‘Star Wars: Ahsoka’ Is Focused on the Wrong Character
A hero with a crisis of faith, who discovers the secret to a sinister plot to conquer the galaxy, before setting off on a perilous quest to save a missing friend. This quest will force the hero to confront their self-doubts and evolve their powers in order to achieve a hard-fought victory.
There is a character who embodies all of those characteristics on Star Wars: Ahsoka. But it’s not Ahsoka.
Sure, Ahsoka Tano is onscreen much of the time in the latest Star Wars series. The show begins with her discovering an ancient map in an abandoned temple. (In Star Wars, when in doubt, have everyone chase an ancient map.) It quickly becomes clear, though, that despite standing at the center of the frame, Ahsoka is a static character. Through three episodes of the show, she has displayed few emotions and possesses no motivation beyond the fact that she is (sort of) a Jedi, and stopping bad guys is what Jedi do.
Ahsoka’s quest ropes in Sabine Wren, her former Padawan and a member of the ragtag crew of heroes who were central to the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Ahsoka betrays none of her feelings about her quest to find and stop Admiral Thrawn, a former Imperial baddie who is presumed dead but apparently trapped in another galaxy far, far away.
Ahsoka is confident, an almost unbeatable fighter, and cool as hell. She’s basically perfect. Sabine, on the other hand, has lost her way following another presumed death; her friend Ezra, who was “killed” defeating Thrawn. (Who didn’t actually die, which almost certainly means Ezra didn’t either.) As portrayed by Natasha Liu Bordizzo as a feisty but troubled young woman, Sabine needs to repair her broken relationship with Ahsoka, resume her Jedi training, and trust in her potential and abilities in order to find Ezra and defeat Thrawn. If ever there was a classic Star Wars hero, it’s Sabine Wren.
This week’s episode, “Time to Fly,” even began with a scene right out of the original Star Wars, with Ahsoka as older master teaching Sabine, the young student, to trust in her feelings and to use the Force. Ahsoka gives Sabine a helmet with an eye-covering visor to wear during a lightsaber sparring session. It’s almost exact mirror of the scene in A New Hope between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker with the training droid — except here, the nominal main character, Ahsoka, is the one giving the lesson rather than receiving it.
It’s possible to make a Star Wars show about a wise, older master, who is utterly assured in their abilities but struggles to train a new student. In fact, that sounds like a fairly interesting Star Wars series! But that’s not really what Ahsoka is. If Ahsoka feels anything about Sabine’s training, their long relationship, she doesn’t share it with the audience in any way. Rosario Dawson is an unreadable presence as Ahsoka. She seems to spend the entire series standing around glaring stoically at the other characters with her arms folded, saying little and suggesting less.
Instead — or maybe because of that — Ahsoka keeps emphasizing Sabine’s struggles. The audience has a much better grasp of what she wants out of this journey, what she needs to do in order to succeed. Admittedly, I haven’t watched much of Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Rebels, so my experience with Ahsoka is extremely limited. Perhaps if you’ve followed the character through those various earlier adventures, her mindset seems clearer and her rationale for undertaking this quest is obvious. To someone like me who hasn’t seen those shows, she just seems like a generic Jedi doing generic Jedi stuff. And Ahsoka has made no attempt to help me understand her better.
In fact, Sabine is basically the only character I feel like I understand, because the villains of the show are just as opaque as Ahsoka. What, for example, does Ray Stevenson’s Baylan Skoll want? The show did reveal that he was a Jedi who survived Order 66. But why does he now want to bring back the very Empire that destroyed the Jedi and his earlier way of life? Presumably we will learn the answer to that question before the end of the series, but for now he’s just this giant question mark at the center of a series whose title character is also a giant question mark — meaning we are watching a show about two quiet, mysterious figures with unclear goals and vague motivations.
Who is the show really about? This issue of wandering focus has become a recurring theme in Star Wars’ Disney+ series. The Book of Boba Fett inserted half a season of The Mandalorian into its own show, and almost completely forgot its title character for a while in the process. Then when Mando got his own show back for a third season, it barely seemed to care about him, focusing instead on supporting players like Bo-Katan and even guest stars like X-wing pilot Carson Teva, who spent one Mandalorian episode hunting down a hidden conspiracy within the leadership of the New Republic.
Watching Star Wars television days, it feels like the creators are laser-focused on an extremely narrow segment of their audience who has seen absolutely every Star Wars movie and show and cartoon, and read every Star Wars comic book and novel, and just want obscure stories that fill in gaps in Star Wars history and lore. Which, I guess if you’re into obscure Star Wars history and lore, can be great. For the rest of us, these series are starting to feel like the footnotes to stories we don’t know. And so far, Ahsoka seems like it would have made a lot more sense if it was called Star Wars: Sabine.
New episodes of Star Wars: Ahsoka premiere on Tuesdays on Disney+. Sign up for Disney+ here.