Streaming on: Disney+
Episodes viewed: 2 of 8
‘Snips’ has certainly come a long way. Back when she made her debut in Dave Filoni’s animated The Clone Wars movie 15 years ago, Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) seemed little more than a perky, throwaway sidekick for Anakin Skywalker — her appeal diminished by the execrable nickname her master gave her (surely ranking a close second to the slaughter of the Jedi younglings as his worst crime). But Filoni had bigger plans for his Togruta scrapper. During the following decades, Snips snapped into focus as The Clone Wars series’ most interesting and exciting character, a fractured prism through which we could both appreciate the doomed Jedi Order’s disturbing imperfection and most intensely feel the trauma of its destruction.
So, it feels fitting that the next instalment of Filoni’s long-running side-saga should place Ahsoka (now made flesh by Rosario Dawson) as the title character. While she’s morally centred, her perspective remains that of the outsider, both in terms of being a once-hunted Force-wielder and survivor of the Jedi purge (whose number seem to be growing exponentially), but also as a former Jedi who rejected the Order and its myopic limitations.
This enables Filoni’s new series to scratch at the battle-scarred underbelly of the New Republic as Ahsoka observes its less-than-ideal aspects. In the second episode, she visits shipyard planet Corellia to witness sleazy businessmen profit from flipping Imperial scrap to the new regime, while filling their workforce with Imperial loyalists. “An Empire doesn’t become a Republic overnight,” she is told. While the show doesn’t sweep nearly as much grit over the space-opera gleam as Andor, such detail does give Ahoska an appreciably scuffed texture.
Despite Ahsoka being the title character, this is very much a live-action sequel to Rebels.
Age and tragedy have hardened her, but the once-quippy Snips has matured into an almost serene warrior. She’s portrayed by Dawson with a preternatural coolness in heated situations, whether she’s cornered by a quartet of deadly HK assassin droids or standing in a room with a bomb that’s counting down to boom-time. We’ve been primed for Dawson’s take on Tano, thanks to her guest appearances in The Mandalorian and that Boba Fett thing that happened, but it’s a treat to finally spend more time with her, even if she doesn’t say much (she’s like Mando in that sense) and can come across as a tad aloof.
Partly this is due to the revelation that, after playing the role of apprentice, then outcast, then freedom fighter, she’s since become a master — to none other than Mandalorian graffiti-artist and all-round troublemaker Sabine Wren, whose irreverent charm comes with a seam of self-doubting fragility thanks to Australian actor Natasha Liu Bordizzo. If the idea of the resolutely non-conformist Sabine (one of Rebels’ best characters) turning Jedi feels like an unlikely development, Filoni at least makes it clear that, well, she made a pretty shit Padawan. She’s frankly not that great with a lightsaber and, as the tension between her and Ahsoka at their first-episode reunion reveals, they didn’t get on as master and apprentice.
Sabine’s presence and prominence in the story is the strongest indicator that, despite Ahsoka being the title character, this is very much a live-action sequel to Rebels. Mary Elizabeth Winstead joins the female-dominated cast as ace pilot Hera, now a New Republic general, though for some reason she feels more like she’s engaging in big-name cosplay than the other characters; perhaps it’s just that Hera’s hokey World War I-ish look doesn’t translate so well to live action. Still, she’s brought jerk-robot Chopper along for the ride, so fans can be distracted by his stroppy shenanigans.
It remains to be seen how the series’ A-plot plays out. Though it picks up from Rebels’ cliffhanger ending, the quest to find Eman Esfandi’s missing Jedi-kid Ezra (arguably Rebels’ least interesting character) and blue-skinned baddie Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen, who previously voiced the whispery antagonist) doesn’t feel massively different from Rey’s Luke-hunting antics in the sequel trilogy, and comes overladen with holo-projecting MacGuffins and video-game-style puzzles. But it does present us with an engaging villain courtesy of the late Ray Stevenson, imposing and grey-bearded as opposing Thrawn-seeker Baylan Skoll — another Order 66 avoider, who hasn’t so much gone full dark side as just turned dirty merc. Like Ahsoka herself, he brings some murky perspective to this between-trilogies galaxy. Judging by its early episodes, Ahsoka continues Filoni’s own quest to do away with Star Wars’ light-versus-dark dichotomy and grapple with something a little more complex.