Andor notwithstanding, the pacing of the live-action Star Wars shows has been, well, pretty bad. When it comes to Ahsoka, we’re almost at the midway point of the season and it feels like it’s barely gotten through introductions. Sure, there are cool moments and ideas, but it very much feels like Dave Filoni is writing as if this were an animated show with 15 or 22 episodes rather than 8 (it doesn’t help that this episode is about as long as one of Rebels), with glacial pacing and line deliveries that make you wish someone would actually channel George Lucas and shout, “Faster, more intense!” from behind the camera.
While the plot doesn’t advance much, we do get three cool scenes in this episode, including one hell of an action sequence. First, now that they have restarted their master-apprentice relationship, Sabine resumes her training with Ahsoka, practicing lightsaber combat with a grievous-looking Huyang. Ahsoka and Huyang remark that Sabine isn’t too bad at basic sword fighting, thanks to her Mandalorian training (but somehow not because of her being trained by a Jedi to wield the darksaber in Rebels), but she is too closed off from the Force for it to matter. Ahsoka’s solution is to re-create the scene of Luke training onboard the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope, with Sabine wearing a helmet that blinds her, forcing her to rely on the Force.
While the scene leans too close to The Force Awakens territory in just echoing the original movies, it does lead into the first big moment of the episode: Sabine telling Ahsoka she will never be strong enough as she is incapable of sensing the Force, let alone use it. In turn, Ahsoka reminds her the Force is in everyone, but talent is a factor, and you still need training and focus, which not everyone can handle. This continues to be one of the best things about the show, as it reclaims the idea of the Force as something that all living beings have rather than the arbitrary blood cell count of a select few. It doesn’t seem like the show is setting Sabine up to be the next Rey or the next Ahsoka, but something more like Chirrut from Rogue One, someone with such attunement to the Force they can evade baster fire and fight when blind, but not necessarily lift an entire spaceship out of a swamp.
As the master and apprentice (plus Huyang) arrive at their destination, they see the giant hyperspace ring, but Shin Hati, Marrok, and a squadron of fighters quickly attack them. This is arguably the most exhilarating Star Wars dogfight scene since Rogue One, and director Steph Green knows how to frame the action and make it thrilling, especially when the visuals work in conjunction with Kevin Kiner’s spectacular score. Kiner, who has always known how to best blend old motifs with new sounds, reuses John Williams’s “TIE Fighter Attack” from A New Hope to great effect. And yet, as cool as the scene is at first glance, it quickly becomes yet another replica of a scene from the original trilogy, with Sabine working the rear turret just like Luke, her surprise and excitement over shutting down echoing the Jedi’s first kill. (Ahsoka’s response is reminiscent of Han’s “Don’t get cocky” line.)
The problem is not only that the scene feels too much like a nod to something else, but also the way Sabine is framed and written undermines her character. She is no young apprentice with a lucky shot like Luke was during that first TIE fighter attack; she is a decorated war hero and revolutionary leader. She is also a great pilot and experienced soldier who would not look stunned by just a single fighter getting shot down. It’s not just because we saw her be that way in Rebels, but because we know from this very show that she has experience, as Governor Ryder Azadi called her a rebel leader and commander in the first episode. It may be a small and inconsequential moment, but it is exactly what I feared going into this show, that in order to make it a fresh experience for newcomers, Ahsoka would retcon or ignore the characters’ experiences.
Still, the dogfight looks cool, and after they get shot and momentarily incapacitated by Morgan’s giant hyperspace ring, we get something no live-action Star Wars has done yet, which made Clone Wars and Rebels cool: Ahsoka just exits the ship and slashes the enemy fighters with her lightsabers in zero-g. It is a move that would make Anakin proud, the kind of stupid, crazy, reckless move that only works with cartoon logic, but somehow it also works here. It is dumb and silly, but it is also pure Star Wars magic.
While Ahsoka, Huyang, and Sabine try to hide it out on the planet below and are hunted by Baylan — in a rather weird and abrupt ending with neither closure nor cliffhanger — Hera is experiencing her own echoes of the past, specifically to her many conflicts with Rebel leadership in Rebels. Onboard the New Republic fleet, Hera meets with Mon Mothma and other senators, who are more than a little skeptical about Hera’s concerns over imperial remnants. The senators believe the traitors on Corellia are just bad apples, and the rest of the imperials are quite loyal, because they said so (always trustworthy, those fascists). When Hera mentions Thrawn’s imminent return, only Mon Mothma seems concerned, while the others see no real enemy, just a scattered empire with no leader. Senator Xiono (father of Star Wars Resistance protagonist Kaz Xiono) even accuses Hera of crying Thrawn as an excuse to use New Republic assets for her personal search for Ezra. As the general quickly points out, however, Xiono never fought in the war and has no idea how dangerous Thrawn is. He just watched from the sidelines to see who would come out on top (and considering Xiono is implied to be a First Order traitor in Resistance, this is an intriguing comment).
Just like Clone Wars filled in story beats that made the prequels better by fleshing out characters and story lines, Ahsoka is doing the same for the sequel trilogy. The systemic problems of the New Republic spell out doom for their future and make the Resistance/First Order conflict of the sequels more compelling as a result. The show also directly connects the lack of decisive leadership of the Rebel Alliance as seen in Rebels to the flaws of the New Republic and then the Resistance, drawing a line that connects all aspects of the Star Wars universe in the way only Dave Filoni and his team have been able to do in the past. Now, let’s see if the writers’ ability to make other people’s movies better also translates to delivering a show that is good in its own right.
The Jedi Archives
• Huyang continues to be the best character on the show and an absolute jerk every time he speaks. He has a point in that Ahsoka’s training of Sabine is a logical continuation of the long line of unconventional Jedi from which she comes. Given that list includes Anakin, Qui-Gon, Dooku, and Yoda, that is an understatement.
• Marrok has a distorted voice, which makes it clear the show is teasing him to be a known character, but who?
• The bad guys’ ships look and even sound like WWII fighters, which is a cool little nod to Lucas’s own influences.
• Not that I’d want to see her show up, but where is Leia in all of this? She is a senator, and surely she’d be interested in these talks of Thrawn.
• For fans of Rebels, this episode introduces Hera’s son, Jaycen, who is somehow being babysat by war criminal Chopper — a bad idea. This is a cool nod to the animated show, but the little moment where Jaycen says he wishes he could be a Jedi has a bigger meaning considering his late father, Kanan, was a Jedi. And yet, there is no mention of him anywhere in the show so far. When Hera talks about what she lost in the fight for Thrawn, she just mentions a vague “friends and family,” with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s mournful expression as she says that being the only hint of her tragic relationship with Kanan. As others have noted since episode one, Ahsoka may be good at making the plot accessible, but the emotional story of the show is completely lost on casual viewers.