Shadows in the Starlight; an Ahsoka Review
I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for about as long as I’ve been alive; I remember my mom recording the movies when they aired on TV when I was a little kid, and I wore those tapes out. I remember getting my first official VHS copies of the movies for Christmas (the one with Vader, a stormtrooper, and Yoda on the covers), and then I remember getting the Special Edition VHS a couple of years later (the silver box, which meant it was in widescreen, because fullscreen edits are an abomination).
I remember dressing up as C-3PO for Halloween (and, later, Obi-Wan, complete with the Padawan braid), I remember getting all of the toys (that year that they released a whole toy line through Burger King, Taco Bell, and KFC was, I’m sure, a nightmare for my parents). I remember playing so many of the video games, reading some of the books, collecting the trading cards. Basically, if there existed a Star Wars-related thing, I was into it.
But honestly, I haven’t felt that love for the franchise in a long, long time (in this galaxy, though). I think it started with the prequels; I loved them as a kid (I was still a kid when they were coming out), but over time, I started to see all of the flaws in those movies, to the point where the flaws were the only thing I could see. And though I enjoyed other elements of the prequel area like the Clone Wars series, it just never truly replicated what I loved about Star Wars so much.
By the time Disney bought Star Wars and the sequel era was upon us, I was still undoubtedly a fan, but I simply didn’t watch Star Wars as often as I used to; for me, Star Wars had long since been replaced as my favorite franchise by the likes of Harry Potter, Marvel, and as blasphemous as it may sound, Star Trek (okay, I’ve always been as much of a Trekkie as I am a Star Wars fan, and that will never change; why only enjoy one when you can love both?). And I loved the sequels when they came out — The Last Jedi is still one of my absolute favorite Star Wars stories, and I’ll die on that hill — but like the prequels, after a while all I could see in them were the flaws (and frankly, I’m still working through those feelings; I’m sure one day I’ll fall in love with the sequels again, but I’m just not there yet).
But then, Disney+ happened, and Lucasfilm started making live-action Star Wars television. And I started to feel my mood shifting again.
I’ve never outright hated any Star Wars. Sure, I think Attack of the Clones is the absolute worst movie this franchise has released, but it’s still a better movie than many of the actually terrible films out there (I’d watch Attack of the Clones on a 24-hour loop before I ever watch a minute of Fan4stic again). I’ve always said that even bad Star Wars is still Star Wars and that in and of itself elevates the worst of the franchise above most of everything else that is out there (the same can be said for Star Trek, except maybe The Motion Picture).
But though my love for the franchise had been dwindling with some of the more lackluster installments, my interest was piqued again when The Mandalorian came out. I really enjoyed the first season, and the second season was downright fantastic. But what I love most about it is what the show unleashed: it brought forth the current age of Star Wars, right here on our streaming devices.
This new era — somewhere between sequels and prequels, depending on how you squint at it — felt like it was finally getting on track with what modern Star Wars should be; if Disney had to go through the growing pains of releasing the sequel trilogy to get to this point, well, I think it was probably worth it to get the franchise into the masterful hands of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni (the former who also ushered us into the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the latter who is George Lucas’ own Padawan, and both who seem to be destined to bring us excellent Star Wars).
The Mandalorian (and by extension, Book of Boba Fett) brought back the wonder of the galaxy far, far away for me. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor brought continuations of favorite characters into the very compelling era between the prequels and sequels. Clone Wars came back for a final season and even got a spin-off. Star Wars, finally, felt like it was hitting its stride, the stride that I’d been hoping for ever since Disney made the deal with George Lucas to buy the rights.
But there was still something missing for me. While I loved everything I was watching, I still hadn’t seen that one thing to return me to being the super-fan that I’d been as a kid, the one who not only enjoyed the movies but the extended universe (read: Legends) that came from it.
(Spoilers ahead for Ahsoka season 1)
I’ve been a fan of Ahsoka Tano’s character ever since she was introduced in Clone Wars. I’ve enjoyed the dynamic between her and Anakin, I enjoyed seeing her grow during an era of Star Wars that was bookended by two of the prequel movies in the conflict teased by Obi-Wan in the original movie, all the while knowing where this story was going to end up. I was curious to know if Ahsoka survived Order 66, and if so, what did she do after that.
