Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: Ahsoka episodes 1 and 2
he long-awaited series Ahsoka is finally here, with its two-episode premiere hitting Disney+ on August 22. The ongoing strikes didn't dampen fan excitement. Where Ahsoka goes, the fans will gladly follow -- a testament to the creators who have brought her to life.
Premiering at a new day and time, Ahsoka is the first Star Wars Disney+ series to air on a Tuesday and the first Disney+ show to become available promptly at 9 pm Eastern. While it’s unclear if this new launch format will remain in place for future shows, it’s a welcomed change of pace for many, particularly those in parts of the United States.
Ahsoka promises to continue the legendary story of one of the franchise's most beloved characters and expand on the rich storytelling from the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Many fans had already colloquially dubbed this show “Rebels season Five,” probably not even realizing how correct they’d be.
But even in its first two episodes, the show proved that it's so much more.
Once a Rebel...
It's no surprise that the show focuses on its namesake character, former Jedi Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka's popularity is a sure bet, a fan-favorite character and inspiration to thousands, with fans eager for more of her story for years now. This fact alone made the series a no-brainer on Disney’s side. But just how closely would creators tie it to Rebels?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Hera Syndulla and Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Sabine Wren join Rosario Dawson's Ahsoka as fully realized live-action characters. Opinions will no doubt vary on the accuracy of costuming and general aesthetics, as will opinions on performances. While it is a nuanced conversation, to say the least, it’s clear that both actors and crew put great effort into each of these portrayals.
We find Hera sporting a leather jacket with Sabine’s starbird symbol from Rebels and her iconic orange pants. The hue of her green skin looks perfect, and the patterns on her lekku match what we saw in animation, although it's difficult to see in certain lighting. Winstead's performance blends the air of a seasoned military general with a motherly warmth -- so familiar to Rebels fans -- when the situation demands it. She also brings great humor to the character, and the witty banter between Hera and Chopper seems not to have missed a beat.
When we first see Sabine, she also wears a jacket. Even without her armor -- and with long hair featuring a purple and orange gradient -- it's easy to recognize her. Bordizzo also perfectly captures Sabine's rebellious and, at times, playful nature. It's clear she did her homework before stepping into the role: the history between her and the other characters is palpable, and we instantly want to know more about what happened since we last saw her and white-robed Ahsoka on Lothal in the Rebels finale. The second episode sees her cutting her hair and donning her armor, nearly perfectly matching her look in the Rebels epilogue. Her distinctive take on Mandalorian armor looks seriously incredible in live-action.
Scenes on Lothal were visually gorgeous and loaded with Rebels callbacks. Though bringing in so many familiar features from a popular show in a different medium carries a lot of pressure, they executed it perfectly.
Seeing some of Sabine’s day-to-day home life was rather unique in Star Wars but refreshing nonetheless. It shows that, although she’s a Mandalorian warrior and hero of the rebellion, she’s just like everyone else. I just loved that Sabine had adopted a Loth-cat as her own to take care of. Even legends have hungry pets waiting at home for them.
And, of course, there's Ahsoka Tano herself. Rosario Dawson reprises her role from The Mandalorian Season 2 and The Book of Boba Fett, but this time with a greatly improved look: her montrals and lekku look much better than in previous appearances. In earlier appearances and interviews, Dawson discussed how the prosthetics have evolved, and it's clear the production team has put in a lot of work on this aspect of her appearance. While her distinctive features aren't as pronounced as in Rebels, they are entirely passable. Given the real-life limitations, especially the need for Dawson to move and fight, it's quite an accomplishment for Ahsoka to look as accurate as she does.
If you ask ten different Star Wars fans their opinion of Dawson’s performance, you’ll probably get ten different answers. There is undoubtedly a range of valid opinions, but it should be a more nuanced discussion (cough, Twitter, cough). The main controversy over how Dawson plays Ahsoka is because she portrays Ahsoka as more serious and hardened than how she is in The Clone Wars or, to a degree, Rebels. However, it's important to recognize the range of trauma she experiences throughout her life and how much of it she experiences around the time of Rebels.
