By Zach Hagadone
It’s telling that The Washington Post felt compelled to publish a piece Aug. 22 titled, “What you need to watch before Ahsoka series releases.” First, that viewers would “need” to be primed to watch the Disney+ series in the first place. Second, the reality that even the headline would leave more than a few prospective streamers scratching their heads.
Who or what is “Ahsoka,” and what do you need to know before you even know what you don’t know?
Short answer: We’re in Star Wars territory, with Ahsoka Tano being the name of the former-padawan — a.k.a. Jedi-in-training — of Anakin Skywalker — a.k.a. Darth Vader — who parted with her master during the Clone Wars and before his tragic turn to the Dark Side amid the events of Revenge of the Sith (that is, the interregnum between Episodes II and III).
If you’re confused that you’ve never heard of or seen Ahsoka in any of the primary films of the Star Wars franchise, you should be. She’s not part of any of them; rather, Ahsoka entered the canon as a character in the Clone Wars and later Rebels animated series. She came to live action — and much fan acclaim — portrayed by Rosario Dawson in an episode of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.
Ahsoka is a bit of a cipher, neither following the paths of Jedi or Sith, but retaining all the Force powers gleaned from her training under the elder, fallen Skywalker. She means business, and is on the side of good, but has been so disillusioned by the binary nature of galactic politics and religion that she pretty much operates on her own.
I’d submit that she’s more of a libertarian than the vaguely theocratic do-gooders of the Jedi and parsecs removed from the space-fascists of the Sith and the Empire. In the cartoons, her erstwhile mentor Anakin called her “Snips,” owing to her snippy quips and rebellious nature. That’s pretty much what you need to know about Ahsoka: she’s a badass with a chip on her shoulder and the skills to back it up.
Now Ahsoka is older, the Empire has fallen, she’s on the hunt for a missing villain in order to stop the return of the bad old days and she has her own show. And a lot of us (especially Star Wars fans of more advanced years) are confused. We’re experiencing the discomfort of our middle ages through the prism of a cinematic universe in which two full generations have spent their entire lives, because we don’t know who this character is or why we should care about her and her compatriots.
The kids these days — that is, those who grew up watching the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons — are well familiar with Ahsoka Tano, but us oldsters whose memories go back to A New Hope on grainy VHS, feel a little bit befuddled.
That’s the gist of most of the reviews following the two-part premiere that aired Aug. 22: The amount of backstory necessary to even approach the show evades a lot of longer-in-the-tooth Star Wars fans, many of whom were in their 30s when Ahsoka entered the narrative and weren’t watching cartoons (but require a WaPo explainer).
Does that make it worth watching? Sure. We’ve been trained to suspend so much disbelief in the consumption of Star Wars media that it’s not a big stretch to accept that Ahsoka is necessary to the sweep of the story about the conflict between good and evil in a galaxy far, far away. Does that make her miniseries necessary? Not really. I mean, this is the fourth Disney+ show focused on the events between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. This part of the mythos is starting to feel more than a little cluttered.
Lest this be interpreted as a negative review, it isn’t. The digital cinematography of Ahsoka is gorgeous. So far, it has a good balance between exposition and action. In her role as the titular character, Dawson is steely while hinting at an essential vulnerability. We feel that there are emotional as well as political stakes to what goes on, making this entry in the constellation of Star Wars shows feel a little more somber than others (though not nearly so much as Andor and Rogue One, which remain the best of the Disney-era spinoffs. This is a controversial opinion, by the way, according to a friend of mine who works pretty high up at Disney — especially with regards to Rogue One, some in the company despise it, others love it and the division is stark).
That said, watching Ahsoka as a 42-year-old often feels like sitting at a cafeteria table with people a few grades younger than you and trying to keep up with who they’re talking about. As such, if there are bad reviews out there focused on the inscrutability of Ahsoka, I reckon that has more to do with more aged fans feeling resentful that the kids have their own Star Wars heroes. But they’re forgetting that that’s always been central to the franchise’s ethos: The young replace the old and write a different story.
New episodes stream Tuesdays on Disney+.
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