REVIEW: ‘Tales of the Empire’

After a very well recieved debut in 2022’s Tales of the Jedi, the second installment of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Tales anthology, Tales of the Empire, hits Disney Plus on May 4th as part of the celebration of Star Wars Day. Like its predecessor, Tales of the Empire is a six-episode entry into the already voluminous story of the galaxy far, far away. Created, once again, by Dave Filoni, the new series of shorts (each episode’s story is told in 15 minutes or less) is divided into two wide-ranging three-episode arcs that flesh out the stories of a pair of characters who have, at various times, been key players in other Star Wars projects. The first three episodes recount Morgan Elsbeth’s history before her appearance in The Mandalorian while the final three episodes reveal what became of Barriss Offee following her betrayal of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Expertly crafted, beautifully animated and action-packed, Tales of the Empire is must-see non-essential TV.

The paradoxical nature of an anthology that doesn’t need to be seen to fully enjoy other projects set within in the Star Wars universe may be a direct reflection of the true nature of the Tales series. It also may be one of the more perfect examples of how Disney’s major studios could and should use Disney Plus. Like the stories of Count Dooku and Ahsoka told in Tales of the Jedi, none of what plays out in Tales of the Empire could be taken as required reading for a casual fan to understand and enjoy any current Star Wars project; in fact, most of what takes place on screen throughout the three episodes dedicated to Morgan Elsbeth was already known. However, viewers are highly unlikely to come away feeling as though they’ve wasted 45 minutes or so per character. The careful direction behind each arc, the tasteful and effective uses of other characters and the emotional current that runs throughout create two expertly crafted stories of tragic characters. Thematically, Star Wars has always dipped into the fall and the redemption of its characters and Tales of the Empire follows suit, following two characters whose choices have put them a crossroads where their next choices will ultimately define their legacy in the galaxy.

Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to Hate. Hate Leads to Suffering.

Morgan Elsbeth in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Morgan Elsbeth’s legacy is a known quantity. Introduced as an antagonist in The Madalorian, Elsbeth became a truly central villain in Ahsoka. One of the last surviving Nightsisters of Dathomir, Elsbeth was a known ally of Grand Admiral Thrawn and was willing to give her life in order to allow him and the Great Mothers to escape Peridea. Though details were certainly scarce, the bullet points of her life before the events of The Mandalorian were shared with Din Djarin and the audience by Ahsoka Tano.

During the Clone Wars, her people were massacred. She survived, and let her anger fuel an industry which helped build the Imperial Starfleet. She plundered worlds, destroying them in the process

Ahsoka Tano to Din Djarin on Morgan Elsbeth in The Mandalorian

The first three episodes of Tales of the Empire chronicle nearly 30 years of Elsbeth’s life from the slaughter of her family on Dathomir, to her first meeting with Thrawn to the New Republic era just ahead of her first encounter with Ahsoka. Driven by vengeance and emboldened by anger, Morgan’s descent into villainy doesn’t need to be seen to root against her in The Mandalorian or Ahsoka. However, Morgan’s true motivations, including why she’s so willing to give her life in exchange for the safe return of the Great Mothers to their home galaxy, are fully developed. Bearing witness to the trauma endured by a young Morgan Elsbeth at the hands of General Grievous doesn’t necessarily make her a sympathetic character but it does place her firmly on a path of vengeance and establishes why she became entrenched in the Empire while maintaining a myopic focus of restoring her culture as the last of her kind.

There Are Some Things Far More Frightening Than Death

Barriss Offee (center) and Clone guards in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Juxtaposed against the story of how Morgan Elsbeth became who she was is a three-episode story that reveals who Barriss Offee becomes. A key character in later seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Offee’s final fate following her imprisonment for crimes against the Republic had yet to be explored in any Star Wars project. The winds certainly shifted shortly after Offee was imprisoned and that’s right where the next chapters in Offee’s life begin.

I did it. Because I’ve come to realize what many people in the Republic have come to realize. That the Jedi are the ones responsible for this war. That we’ve so lost our way that we have become villains in this conflict. That we are the ones that should be put on trial. All of us! And my attack on the Temple was an attack on what the Jedi have become. An army fighting for the dark side. Fallen from the light that we once held so dear. This Republic is failing! It’s only a matter of time.

Barriss Offee’s confession as heard in Star Wars: The Clone Wars-The Wrong Jedi

Offee’s three-episode arc, as revealed in the trailer for Tales of the Empire, involves her recruitment into the Inquisitorious by Lyn, the Fourth Sister of the Inquisitorious, who was introduced in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Present throughout Offee’s entire arc, which extends until at least roughly 1 BBY, the Fourth Sister works as a steadfast foil for the former Padawan of Luminara Unduli. Like Elsbeth’s story, Offee’s is not particularly necessary to any greater understanding of the Star Wars galaxy; however, in the larger setting of modern Star Wars storytelling, it offers yet another perspective of what becomes of former Jedi. While superficially similar to characters such as her old friend Ahsoka Tano, Count Dooku and Baylan Skoll, Offee finds a different resolution to her philosophical difference with the Jedi. Losing faith in what the Order became does not necessarily dictate the abandonment of its principles nor cast one eternally into the shadow of the Dark Side. Ironically enough, Offee’s path may more closely follow the one taken by Asajj Ventress, whom she once impersonated in her efforts to take down Ahsoka and the Jedi. Offee’s story is another example of Filoni’s interest in exploring a far wider view of the Force and the overall saga’s examination of redemption.

As was the case with Tales of the Jedi, Tales of the Empire works as a fascinating character study that illuminates the psychology and internal struggles that define its central figures. Set against the ever-present themes of destiny, fate and free will, Tales of the Empire stands alone as a strong entry into the Star Wars franchise and given the quality of the storytelling contained within, stands as an exemplar of how Lucasfilm can use Disney’s streaming service to its advantage. While fans will never need to see it, they’ll not only be glad they did but also find themselves hoping the Tales anthology series continues.

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