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Master and Apprentice / Toil and Trouble (Ahsoka - S01E01&E02) - Live Action Series

Series: Ahsoka

Title: Master and Apprentice / Toil and Trouble

Season: One

Episode: 1 & 2

Original Air Date: August 22nd, 2023

Runtime: 54 & 41 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Thomas; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

Discuss the latest Chapter! (Discussion)

"Sometimes even the right reasons can have the wrong consequences!" SPOILERS.

Mysterious not really Sith spring Morgan Elsbeth from a prison transport, Ray Stevenson as Baylan Skoll

Dave Filoni has come a long way since The Clone Wars and being something like George Lucas' apprentice. Ahsoka marks his debut as showrunner for his own live action series, a prelude, sort of, to his big movie that is meant to be the climax of all the Mandoverse Disney+ shows. So quite a few things hinge on Ahsoka. Filoni not only has to prove that he can be a showrunner for his very own live action show, he also has to get fans excited. So... does Ahsoka manage that?

Baylan's apprentice Shin Hati makes short work of the bridge crew

First thing first: Ahsoka is a proper sequel to Rebels and the season 2 The Mandalorian episode "Ahsoka", which introduced villain Morgan Elsbeth and revealed that she is connected to Thrawn and may have clues about his whereabouts, which would ultimately also lead to Ezra Bridger, a character you only know and care about if you watched Rebels. Chances are that people not familiar with Rebels at all may have a hard time caring about characters like Sabine and Hera here and may be thoroughly lost when the characters talk about finding Ezra. Now Sabine does get a proper introduction, so you learn what her character is like, Hera is just "there" though and if you do not know any of her Rebels and Bad Batch backstory you may wonder who that is and why she's even there. Chances are almost everyone watching this will know Ahsoka of course and has seen her live action appearances in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Overall people not familar with Rebels may feel a bit lost here and there or miss out on context. But you can absolutely go in blind, the series is not completely incomprehensible if you have never seen a single second of Rebels, but you miss out on a lot of context and backstory that better explains the motivations of the main characters. So maybe you'd better read at least some character bios on Wookiepedia to catch up on the backstory of the characters - so you know who that Ezra Bridger is they want to find and who he is to the characters.

Ahsoka is searching for a map.... in a Playstation 4 temple

The big question is... is any of it any good? Did Dave Filoni pull it off? Is Ahsoka worth your time? And I hate to say it, but I feel, at this point, after two episodes, Ahsoka is just "average", it certainly has potential, but several things do not work at all for me, some things straight annoy me and a few other things feel very contrived. But let me explain in detail!

Yay, yet another wayfinder McGuffin in Disney Star Wars! How innovative!

The first episode begins interesting enough with a New Republic prison transport in space that has Morgan Elsbeth in a holding cell, transporting her to somewhere. They are contacted by someone who claims to be a Jedi, the captain is suspicious but lets the ship with the Jedi land in the hangar bay. Ray Stevenson's Baylon Skoll and Ivanna Sakhno's Shin Hati turn out to be something other than Jedi though, but not quite Sith either. But they attack the crew of course and murder quite a few of them, to spring Morgan Elsbeth from prison. The introduction of two of the key villains works pretty well, you are intruiged, since they are clearly not Sith, even their lightsabers are orange and not straight red, but they absolutely are not Jedi either. What I found a bit lazy is that Filoni copies the Rogue One hallway scene with Darth Vader here. It's still cool and awesome, but you have seen that scene before.

When things go nuclear...