Sadly, I never watched Rebels when it was on, and I still have yet to watch the new season of Clone Wars, having decided that I wanted to rewatch the whole series but having never actually started rewatching the whole series. But I was thrilled when Ahsoka reappeared in Mandalorian season 2, and when she appeared again in season 2.5 (read: Book of Boba Fett). And I was more thrilled to learn that she was going to get her own series.
Well, now that series is here, and last night it aired its final episode, and I think I’ve finally found that which I had been missing from Star Wars for years.
This show has everything you could want from Star Wars; it has a fantastic soundtrack (from Kevin Kiner, who did Clone Wars and Rebels and I’m now wondering why Disney hasn’t had this man working on everything Star Wars that John Williams himself isn’t working on), it has epic lightsaber battles, it has amazing characters and thoroughly thought-out connections to both the prequel era that Ahsoka comes from and the original trilogy era that this show is a direct sequel to.
It has fan service moments, too, but these don’t feel like fan service so much as simply good storytelling with the characters who should be a part of this story. I mean, when Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO showed up to speak with the senators at the hearing, I cheered (and then I cried when I realized he was there on behalf of Senator Leia Organa… rest in peace, Carrie). When we got to see moments of The Clone Wars in live action with a screen-perfect young Ahsoka, I was glued to the television. And then, of course, there was Anakin Skywalker.
We knew Hayden Christensen was going to be in this series; I mean, after his stellar performance in Obi-Wan, why wouldn’t Disney find any excuse to bring him back again? But again, this fan service doesn’t feel forced (pardon the pun); I think one of my friends said it best when he told me that the cameos don’t feel “pushy” or “in bad taste”, but just seem “well-realized”. This, to me, is what fan service should be. Cameos and Easter Eggs that feel like a necessity to the story, rather than something thrown in for a reaction. Take, for example, James Kirk’s appearances in the second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (yes, I know I’m crossing the streams); instead of pushing Kirk into the story where he doesn’t yet belong (this is years before he becomes captain of the Enterprise), the writers found story reasons for why he should be in the episodes he’s in, so it only feels natural when he shows up and never feels like forcing Kirk in for the sake of seeing Kirk.
Anakin is as important to Ahsoka’s story as he was to Obi-Wan’s, and she clearly has unresolved feelings about her master becoming Darth Vader; this story treats that with the utmost respect. When we see Anakin and Ahsoka in the World Between Worlds, we get just enough of Anakin that he feels important to the story and not present for the sake of a cameo — and can we pause to enjoy the fact that we finally get to see Hayden as the Clone Wars-era Anakin? That show went a long way to make me a fan of Anakin as a character, and I’m glad to see Hayden finally getting to play that part, and finally getting to show his acting skills on why he was the perfect choice to play this character, even if the prequel movies didn’t always give him room to show it.
While it is absolutely fantastic to see Hayden in this role (I wish there was a way to let Hayden play the character more; I know his Anakin is very much shoehorned into a beginning and ending with the prequels, but maybe a live-action remake of some of the best Clone Wars episodes? I mean, Ariana Greenblatt is as fantastic in the role of Ahsoka as Rosario Dawson, so seeing more of them both would be amazing), what I love most about his appearance in this show is how it serves Ahsoka’s character; we get to see her relive some of the events of the animated series with her master, see her get to confront what he became (the flashes between Anakin and Vader were beautiful), and we get to see her move forward. And it feels earned when his force ghost appears in the final moments of the last episode.
While Ahsoka is the title character (Disney, can we maybe start coming up with more creative show names than the character’s name?), she is far from being the only major character. This show serves as a sequel to Rebels (but don’t worry, you don’t need to know Rebels to enjoy it) and features many of the characters from that show returning, such as Hera, Sabine, and the long-missing Ezra Bridger (as well as a very surprising return for David Tennant’s droid character Huyang, who only appeared previously in two episodes of Clone Wars).
But it also features villains who are more 3-dimensional than we sometimes get in this or neighboring galaxies. The late Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll was a personal favorite, and I’m sad that we lost the actor before we could explore his character in more depth, especially his connections to the Jedi Temple and his knowledge of Anakin’s fall (I’m assuming they’ll recast him going forward since he seems integral to the plot, but Stevenson was such a presence that he’ll be hard to replace). Shin Hati also turned out to be a surprisingly intriguing character and I can’t wait to see where she lands in this conflict. And of course, Lars Mikkelsen’s Thrawn finally makes his live-action debut, and he’s such a cool and collected villain that he gives Palpatine a run for his money in my books; he easily steps in as the next great baddie of the franchise and I cannot wait to see what he unleashes on the galaxy and how it affects our heroes.
