There’s an argument to be made that, even more than producers Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni is the true heir and steward of the Star Wars universe. He’s been in the mix at LucasFilm since the mid-2000s, working closely with George Lucas before the sale of his company to Disney (DIS). Initially an animation director and one of the guiding hands behind The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch, Filoni has since made the leap to live action television, contributing as a producer, writer, and director of The Mandalorian and its spin-off, The Book of Boba Fett, which have each picked up dangling threads and characters from his animated shows. The latest live-action Star Wars streaming series is Filoni’s baby, a direct spin-off of Rebels centered around errant Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano, a character created for The Clone Wars who has since become one of the franchise’s most interesting and prolific figures. For a loyal Star Wars fan, Ahsoka should be a layup, a logical next chapter in a popular long-running saga. Instead, judging from its first two episodes Ahsoka may be the most lifeless, plodding, and shockingly incompetent installment in the franchise to date.
Let’s get the plot out of the way first. Years after the end of the Galactic Civil War depicted in the original Star Wars trilogy, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) discovers that parties still loyal to the dissolved Galactic Empire are attempting to locate Thrawn, the last surviving Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, in the hopes of rallying behind him to topple the benevolent New Republic. Thrawn was last seen on a vessel hurtling out of the galaxy, which means that tracking him requires a journey beyond the Star Wars franchise’s established setting. Ahsoka hopes to find Thrawn first, not only because she hopes to prevent another war, but because Thrawn disappeared alongside heroic Jedi Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), and this mission may be the only chance of bringing him home. Thus, Ahsoka enlists a few of Ezra’s old Rebel shipmates to aid in her search, first the gallant General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), then the untamable Mandalorian warrior/engineer/artist Sabine Wren (Nathasha Liu Bordizzo), whose relationship with Ahsoka has grown complicated in the years since we last saw them together. The race is on against the space witch Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) and her dark Jedi enforcers (Ivanna Sakhno and the late Ray Stevenson) to be the first to reach Thrawn and Ezra.
Except, the race is not on, in fact Ahsoka has no sense of urgency whatsoever. Its first episode, “Master and Apprentice,” is unbearably slow in every way. I don’t mean only that the plot feels protracted, I mean that each individual scene, each individual shot, each individual line of dialogue feels protracted. Characters speak a single sentence, or even a single clause at a time, as if their next line is still loading in their heads. Scenes regularly begin when a character enters a room even if the action doesn’t really begin until 10, even 20 seconds later, as if not showing them walking through a door would leave the audience wondering how they got in there. This evokes the feeling of playing a point-and-click adventure game; a stationary camera follows subjects from left to right across a room, cutting to medium shots of speaking characters or close-ups of items being manipulated, then back to the master shot again. Most shots hold for longer than feels comfortable, and a few scenes are excisable altogether. Part One runs for 50 minutes, and generously, there are 20 minutes of substance here.
There are reasons why a filmmaker may want to draw out the pace of a story. They might be trying to draw your attention to performances, or to design or composition. They may be attempting to create a sense of dreamlike discomfort, or even actively trying to bore the audience for some artistic purpose. There is no evidence that Filoni intends any of these things, and given that all other signs point to Ahsoka being popcorn entertainment, it would be weird if he did. As it stands, there is nothing going on in these performances apart from stiff blocking and purely expository dialogue. Ahsoka assembles a talented cast, but if news broke tomorrow that the series actually starred AI simulacra in the likeness of real actors, it would explain a lot. Likewise, it doesn’t feel as if there’s a human being behind the camera, either, as Filoni’s shot compositions and editing choices are purely practical if not actively harmful to the drama and tension of each scene. It’s as if he concerned himself only with making sure that subjects were in frame, in focus, and evenly lit, and put no further thought into it, channeling the infamous on-set laziness of late-era Lucas. (The second episode, directed by Steph Green but clearly following the style guide established in the first, is only marginally better.)
As hard as I’ve been on recent live-action Star Wars series not called Andor (The Book of Boba Fett had me begging for death), I imagined that Ahsoka would, if nothing else, fit the brand’s usual fan candy and seeing some of my favorite animated Star Wars characters come to life would make for some diverting television. Instead, I’m left utterly baffled, as Ahsoka has managed to set the bar for Star Wars TV to a new low. Barring professional obligation, I can hardly imagine watching the remainder of this series. Ahsoka is supposed to lead into a crossover feature film that unites the casts of all the Mandalorian-adjacent series, with Dave Filoni at the helm. Once, that might have sounded appealing, but now, I sense a great disturbance in the Force.