We are then introduced to Ahsoka who is at some ancient temple, the CGI here is very wonky and it looks more like a cutscene from a video game. But fortunately most other scenes in Ahsoka look much better, but the temple looks really rough. Turns out Ahsoka is moonlighting as Indiana Jones, because she is looking for a map that points to Thrawn, the location of the artefact was revealed to Ahsoka by Morgan Elsbeth in The Mandalorian, but that is not really explained here, you need to know that. The entire scene is much too drawn out and long and could have benefited from some editing. Also, let's talk about the central plot device of the show: a map / wayfinder artefact that points from A to B. I could not believe Filoni actually chose to center his plot around that. How many more times do we need to find maps in Disney Star Wars? We had to find a map in The Force Awakens so we can find Luke Skywalker. We had to find yet another map in The Rise of Skywalker so we can get to Exegol. And now we need yet another map to find Thrawn and Ezra. I feel this is lazy and probably the worst McGuffin Filoni could have chosen. It's repetitive, it's lame, it's a mere rehash of things we have seen in Disney Star Wars one too many times now.

Meet Mary Elizabeth Winstead cosplaying as Hera

Ahsoka recovers the artefact, which is currently locked and therefore can't be deciphered, and several HK assassin droids wait for her outside. We get a short fight sequence, Ahsoka makes short work of the droids, until the remaining droids trigger bombs inside their chests. Good for Ahsoka that those bombs have a pretty long wind-up time that gives her the opportunity to escape the nuclear blast just in time. How convenient!

Lothal, the home planet of Ezra Bridger is a main location in the first two episodes

Ahsoka briefly meets with General Hera Syndulla. We learn that only one person in the whole wide galaxy can crack the McGuffin: Sabine Wren. How... convenient. Now Hera is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and I do like her, but I am sorry to say that for me at least her Hera does not work at all. She looks like a really good cosplayer, but not like an actual Star Wars character. Something just doesn't translate right from animation to live action here. Maybe it's the silly green skin paint, the horrible and super obvious plastic contact lenses, the rubber lekku or the fact that you can't help but seeing Mary Elizabeth Winstead in heavy make-up instead of Hera Syndulla. I will talk about that in a bit more detail later, but I really think it would have been much, much better to cast a complete unknown as Hera and have Vanessa Marshall, the Rebels voice actress, dub her voice. Maybe people who have never seen Rebels will have no issues, but to me Hera just felt plain wrong and off, uncanny valley Hera.

Rebel without a cause

Anyway, since Sabine is apparently the only person in the universe who can decode the map Ahsoka makes her way to Lothal where Sabine is now living in Ezra's old communication tower hideout. There's a big celebration on Lothal and Sabine is meant to give a speech, but she slips away and tries to escape from it all on her speeder bike. We get a super drawn out very unnecessary chase sequence with Sabine and two X-Wings who chase her, since the local governor REALLY wants Sabine to give her speech. We get to listen to some extremely bad and very unfitting rock music with electric guitar in this scene, which is nothing I ever want to hear in Star Wars again. Yes, we get it, Sabine is the punky, spunky, rebel who does her own thing and of course Sabine eventually gives everyone the slip. We get more super drawn out moments with her in the tower, where she eventually plays a holo recording of Ezra. Now on Rebels Ezra and Sabine were not a thing, i.e. romantically involved, but given what we see here you may believe Sabine has feelings for him. But I believe Ahsoka will be yet another asexual, aromantic Star Wars series, since Ezra talks in the recording how Sabine is a like a sister to him.

You get to see Ezra only in a holo recording, he has a few lines of dialogue even

Ahsoka tracks down Sabine and the reunion is a bit awkward. We learn that Sabine was apparently Ahsoka's apprentice for a while but that things didn't work out and that Ahsoka eventually left. So there are some unresolved issues here. Now the episode never makes it clear if Sabine is actually force sensitive now. The old lightsaber construction droid (first seen in The Clone Wars and again voiced by ex and now again Doctor Who David Tennant ) that is with Ahsoka later remarks that she is the worst padawan he has ever seen, which implies she may only be somewhat force sensitive, but this is still a retcon of sorts since nothing like that was ever even hinted at in Rebels. So Sabine is a former padawan of Ahsoka'a now. Make of that what you will.