It only makes sense for Ahsoka to be outwardly wearing this emotional exhaustion. Dawson’s portrayal only tells me that she’s done her homework and has thoroughly studied the character. I have no qualms with how she plays Ahsoka; it frankly makes sense to me, and I enjoy her performance. While no one will ever surpass the sheer brilliance of Ashley Eckstein’s iconic vocal performance, Dawson makes an incredible effort that definitely works for me.
As with all characters that move from animation to live-action without retaining their original voice actor, the live-action voice will never sound quite right, at least initially. However, the three actresses have obviously studied the characters in their animated appearances and were successful in embodying them in their mannerisms. They can’t alter their voices, but the culmination of physicality, mannerisms, quirks, and confidence brings the characters to life more than voice alone.
From Ahsoka's sidelong smirk to Sabine's free spirit and Hera's banter with Chopper, it's evident that these are the same heroines we grew to love. Shoutout to the original women behind the characters, who gave fantastic and powerful performances for this new wave of actresses to work from: Ashley Eckstein as Ahsoka Tano, Vanessa Marshall as Hera Syndulla, and Tiya Sircar as Sabine Wren.
Master and Apprentice
The relationship between Ahsoka and Sabine is a primary focus of these first two episodes. Promotional material for the show perpetually hinted at a former master/Padawan dynamic between the two. However, we never saw anything about this in Rebels, and it certainly hasn’t been described in any books or comics so far.
Two episodes in, and this dynamic is confusing. We know we're missing something, probably something big. The inference is clear that Ahsoka tried to train Sabine to be a Jedi, but it didn’t work out and they parted on unfavorable terms. The show confirms that Sabine doesn’t have aptitude in the Force like typical Jedi, so it’s also possible that the title “Padawan” might be more symbolic than literal. Hopefully, the show will more clearly explain what happened between them; I believe that’s what they’re trying to lead into, and we need to be patient in waiting for the payoff. The potential parallels between Ahsoka and Anakin on the one hand and Sabine and Ahsoka on the other are fascinating and ripe for exploration.
I can only hope we're emotionally prepared for it.
The Adventure Begins
Ahsoka notably opens with a crawl, which we haven’t seen since The Rise of Skywalker. The crawl sets the proper “Star Wars-y” tone right off the bat, throws you into the universe, and lets you know you're in for quite a ride. However, it's not exactly the crawl we're used to. With red font and left-justified text, it simultaneously lets you know it will be a different kind of ride.
Perhaps the best part of the series so far is its pacing: the crawl sets up what we need to know about the state of the galaxy, then we move right into the status of prisoner Morgan Elsbeth (portrayed by Diana Lee Inosanto, who reprises her role from The Mandalorian Season 2), and promptly introduces us to the main antagonists of the show: Baylan Skoll, portrayed by the late Ray Stevenson, and Shin Hati, portrayed by Ivanna Sakhno.
Skoll and Hati are ruthless and menacing -- and, with their hooded robes and mysterious blood-orange-colored lightsabers, something of an enigma. Stevenson and Sakhno do a great job of embodying their characters’ darkness and confident viciousness. As surmised from the trailers and other promotional material, the pair are master and apprentice. At least one of them is formerly of the Jedi Order.
Elsbeth remains almost as mysterious as when we last saw her on Corvus, unsuccessfully facing down Ahsoka Tano in The Mandalorian. However, we soon learn something new: she’s a Dathomirian Nightsister.
For the uninitiated, Dathomir has quite the history in Star Wars, particularly in animation. The planet is Darth Maul's homeworld. Asajj Ventress, one of the primary antagonists in the iconic animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, was a Nightsister. However, the Clone Wars almost completely wiped the Nightsisters out. So, this new revelation about Elsbeth is major. Only time will tell how this detail plays out moving forward, but I'm intrigued.
Links to other bits of Star Wars lore abound in these two episodes. These ties make the series feel ultra-connected to the galaxy in a good way, though, not in a forced or artificial way just for “fan service.” There really are two levels of connections in Ahsoka: those that are surface level (such as the second episode’s primary setting in Corellia's shipyards, which we saw in Solo: A Star Wars Story), and those that are deep cuts (such as the appearance of relatively minor Rebels characters Ryder Azadi and Jai Kell).
It’s safe to say that the deep cuts outnumber the surface-level connections by a fair amount.
How Deep Is Too Deep?
