One of my main critiques of Ahsoka thus far has been that the character beats really don’t land for me because I am missing context that the series has not provided. Rather, they expect you to go watch 75 episodes of another show to understand why certain moments are important.
One of my main critiques of Dave Filoni’s work as a show runner, particularly with the last season on The Mandalorian, was how his pacing was off. Things that were set up as season-long quests were resolved in five minutes while plot points I didn’t care about got a lot more screen time.
Well, guess what happened on Ahsoka this week? Sabine set off on an EPIC QUEST to find her friend Ezra and located him in about five minutes. And their reunion was pretty underwhelming because the show assumed you know the deep backstory explored over several seasons of an animated show.
This week is focused on Sabine and our hyper-ring full of baddies. Morgan has piloted the ship to a distant galaxy, which of course has planets full of breathable air, and the first people she meets are fellow Witches of Dathomir. And… look, I understand not to question the logic of the Space Wizard franchise I love dearly, but… how did they get there? How long were they there? Did they get transported with Ezra and Thrawn and the Whales?
And again, I understand the necessity of having “M-Class” planets everywhere (Note to the Editor: I’m crossing the streams again! Trek reference!) (Editor’s Note: As a fellow Double-Star fan, I’ll allow it) but it speaks to a paucity of imagination that the Brave New World here is… just full of rocky fields. Star Wars has given us snow planets and desert planets and lava planets. Could we get a planet with sentient gas creatures? Or the Purgill home world with floating lakes or something? No, we get a field full of rocks.
The witches don’t trust Morgan’s companions because they can smell the Jedi on them, especially Sabine. They want to get rid of her, but will let Thrawn decide how to handle her.
Yes, this week marks the live action debut of Grand Admiral Thrawn. I’ve been a fan of this character since I read about him in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novels waaaay back in my college days in the ’90’s. In those books, he was a brilliant tactician who could analyze your strategy and predict what would come next.
Here? He’s kind of a dud so far. His entrance is extremely cool. The Star Destroyer flies in and nestles atop the witches’ spire. He enters in a gleaming white formal uniform, a stark contrast to the Night Troopers who have armor that is banged up and patched with whatever could be found in a distant galaxy. As he marches to the front of his corps, they start to chant “Thrawn! Thrawn! Thrawn!” Yet, once you get a good look at him, he just doesn’t exude any of the menace I’ve come to expect. He just looks like a middle-aged guy in blue makeup with red contacts. And the plot makes him do some not-very-bright things. Now, one of the lessons of Thrawn’s character is not to underestimate anyone, so I am fully ready for him to rope-a-dope me later. But, first impressions aren’t great.
(As a brief aside to anyone bemoaning the “glut” of Star Wars content today, let me remind you that from 1983-1999 there were hardly any Star Wars shows being produced. You had a couple of OK cartoons and a couple of laughable TV movies about the Ewoks. And a whole lot of novels that ranged in quality from great (Thrawn) to dreadful (The Crystal Star) We literally dreamed of a day when we had good Star Wars TV shows and new movies. Now get off my lawn.) (Editor’s Note: Dude, you old. And there absolutely is too much content.)
Rather than kill Sabine, Thrawn honors the bargain Baylan made with her. She’ll have her chance to find Ezra. However, it’s very much a malicious compliance situation here. Yes, she’ll get her chance to find him, but Baylan and Shin will be following her to find out where Ezra has been hiding.
The late Ray Stevenson again provides the best work in this episode as Baylan. He has a wonderful dialogue with his apprentice about the futility of their actions. He remembers living through Order 66 and the fall of the Jedi. He sighs. “The fall of the Jedi. The rise of the Empire. It repeats again and again and again.” Confused, Shin asks if it isn’t their turn now? Won’t their alliance with Thrawn bring them power? Baylan is wistful. “That kind of power is fleeting. What I seek is a new beginning so I may finally bring this cycle to an end.” Now, I am not sure what kind of new beginning he’s envisioning, but I can understand his frustration. What’s the point of fighting if everything gets washed away like sands in the tides?
Thrawn sends Sabine off on a wolf-horse creature called a Howler. And after a brief skirmish with some bandits, she finds Ezra. He’s been living with a camp of little blue turtle people, and they lead her right to him.
So, Ezra was only a few miles away the whole time? They hand-wave it away with an explanation that the turtle guys move their camp around a lot, but really, how far can the turtle guys walk? The witches who have been there for years, couldn’t they sense Ezra or “smell the Jedi” on him? Was Thrawn really looking for him? It doesn’t seem like it. His attitude towards Sabine going to look for him was “ok, cool.” His attitude towards finding him was blasé at best. He sent Baylan and Shin after him, but didn’t really seem too concerned with finding him. (He very logically deduced that it doesn’t matter if Ezra is dead or stranded a galaxy away, Ezra’ll be out of Thrawn’s hair either way.) In fact, he’s more concerned with jumping back to their old galaxy right away.
So we finally get the long-awaited reunion between Sabine and Ezra. Remember, this has been Sabine’s motivation for the entire show. This is the only reason she let Ahsoka talk her into opening up the map and helping her. This is why she betrayed Ahsoka and went with Morgan and Baylan to a distant galaxy, and might potentially cause the fall of the New Republic by giving Thrawn a way home. So imagine how much emotion is burbling inside Sabine when she finally sees her best friend after years apart.
What do we get? Sabine basically saying, “‘Sup?”
It’s a credit to the acting of Natasha Liu Bordizzo that this has any kind of poignancy. There’s a light in her eyes when she sees Ezra, beardily played here by Eman Esfandi. And he seems like a pleasant enough fellow. But is he worth the potential downfall of a galaxy? Rebels fans seem to think so, but the show has done absolutely nothing to show me why.
So Thrawn is ready to jump back to the old galaxy. I get that he is going to serve as a rallying point for the remnants of the Empire, but what exactly is his plan? He’s got one Star Destroyer, plus some moles in the New Republic government, but even a governing body as fractious as the one Mon Mothma is wrangling can get it together to fight one Star Destroyer. It’s unclear what he’s going to do aside from some guerrilla actions.
This is not the first time this show has had odd pacing or weird character beats, but it is the first time I felt bored during an episode. There just isn’t enough character development for me, someone who has not seen more than an episode of Rebels, and unlike other weeks where there was a cool dogfight in space, there wasn’t a lot for me to hang onto. Will the last two episodes course correct and provide a satisfying conclusion? Anything’s possible, but I’m not counting on it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5