Ahsoka shows Sabine the map artefact

Sabine wants to examine the McGuffin in detail in a more private location, but Ahsoka won't have any of that since she knows bad guys are after the map as well. So she insists Sabine examines the map on her ship. But Sabine is of course the rebel without a cause and slips away with the map and rides back to her tower. There she successfully decodes the map. It's a kind of space rubik's cube where you just have to align some markings and the thing glows like a space disco ball and projects a map.

Shin Hati more or less mops the floor with Sabine

But of course the bad guys know where the map is and Shin Hati is tasked with retrieving the map. And just as Sabine is unlocking the map a few assassin droids and Shin attack the tower. Sabine uses Ezra's - now hers - old lightsaber and tries to defend herself against a proper force user with years of training. It seems Dave Filoni learned at least one thing from the sequels: Sabine does not best Shin Hati here and the not quite Sith defeats her.

Don't worry, it's nothing a band aid can't fix!

Actually, Shin Hati manages to run her lightsaber straight through Sabine's abdomen, lower chest. Anyone of you who faintly remembers the prequels may now think that this is very bad news for Sabine. Qui-Gon basically died on the spot after suffering a similar wound. But then you may remember a series like Obi-Wan Kenobi where not one, but two characters get properly stabbed by a lightsaber. Only to return as if nothing ever happened... and it turns out Dave Filoni is clearly a fan of the latter. So yes, Sabine is fine. Of course.

There she is, all better now!

So the map may be gone now, but at least Sabine is not dead. Episode 2 opens with her in hospital. So it seems you do need at least some medical treatment and won't just heal like that like Reva or so. There are some more awkward moments between Sabine and Ahsoka, but their real issues or why Ahsoka left Sabine behind and ended the training are never fully explained, so maybe this is something we will get to in future episodes. Anyway, Sabine, who barely survived a lightsaber wound, is still the only person in the universe who can decode or hack and so it's only logical Ahsoka gives her one cut off droid head she recovered from Sabine's tower, one droid was lurking there to finish the job, but Ahsoka took him out in a previous scene. And Sabine manages to hack the droid head, which could explode at any time, and finds out that he came from Corelia. Sabine wants to go with Ahsoka, but she doesn't want her to come and leaves her behind. So it's Ahsoka and Hera who fly to Corelia.

Baylan and Shin go to yet another temple to read the map

We get a scene with the villains, Morgan Elsbeth puts the map thingy on a pedestal in some ancient temple built by a species not from this galaxy (no name is dropped) and we are treated to some nice visuals of an outdoor planetarium that points from A to B. But you have seen that scene before... a couple of times.... so the bad guys now know how to get to Thrawn. And we learn that they even have a ship that can take them there, but it's no quite finished yet, it needs a final part. A hyperdrive core.

The space planetarium shows the way! Again...

Ahsoka and Hera meanwhile arrive on Corelia and visit a shipyard that dismantles Imperial ships so their parts can be repurposed for the New Republic fleet (this is apparently before they get rid of most of their military). And you immediately think that something is fishy here when they meet some businessman who manages the shipyard...

Not suspicious at all... nothing to see here...

So Ahsoka and Hera inspect the yard, interview the manager and eventually ask about if they still have HK droids working for them, which the manager denies. He also has a report about a massive SSD hyperdrive core that is classified, so Hera, naturally, tells him that she is a general and nothing is classified for her. She wants to know what it is used for since the New Republic has no ships that big that would require a massive Super Star Destroyer hyperdrive core. One of the protocol droids then mentions that it saw an HK droid only recently... and then things escalate very quickly, one of the staff shouts something like "For the Empire!" and a fight breaks out.

A maybe ex Inquisitor fights against Ahsoka

It turns out Ahsoka and Hera - out of sheer luck - arrived just at the right time, since Shin and a mysterious masked force user with an inquisitor lightsaber are on the scene to pick up the hyperdrive core! Ahsoka and Hera are the luckiest girls in the galaxy! Ahsoka fights HK assassin droids for what feels like the 10th time, and once more they are no threat at all... but the myserious masked baddie with the inquisitor lightsaber is more of a challenge. He and Shin manage to escape with the hyperdrive core in tow.