The deep cuts, however, bring us to the Loth-cat in the room: is Ahsoka too niche? Will audience members understand the importance of Ezra Bridger or be able to infer the complex history between Sabine, Hera, and Ahsoka? This is the risk the show takes.
And honestly, I’m glad they took that risk. There isn’t a rule saying that all Star Wars needs to be a good entry point into the franchise. The reason this feels different, though, is because none of the live-action shows we’ve had the pleasure of viewing thus far were made specifically for hardcore fans.
On the other hand, there are at least a couple of moments where it seems as if the characters' history in Rebels didn't exist. One glaring example is when Ahsoka tells Sabine about Morgan Elsbeth being a Dathomirian. In Rebels, Sabine visits Dathomir and is even possessed by a Nightsister. You’d think she’d recognize the significance of Elbeth's heritage because of this history, but the moment passes.
Of course, that's hardly an issue that ruined the episode. And it would be easy for passionate Rebels fans like me to pick out every little instance where the two shows don't perfectly align. But that wouldn't be fair to Ahsoka. The creators make a solid effort to ensure that casual fans can also enjoy the show. The crawl is the most concerted effort at initiation for new fans. The show's pacing is also an excellent tool: nothing flies by at a lightning-fast rate, so it’s easy to keep up even if you aren’t entirely sure what the larger plot is. Minor discrepancies, born of a deliberate choice to keep things understandable, seem an acceptable trade-off.
And if it encourages more fans to check out Rebels, even better!
No matter how you slice it, though, the question of how niche the series is will likely be one of the biggest points of debate with regard to its success. It gives an unmistakable impression of being tailor-made for fans who have consumed all Star Wars shows (especially animation) and even us book fans due to its impending introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn to live action. Some may view the specificity and deep cuts as a significant downside to the show. It’s understandable to be frustrated if you're not catching all the references or don't understand who some of these characters are. For extreme fans, though, having a viewing experience like this feels quite rewarding. It’s as if the show is dropping little nuggets for those of us who understand what they mean to enjoy and cherish.
More Returning Friends
One aspect of the show beyond debate is how incredible Chopper already is. While not taking much screen time, he steals every moment he’s in. Everything about him has been a perfect characterization and seamless transition from animation to live action: his physical appearance is virtually one-to-one with his animated look, and his personality is absolutely spot-on.
He’s not the only droid that stole the show, though: Huyang, a droid who originally appeared in The Clone Wars, is Ahsoka’s main companion. Huyang is an expert in lightsabers and their design. He also has a dry sense of humor, making him an excellent foil for Ahsoka. I’m glad that his inclusion is more than just a cameo and that his role is useful to the plot and the other characters’ storylines. And it’s great to have his original voice actor back in David Tennant!
One other character who made their way from animation to live action in this premiere was Ezra Bridger - kind of. The main character of Rebels, we get to see his first live-action appearance via hologram, portrayed by Eman Esfandi. While we’re unsure if we’ll see him again, his characterization was perfect, from his costume to the mannerisms from Esfandi’s performance. It wasn’t much, and I hope we'll see more, but either way, it sure was good to see Ezra again.
Something fascinating about this premiere is that we’ve already seen almost all the footage previously included in trailers. Very few clues remain about what will come next, which is extremely exciting.
There’s so much to look forward to based on the setup from this premiere: Thrawn’s return, Ahsoka and Sabine’s evolving relationship, the continuing search for Ezra, discovering how Bayland and Shin connect to Thrawn, and finding out whatever Baylan, Shin, and Morgan Elsbeth are building. And that’s only a few plot points I’m looking forward to seeing evolve.
Overall, the first two episodes of Ahsoka were an absolute homerun in my book. It felt like pure Star Wars, as if Rebels jumped out of the animators' workshop and into live-action. There’s so much that happened in this premiere that it’s almost overwhelming in the best possible way, and there’s not a chance I covered everything I wanted to in this single review. That’s a great sign that this show is poised to inspire meaningful discussion for a long time to come. As a Star Wars superfan, this was a purely joyous experience, and I can’t wait to do it all over again for the next six weeks.
Ahsoka is streaming now on Disney+, with new episodes releasing every Tuesday at 9 pm EST.