Over the course of eight episodes, Ahsoka delivered. It delivered on the spectacle, action, and storytelling that we’ve come to expect from George Lucas’ universe. It was cinematic (I’d easily go watch this entire series in the theater), it was thrilling, it was steeped in lore, in the force, and in excellent character development. It was everything I could ever ask a Star Wars story to be.
But none of those things, specifically, were the magic that made this show perhaps my favorite Star Wars installment since Empire Strikes Back. Instead, it was all of those things, building together, that made this show something special.
This show felt like the first chapter of the sequel to the original trilogy that I have wanted ever since I saw those movies as a kid. This show had all of the action and visuals and memorable characters that George Lucas’ trilogy introduced me to while building upon the groundwork of those movies and, more importantly, the groundwork that Dave Filoni has laid through the animated shows and sprinkled into The Mandalorian and other small screen adventures. This show dived deep into the mythology of this universe and shows us something familiar and something new at the same time. This show, for the first time, felt like it was moving the franchise forward instead of rehashing the same old, same old (sorry, J.J.).
For the first time since I was a kid, watching Star Wars on recorded VHS tapes, this franchise has captured my imagination and sent it soaring. For the first time in a long time, this franchise has made me believe in the force, made me root for the Jedi and fear the Empire (or what’s left of it). For the first time in a long time, this series has brought the magic back to the force, the mysteriousness of it, the lore and depth of it.
Ahoska is the culmination of many decades of Star Wars storytelling, but it also feels like the first step toward the next major event. I don’t know what exactly to expect from the franchise next, but I’m excited for what comes next.
The final episode shares the same emotions that Empire has; it ends with the villain getting what he wanted, with the heroes at a disadvantage and separated, with war on the horizon and uncertainty for our heroes. But there’s also hope; as Ezra finally returns to the galaxy and reunites with the New Republic fleet, as Balan Skoll searches for whatever he is looking for on this planet (yes, those were statues of the Father, Son, and Daughter of Mortis, and yes, I’ve been thinking about that Clone Wars episode ever since it aired), and as Ahsoka and Sabine look out onto an alien world and Anakin’s Force Ghost looks back to them, there’s hope.
And hope is the strongest force in this galaxy.
Star Wars is at its absolute best when it gives up hope. Hope about what’s to come, hope that our heroes will succeed, despite the dire situation they’ve been left in. It’s this kind of ending that has made Empire remain my favorite Star Wars movie throughout the ever-expanding universe. It’s this kind of ending that made Last Jedi my favorite movie among the sequels, and that made Revenge of the Sith my favorite among the prequels. Hope is what made Rogue One such a success for me, and why Andor is one of my favorite shows to date.
But I don’t think any of the shows have captured this kind of hope in the darkness, the shadows in the starlight, quite like Ahsoka has done. This show delivered some truly spectacular Star Wars, and it perfectly set the stage for the big story that Mando and the other shows set in Ahsoka’s time have been building towards. Dave Filoni has made comments that Star Wars is heading towards an Avengers-style event, and this feels like the end of the first chapter of that larger arc. If this had been a movie, this would have been Filoni’s Empire Strikes Back (but I’m glad it wasn’t, because we got eight episodes instead of 2 hours).
I once read a review that Star Wars is a stagnant universe with a finite number of stories to tell; and frankly, it’s easy to think that, given that we have three massive trilogies that bookend the time periods where the majority of the current stories are developing (though with the recent Disney announcements, we’re about to explore periods way outside of the time period of the established saga). But Ahsoka proves that there is always a path forward, there is always a way to find a new story that builds on the established lore while giving us something new.
In a year where Marvel itself seems to be waning a bit (Guardians was amazing, but little else that the MCU has released so far has made a major impact on me; I’m hoping that will change with Loki tonight and The Marvels next month), Star Wars seems to be picking up the mantle of being Disney’s most consistently fantastic franchise.
And you know what? I’m kinda okay with that. It’s been far too long since I’ve loved Star Wars like I did as a kid, but today, that love is as strong as ever.
I’ve got a good feeling about this.