Chopper is happy he managed to manually throw a tracker to the escaping ship

Hera meanwhile is in pursuit of the ship with the hyperdrive core in tow with the Phantom (you don't see the Ghost in the first two episodes at all) and Chopper gets his 5 minutes now, since his task is to manually throw a tracker over to the escaping ship, hoping it will attach to the hull, so they can then track it. What a genius plan! And after some more or less funny shenanigans Chopper makes the throw and now the heroes can track the baddies! But overall his few scenes are fun, he's just plain old Chopper from the cartoon, nothing has changed about him.

When a female character is about to cut her long hair you know things get serious!

Sabine meanwhile has already been dismissed from hospital after what feels like a day or so, she must be a fast healer, all that is left is a scar on her otherwise smooth abdomen, it seems Qui-Gon died from having no space healthcare plan... I digress... she's back in her tower and we get some more drawn out moments of her looking at her old things, her old armor too... she eventually puts on her old armor, retrieves her helmet and then uses a knife to cut her long hair, because that's what women who are about to get serious do in entertainment. And Filoni apparently loves tropes.

And once more a padawan...

Ahsoka arrives back on Lothal, Sabine and she meet and Ahsoka accepts Sabine back on the team and even back as a padawan. The location of the baddies has been successfully tracked too and thus they know where to go in the next episode.

The baddies have everything they need now to find Thrawn. Baylan meanhile is not too eager to kill Ahsoka.

We get one final scene with the villains and Baylan proves to be the most interesting character (along with his apprentice Shin) by far, because while he and his apprentice are clearly no Jedi they are also no Sith and their true alignment remains somewhat of a mystery. Baylan even remarks that it would be a shame to kill Ahsoka, since so few Jedi are left... is there a redemption ark upcoming? We will find out in the remaining six episodes!

As you can tell I am not too enthusiastic about Ahsoka. There are several reasons for that.
Number 1: the lousy, super lazy plot device that is the map. How many more times will we get this in Star Wars? Is this the best Filoni could come up with? Really now?
Number 2: Hera feels wrong, her character does not work at all for me and I do even like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but she is clearly not Hera and feels like a cosplayer in a fan movie.
Number 3: Rosario Dawson's performance as Ahsoka is extremely subdued, flat, monotonous and boring. I do not know what Filoni as the writer and director was going for here. This Ahsoka is nothing like the Ahsoka voiced by Ashley Eckstein. And I don't understand it. Yes, she's older now, people change, but that still does not explain the flat, boring, monotonous delivery of all of her lines. I feel the same about Ahsoka as I feel about Hera: it would have been better to use no name actors and to have the original voice actors dub the dialogue in ADR. And since Ahsoka is such a big part of the show it's a major problem. She is super boring and super flat. Very uninteresting. She feels like an emotionless bot.

The ONLY character that works for me, despite a few shortcomings, is Sabine. Now Natasha Liu Bordizzo's line delivery also leaves a few things to be desired here and there, it's not all that great, but she not only looks the part but she at least captures the essence of Sabine, even if her introduction was unnecessarily over the top and drawn out, none of that was needed, the entire speeder chase scene should have been cut along with the horrible music that played. 

Overall, the first two episodes were slow, there is so much setup, which is of course required, but the action scenes were very few and it was mostly against useless assassin droids. The few moments we got with Baylan or Shin where the highlights for me. Actually, I find them much more interesting than any of the heroes, which is an issue. Now it's not bad to have good or interesting villains, but it's a problem when you find them more interesting or intriguing than the heroes. But at this point I am more invested in learning more about their backstory. How did the two of them end up where they are now? What is their alignment? They are very much not Sith, but certainly not Jedi either, even if Baylan was a proper Jedi before, as we learn in this episode. In fact, I'd rather have a show about Baylan and Shin than about Ahsoka. Something new.

