By Carter James
What the hell is going on?
There has been a downward spiral in Star Wars for the past four years. Just when things looked bad during the mismanaged sequel trilogy, the decline in quality has been sharp in the Disney+ era. I consider “The Rise of Skywalker” one of the most soulless films of all time, but at least it’s well made from a filmmaking standpoint, which is more than I can say for some of the recent shows.
The current litany of shows made for Disney+ are laden with lazy writing and cheap visual presentation. There are some exceptions, though. Lucasfilm Animation has been doing their own great thing, and “Andor” is the best project to ever come out of Star Wars.
With “Ahsoka,” there’s multiple problems. The show is a sequel to the animated series “Star Wars Rebels,” and is a part of the series of shows described as the “Mando-Verse”—in reference to the continuity it shares with “The Mandalorian.” The endgame of the “Mando-Verse” is a movie that will conclude the titular series and associated shows such as “Ahsoka” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”
Because you’re required to watch an animated series and be in the know about current live-action series, there’s pressure to do homework before starting “Ahsoka.” Have I done my homework? Somewhat.
I’ve seen enough of “Star Wars Rebels” to be familiar with characters and significant events, but not enough to give a full rundown on the four-season plot. This is important because “Ahsoka” is a direct sequel to “Rebels,” picking up where the series ended. I dredged through the current live-action Disney+ shows, so I already knew what to expect going in.
I can’t say “Ahsoka” was a pleasant surprise or even the worst thing ever created. This show has given me the realization of one thing, and one thing only: the worst is yet to come.
“Ashoka” is passable. There’s just enough conflict and just enough action and just enough character to make the show numbingly watchable, rather than borderline offensive. Our titular hero, Ahsoka Tano, lacks character progression or legitimate relevance to the story besides being a stoic teacher. The “Rebels” cast feels like robotic versions of themselves, having remnants of their character, while also being pseudo plot-devices for the inevitable film and potential subsequent seasons. To add insult to injury, the cast has taken lessons from the prequels’ school of acting, being stilted, wooden and automatic.
The clear highlight of the series is Ray Stevenson’s Sith mercenary, Baylan Skroll. Stevenson gives a memorable final performance, as he tragically passed away this May. Baylan is a character that has a nuanced look on his inner morality in relation to abandoning the Jedi order.
The wooden performances and lackluster character development are no fault of the actors or even most of the directors. Televison is the writers’ format, however, it’s showrunner and writer Dave Filoni who is to blame for the stagnated feeling of the series. Filoni is seen as a darling of the franchise, as he was the showrunner of “Star Wars the Clone Wars” and “Star Wars: Rebels,” and is the executive producer and co-writer of “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” His writing for live-action narratives are bare bones and weak, and “Ahsoka” is the prime example of his weakness.
Interesting ideas are there. Ahsoka is a reluctant teacher. Sabine is not a devout follower of the Jedi or force yet and is willing to honor Ezra Bridger’s legacy as a Jedi. Baylan wants to reset the natural order of the galaxy through the force. The New Republic is already showing signs of weakness. Yet, none of this is told in an interesting way, both in storytelling and filmmaking.
The plot moves forward, and boxes are checked. Grand Admiral Thrawn returns, and Ezra is brought home. In between, nothing genuinely compelling happens. Our characters are virtually the same as they started, Ahsoka and Sabine’s teacher/student relationship is now functioning, but that comes not from character growth, but plot convenience.
Despite the show feeling like a hollow setup, it was entertaining enough to continue watching each week. Episode five is the best episode of the series by a long shot because Ahsoka has to confront her relationship with Anakin Skywalker, her former master. The use of cameos has been eye-rolling at best in terms of current Star Wars, but Hayden Christensen’s reprisal of Anakin actually served a purpose.
The technical aspects of “Ahsoka” are a mixed bag. The show doesn’t look as cheap and ugly as season three of “The Mandalorian” or “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” but is inconsistent. The direction, especially the two episodes directed by Filoni, is unremarkable. They get the job done but do it in the safest and most uninspired way possible. We’ve made it to the point where “Star Wars” is the main inspiration for “Star Wars.” Sure, the action scenes are decent and watchable, but it doesn’t hurt to have some energy and stakes. This franchise’s situation is so dire that I’m begging for excitement and real drama—the same “Star Wars” that’s supposed to be a space opera.
Someone needs to take the LED soundstage, the volume, away from Lucasfilm, because their projects went from looking like high budget epics to fan films. It’s painfully obvious when two actors are standing in front of a screen. Not all episodes or scenes have dull cinematography, but enough to where there’s a visual inconsistency throughout. It doesn’t help that some costumes and makeup feel fake too. There’s zero excuse for having these massive $100-$300 million budgets and the shows to come out looking like a YouTube video.
When all hope is seemingly lost, however, the Kiners still make a way to turn good product. Composing family, Kevin, Sean and Deana Kiner all do more than an excellent job in scoring this series. They make okay moments seem good and bad moments at least hummable. Listening to the score on its own makes me think they wrote music for a show that was actually good.
No one knows what the future holds for “Star Wars.” What I believe, however, is that the series “Ahsoka” is an omen for what is to come. Poor writing, lackluster character development, bland direction and inconsistent visual presentation. It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. This show has made me realize that there are new ways to surprise me, as the franchise reaches new lows. Even though it’s watchable and entertaining, there’s too much left to be desired in terms of storytelling. How am I supposed to believe that a theatrical movie will do a good job in wrapping up this story if the setup was poor to begin with? Maybe if I did my “Star Wars homework,” I would get more out of the show than it had to offer.