The Star Wars franchise is in a somewhat precarious place. It's too big to fail entirely; Andor has bought more than enough goodwill for the time being, at least for me. Having said that, The Book of Boba Fett and even more so Season 3 of The Mandalorian were colossal disappointments. It makes one wonder if all the dubious-source rumors about creative discord between Jon Favreau and Kathleen Kennedy do indeed have some veracity to them.
Regardless of the Favreau-Kennedy dynamic, the bottom line is, those last two Mandoverse efforts fell way short of the high bar they'd set for themselves before. Everything I read about Ahsoka — including the recent deep-dive feature from Entertainment Weekly that sparked this blog — makes it seem like the newest Disney+ series will be one of the best projects in all of Star Wars media.
A few details from that EW report stand out. To build on what little we can glean from the official trailer released a few weeks ago, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) has already trained with Rosario Dawson's titular character as a Jedi apprentice before the events of the show. They're reuniting to find their friend Ezra Bridger, who disappeared years before with the villainous Imperial leader Grand Admiral Thrawn. More on him in a minute.
Sometimes in storytelling, there are action sequences or fights for the sake of having them. In an ideal world, the writer(s) and filmmakers have enough time to get specific about how these drive the main story forward, and most importantly, how it underscores some quality about the character. Ideally, each time the character finds themselves in subsequent physical confrontations, they evolve based on their experiences and lessons they've learned on their journey.
You won't find a much better example of this than in Casino Royale, as is expertly broken down by the YouTube channel Beyond the Screenplay:
So when Bordizzo is dropping quotes like this, it gets me fucking HYYYYYYPED:
"Sometimes you do stunts in projects, and it feels performative or more like it's for the fun of the action, which is fine…But every action scene in our show is very, very parallel to the story. Every move is thought out, to where they would comment that a certain move did or didn't feel like Sabine. Everything is intentional, and I hope that shows on screen."
…Whereas I watch any given 'sode from Mando Season 3, and a lot of the fighting feels like arbitrary obstacles for Din Djarin to overcome. He's taking a decent amount of damage and punishment for someone with such impenetrable armor, yet I find myself just waiting for it to end. There's no sense that he's in any real danger. When sequences like that soak up the runtime of weekly episodes, it can get tiresome in a hurry.
A lot of my excitement for Ahsoka stems from the greater care and sheer amount of time Dave Filoni has had to cultivate this story and kick around ideas. Favreau has had to sprint through the past couple seasons of shows and write scripts on the fly. That's inevitably harder. The guy has a million balls in the air at once. Filoni co-created the character of Ahsoka Tano with George Lucas, and oversaw her development through the animated series in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. He's thought about the continuation of Ahsoka's story since Rebels ended in 2018.
In lieu of a smoother transition that I can't quite crack, a brief pause for the immaculate vibes between George Lucas and Dawson from the Mando Season 2 set:
Ahsoka has become one of the most beloved characters in the galaxy far, far away. Pretty impressive for someone with such little play in live-action to date. When Dawson spoke to EW, she alluded to Gandalf's arc from Lord of the Rings as a way of explaining what Ahsoka has gone through — and what lies ahead:
"In the animation, you saw her go to the white, but what I loved is the idea that there was even another level to her. Dave and I talked a lot about Gandalf the Gray and Gandalf the White — talking about that transition and how she's someone very capable and excellent and looked up to as a leader, but she still has levels of development to go."
Beyond the incomplete training she carried out with Sabine, Ahsoka herself never finished her training with her OG master. For those who've not seen the animated content, that would be none other than Anakin Skywalker.
It's pretty much the worst-kept secret in the galaxy at this point that Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as Anakin, like he did in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Only this time, there's more room for Christensen to play around. We could get flashbacks of him mentoring Ahsoka, we could see him as Darth Vader in the full mechanized getup, or we could see him as a Force ghost. Some combination of all three would be preferable.
