Series review: ‘Ahsoka’ is an exciting, Rebels-filled beginning to a new Star Wars era

The Disney+ series has the slow-burn intensity of ‘Andor’ with the magic and lore of ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

click to enlarge Series review: ‘Ahsoka’ is an exciting, Rebels-filled beginning to a new Star Wars era
Photo via Disney/Lucasfilm
Disney and Lucasfilm hosted fan events around the country to screen the first two episodes of the new Star Wars series.

With the slow-burn intensity of Andor and the magic, mystery and lore of The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi, new series Ahsoka feels like an exciting new beginning for the Star Wars universe.

Ahsoka arrives on Disney+ on Aug. 22 and stars Rosario Dawson, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ivanna Sakhno, Dianna Lee Inosanto and the late Ray Stevenson.

Orlando Weekly  was able to screen the first two episodes of Ahsoka during a recent fan event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Lucasfilm also hosted these screenings at Disneyland in California and other places around the country.

Set years after the end of Return of the Jedi — around the same time as The Mandalorian — Ahsoka follows the former Jedi in a quest to find exiled Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) and the lost Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). It’s an uneasy time period for the New Republic as it struggles to stamp out the Empire’s foothold around the galaxy and prevent another war.

As with most new Star Wars shows, there’s been a question of accessibility with Ahsoka. Are there prerequisites to understand the story? As both an entertainment critic and avid fan of Star Wars, the short answer is yes.

But that doesn’t mean Ahsoka is any less a thrilling piece of storytelling with some of the coolest action sequences and lightsaber battles in all of Star Wars — two things that have wide appeal. Ahsoka is also the first Star Wars streaming series to have an opening crawl, which provides much-needed context and story placement.

At its heart, Ahsoka is a continuation of Star Wars: Rebels, an animated series from legendary Star Wars creator Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian, The Clone Wars). Based on teasers and trailers, fans have dubbed the new series a live-action Rebels season 5.

The first two episodes — “Master and Apprentice” and “Toil and Trouble” — confirm it.

That’s great news for animated Star Wars fans who’ve longed for projects that bring their favorite characters into the mainstream — aka live action. But the series, at least the first two episodes, feel more like a continuation of a previous series rather than a true standalone Ahsoka show.

More casual fans may be lost at first, but I’m confident the sizzling lightsaber duels and steady, organic pacing will keep them watching.

Dawson’s characterization of Ahsoka Tano — former Jedi and apprentice to Anakin Skywalker — continues to shine brightly. Ahsoka has seen and experienced terrible things over the decades, and Dawson deftly portrays a Force-sensitive character with deep battle scars that match her deep knowledge and skills in the Force.

It’s also very clear she was trained by Anakin, whose snark and rule-bending attitude was passed on to his Padawan. She’s also got plenty of stoicism, learned from Obi-Wan Kenobi, of course.

Bordizzo is a standout as Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian who trained under Ahsoka after “Rebels” ended. Sabine’s live-action introduction in the first episode is perfect — a former Rebel speeding away from being recognized as a hero on Lothal while her bold purple and orange hair streams behind her.

Based on the first two episodes, it’s safe to say this is the Ahsoka and Sabine show.

Winstead’s Hera Syndulla is also a stunner as the Rebel cell leader turned general. And rounding out the main cast is Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll and Sakhno’s Shin Hati — a former Jedi and his apprentice who aren’t light side heroes but not quite dark side Sith either.

The two orange lightsaber-wielding Force sensitives are mercenaries working for Inosanto’s Morgan Elsbeth, who’s been searching for Thrawn.

All of them bring intrigue and emotional depth to their characters, embodying the spirits of established ones and slowly fleshing out the mysteries to be revealed with the newcomers.

While the first two episodes are excellent, there’s worry that Ahsoka may be attempting to be too many things at once.

It’s a series with a well-established titular character, so there’s the expectation of continuing Ahsoka’s journey and reflecting on her past. But it’s also clear that Ahsoka is the next big, timeline-expanding project in the Star Wars franchise — setting up storylines and new characters that Disney and Lucasfilm will focus on for a while.

Just in the first two episodes, there’s epic action, sweeping visuals, Easter egg callbacks and building tension for the eventual reveal of the big baddie. But there are also slow-burn moments intended to show off Ahsoka’s skill and maturity in the Force and Sabine’s current, still colorful living situation.

All of that works well now, but time will tell if future episodes can juggle the multitude of themes and a steady pace.

Still, as arguably the most anticipated Star Wars series to premiere this year, Ahsoka is more than deserving of the hype.

It’s dynamic and fresh while still delivering the classic magic of Star Wars’ signature space fantasy storytelling. The characters, the villains, the lightsabers and the locales — they’re just plain cool.

If Thrawn is the heir to the Empire, then Ahsoka is the heir to the next exciting phase of Star Wars storytelling.

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