After it was announced nearly three years ago, Star Wars: Ahsoka is finally here. The series, from the titular character’s co-creator Dave Filoni, finally makes Ahsoka the main character and sets up his feature film debut. But before that future event, the series must stand on its own and tell a story — something critics of Star Wars shows claim is missing in efforts like The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Does Ahsoka pull it off with its first two episodes? And what signs and portents appear as the character finally takes the lead in a Star Wars production? Come with us as we attempt our own reading of the star map and take stock of the program so far.

Spoiler alert: This post reviews plot details about Ahsoka, episodes 1 and 2. Stop reading here if you wish to avoid spoilers. 

The Return of the Text Crawl

The show immediately sets itself apart by featuring a text crawl — a narrative technique featured in the films since the beginning, but notably absent from television efforts. Filoni’s own Star Wars: The Clone Wars sidestepped the crawl by utilizing narrated recaps inspired by WWII-era newsreels. Subsequent programs used more standard TV recaps. The crawl’s inclusion here speaks to Ahsoka being a key chapter in the ongoing Star Wars saga and the switch to red typeface instead of the typical blue text also suggests a trajectory toward darkness (see also the choice to present it as flat text instead of the traditional up-and-away diagonal of the movies). And considering its discussion of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s (Lars Mikkelsen) exile and the potential war should he unite the Imperial Remnant, it seems the stakes are higher than they’ve been for some time.

But that also suggests something else: Ahoska may only serve as a setup to Filoni’s feature film. It may end with Thrawn in power and the acknowledged “heir to the Empire,” which leaves a lot of story to resolve when (and if) that film materializes.

The Timeframe of Ahsoka

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and the Magistrate (Diana Lee Inosanto) in The Mandalorian season 2

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and the Magistrate (Diana Lee Inosanto) in The Mandalorian season 2, chapter 13 “The Jedi” (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Curiously, the text crawl and the opening scene leave us wondering just when these events are transpiring. The only thing for sure, they follow the fifth episode of The Mandalorian’s second season, “The Jedi,” in which Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu first meet Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson). It is also the debut of Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), a character who now looms large in the story as Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) raid a New Republic prison ship to free her.

Presumably, Ahsoka delivered Elsbeth to New Republic forces immediately after the events of “The Jedi.” And instead of locking her up for the span of years covered by the rest of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, it would seem the New Republic scheduled a speedy trial. If that is the case, Ahsoka’s search for Thrawn runs concurrently with The Mandalorian’s second season and her meeting with Din at Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) new Jedi Temple on Ossus is sometime in her future.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), the Child and the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) in The Mandalorian season 2

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), the Child and the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) in The Mandalorian season 2, chapter 13 “The Jedi” (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

If so, her demeanor toward Din and Luke would suggest things go better than expected in her quest. Then again, it is possible the courts of the New Republic are as slow as they were in the Old Republic and Elsbeth has sat in a prison cell for at least three years.

Either way, we know the paths of Ahsoka and The Mandalorian will sync up again as he has (or will) dealt a pretty heavy blow to the Remnant’s long-term plans.

One other thing we’re fairly sure of now: “The Jedi” took place before the final moments of Star Wars: Rebels. Filoni always teased the possibility and now, with the scene recreated with a greater context (more on that in a moment) at the end of Ahsoka’s second episode, it is clear he always saw that moment as a key part of Ahsoka’s ongoing story. And, thankfully, we finally have some idea why.

The Dourness of Ahsoka Tano

Huyang (David Tennant) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson)

Huyang (David Tennant) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

One criticism of Dawson’s debut as Ahsoka in “The Jedi” was a certain dourness to the performance. Voice actor Ashley Eckstein always infused Ahsoka with a youthful exuberance — even when she appears as an adult in Rebels — Dawson never quite matched. Granted, we’ll argue some of that joie de vivre emerges in her Boba Fett appearance. But with the opening episodes of Ahsoka, a reason for a more reserved and sadder Ahsoka Tano emerges: the failed tutelage of Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).

Sabine’s connection to the Force was never stated outright during Rebels, but her aptitude with the Darksaber (which she wielded for a time in Rebels’ third season) can now be seen as a potential clue.

But beyond any call-forwards one may find in Rebels to Sabine’s potential as a Jedi, it seems Ahsoka recognized it just as the Galactic Civil War went into full swing and took her on as a Padawan at some point during that conflict. And based on everything she, Sabine, and Huyang (David Tennant) say about the time, it did not go well with Ahsoka ultimately walking away from her padawan for reasons not yet stated. Then again, the stubbornness both share may have played a part.

Which brings us back to Ahsoka’s demeanor and her refusal to train Gorgu. Opening herself up to a master-apprentice relationship could not have been easy. As noted by Hera Syndulla’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) immediate regret when joking about Ahsoka being difficult with her master, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), becoming a teacher could not have been easy for her. And the decision to abandon Sabine — which she outright compares to abandoning Anakin — could only contribute to a more jaded person.

We also still don’t know much about her activities during the war beyond “going where I’m needed,” but we imagine there were some difficult fights with or without an apprentice by her side. Ahsoka also spent some time in the World Between Worlds (essentially a time portal) after Ezra Bridger (the missing friend voiced by Taylor Gray on Rebels) saved her from a death at the hands of Darth Vader. It is possible she experienced something profound there that also contributed to the sterner warrior we see here. See also: the fact she has died a handful of times only to return. That has to change a person.

