Back to Star Wars, but without much enthusiasm. Dave Filoni’s new series for Disney+ seems like a reheat of a previous, partly-consumed meal, covering some of the same events as animated series Star Wars Rebels, but with the new, very 2023 angle of a largely female cast. Women have generally had short shrift over nearly five decades of Star Wars, from Rey’s gibberish family tree to Leia’s gold-lame bikini, but at least Ahsoka peels back the previous boys club feel with substantial lead roles for Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and others.
So in terms of the timeline, we’re somewhere between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the Clone Wars are over, the New Republic is where we are, and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) is seeking a star map that turns out to be hidden in a golden baseball that she finds in some ruined temple. Of course, Ahsoka can’t open the map, so enlists the help of graffiti artist Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who promptly steals it in episode one. In episode two, Ahsoka teams up with green-faced general Hera Syndulla (Winstead doing her best despite looking like Katy Perry cosplaying as Amelia Earhart) to check out a shipyard base where Imperial destroyers are being reset. It’s here they discover a potential nest of Imperial sympathisers who might provide a route to track down blue-faced rogue General Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen when he arrives). This all has something to do with the supernatural chunterings of the Witches of Dathomir, who seem to have wandered in from a touring production of Macbeth.
With episode two taking a quote from Shakespeare in its title, ‘Toil and Trouble’, I’d have to say that if Shakespeare is going to be in Star Wars, I’m out. The same goes for rock music needle-drops, even if it’s a raucous track from the amusingly named Illuminata Hotties that plays over Sabine Wren’s speeder-bike chase. The rescues and reveals feel reworked from the original trilogy, but there’s zero continuity with the older films in the way that Jedi use the force to perform stunts like vertical jumps. There’s also gonk droids (that box with legs again), characters surviving having light-sabres rammed up their dukes, horny space cats, a role for the late Ray Stevenson, David Tennant doing a C3P0 campy voice-over and screeds of cringe dialogue ‘Send this one to the planet Lothal!’ There’s also frantic retconning a la ‘his death was never confirmed’, the kind of bait-and-switch that makes you wonder why you’re trying to make sense of such endless po-faced exposition.
There’s vague remnants of the stinging corporate critique of Andor here; actual star wars are the biggest industry in the galaxy, and wretched toadies defend their immorality thus-‘I’m a businessman, my loyalty is to my investors, I’ll leave the politics up to you.’ Dawson and Winstead both have fancy make-up that looks like they’ve got legs growing out of their heads, and have to suffer various other indignities; the supposedly nimble Ahsoka is pictured twice waddling after a spaceship like she’s running after a departing bus with two bags of shopping. There’s also a confusing emphasis on murals and monuments, which doesn’t chime with the original Star Wars, but picking holes in the logic of Ahsoka feels like a black hole for energy. With tent-pole Dune 2 getting cancelled until 2024, streaming lacks any real opposition from cinemas right now, but that doesn’t make inessential storytelling time-passers like Ahsoka any more palatable to anyone but fan-boys. ‘The only time you are wasting is your own,’ suggests a passing droid, and that’s probably about right for casual viewers lost in the unfocused world of Ahsoka.