You could certainly accuse creators within the Star Wars franchise of needlessly injecting their media with heavy doses of fan service, and Ahsoka series creator Dave Filoni might be the guiltiest of them all. There’s a reason a tweet from April 2023 sharing a fake page from a Filoni script that follows the famous “and my ax” format from The Lord of the Rings but with Star Wars characters is so funny—because it feels, in part, like something the man blessed with George Lucas’ trust would try to pull off.
There are moments throughout the first episode of the new Disney Plus Ahsoka series that feel a bit like that tweet, and a bit like Filoni, who helmed the animated Star Wars: Rebels series, just wanted to finish telling that show’s story. But even though the frequent nods to content and characters from that beloved series may sometimes make Ahsoka feel like it’s only for the initiated, it still manages to be a compelling standalone story in its own right—maybe not as well as Andor does, but far better than, say, The Book of Boba Fett.
Stream it now: Disney+
Ahsoka begins with something that makes me genuinely squeal with delight: a traditional Star Wars opening crawl (though in a striking red font), filling you in on the key story beats you’ll need to know going in. This is a brilliant move by Filoni—not only does it help Ahsoka feel more like a full-blown film (which it does throughout the first two episodes that aired on August 23 thanks to fantastic VFX and excellent pacing), but it gives a little bit of context for fans who may not have sat through some 200 episodes across two different kids’ shows.
The crawl tells us that Morgan Elsbeth, an ally to Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn, has been captured by Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and is being transported by the Rebel Alliance. Cue a giant Rebel ship sweeping into view, and a nice look at how the new government is running—a ship sending out an old Jedi signal is asking to board, but the Rebel captain thinks its passengers are bluffing. Most of the Jedi were wiped out during The Clone Wars, remember?
The captain was right to suspect them, because it turns out they’re two red-lightsaber-wielding bad guys named Baylan Skoll (RIP Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). Both Stevenson and Sakhno shine in their respective roles—Stevenson playing Baylan like a classically trained Shakespearean villain, Sakhno imbuing Shin with a feral, twitchy energy like a corner feral cat. They kill everyone on the ship and release Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto, who first played the role on The Mandalorian), who tells Baylan that there’s someone after the “map”: Ahsoka Tano.
This is an early reminder that Filoni likes the toys in his sandbox a bit too much, as Inosanto’s somewhat bizarre line-read (she just says the name “Ahsoka Tano” before it cuts to the show’s title card) would have been so much more powerful if she never said it all. Instead, we just get snapped right to the name of the show. Listen, Ahsoka is Filoni’s best girl (and mine, too), so I’ll let him have this one.
Then we see Ahsoka herself, walking through the ruins of what appears to be an old Jedi temple. It’s great to see Dawson physically embody the role—she is reserved, almost stoic as she moves through this space, but still occasionally offers flashes of playfulness that remind us of a younger Ahsoka. And, thankfully, her fucking lekku are finally the right length. In a scene that feels straight out of Indiana Jones, Ahsoka uses her dual lightsabers to slice through the ground and drop straight into a secret room that demands she complete a puzzle to get the object she’s looking for. She does so with ease, but when she tries to communicate with Huyang (a Jedi engineer droid voiced by David Tennant), she realizes something’s not right.
She’s attacked, and we get our second lightsaber fight of the show before we even hit the 15-minute mark (hell yeah). The fight is choreographed well, and it’s clear that the team made sure Dawson’s movements (and that of her stunt double, Michelle Lee) echo Ahsoka’s competency with many fighting styles—she can move swiftly and lithely when needed, but stand tall and powerful to deflect hard hits or blaster shots as well.
It’s a great fight, but it’s the scene afterwards that gives me pause—Dawson, clearly trying to embody an older, more stoic Ahsoka than the one we know from the animated shows, can occasionally feel stiff, a stark contrast to the lively take that voice actor Ashley Eckstein brought to the character. This could, perhaps, be because this is a much older Ahsoka Tano than the teenage girl in Clone Wars (she’s certainly more reserved in Rebels, and she’s in her forties now), but it feels jarring, especially since she is such a beloved character. As my partner said during the first episode, “Those contacts don’t help, do they?” Dawson feels the most like Ahsoka when she invokes a sort of bemused disdain, which we luckily get more of in the second episode.
Ahsoka believes the map will help lead her to the location of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), the last leader of the Empire and its heir apparent. At the end of Rebels’ final episode (which aired back in 2018), Jedi Ezra Bridger used hyperspace-traveling space whales called purrgil to banish himself and Thrawn to the remotest corner of the universe. Ahsoka hopes that the map will find them both, so that she can save Ezra and also prevent Thrawn from retaking his mantle as imperial leader and plunging the galaxy back into war.
She’ll need help, however, so she turns to two of her oldest and closest allies: General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Here is where Ahsoka slows down a bit too much for some, as it tries to give the audience a better understanding of the dynamics between these three women, which were properly fleshed out across 75 Rebels episodes. Ahsoka used to train Sabine, a Mandalorian warrior and close friend to Ezra, as her Padawan, before it became clear that the two weren’t a good fit, and they both fought alongside Hera (who lost her partner, a Jedi named Kanan Jarrus) in the rebellion for years.
Unfortunately for Dawson, her reserved approach to Ahsoka only makes it harder to fully dig into her relationship with Hera (who Winstead plays like a concerned but feisty aunt through several pounds of some of the worst FX makeup I’ve ever seen) and Sabine (who Bordizzo portrays beautifully as a brash, angsty riot grrrl who uses her cool speeder bike to do an Akira-esque slide when you first meet her). Whenever they’re interacting, she feels more like an exasperated mom than a former pain in the ass herself (which Ahsoka was, just ask her older master, Anakin Skywalker). It’s unfortunate, but I’m hoping that the three women stretch and flex into their roles in future episodes.
Aside from the trio’s dynamic, however, Ahsoka looks and feels great. The lovingly recreated locations from the animated series (Ahsoka’s ship, the planet Lothal, Ezra’s crow’s-nest home that Sabine now lives in), all look amazing, like something out of a full-fledged Star Wars blockbuster. The animatronic Lothal cat has dethroned Grogu as the cutest Star Wars puppet in my opinion, and aside from Ashoka’s contacts and Hera’s far-too-cartoony outfit, the costuming and set-dressing are all top-notch. The lightsaber battles crackle and snap—there’s energy in every swing of the sword or blaster deflection that feels purposeful and well-directed, and the ASMR-heavy moments (Ahsoka twisting and turning stone columns to complete a puzzle, Sabine shifting a metal sphere to reveal a map) are tactile and almost sensual.
The episode ends with a fantastic lightsaber fight—Sabine, ever the stubborn one, takes the map off of Ahsoka’s ship despite her protestations, and discovers exactly where it leads before she’s attacked by Shin and her droids. Sabine gets a saber straight through her abdomen, something that Star Wars doesn’t do all that often (I gasped so loud I woke up one of my cats), and it fades to black. We know Sabine survives, but will her already fractured relationship with her former master, Ahsoka?
There’s love in every Ahsoka detail, like a jade heart sewn into the pocket of your jeans. You just have to allow for the hope that, like all things, it’ll get better with age.
Stream it now: Disney+