This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Ahsoka Tano has long been one of the more interesting characters in the Star Wars franchise. Created in 2008 by Dave Filoni and George Lucas for both the Clone Wars film and series, Ahsoka may be the most beloved Star Wars character to not originate in the original trilogy. Now she is headlining her own series created and written by Dave Filoni after making her live-action debut in Season 2 of The Mandalorian.
Ahsoka’s two-episode premiere, consisting of “Part One: Master and Apprentice” and “Part Two: Toil and Trouble”, is a solid start. The series harkens back to the slower pace of the original trilogy and to the samurai film The Hidden Fortress that influenced it. For viewers who missed out on Clone Wars and Rebels, such as myself, there can be a feeling that there are moments or cues that should land with more weight. However, Filoni’s script does a decent job of alluding to the history between the core characters especially in the strained relationship between Ahsoka and her former apprentice Sabine Wren. By the end of “Toil and Trouble,” the stage is set with Ahsoka and Sabine on a race to find an old friend before the series villains can achieve their goal of taking the next step in the eventual revival of the evil empire.
“Master and Apprentice” begins as so many pieces of Star Wars media have before with an opening crawl that provides background information and a large ship flying into view. The opening sequence is a compelling introduction to the primary antagonists of the series. In a fun twist on the opening sequence of the original Star Wars, two dark side force users fight their way through a New Republic cruiser but this time they are looking to break out a prisoner instead of capturing one. Baylan Skull and Shin Hati are the type of characters we’ve seen before but manage to make an impression thanks to strong performances by Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno.
As embodied by Stevenson, Baylan is an imposing figure who towers over every other character. He moves unlike any Jedi or Sith on screen before parrying blaster strikes with short quick movements. There are no grand flourishes of his lightsaber or acrobatic maneuvers. Baylan operates with ruthless efficiency and confidence that instantly positions him as a formidable opponent for Ahsoka. Shin Hati is a more familiar figure but Sakhno also manages to imbue her with a distinct energy. There is an ever-present intensity in her eyes and although she moves in a similar manner to her master there is a feeling that she is just barely staying in control.
What also works well in the first episode is the re-introduction of Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren. As someone with only a passing familiarity with the Clone Wars and Rebels series, I appreciated Ahsoka’s tomb raiding and Sabine’s speeder ride. Both sequences quickly outline where these characters are in the current landscape of the galaxy and in their relationships with other characters. During Ahsoka’s brief appearance on The Mandalorian she refused to train Grogu and this premiere sheds some light on the reasoning behind this decision. At some point, Sabine became Ahsoka’s apprentice but the relationship obviously ended poorly. When they meet they can barely stand to speak to each other without throwing barbs and only remain cordial when discussing Ezra.
In addition to the tension in their relationship, it seems that whatever falling out between the two had caused them to push other people away as well. Ahsoka confesses to living a nomadic life aboard her ship and Sabine is actively dodging whatever duties she has as part of the New Republic. The conflict between Ahsoka and Sabine and the potential rebuilding of their relationship is crucial for this series to work as more than just another nostalgia cash grab. As Ahsoka describes her struggles with Sabine there are clear parallels to Obi-Wan and Anakin’s time as master and padawan. The master and apprentice relationship is always fertile ground for stories centered around character rather than plot and Filoni’s previous work in the animated series gives me hope that he can find another compelling story to tell here.
The other main player in this premiere is Morgan Elsbeth. Her quest to locate Grand Admiral Thrawn is what brings Baylan and Shin into conflict with Ahsoka and Sabine. Because Clone Wars and Rebels were TV series, they had more time and space to explore the force outside of the dark and light side binary that has always ruled the films. The animated series’ exploration of the force embraced the mysticism that has been part of the Star Wars universe from the beginning. Filoni has brought that same sensibility to Ahsoka. Elsbeth explains her ties to the Witches of Dathomir and speaks about fate and dreams. Her parts of the episode bring a sense of mystery and wonder that has been mostly absent in the Disney+ Star Wars offerings. It’s refreshing to see fantasy elements again after the more grounded approaches of The Mandalorian and Andor.
“Master and Apprentice” and “Toil and Trouble” do a solid job establishing the core characters and stakes in Ahsoka. Centering the relationship between Ahsoka and Sabine provides something to invest in emotionally. The antagonists and their plans are in a good place to drive the plot forward while also factoring into the central relationship. Ahsoka and Sabine aren’t the only master and apprentice looking for a way to move forward outside the rigid structure of the Jedi order. While the action isn’t mind blowing, it is competently staged and directed and the production is as polished as to be expected coming from much of the same team behind The Mandalorian. If Ahsoka can continue to find the balance between an interesting plot and engrossing characters it could be the best Star Wars entry since Andor.
Ahsoka airs new episodes on Disney+ every Tuesday
Feature image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.
'Ahsoka' Season Premiere - 7/10