EW teases the following passage: "Might we see her cross lightsabers with Vader again in Ahsoka, reuniting Dawson with her Shattered Glass costar Hayden Christensen? Only time will tell."
You don't just tee that up without a payoff!! Come on! By the way, the teaser at the top of this blog is a pretty on-the-nose confirmation that Christensen has a not-insignificant role to play in Ahsoka.
In any event, it's pretty awesome to see Christensen have a comeback of sorts in the iconic role after taking so much grief for his initial turn in Attack of the Clones. When you think about how repressive the Jedi are and how Christensen acted throughout Episode II in particular, his awkward advances toward Padme and whiny immaturity actually make a lot of sense. The patented Lucas dialogue obviously didn't do him any favors, either.
For those of you who think Hayden Christensen can't act, you must not've seen the finale of Kenobi. Or that movie EW mentions, Shattered Glass. My only complaint about the following Obi-Anakin scene is that I wish we had more of Christensen out of the Vader suit (er, at least partially here) throughout the series.
Speaking of Ewan McGregor's iconic Obi-Wan, his real-life wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has a key part in Ahsoka as General Hera Syndulla. She was the last core cast member to be revealed if memory serves (besides Thrawn). Winstead's take on Hera from the EW feature was so spot-on:
"What I love about her is that she's such a strong leader and fighter, and she's also so maternal and nurturing…We don't often see that depicted on screen. We see army generals being these very masculine, hard figures. And Hera has that, but she also has this softness to her. She really wants her crew to be loved and looked after, and at the same time, she's pushing them to be better."
Don't think you could tease a character much better than that. For those of you who haven't seen Rebels, doing my best not to spoil anything…it's just…this eagle-eyed observation from Star Wars Explained tells me we're in for more than a few surprises:
But our core band of heroes will only be as good as their antagonist. Thrawn is being played by Lars Mikkelsen, who voiced the character so well in Rebels. Not gonna lie, I was a little like "ehhhhh" when I first saw him in the trailer. Also relieved they didn't show too much of him in a way. Mikkelsen's remarks about his own self-doubt put me more at ease, again via EW:
"Bringing Thrawn into live-action required a bit more effort than just hanging out in a recording booth. Like several of his costars, Mikkelsen spent hours in the makeup chair getting smeared in thick paint. 'I mean, I'm not the only one with various colors,' Mikkelsen says. 'There's green and orange. Everybody goes through it.' Still, he admits, he wasn't sure Thrawn's menace would truly work in live-action… until he first stepped on to set in full makeup, red eyes glinting in the stage lights. 'I really wanted to see it in the camera,' he says. 'But it worked. And I was quite amazed.'"
All the diehard Thrawn fans from the non-canon Legends novels give the latest galactic baddie a built-in fan base as is. Between that crowd, us Rebels folk, and those who picked up with Thrawn from the newer canon books, there's a lot of anticipation for the master military strategist.
Thrawn is often several steps ahead of his opponents. Defeating him will come down to some classic rebellious improvisation and strength in numbers. Really though, Thrawn is setting the stage for the eventual rise of the First Order. That's one of the many elements that makes this largely unexplored period of Star Wars lore so fascinating. We're still tracking about 20 years out from The Force Awakens at this point.
Ahsoka premieres on August 23 with two episodes right off the bat. I want to be frozen in carbonite until then. Not really. There's the chance of not even surviving the freezing process. From everything the cast has said, everyone's game for a Season 2 if they get the shot at it.
The only way I can't see it happening is if Filoni's upcoming crossover movie essentially serves as the sequel. Otherwise, there are so many more years to play with on the Star Wars timeline, and I doubt Filoni thinks more about anything in this universe than how to enhance Ahsoka as a character and tell more stories about her.
Regardless of what the future holds, I'm feeling more confident by the day that Ahsoka is going to be truly special. Let's hope this isn't the dark side clouding my judgment.