Fifteen years ago, Lucasfilm producer and showrunner Dave Filoni introduced Ahsoka Tano to the Star Wars galaxy through his animated film, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a precursor to the television series of the same name.
In the years that followed, Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice would go from hated to beloved by viewers, appearing in the Clone Wars follow-up series Star Wars Rebels and eventually making her live-action debut in The Mandalorian. Rosario Dawson took over from Ashley Eckstein, Ahsoka’s voice in animation, to bring the character to life alongside Pedro Pascal’s stoic armor-clad warrior.
In Ahsoka, which is now on Disney+, the character receives the star treatment she’s waited a decade and a half for — or at least she was supposed to. Dawson’s former Jedi remains frustratingly sidelined in her own story, put on the back burner in favor of developing Filoni’s overarching visions for the saga’s future.
The series follows Ahsoka and members of the Rebels crew as they try to prevent the return of Lars Mikkelsen’s cunning Grand Admiral Thrawn, a long-lost Imperial warlord, all while facing personal conflicts and old ghosts.
Ahsoka acts as a sequel to two animated television series and a spinoff of two live-action shows, all while shouldering a nearly 50-year cinematic legacy. A galaxy’s worth of baggage is tacked onto Ahsoka’s story, weighing down what should’ve been an intimate exploration of a fan-favorite character.
This isn’t the first time a title character was ignored in their own show — The Book of Boba Fett strayed from the infamous bounty hunter for almost two entire episodes in favor of a side quest featuring Pascal’s Mandalorian.
As Filoni builds out his interconnected television universe — which is set to be concluded in a theatrical film — focused storytelling seems to take a backseat to building stakes for outside projects.
The show’s reliance on past works hinders its ability to stand alone. The fifth episode is thrilling for fans of Filoni’s other series but does little to advance Ahsoka’s narrative. Ahsoka undergoes a Gandalf-esque transformation, yet the only thing transformative about Dawson’s performance is the outfit she acts in.
The return of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker is a welcome surprise in the episode, however, his role is reduced to a series of reference-packed one-liners built to elicit cheers from fans, not to push Ahsoka’s character in any new or interesting directions.
The lack of character development is a series-wide issue, affecting almost every role in the show’s roster. The late Ray Stevenson delivers a powerhouse performance as fallen Jedi Baylan Skoll, but the role is severely underserved by a script that doesn’t quite know how to use him, or his silently imposing apprentice Shin Hati, portrayed by a commanding Ivanna Sakhno.
Dawson does what she can with the title character, creating a mostly seamless transition from Eckstein’s iteration of the role. She embodies the character’s physicality and wisdom but is consistently set aside in favor of Filoni’s other creations.
The series’ secondary protagonists are all returning characters, featuring new actors in roles that originated in animation. Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Mary Elizabeth Winstead do fine jobs as Rebels veterans Sabine Wren and Hera Syndulla, but it’s Eman Esfandi who truly embodies the energy of his animated counterpart Ezra Bridger.
Mikkelsen makes the jump from animation to live action in the series, donning the blue paint to carry his iconic voice into a new medium. Grand Admiral Thrawn, whose return was teased back in The Mandalorian’s second season, loses some of his gravitas but represents a suitably terrifying threat to our heroes.
Ahsoka is never short on action, delivering a saga’s worth of lightsaber duels, galactic dogfights and blaster bombardments. Each is executed well, but few create a lasting impression or do anything fresh with the well-worn tropes. That being said, a final episode duel between Ahsoka and Dathomirian witch Morgan Elsbeth breathes fresh life into the series’ often repetitive combat sequences.
For diehard fans of Filoni’s work, Ahsoka will prove a satisfying chapter in his ever-expanding pantheon of stories, themes and shows. However, for those looking for a deeper dive into the titular character, they’re likely to come up short.
Ahsoka excites as much as it frustrates, leading to another good — but not great — installment in Disney+’s Star Wars catalog.