shows airing in close proximity. Ahsoka hinges on direct continuity from an animated series that began in 2014 and ran for four years.
Of course, the series may get better down the line. Ahsoka is Filoni's baby, after all, and he's too talented of a storyteller to have her tread water for a season. And I'll admit, even the excellent Andor took a few episodes to really rev things up. I just hope this show weaves character motivations into its plot more effectively moving forward.
In the first two episodes, Ahsoka is basically sent on a fetch quest when a new trio of villains pops up. There’s some investigative work that sheds light on the post-Empire world (would former members of the Empire really want to support the New Republic?), but much of the time I felt like I was waiting for something, anything to happen. At least the handful of action scenes spice up the proceedings – Dawson’s months of training really show in her lightsaber duels. And there are hints of interesting character dynamics moving forward.
In the years since Rebels ended, it turns out Ahsoka started training Sabine as a Jedi, but then abandoned her. It’s a reflection of Ahsoka’s own story, where she started as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan before a (very complicated) series of events pushed her out of the Jedi Order. Can Ahsoka make up for her mistakes, or is she doomed to fail her student like her master failed her?
At the very least, Ahsoka’s first two episodes are far more intriguing than the Book of Boba Fett or Obi-Wan’s intros. Both of those shows felt superfluous – did we really need Boba Fett’s backstory and redemption tale? Did seeing another Obi-Wan and Darth Vader duel really accomplish anything? Ahsoka, on the other hand, is trying to push Star Wars into new territory. It’s just too bad that everyone isn’t invited for that journey.