Ahsoka: A Study in Mediocrity
Ahsoka, the latest in a long line-up of Star Wars live-action television shows, falls in the middle of the bunch, failing to make much of an impact.
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Star Wars’ latest live-action show, Ahsoka, is a mixed bag: a captivating backstory and mesmerizing lightsaber battles alongside mediocre acting and lazy direction.
Ahsoka Tano’s character was created in 2008 (before Disney acquired Lucasfilm), as the Padawan, or student, to Anakin Skywalker––the man who became Darth Vader. Through her initial appearances in the animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) and Star Wars: Rebels (2014), Ahsoka has been a fan favorite even before her solo series was announced. Her stubborn yet generous nature allows her to win the hearts of audiences. Ahsoka was aimed to be both a stand-alone story and a live-action fifth season of Star Wars: Rebels but ultimately falls short due to a lack of character chemistry and misguided direction. The show disappoints the massive Star Wars fan base, from die-hard fans already familiar with Ahsoka to the franchise’s newbies.
The eight-episode series follows former Jedi warrior Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) and her former student, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), as they try to prevent the return of the nefarious leaderGrand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelson) of the recently defeated Empire. To combat this threat, Ahsoka begrudgingly continues Sabine’s training in the ways of the Force (a magical energy source controlled by the Jedi). The show relies heavily on the passive-aggressive tension between Ahsoka and Sabine, stemming from Ahsoka having previously terminated Sabine’s training after growing fearful of the latter’s growing power. While acting, Bordizzo tries to put contempt behind her lines, but they often come out sounding forced and surface-level. The two characters share numerous arguments onboard their spaceship, often about Sabine’s discipline—or lack thereof—but any tension is undermined by the poor chemistry between the actors, making scenes that were intended to be emotionally provocative feel inauthentic.
The show’s character arcs are often lacking in proper development. For example, one major plot point involves Sabine being unable to use the Force in order to perform magic. This season-long struggle is monotonous, with Sabine’s ability to use the Force unaddressed until she is suddenly able to use it with great proficiency in the finale. Ahsoka’s arc is also practically nonexistent, with no discernible changes in her demeanor from start to finish. This theme of uninspired writing leaves talented actors like Dawson with little wiggle room to exercise their talents. An exception to this, however, is the character of Baylan (the late Ray Stevenson), a corrupted antagonist from the same fallen organization (the Jedi) as Ahsoka. If there is one reason to watch Ahsoka, it would be to witness Stevenson’s final performance. In a showdown with Ahsoka atop a cliff, Stevenson manages to overcome the monotony of Ahsoka with an unrivaled stage presence.
Hayden Christensen, who reprises his roles as Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader from the Star Wars prequel films (2002–2005), also defies the series’ trend of lackluster acting with his one-episode cameo. Christensen, who was originally criticized for his unlikeable character portrayal in the original Star Wars role, has clearly spent the last two decades refining his craft. In Ahsoka, Christensen pointedly plays his character at two separate times in his life, from a brash 19-year-old soldier to a refined adult master of mind and body.
The mixed bag of performances is not helped by Ahsoka’s artistic style. Much of the show is covered by a gray, desaturated filter, which robs intense scenes of any sense of emotion. Furthermore, the show’s shot choice, especially when it comes to composition, seems to have been designed for efficiency rather than storytelling purposes. The scenes appear to be shot in as few takes as possible, without putting much care into where the camera was placed or its frame. Dueling sequences are shot either too close to the actors or too far away, cutting between views from the midst of the scene to distant shots and creating a disorienting lack of cohesion. Though not elaborate nor fast-paced, the duels are well-choreographed, Ahsoka features a few impressive performances, but most fall flat. Flashy dueling sequences, especially those including Stevenson and Christensen, pick up some of the show’s slack, but with little character development and subpar direction, Ahsoka is aggressively mediocre.