‘Ahsoka’: Rosario Dawson Wields the Lightsaber in Latest ‘Star Wars’ Series

Franchises are quickly carving out corners for themselves like exclusive clubs where you need to be in the know to get what’s going on even for the first season. Disney’s “Ahsoka” is another “Star Wars” show made for a guaranteed audience, those who will tune in out of devotion to the Force no matter what. On its own, if you’re not already a fan, you probably won’t care about anything that happens here. That helps explain why its initial episodes are such slow burners that suggest this is another series where you need to be committed to get to the good parts. Like the MCU, the more familiar you are with quite a few other titles, the more invested you will be in the title character.

That character is of course Ahsoka, played by Rosario Dawson who looks perfect in the role. “Star Wars” devotees will know her best from the animated “Star Wars Rebels” and “The Clone Wars.” In a way this is a sequel of sorts to “Rebels.” It begins with a breakout led by ominous figures Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson) and Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). They rescue Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) from Republic forces. She is an important link to finding the exiled Grand Admiral Thrawn (a name very familiar to “Star Wars” fans) in order to restore the glory of the once mighty Empire. Also on the trail of Thrawn in a way is Ahsoka, former Jedi pupil of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. She finds an orb that might hold the key to Thrawn’s location, but to activate it, she may need the help of former pupil Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). The two had a falling out and Sabine is now a total rebel without a cause. 

By now the below casual viewer might have just decided they are done with “Star Wars.” The showrunner of “Ahsoka” is David Filoni, who also helmed “Clone Wars” and “Rebels.” His switch to live action maintains the usual look of other members of the galaxy far, far away, like “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” Yet, unlike animation, his approach here is very low energy at first. A lot of the initial episodes of “Ahsoka” function as pure exposition with a few bursts of action. There is a constant pattern to these shows where major characters are hinted at, maps are found and the heroes take a while to initiate the journey, because much has to be half-explained (what exactly happened between Ahsoka and Sabine is kept at a distance). Thrawn has been a “Star Wars” fixture since debuting in the post-original trilogy spinoff novel “Heir to the Empire” in the ‘90s. For this series he’s announced from the beginning, we just need to endure a few more hours of plot to see him. If you watched “Rebels” you know he was last seen dragged away by space whales into some other corner of the galaxy.

Then there is the performance by Rosario Dawson, an actor of strong presence who also seems to be only gearing up for something more intense in the first two episodes. Her delivery of the material is very deadpan, with lots of pacing around, arms crossed, and rarely smiling. Her posture only changes when it’s time to take out the lightsaber. There’s a bit more life to Bordizzo’s Sabine, portrayed as the typical young hero with a chip on their shoulder. She rides a speeding vessel down empty highways that look like a sci-fi Kansas, for no other reason than to look edgy. Not only was she once a Jedi, but also a Mandalorian, meaning fresh shots of the famous helmet for fans to swoon over. We just know eventually she’ll master the Force and battle some evil Sith or two. For now it’s all vague because Disney has only released what is akin to the first two chapters of a hefty novel. Ray Stevenson, a talent who left us too soon, has the gravitas for Baylan Skoll, decked in a cloak and nodding gravely when Morgan talks about Thrawn like a groupie waiting for her rock star or cult leader to return.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead should also be noted for giving a good performance so far as the green General Hera Syndulla, who is the necessary, nicer temper who tries to convince Ahsoka that she needs to mend ties with Sabine. It is good acting in a show that essentially confirms that, despite what the hardcore aficionado will admit, little by little the spirit of the original “Star Wars” is slipping away. Such a situation is inevitable considering the first movie premiered in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was still president. There have been recent admirable attempts at recharging fresh energy into the franchise, like the acclaimed “Andor,” but these shows lack the fairy tale, adventurous mythologies of the original films. Desperate to keep it going, showrunners and writers have tried everything from Westerns (“The Mandalorian”) to half-formed noir chases (“Obi-Wan”). “Ahsoka” feels like it’s trying small portions of all that’s come before. For the die-hards who will keep watching no matter what, it’s another monetary fix with comfortingly familiar visuals and chatter about Jedis and the returning Empire. The rest of us might be left asking, who cares?

Ahsoka” season one begins streaming Aug. 23 with new episodes premiering Wednesdays on Disney+.