Let’s say you’re hanging out with some people who’ve known each other for a long time. Maybe longer than they’ve known you. They have all these hilarious in-jokes and constantly reference times they hung out together. Times which you were, notably, not present for. It’s all they do. They never bring you up to speed or endeavor to discuss things you might know about. What a bunch of assholes, right? Ahsoka is like one of those jerks.
Every week of Ahsoka has been more baffling than the last, to a degree largely dependent on your investment in extracurricular Star Wars. If you’re the type that’s deep in it, well-versed in the animated series and its implications, Ahsoka — while not a good show — is at least an opportunity to feel useful. Because for those that aren’t up-to-date on deep Star Wars lore, Ahsoka has been a slowly accumulating disaster, with its few bright spots (gorgeous space battles, cute turtle guys, Ray Stevenson) overwhelmed by a series so uninterested in entertaining the unconverted that it defeated my weekly struggle to enjoy it. I now know what it was like for Obi-Wan in the pits of Mustafar. Ahsoka was supposed to be the chosen one, the reason for me to tell others, See I wasn’t an idiot for watching all those Star Wars cartoons; you’d like them. Instead I feel like an idiot for watching all those Star Wars cartoons.
The current fixation on interconnected cinematic universes and the vertical integration that fuels streaming platforms does a lot to make the viewer feel like it is their responsibility to do homework. Like it’s their fault if a story doesn’t make sense, because answers are, ostensibly, attainable with a few taps on an app and several hours of your time. Let me do you a kindness: That is not on you.
Ahsoka’s cardinal sin is a simple one: It’s the middle of a story that the viewer has no way of knowing they started. To make sense of Ahsoka, someone has to tell you that it is a sequel to Rebels, that it leans heavily on several bonkers arcs of The Clone Wars, that its big villain is a callback to decades-old Legacy novels and kind of a Big Deal. And one of the only ways to avoid being frustrated with Ahsoka’s cliffhanger ending is by going in with the knowledge that creator Dave Filoni is working towards a film that will wrap up his “New Republic” story, and that real closure won’t come until then — regardless of whether or not Ahsoka gets a second season, or if its plot threads are continued in The Mandalorian.
The series does not stand on its own two feet. Absolutely none of its character or plot arcs make any sense without extensive background knowledge, and all of the cool stuff — and there is some cool shit in this finale — will come so far out of left field to the uninitiated that it may threaten to turn them off entirely. Imagine, for a moment, watching Ahsoka having only seen the theatrical films, or even just the live-action shows. How bananas would it be to abruptly learn there is necromancy and magic in Star Wars? How completely out of its gourd Ahsoka must seem. It’s the kind of leap that’s best made after making absolutely sure that your audience has been sufficiently onboarded, because it’s also the kind of leap that can turn them away.
It’s a storyteller’s responsibility to care for the audience and respect their time. That’s not to say that the audience shouldn’t ever have to work to understand what’s going on or that it’s wrong to expect them to engage with a narrative on a deeper level, but the text in front of them should give the viewer everything they need. And what’s on screen in Ahsoka largely feels like a waste of that time.
When you lay out the main plot beats of the last eight episodes, it is astonishing how little happens, and what is actually accomplished or made clear. Ahsoka begins with Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) on a quest that she began on another show to find Grand Admiral Thrawn, a guy lost in deep space so out there that several episodes are spent just finding a map to it. But it’s worth it, we’re told, because this guy is real bad, and also he’s stuck with Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), a guy so good that it’s worth the risk of giving Thrawn a ticket out of limbo. As the star of the show, Ahsoka gets a small arc where her former mentor Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christenson) appears as a Force Ghost to give her frankly baffling advice, which she pays forward in the form of even more cryptic advice to her apprentice, the Mandalorian Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). It’s worth noting, by the way, that Sabine and Ahsoka’s relationship of Master and Apprentice is entirely new, an off-screen dynamic no one has seen or heard about until Ahsoka premiered. You might think the thinness of their relationship is, like most of Ahsoka, something you missed from a cartoon you didn’t watch, but nope. This is all there is.
Tonally, Ahsoka even seems confused as to how it should deliver its big story beats. Because yes, while Ahsoka and Sabine end the season having accomplished their mission of finding and saving Ezra, they have also freed what’s supposed to be the biggest threat to the galaxy since the Emperor. Yet bafflingly, through gorgeous music cues from Kevin Kiner, perhaps the best of many John Williams interpolators to work on Star Wars, Ahsoka instead lingers on cheerful reunions and wistful moments, completely underselling that the worst thing that could have happened in its story has happened.
These are fundamental failings that would sink any show, and they don’t even account for nuts and bolts issues like stiff performances, stilted dialogue, and underwhelming action choreography. Fan service — even visually striking, fun-to-watch fan service — is not enough to build a show around and expect people to tune into the next one. I would even settle for a show that made sense, because from what’s on screen, very basic questions like “would Thrawn have escaped anyway without Ahsoka and Sabine finding him?” are incredibly unclear.
But what do I know? I’m just some chump who watched a bunch of cartoons.