Another big (potential) issue is that outside of a somewhat awkward title card that tries to communicate the bare basics, people who never watched Rebels may be lost or confused or find they do not care. I am not sure it is a good idea to make a sequel to an animated show only a fraction of the fanbase ever watched without any proper introduction of the characters. Hera is never introduced, the show also assumes you know about Ahsoka's Clone Wars adventures, Sabine is the only one really who gets somewhat of a (stupid) introduction. In short: this series requires a lot of prior knowledge. I wonder how you can attract new fans with something like this.

On the plus side production values are mostly great, outside of some wonky CGI and super obvious Stagecraft scenes this show looks and feels like proper Star Wars. All scenes in space look fantastic, the physical sets are also great. Live action Lothal looked nice. But the old temple early in episode 1 looked like something straight out of a Playstation 4 game. But that was the only time things looked pretty rough.

So where does that leave us? Will Ahsoka be a huge hit? We will know in four weeks from now when Nielsen will update their streaming charts and include Ahsoka. But I would not be surprised if Ahsoka is more on the level of The Book of Boba Fett. Probably better than Andor's ratings, but below Obi-Wan Kenobi's and The Mandalorian's ratings. The one big issue here is that more casual fans who never watched Rebels may have a hard time caring about anyone here. Another issue is that the first two episodes were very slow, with various very drawn out character moments that amounted to very little. I believe Filoni could have easily trimmed down the episodes to a 60 minute runtime and released that as episode 1. Instead of a 95 minute twoparter.

And the use of yet another wayfinder is plain unforgivable. With that Ahsoka feels like a lazy rehash of some of the worst ideas the sequels ever had to begin with. Where is the innovation? Where is the creativity?

So, is Ahsoka worth your time? If you never cared about Rebels... maybe not. If you liked Rebels... absolutely. Just adjust your expectations a bit maybe. This is not the second coming of Star Wars. Based on the two episodes we have so far I would rank it maybe slightly above early Obi-Wan Kenobi and Book of Boba Fett episodes, both of which were just too silly, but far below even The Mandalorian season 3 and of course Andor, which is a league of its own. But the show has potential. Still, I feel Filoni's first outing as a showrunner for a live action show is off to a rough start. His scripts use too many tired tropes and lazy plot contrivances to be considered "good", "ok" at best.

Why would there be this map pointing to Thrawn in some old temple? Why would it have the info on how to get to Thrawn in the first place? Why would Sabine be the only person in the galaxy who can solve the Rubik's cube? Why is Sabine suddenly an ex padawan of Ahsoka? Add the terrible music choice for her speeder chase sequence and the super tropey hair cutting scene and Ahsoka feels like a mixtape of things you have seen before. And the most interesting new things, Baylan and Shin, will probably be only bit players. They deserve their own show. Unfortunately Ray Stevenson passed away shortly after Star Wars Celebration, so unless they recast his role his future in a potential season 2 of Ahsoka is unclear. But for me Stevenson and Ukranian actress Ivanna Sakhno were the best things in a thoroughly mediocre first two episodes, the best things by far. And by "mediocre" I mean just that, average, as in "not bad", you can have some fun here, but don't think too much about all the lucky coincidences or contrivances. And you need to accept that Hera and sadly even Ahsoka are super boring, super flat characters that are nothing like their animated counterparts. I really wonder what Filoni is going for with Ahsoka herself here, why is she so extremely flat, monotonous and subdued? Compare that to any of Ashley Eckstein's performances as Ahsoka, how much emotion she was able to project all the time and you can't help but feel that the live action version we have with Rosario Dawson is vastly inferior, and it's not even Rosario Dawson's fault, it's clearly on the writer and showrunner.
So my verdict is Dave Filoni needs a lot more training before he is ready for any big budget Star Wars movie. Let's hope things greatly improve with upcoming episodes of Ahsoka. Oh, and yes, we get to see space whales for a brief moment. But no space wolves yet. I am sure Dave will find an opportunity to include them too eventually.

Added: August 23, 2023
Category: Ahsoka
Reviewer: Thomas
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