And, it should be noted, the Ahsoka of old does appear every so often with a smile or wry retort. But, perhaps, reconnecting with who she once was via a more successful training of Sabine will form a great portion of her emotional arc in the episodes to come.

The Faces of the Enemy

Diana Lee Inosanto as Morgan Elsbeth in a poster for Ahsoka season 1

Diana Lee Inosanto as Morgan Elsbeth in a poster for Ahsoka (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Outside of her own interior conflict, Ahsoka has plenty of external antagonists to face. The revelation that Elsbeth was a Nightsister of Dathomir resets the nature of the overall struggle. First introduced in Dave Wolverton’s 1994 novel The Courtship of Princess Leia, they entered the modern cannon in Clone Wars. As ultimately realized in that series, the Nightsisters are neither Jedi nor Sith, but are Force-sensitives who employ Dathomir’s dark energies and ichor as a form of magick. Naturally enough, they’ve had contact with the galaxy and its various factions over the centuries, developing a dislike of the Jedi, before the Nightsisters were more or less eradicated during the Clone Wars.

Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen)

Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Some escaped, however, pursuing different paths. And from what we know of Elsbeth so far, it led her to become a titan of industry on Corellia and a loyal follower of Thrawn, who always had his own ambitions about securing order in the galaxy.

But that leads to one or two questions: How did the Nightsisters develop a map to Thrawn’s location hundreds of years before he and Ezra disappeared? Elsbeth’s claim that Thrawn speaks to her across “time and space” is one potential answer. Alternatively, the Nightsisters may have known something about the migration of purrgils — space whales capable of hyperspace travel — across intergalactic distances and she is just assuming the map Ahsoka recovered will lead her to Thrawn.

Ray Stevenson as Baylan Skoll in a poster for Ahsoka season 1

Ray Stevenson as Baylan Skoll in a poster for Ahsoka (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

By means of credits or faith, Elsbeth’s cause has attracted other Force-users to engage in the search for Thrawn. As we learn from Huyang, Baylan was a Jedi who disappeared at the end of the Clone Wars. But his orange saber blade and his own testimony confirm he is not a Jedi anymore. Nor does he appear to be Sith. It has led some to suggest he will turn out to be the founder of the Knights of Ren (who briefly appear in the Star Wars sequel trilogy), but we have another possibility: a genuine Dark Jedi.

A facet of the old Expanded Universe, Dark Jedi were, as the name implied, Jedi who fell to the Dark Side in the wake of the Empire’s rise to power. Some actively worked for Emperor Sheev Palpatine, while others embraced different philosophies or sought to create their own dominance in the galaxy. But when the EU was de-canonized by Disney, the term more or less disappeared except for those still reading the older stories or playing video games like Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast or its follow-up, Jedi Academy. But as Filoni and Jon Favreau’s exploration of the galaxy after the events of Return of the Jedi features a lot of early EU concepts — the Imperial Remnant, Thrawn himself — it is possible Baylan may yet declare himself a Dark Jedi.

Indeed, his seeming desire for power reflects the Dark Jedi Thrawn attempted to exploit in his debut appearance, Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Although, in that tale, Joruus C’baoth turned out to be insane, an imperfect clone, and only interested in greater power when Thrawn offered him Luke, Leia (Carrie Fisher), and her unborn twins as payment for his services. We doubt Baylan will turn out to be a direct translation of C’baoth, but it is possible he will fill some of that role should Filoni choose to more directly adapt Heir to the Empire if and when Thrawn returns to known space.

Ivanna Sakhno as Shin Hati in a poster for Ahsoka season 1

Ivanna Sakhno as Shin Hati in a poster for Ahsoka (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Although, it is it interesting that he considers killing Ahsoka to be a shame? See also: Shin’s clear confusion at some of their actions.

She is something of a wild card here as she does not appear to be an analogue of an EU character or someone who connects dots to something else. That makes her potentially fascinating, whether she decides her master and Elsbeth are wrong or turns out to be the actual founder of the Knights of Ren.

Marrok (Paul Darnell)

Paul Darnell as Marrok (Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Then again, the link could be Marrok, the Inquisitor who appears without introduction as part of Elsbeth’s coterie halfway through Ahsoka’s first episode. His appearance — and for the moment, we’re using that pronoun as Baylan and Elsbeth both do – in some of the trailers had many online wondering if he was actually Ezra. Presumably, Ezra is wherever Thrawn is, but Marrok’s refusal to remove his helmet makes him an irresistible riddle in the Star Wars tradition.

Other possibilities for Marrok’s true identity: Jedi Survivor protagonist Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), long-lost EU Force-wielder Kyle Katarn, and, if we disregard the pronouns for a moment, EU favorite Mara Jade.

Of course, these are all just wild suggestions. Marrok may be another rank-and-file Inquisitor or Padawan press-ganged into the Emperor’s service as the Inquisitorius took shape after the fall of the Jedi.

No matter their ultimate roles or fates, each present interesting threats for Ahsoka and Sabine to manage.

The Rebels of It All

Ahsoka fan event in Hollywood, California

Ahsoka fan event at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 17 (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

One thing we are curious about, though, is how viewers not familiar with Rebels responded to the episodes. Since we know entirely too much about Hera, Sabine, Ezra, Chopper, and Thrawn, all the callbacks and entrances were a delight. We can also confirm those moments went over well with the Star Wars faithful at the Ahsoka fan events last week. But did it work for someone coming in fresh? If you have a perspective on that question, tell us in the comments below.

86% Star Wars: Ahsoka: Season 1 (2023) new episodes premiere on Wednesdays on Disney+.

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