At this point, live-action Star Wars shows are no longer novel. In fact, it’s getting pretty crowded out there, with everything from the ongoing adventures of The Mandalorian to series like Andor, Obi-Wan, and The Book of Boba Fett. So, a new story like Ahsoka needs to do something a little different to stand out from the ever-growing pack. And in its first two episodes, the series manages to do just that by focusing on a very specific and important part of the Star Wars mythos: mystery.
The show starts out like classic Star Wars, complete with a title crawl (this time in red text) followed by a massive spaceship slowly making its way through the inky expanse of space. The story — which takes place roughly during the same period as The Mandalorian’s third season — is, much like the outset of the most recent film trilogy, concerned initially with a map. Only instead of leading everyone to Luke Skywalker, this map is a chance for the bad guys to find an exiled admiral named Thrawn, who, we’re told, will bring another war with him.
There are two sides looking for the map. First, there’s the former Jedi padawan Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson), who, naturally, wants to prevent Thrawn’s return. She works alongside a wise-but-saucy robot named Huyang (David Tennant), her brash former pupil Sabine (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who keeps a pile of Stormtrooper helmets in her bedroom, and a general named Hera (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). On the other team are followers of the dark side of the force, a master named Baylan (Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin (Ivanna Sakhno), who are working at the behest of Lady Morgan (Diana Lee Inosanto).
Those names will sound pretty familiar if you watched the animated Star Wars shows, Clone Wars or Rebels, but for everyone else, most of the cast will be brand-new, aside from a few faces — like Ahsoka herself — who made an appearance in live-action shows like The Mandalorian. The good news is that the show doesn’t really require much prior knowledge. I’m sure fans who watched those animated shows will get more out of Ahsoka, but as someone coming to it without that history, I had no problem understanding what was going on or immediately sensing the tension between Ahsoka and Sabine. The only thing I’m not clear on yet is just why Thrawn is such a threat.
What the show really excels at is creating that sense of mythology and mystery that is really at the core of Star Wars. As the two sides vie for a little golden ball containing an important map, they venture to long-lost temples and crypts, places steeped in the history of the Force and the Jedi. Initially, Ahsoka finds the map in an ancient shrine by solving a series of intricate puzzles, like something out of Jedi: Survivor. Later on, Baylan and Shin attempt to read the map in a dark, crumbling ruin that looks like this:
As you watch, you really get the sense that there’s a long history here, places that haven’t been touched for centuries, and a universe that’s much larger than Star Wars typically suggests. Ahsoka also delves into some of the more fascinating parts of the Star Wars universe, most notably the Nightsisters, which are witches that provide an interesting counterpoint to the magic and mysticism of the Jedi and Sith.
And all of this mystery and history is just part of a show that also excels at doing, well, Star Wars things. Ahsoka’s first episodes are a prolonged battle over a MacGuffin, but they’re a fun prolonged battle over a MacGuffin. There are some great lightsaber battles, particularly when Ahsoka whips out her dual blades to dismantle some warrior droids, as well as some slick chase sequences with Sabine on her speeder. And, this being modern Star Wars, there is, of course, a painfully adorable new creature to oooh and aww over. Just look at this thing:
This is all to say that Ahsoka largely follows the Star Wars streaming formula while also carving out its own vibe within it. It even sounds great, with a piano-filled score from Kevin Kiner that gives the show an appropriately epic feel. Whereas some Star Wars shows become something of a slog, Ahsoka starts out by reminding you not just that Star Wars can be fun but also that its universe is vast and deep, with plenty of dusty, unexplored corners.
Of course, it’s still early. A fast start doesn’t mean a great show, in the same way that a slow start doesn’t mean a bad one. But Ahsoka’s first two episodes lay down a solid foundation that, coupled with the show’s primetime streaming slot, could make it into Mando-style appointment viewing.
The first two episodes of Ahsoka start streaming on Disney Plus starting on August 22nd.