A Jedi investigating a looming threat after the fall of The Empire, and a Mandalorian in search for a friend — this is essentially the premise of Disney’s newly released series, Ahsoka, that continues the story of Ahsoka Tano (played by Rosario Dawson) and builds from the story of executive producer Dave Filoni’s other series, Star Wars: Rebels. It’s a premise that’s fairly simple, and isn’t too far in terms of its complexity from the likes of Disney’s other series, The Mandalorian. Yet, where Pedro Pascal’s conservative performance of the stoic bounty hunter alongside the straightforward plot of the series’ first couple seasons made for some great character introspection and heartfelt moments, Ahsoka’s characterization comes across as joyless and bored, and her story devoid of purpose.
Star Wars is grand, explosive, thrilling, and a constant spectacle of lightsabers, plasma beams, and life-threatening fights between good and evil. Its universe is massive, but if one knows anything about space, it’s that it’s also incredibly quiet. This was a tonal aspect that I didn’t realize I was missing from all my time with Star Wars properties across different mediums until I’d watched The Mandalorian. I hadn’t experienced silence in any substantial manner when consuming a Star Wars story, but The Mandalorian shifted that, and brought a beautiful silence that made for some truly brilliant character introspection for the show’s protagonist, who was performed perfectly by the great Pedro Pascal.
This quiet also brought for some great character interactions, with conversations that explored the themes and structures of the world around them. It was refreshing to see a Star Wars property slow things down and allow it to take a breath from the constant chaos, focusing instead on a relatively simple story that was more about the journey than the actual plot beats. Doing so with a character that, though was laconic, had a proper narrative arc — at least for the first couple seasons. I cannot, however, say the same for Ahsoka and her newest outing in Disney’s live-action show.
Though tonally some similarities between the shows can be seen, from characters taking their time reacting to each other’s lines of dialogue, to long close-up shots of Ahsoka pondering about something, to its cast focusing on just a handful of characters, Ahsoka feels…dull. The eight episodes that comprise the first season aren’t necessarily bad individually, but when looking at the season as a whole, I can’t help but feel a lack of emotion when thinking about the story I’d just consumed. The moments of quiet between characters weren’t filled with anything of note, the straightforward story didn’t offer any substance beyond what was written on the page, and Rosario Dawson — who is usually captivating in whatever role she’s in — looked either bored or bothered in every scene, unwilling to give in to any of the emotional weight of a moment; something her character, unlike Pascal’s Din Djarin, has done in spades in her past.
Though I’ve yet to complete The Clone Wars, everything that I’ve read and heard about the show from fans and critics alike tells me that Ahsoka is arguably one of the best-written characters in all of Star Wars. A multi-faceted character with substance who carries with her an emotional weight. Yet, the character that I watched in Disney’s live-action was merely mildly interesting, and that mainly because Dawson’s persona commands attention, irrespective of the fact that her performance leaves much to be desired; though that has more to do with writing and directing and less with her capabilities as an actor.
I’ve written a piece about the “stoic male protagonist” across various narrative mediums, their history, and critical backlash; an archetype that possibly exists due to swathes of male writers projecting idealized versions of their fathers onto their characters. In the piece, I question why female versions of the archetype aren’t more common, particularly when it comes to heroic protagonists. It’s an archetype that’s always alluring, because if done right it allows us the audience to chip away at our understanding of the character and all that’s hidden underneath their being.
Ahsoka could have been a “stoic female protagonist,” but her character — again, from my cursory knowledge from fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels — isn’t that. However, if Filoni and Co. decided that they wanted to make her a wise Jedi who, due to all that’s happened to her, now decides to keep her cards closer to her chest, it could work. But the writing surrounding her doesn’t do justice to everything her character is and has been, making Dawson’s task of injecting any semblance of life and depth into her character all the more challenging.