Ahsoka Tano is one of the best-developed characters in Star Wars, and fans have had the pleasure of journeying with her through nine seasons of television (to date) in both animation and live-action. Her growth as a character from a snippy, hot-headed padawan to a smoldering, mysterious space-ronin has been fascinating, and there’s still plenty of story to tell.
The excitement hit fever pitch when Ahsoka’s legions of fans learned that Disney+ was giving Ahsoka her own show, and in August 2023 the limited-run series premiered. Any series focused on Ahsoka was bound to draw extreme reactions from today’s polarized fandom and early reviews of Star Wars: Ahsoka ranged from “peak Star Wars” to “dumpster fire” and included just about everything in-between.
I’ve been pretty clear over the years that Ahsoka is one of my favorite characters, but I confess I approached this series with a bit of trepidation. I was looking forward to it, but I’m only too aware that not everything produced by Lucasfilm since 1984 has resonated with me. Ahsoka’s two live-action appearances in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett were cool, but I didn’t feel that either of them quite gave me was I was hoping for. They weren’t bad… They just weren’t quite… something. Knowing that Dave Filoni was calling the shots for Star Wars: Ahsoka gave me confidence that my beloved character was in good hands, but it was hard not to be a little apprehensive.
So, like any good padawan, as the Disney+ logo danced across the screen of Episode 1, I cleared my mind, let go of my attachments and did my very best to live in the moment and just accept what was presented to me. What follows is my considered opinion of Star Wars: Ahsoka, from the dual perspective of a professional storyteller and a life-long fan.
The major elements
Characters and casting
First things first: Rosario Dawson is an inspired choice to play Ahsoka. Not only does she have the ideal facial features to bring this animated figure into live-action, Ms. Dawson is a phenomenal actor with fabulous screen presence. I never doubted that she had the gravitas to bring to life an older, wiser, more mature Ahsoka, and having seen her in other productions I knew she could bring out Ahsoka’s warmth and humor if given the chance.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I bought Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren. Animated characters by their nature have exaggerated features and bringing them “down” to the real features of a human actor can sometimes be a disappointment, but Ms. Bordizzo brought great presence to the character and within moments of seeing Sabine on screen I was sold.
It took me a bit longer to warm to Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Hera Syndulla, mostly because I think animated Hera’s voice actor Vanessa Marshall has exactly the right look to bring the twi’lek pilot to life. But I understand the reality of Hollywood casting and I didn’t dwell on it. Eman Esfandi as Ezra Bridger worked just fine, and one can never go wrong with David Tennant as anything, especially as the voice of world-weary but loyal droid Huyang.
The villains of the show were all stellar, from the wise and brooding Baylen Skoll and his fiery apprentice Shin Hati to the dangerous and driven Morgan Elspeth. Each one of these characters brought a real sense of danger, but each hinted at complexity far beyond the typical space fantasy villain. All three were acted to perfection by Ray Stevenson, Ivanna Sakhno and Diana Lee Inosanto, respectively.
It was a treat to see Lars Mikkelsen bring his previously animated Grand Admiral Thrawn to life, and I’m loving the fact that one of Star Wars’ most enigmatic and interesting villains has finally “graduated” to live-action.
Finally, seeing Hayden Christensen reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker was one of the highlights of this entire series – but I’ll talk about that more later.
Overall, this TV series looked like a movie. Sure, there were a few scenes where it might have been cool to have more stormtroopers or more Republic soldiers, but I know that hiring 500 extras isn’t cheap. The special effects were up to par with any other Star Wars project and I never felt like I was pulled out of the story due to budget constraints. So, top marks here.
Pacing and storyline
This is where the show stumbled a bit. The promo material made it clear that Thrawn was the crux of the conflict, but it took nearly half the season to even get our heroes really moving in that direction. Both Thrawn and Ezra were focal points from the start, but it took so long to finally reveal them, after so much build-up, that both their appearances were a bit of a let-down. And because Thrawn and Ezra appeared so late in the season, what could have been a long and complex battle became a frantic scramble that felt rather rushed.
The fine balance of an ensemble of star characters
Another aspect of the series that made it feel, if not rushed, then a little cramped, was the large number of big, epic characters fighting for meaningful screen time. The idea that Sabine had been Ahsoka’s Jedi padawan was a fascinating revelation and this character arc was given a fair bit of room to grow, but it was perhaps the only character interaction given decent space.
Hera is a fan favourite at least as much as Sabine, but she wasn’t given a lot to do other than react to events around her. Huyang has the potential for endless depths of story and character, but he was little more than a sidekick. And I mentioned how awesome all the villains were, but again, because there were so many of them, none of them really got the chance to display any depth.
Baylen, Shin, Elspeth and Thrawn could each have been the lone baddie for a season, with the potential to grow into antagonists to rival Hondo Ohnaka or (animated) Darth Maul in complexity.
