Master and apprentice: Star Wars Ahsoka (S1, E 1-5 review)

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Stepping into some Star Wars shows, especially if you’re not one of those dedicated fans who has watched all the movie and shows, read all the graphic novels and books and devoured every last canonical morsel, can be more than a little intimidating.

There’s a lot of storytelling lore now in place and keeping up with it can feel like a day, or month’s work, in itself, and it’s easy to feel like you may all at sea when it comes to diving into a show like Ahsoka, about a onetime Jedi who, like the few members of the Order who now survive after the Empire’s nightmarish purge, is a lone wolf, bereft of her community but doing her best to make her way into a whole new galaxy.

While some Jedi have gone mercenarially rogue like two of the Big Bads in Ahsoka, Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno) who are actively aiding and abetting Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) for their own survivalist ends, there are those like Ahsoka who remain committed to the New Republic cause, connected to people they believe in like close friend General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and to peace which is looking shaky in the aftermath of the Empire’s defeat.

But still, peace is holding and so, when it emerges that Grand Admiral Thrawn, the last great figure who has a chance of uniting splintered Imperial forces, may be in a place where he can be found if you can get your hands on a well-hidden starmap orb, the race is on between Ahsoka and Elsbeth to locate the map, find Thrawn and either avert or stoke war respectively.

That in a nutshell is the heart of the narrative, and while there are references to the trauma of Ahsoka Tano’s past – she was once an apprentice to Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader which is addressed ———- SPOILER ALERT !!!!! ———- in a dream sequence of sorts in “Part five: Shadow Warrior” – you don’t necessarily need to know all the background to full enjoy the riveting story in what easily one of the best Star Wars streaming services to date.

You will, of course, no doubt benefit from all of Ahsoka’s backstory which can be found on everything from Wikipedia to multiple fan wikis, but the show does an impressive job of filling in the blanks and getting you elegantly up to speed without once bogging you or the narrative in expositional quicksand.

Take the way we meet Ahsoka’s onetime apprentice, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a hero of the New Republic’s fight against the Empire who lives a near-hermitic existence on the planet Lothal and who is none too comfortable being placed in her heroic spotlight.

Quickly and easily, we meet Wren, get her measure – she is a decent, talented, hardworking person who struggles to connect with the Force, who is mourning the loss of her “brother” and fellow Rebellion hero Ezra Bridger (supposed dead but who knows?) and who is hurt by Ahsoka’s rejection of her years earlier – and gain a sense of how she will form a key part of Ahsoka’s narrative.

It’s just one example of how deftly Ahsoka introduces key players and events, not by effectively calling a halt to a nuanced but reasonably speedy narrative momentum, but by sliding them into events and let key plot points and sparkling’s elegant dialogue manage all the reveals.

It’s fast, it’s easy and it means that rather than running to a wiki or sitting by while weight exposition does its ponderous thing, you can sit back and enjoy Ahsoka, knowing you will have all you need, and likely a bit more, to fully enjoy a show that seamlessly slots itself into existing canon with once skipping a beat.

Another appealing aspect of Ahsoka, quite apart from its beautifully paced storytelling which strikes just the right momentum speed, is that none of the characters descend into pointless existential anguish or furious incompetence, or in the case of Elsbeth anything even approaching cartoon villainy.

It’s refreshing to have characters that are good at what they do, who have been hurt or broken but who are capable of maturely dealing with that, and wise heads such as General Syndulla and Ahsoka’s right-hand Jedi droid, Huyang (David Tennant) who strikes just the right balance between humourously direct and all-knowing to provide wise counsel when things do get fraught.

While interpersonal is always good grist for the storytelling mill, it can slow proceedings down to a snarkily sulky and unenjoyable degree, a trap Ahsoka never falls into with any dark nights of the soul dealt with in a way that feel organically part of the narrative and which is delivered without terminally poleaxing the story’s nicely-measured pace.

Finally, the brilliance of these five episodes is how they feel like modern Star Wars re-telling with its darker hues and more ruminative moments without sacrificing the epic breadth and feel of the older entries in the canon.

Yes, there is a lot at stake including another war which no one on the good side of the equation actually wants, and no one can afford to put a foot wrong, but there remains a gee-whiz isn’t-this-is-exciting feel to the story, something that made the old parts of the canon feel adventurous and fun even when its fascists versus the good guys.

That’s important because one of the things that’s always appealed about Star Wars is its ability to balance the intense and the adventurously light, and Ahsoka manages that beautifully, serving up a compelling story introduced impressively well and sustained without missing a beat, characters you definitely want to spend time with, and the promise of more narrative intensity to come, with dark things in the offing and those on the right side of history determined to make sure they never come to fruitition.

Ahsoka is currently streaming on Disney+

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