Ahsoka Episode 1 review: Old-school Star Wars is back
Ahsoka Episode 1 is an effective dose of elegant appeasement for Star Wars hardcores and noobs; not head-spinningly dense, but compelling on entry.
There’s reason to believe Ahsoka is a new level of Star Wars television – not higher, but parallel and individual – from the opening seconds, as it has the honor of being the first series to feature a crawl at the start. John Williams’ theme doesn’t blast through the stars, but we’re given a message about “sinister agents” working to find the “lost Grand Admiral Thrawn”, who wishes to resurrect Imperial remnants to start a new war – all they need is a map.
But here’s the thing: apprehension is justified, given this is the passion project of Clone Wars and Rebels architect and George Lucas’ Padawan Dave Filoni, who’s said to have described this as another season of the latter series. Passive movie-to-movie viewers who succumb to the FOMO of event TV may dabble in the likes of The Mandalorian and Andor, but there’s sure to be a high percentage of folks who don’t have a clue who or what anyone or anything is; after all, where was Ahsoka during the original trilogy?
Not only is there no time for caution, but it’s a waste of worry: Ahsoka, at least in its opening episode, does an admirable job of juggling the fans’ longtime anticipation for the live-action debut of these characters while sprinkling a bit of explanation along the way. That, and it feels rather magical.
Spoilers to follow…
Ahsoka Episode 1: “We’re no Jedi”
Episode 1 is titled ‘Master and Apprentice’, but it has dual context: sure, it’s in reference to Ahsoka Tano and her estranged former Padawan Sabine Wren, but the first scene introduces the show’s force-wielding mercenaries: Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati. As a New Republic ship soars through space, it picks up the signal of an old Jedi aircraft. Its captain, in a moment of off-putting arrogance, “calls their bluff” and welcomes them onto the ship.
“Our existence remains a mystery to most,” Baylan says, but the captain drops the kind welcome. “You’re no Jedi… you’re overconfident, Imperial trash,” he spits, before Shin starts slicing and dicing her way through the surrounding guards. As Baylan impales the captain with his orange lightsaber, he whispers in his ear: “You’re right about one thing, we are no Jedi.”
Baylan is an absolute tank, and Ray Stevenson carries his cloaked frame with frightening, grin-worthy stature; he strolls through a hall, deflecting pew-pews and casually force-choking anyone who stands in his way (the scene isn’t as viscerally terrifying as Darth Vader’s rampage at the end of Rogue One, but it’s decent). Ivanna Sakhno’s Shin has a beguiling, cold-as-ice screen presence and is definitely one to watch as the series progresses.
The pair find Morgan Elsbeth imprisoned on the ship, having been captured by Ahsoka. She knows she seeks the map to find Thrawn, and so they set off in pursuit of her.
Ahsoka Tano: Tomb Raider
The Mandalorian’s gun-slinging vibes were a precursor to Ashoka’s samurai tone and aesthetic; there’s a stillness to much of the first episode, especially as the titular Jedi makes her entrance. She barely speaks, instead using her dual-sabers to break through a tomb’s roof and solve a puzzle (it’s almost like you’re playing a video game at this point).
She manages to secure an orb, but just like Indiana Jones can’t evade every booby trap, Ahsoka is soon confronted by assassin droids (they’re a little similar to the Praetorian Guard). In this moment, it becomes immediately clear in your heart how we’ve been deprived of lightsaber fights, and Episode 1 is a promising glimpse of what to expect: a sizing-each-other-up, quiet intensity that gives way to silky smooth choreography. It’s not as crunching and strained as the sequel trilogy, nor does it have the hyper-balletics of the prequels – if anything, it’s as close to the original movies as we’ve ever had.
She makes a quick escape on her ship, picked up just in the nick of time above a wave of self-destructive flames by Huyang. They’re called to the ship where Baylan and Shin were and they meet Hera Syndulla, and Ahsoka shows her the orb. She believes it’s the path to Thrawn, presumed to be lost and/or dead in stars beyond their reach, and it could also lead to Ezra Bridger, the commander who sacrificed himself to save the galaxy from Thrawn. There’s just a small problem: Huyang can’t unlock it, and they need someone who can crack its code. “She’ll do it, for Ezra,” Hera says and Ahsoka knows exactly who she means.
Sabine Wren, the Mandalorian rebel
We cut to Lothal, where Governor Azadi is paying tribute to “Commander Bridger” in front of an adoring crowd (and a touching mural of their animated counterparts). He calls upon Sabine Wren, but she’s nowhere to be found – instead, she’s speeding away from the city as its guards chase her down. This is a playful, thrilling scene; the interplay between Sabine and the pilot is charming, and her maneuver to glide under the aircraft on the road is slickly envisioned (it’s one of several moments that feel especially cinematic, even when it’s a bit of inconsequential fun).
She goes back to her home on top of a tower, where she feeds her cat-like pet (get ready for those toys) and replays Ezra’s last hologram message, apologizing for “disappearing on her” and “making the decision nobody else could”, and finishing with that classic grace note: “May the force be with you.”
Meanwhile, Morgan asks Baylan to send Shin to Lothal, as she’s already predicted Ahsoka will go to Sabine for help. “Luck has nothing to do with it, fate has decided our next move,” she says, and she’s right – Ahsoka soon arrives to reunite with Sabine. Their first face-to-face in years isn’t exactly warm, but Ahsoka cuts to the chase: she shows her the orb and says it may be the key to finding Ezra, but she warns her that it’s the lesser of the two goals – it’s more important that they find the re-emergence of Thrawn and another war.
Sabine is pretty quick to agree with the stakes, but while Huyang cross-references his training records to find the identity of Baylan, revealing him to be a former Jedi who escaped after Order 66, she jets off with the orb. “She’s still as bullish and stubborn as ever,” Ahsoka tells Hera’s hologram, who tells her she was probably the same with her master – however, her master is unlike anyone else: Ahsoka was trained by Anakin Skywalker, but he never finished her training because she walked away from the Jedi Order, “just like I walked away from Sabine.”
Sabine solves the orb’s key within minutes, revealing the path to another galaxy – but before she can decipher it further, droids break into her home, smash up her tech, and steal the orb. She manages to overpower them – Natasha Liu Bordizzo is a terrific, game physical performer – but she’s soon confronted by Shin. Sabine, armed with a green lightsaber, takes on Shin in a duel, but it ends in apparent tragedy: Shin sticks her right through her stomach and out the other side of her back, leaving her to die as she makes a quick getaway with the orb.
Ahsoka Episode 1 review score: 3/5
Ahsoka is a convincing first step, but we hope the titular Jedi is centered more as the story progresses; she shouldn’t be one cog of many.