Whilst it may satisfy fans of Star Wars Rebels, Ahsoka ultimately feels like a misfire for the franchise, lacking the soul needed to help it stand on its own.
Conceptually, Ahsoka is such a strange beast. Marketed as a spin-off to the beloved Disney+ series The Mandalorian (2019-), it’s actually a continuation of the DisneyXD animated show, Star Wars Rebels (2014-2018), which itself was a continuation of the Cartoon Network animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2002-2020), which began with a theatrical feature film of the same name that released in 2008. Needless to say, if my Mum sat down to watch the first episode of Ahsoka, she would be incredibly confused, having understandably not watched the 208 different episodes of television the show expects you to have watched, a fact it conveniently hides in the majority of the marketing.
Now, to give Ahsoka some credit in this regard, it’s not completely incomprehensible if you haven’t done your many hours of homework. A basic understanding of the titular character and her backstory goes a long way in helping things, but the story the show itself presents isn’t too overly complicated as to where casual audiences will be completely lost. The real problem is that Ahsoka seems to have next to no interest in building emotional connections with the audience, instead choosing to rely on those which could potentially already exist. None of the characters that make up the show’s cast are particularly interesting in any of the 8 episodes, instead it’s expected that you care about them simply because you’ve seen them be interesting in other pieces of television. Ahsoka is a fundamentally lazy show and might just be the single strangest thing to come out of this franchise.
Yes, I know I’m saying that about a franchise which features one of the most infamous holiday specials of all time, but in an age where companies seem to be trying to reach the broadest audience possible, I find it so odd that Star Wars seems to want to actively push its audience away. It’s like when a group of young boys put a sign on the door to their treehouse saying “no girls allowed”, except instead of girls, showrunner Dave Filoni seems to want to keep out anyone who wouldn’t be seen in public wearing a Clone Wars t-shirt. If the future of the “Mandoverse” is one that is built on the foundations of a long-running cartoon, I just can’t see it staying accessible to the vast majority of people who tuned into that first season of The Mandalorian.
As for Ahsoka itself, it’s just so unbelievably hollow as an experience. Rosario Dawson stars as the titular former Jedi, and whilst she certainly looks the part, she lacks any kind of screen presence or reason for me to care about her. The show is more than happy to hold her up to the camera like an action figure whilst she mumbles about her former master, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), but just seeing the face of a character that I recognise just isn’t enough to qualify as good television or storytelling. She’s boring to watch, lacking any discernible personality traits or visual flair; sometimes she will spend entire action sequences just standing still, swinging her lightsabers about in the most unimaginative way possible.
Joining her is a cast of characters ripped straight from other Star Wars shows, meaning again that your connection to them will almost entirely depend on pre-existing media, as they all lack any kind of interesting exploration in any of the 8 episodes. They all ultimately feel like pawns for yet another generic Star Wars story that struggles to feel at all different from any of the ones that came before. There’s plenty of recognizable iconography, but absolutely nothing new to help any of the episodes here stand out from the many others I’ve consumed over the last however many years.
What makes things even worse is just how boring this looks. “Upgrading” a piece of media from the medium of animation to live-action isn’t as easy a task as you might initially expect, and unfortunately Filoni learns that the hard way, with this series lacking any kind of notable visual identity. It’s all just so ugly and generic, giving it all the unshakeable sense of “been there, done that”. Yes, the makeup and costumes are impressive, but the cinematography on display just robs them of ever actually looking cool, as most images just come across like a mess of grey sludge. There’s the odd fun idea, like when it randomly decides to throw in zombie stormtroopers, but the direction lacks the personality or energy to make them actually exciting to watch, reducing them to nothing more than a potentially fun concept robbed of a strong execution.
Perhaps you’re reading this review and thinking that all of my comments sound incredibly harsh. Why can’t a TV show continue storylines that have been set up before? Isn’t that the whole point of serialised storytelling? Of course, you’d be right, to an extent. There’s nothing wrong with Ahsoka wanting to continue what Rebels didn’t finish, but it’s the way that it goes about it which frustrates me, hiding its true intentions under the facade of being yet another Mandalorian spin-off, and relying on the audience recognising these past characters and gasping at its pandering cameos to not stop for a second and wonder what the show has to actually say for itself and justify what exactly makes it unique. Ahsoka isn’t a pointless show, far from it, but rather, it’s one that just feels consistently misguided, and makes you wonder why they didn’t just make another season of Rebels instead.