Don’t get me wrong – all the characters in Star Wars: Ahsoka are cool and welcome, and they all enriched every scene they were in. But as a consequence of their numbers, none of them – including Ahsoka herself – really had the chance to shine.
Star Wars Rebels Season 5
Coupled to the decision to present a large cast, I felt that the focus of the show wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Honestly, this series could have been called Star Wars Rebels Season 5 and it would have met expectations very well. Swap out Huyang for Zeb and all the elements were there.
I would have been delighted had the decision been made to make a fifth season of Rebels in live-action – but we were promised a show about Ahsoka. Knowing that Sabine, Hera, Chopper, Ezra and Thrawn were all part of the show, it would have been frustrating for fans to see them limited to virtual cameos like what Ezra ultimately got, but the decision to include these beloved characters by necessity reduced the focus on Ahsoka.
What was Ahsoka up to for all those years?
Ahsoka Tano is a remarkable character and there are still major gaps in her story just waiting to be filled in. What did she do in the fifteen years between Revenge of the Sith and Rebels? How did she survive? How did she grow and change? How in the galaxy did she manage to stay true to the Jedi ideals after walking away from the Order, especially when so many other Jedi survivors were either hunted down by, or turned into, Inquisitors?
And what was she doing during the events of the Original Trilogy? Especially once she knew that Darth Vader was her former master? Did the Rebellion no longer trust her once this fact emerged? Did she head out on some super-secret mission to save the galaxy from an even greater threat?
Was Ahsoka ever in love?
Did Ahsoka ever hook up with Lux Bonteri? Or Barriss Offee? Did Ahsoka ever allow herself to form attachments? Did she walk away from the whole thing for a few years to settle down on Shili and raise a family, only to have it all destroyed by the Empire?
I have so many questions about Ahsoka’s life during the Empire, and how she found the strength to stay on the path of the light when there was nothing but darkness around her. And I’m disappointed that Star Wars: Ahsoka didn’t answer any of them.
I have plenty of head-canon about what Ahsoka might have done during the two and a half decades between Clone Wars Season 7 and Ahsoka Season 1, but I don’t need my ideas to be right. Dave Filoni knows his character way better than I do, and I trust that he’s got a complete arc mapped out for her. But I wish he’d shown us some of that in this series.
One of the things that made The Mandalorian Season 1 so awesome was that it didn’t connect to anything or anyone in the larger Star Wars story. It was small-scale, hyper-focused and good simply on its own merits. The opening season of Star Wars: Ahsoka could have been approached in the same way, with just Ahsoka and Huyang exploring the galaxy as she fights her many inner demons and we fans get to see at least hints of everything she’s been through. This would have kept the dramatic focus squarely on the titular character, and then in Season 2 we could have welcomed the Rebels crew back into the fold.
The return of Anakin Skywalker
One triumph of the show, I thought, was the return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. His scenes were a perfect blend of the live-action Anakin he created in Revenge of the Sith and the animated Anakin brought to life by voice actor Matt Lanter in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Full credit to Mr. Christensen for adapting his style to match the animated character and bring to live-action a much more likeable version of Anakin Skywalker. The flashback scenes of Anakin and Ahsoka in the Clone Wars were pitch-perfect and one of the most loyal and accurate transitions from animation to live-action I’ve ever seen.
The drama between master and apprentice was epic, especially since the last time they met in real life (in Rebels Season 2) they were sworn enemies and they tried very, very hard to kill each other. But even so, the loving bond forged between them in the Clone Wars was still present. The emotional conflict in Ahsoka herself was vivid and believable, and the final moments of the season suggest that her walk with Anakin isn’t over yet.
Fighting the temptation to be a toxic fan
I realize that I’ve offered a fair bit of criticism in this article, and most of that criticism is along the line of “this show isn’t what I wanted it to be”. I recognize that this is one of the most common forms of criticism from the Star Wars fandom these days, and I’m trying my best to not descend into the self-centered toxicity that is so easy to adopt.
So let me conclude with this: I enjoyed Star Wars: Ahsoka. I’m a huge fan of Rebels, of Grand Admiral Thrawn and, of course, of Ahsoka herself, so just seeing them all on screen in a new adventure was a treat. Getting a glimpse of the New Republic and the galaxy after the Empire was another treat – especially a few scenes with the fabulous Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma. I sincerely hope that Lucasfilm continues to focus storytelling efforts in this fascinating period of history between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
It’s true that, had I been the showrunner, I would have done some things differently. But I’m not, and I’m happy to accept the show as it is instead of griping about what it might have been. Dave Filoni and company made certain creative decisions and I respect that. And I’m still thankful that we live in a time when there’s so much new Star Wars content being made that we can afford to choose our favorites.
Star Wars: Ahsoka was a fun ride and I look forward very much to Season 2.
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning, best-selling author and ghostwriter of science fiction and space fantasy series. His newest novel is coming in Spring 2024.