REVIEW: Dave Filoni Proves to Be the Heir to the Empire in ‘Ahsoka’

The Filoni Ascendancy has begun. Following the sequel era of Star Wars films–an era seemingly plagued by the lack of long-term planning as to how the trilogy would unfold–fans of the franchise hoped desperately that someone would come forward and take control of whatever it was that Star Wars was to become. With the debut of Ahsoka, the next installment in Dave Filoni‘s New Republic era of stories, there’s no longer any question about who should have dominion over the franchise.

The master and apprentice relationship is as foundational to Star Wars as nearly any other aspect. The Jedi and the Sith, for all their differences, are both beholden to the tradition of taking on apprentices, and, for quite some time, it’s been pretty clear that Dave Filoni was, in almost every way, the apprentice of George Lucas. Filoni worked closely with Lucas as he created two of Lucasfilm’s most widely beloved projects in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. And, over time, it became clear that more than maybe anyone else who had worked on Star Wars projects, Filoni truly understood what made Star Wars tick. Not EVERY episode of those series was perfect but they resonated with fans so well because they were longform narratives that more deeply explored the things fans so dearly love about Star Wars. When he made the jump to live-action with The Mandalorian, Filoni brought many of those characters with him and as he continued to dig into what Star Wars was, it started to seem as though he was coming to understand it better for himself. And again, not every choice was perfect and not every episode was for everyone but his passion for the material was built into everything he created or helped create. With Ahsoka, it seems clear that the learner has become a master.

(L-R): Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm’s AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Appropriately enough, Part One of Ahsoka is titled “Master and Apprentice.” That title is equal parts appropriate to the relationship between Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren, the relationship between Dark Jedi Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati and Filoni’s ascendancy from apprentice to master. There’s no small irony that Filoni has staked his claim as heir to the empire in a series that will seemingly begin an adaptation of Timothy Zahn‘s beloved Thrawn novel nor is it a coincidence that Filoni’s best work to date comes with Ahsoka Tano at its center. Ahsoka is not only Filoni’s most popular creation but also the one he seems to have taken the greatest care in curating over the years. Much like wielding the Force, directing takes not only talent, but training, and is best done when the director is calm, at peace and feel the flow. Reuniting her with the cast of Star Wars Rebels has seemingly put Filoni at ease and the result–at least through the first two episodes–is peak Star Wars.

Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

From a storytelling standpoint, Ahsoka acts and feels like a fairly straightforward continuation of the overarching plot of Star Wars Rebels. While those who haven’t watched the animated series can quickly be caught up to speed, there are enough Easter eggs, nods, references, call backs and appearances packed into the first two episodes to make devoted Rebels fans feel rewarded. Filoni’s growth within his craft as a director is evident here as he continues experimenting with shot choices and finds wonderful ways to bring familiar locations like the road to Lothal and the Communication Tower into live-action. However, it’s not only when he’s playing around with familiar characters in familiar locations that he’s at his best.

In the past, Filoni has made it clear that many of the action sequences in Star Wars Rebels took inspiration from the Indiana Jones films and he doesn’t hesitate to go to that well again in Ahsoka. One of the opening episode’s most beautiful sequences finds Rosario Dawson’s former Jedi tomb raiding during a scene wonderfully reminiscent of Indy’s Well of Souls expedition. Paired with the very A New Hope-inspired introduction to Ray Stevenson‘s Baylan Skoll and Ivanna Sakhno’s spicy Shin Hati, Filoni demonstrates an ability to by homage to what’s come before without stealing or making it too rhymey, which was a common complaint among fans during the sequel trilogy. Imitation and creation. And Filoni is getting very, very adept at pairing those two tools to great effect.

(Center): Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson) with with New Republic Security Guards in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

It’s not all about familiarity in Ahsoka, though, as the series–specifically in the second episode directed by Steph Green–looks as though it will continue the New Republic narrative that’s so far been spun in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. “Toil and Trouble” calls back to The Mandalorian’s revelation that Imperial Loyalists have infiltrated all levels of the New Republic and that today’s good guys were probably just yesterday’s bad guys. Thematically, the episode examines the postulate of horror vacui that’s been building in the Filoni-verse series and–with a bit of shocking twist–reveals Morgan Elsbeth’s true nature and her plan to retrieve Grand Admiral Thrawn and install him atop the New Empire. By the end of the shorter second episode, it seems clear that Ahsoka is destined to be a convergence point of “what came before and what’s really possible” in the Star Wars universe, just as Filoni explained it would be.

And just what might really be possible moving forward as Filoni grows in confidence and ability as a director is a thrilling mix of everything we always loved about Star Wars set on a new and fertile narrative landscape. The first two episodes hint strongly at Ahsoka taking the audience on a journey not only to new places but to new interpretations of long-held beliefs about the way things work in the galaxy far, far away and that’s exactly what the franchise will require to stay alive and well.

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