NOC Review: ‘Ahsoka’ is a Solid and Epic Slow Burn

She is no Jedi! But she is incredible! I’m referring, of course, to legendary Skywalker Padawan, Ahsoka Tano! When last we saw her, in both The Mandalorian Season 2 and The Book of Boba Fett Season 1, Ahoska was on the hunt for Grand Admiral Thrawn, while also providing some necessary words of wisdom to both Din Djarin and Luke Skywalker. But now it’s time for her to shine in her own epic series! This will be a review of the first two episodes of Ahsoka!

Once a rebel, always a rebel! The phrase is uttered during the trailer for the show and presumably will be heard sometime during the course of the series. And to be honest, nothing quite captures the overall feel of the show than that statement. Because for better or worse (definitely better for me) Ahsoka is a direct continuation of creator Dave Filloni’s classic Star Wars animated series Star Wars: Rebels.

And this is awesome!

Ahsoka takes place during the post-Return of the Jedi “New Republic” era, not long after the eponymous character’s appearances in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. She is officially on the hunt for Grand Admiral Thrawn, but is sidetracked when one of Thrawn’s loyal allies, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto, deviously reprising her role from Mandalorian Season 2) is broken out of New Republic custody by two new enemies claiming to be Jedi. The hunt for Elsbeth and Thrawn brings Ahsoka in contact with two old friends from the Rebels days: Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren — the latter of whom is revealed to have become a Padawan of Ahsoka’s sometime after the finale of Rebels.

(L-R): Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

We loved and missed the characters of Hera Syndulla, Chopper, and Sabine Wren since we last saw the Ghost crew sign off in 2018. And Ahsoka bridges the gap between the Mandalorian portion of the universe and Filloni’s original creations, finally bringing them into glorious live-action. More importantly, however, it aims to resolve the cliffhanger story thread of what happened to two characters that disappeared into hyperspace: Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn.

For many who have waited five long years to see how the story would play out, Ahsoka is going to be heaven. And while many of the non-initiated may wonder “why isn’t this more about the title character” in many ways one must remember it’s Ahsoka’s quest and her relationship with these characters are central to the overall storyline of this series, and the grander story that began in Rebels and will some day unite all portions of the Mando-verse. (Remember, it was announced at Star Wars Celebration that Filloni would be uniting the story threads between Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett, Ahsoka, and the upcoming Skeleton Crew in a cinematic culmination on the big-screen); the grand confrontation with Thrawn.

(Center): Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) with with New Republic Security Guards in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Those who are loyal fans of Rebels however, will recall Ahsoka was Fulcrum; the greatest ally of the Ghost crew, and aided them throughout several seasons of the show in their battle against the Empire in the years following the fall of the Jedi and Order 66. And this connection to these characters is non-negligible. The show does a good job fleshing out the relationships between these characters for new fans, while providing new insight to how those relationships evolved between the years of Rebels and this series for old fans. It’s an engaging and fascinating way to reintroduce us to old friends, and see how they’ve grown in the ~20 years since the Battle of Lothal in the original animated series.

While I’m gushing about how Ahsoka is a wonderful addition to the Star Wars canon for fans of Filloni’s old shows, it must be stated that it’s still pretty well accessible for fans who weren’t invested in the four years of Star Wars: Rebels that sets this up. I think those with that knowledge will have a better time. But on the whole the narrative and mystery setting up the search for Thrawn is a compelling one, and is expertly executed in a very slow burn, but never dull, fashion.

Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

In many ways Ahsoka feels like the type of slow start that we saw in Andor. The setup of a powder keg that will inevitably build and get warmer the further we get into the story. Granted it’s too early to tell if, like Andor, the events here will explode into a crescendo of glorious storytelling and action, but it feels like the potential is there. With Filloni overseeing the project (he wrote all episodes and will be directing a few, including the first), the show has a really vintage Star Wars feel to it, which adds to the charm and enjoyable quality of the show. It might be a bit slower for some, but it’s the type of tone and feel that harkens back to the type of filmmaking we got with the original trilogy.

If the first two episodes of Ahsoka have a flaw, though, it’s in the potential risk of breaking canon Filloni has set up in his previous works. I’m of course referring primarily to the reveal of Mandalorian Sabine Wren as a potentially Force sensitive Jedi Padawan under Ahsoka. For me, this makes zero sense, given Sabine never displayed anything of the sort in the original series, outside of once training with Kanan Jarrus on how to use the Darksaber. Additionally, the mentor/apprentice relationship between her and Ahsoka seems to be coming from out of nowhere too. These are monumental changes that seem a bit too overtly big for a creator like Filloni to just hand wave away with suspension of disbelief. So I firmly believe we’ll be getting a flashback episode or explanation of when Force sensitivity began to develop in Sabine, following the events of Rebels, and how Ahsoka came to become her master. But until we see otherwise, it remains a pretty confusing and controversial change for the character.

(L-R): Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm’s AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

On a performance level, Rosario Dawson is leading the team with a solid performance as Ahsoka, giving us a more matured version of the character than we could have ever gotten from Ashley Eckstein’s vocal work as younger Ahsoka during Clone Wars and Rebels. Following her is a solid introductory performance from Natasha Liu Bordizzo as the fiery and rebellious Sabine. Bordizzo does a great job getting you to reconnect with this classic character, but if I may be so bold, there’s a bit less spark in her performance when compared to Tiya Sircar’s vocal work from the original Rebels series.

However, if I’m going to pass out medals for acting, there are two performances that stand far and away above the others: Inosanto’s performance as Morgan, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s spot-on portrayal as Hera. Winstead steps into Vanessa Marshall’s role without missing a beat. She understood the assignment and brought Hera Syndulla to life pitch perfectly. She’s spunky, sarcastic, but maternal when her friends need her. It’s as if the character leapt from animation into live-action with no problem at all. Inosanto’s performance on the other hand is so interesting. She oozes deplorable, being menacing, powerful, and mysterious without ever going over the top. There are some secrets revealed about Morgan in these first two episodes that make her character so incredibly interesting, and Inosanto plays it up perfectly.

(L-R): Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) and Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Sad to say, in some ways, she has to. As the other two villains in the show, at least from the first two episodes, come across as super bland. I’m referring of course to Baylan Skoll (played by the late, great Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (played by Ivanna Sakhno). There’s nothing particularly wrong with Stevenson or Sakhno’s performances. But it more or less boils down to neither having much to do outside of one major thing Shin Hati does towards the end of the first episode. But take that away and these are just dull characters that don’t say much or add much to these first two installments apart from killing a few red-shirt characters.

Criticisms aside though, the action in the series and the sense of wonder, adventure, and complex characters are perfect examples of why the series is looking at a promising start, and proof that Filloni knows what he’s doing with story and character (as long as he explains any canon changes anyway). The first two episodes of Ahsoka are epic, engrossing, but a bit slow. However the performances are good and the continuation of the Rebels storyline helps things feel earned, and are sure to please die-hard fans who have waited years to see this. On the whole, the first two episodes of the series do exactly what they’re supposed to do: get you excited to see more! Afterall, once a rebel, always a rebel, right?

Overall Score: B+

The first two episodes of Ahsoka are streaming beginning tonight only on Disney+