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Ahsoka's Failure Is a Sad Reflection of the TV Industry

So many of the show's core issues — a truncated season and too few writers — are all too common in TV productions today.
  • Rosario Dawson and Eman Esfandi in Ahsoka (Photo: Disney+/Lucasfilm)
    Rosario Dawson and Eman Esfandi in Ahsoka (Photo: Disney+/Lucasfilm)

    The latest Star Wars streaming series, Ahsoka, had some wonderful moments: cameos that actually made sense and weren’t just fanservice, connections to the wider universe, and really heartfelt tidbits for long-missed characters. But overall, even for the most seasoned fan, it fell incredibly flat. Setting aside some questionable hair and costuming decisions, Ahsoka did a disservice to its titular character, shoving her into being a franchise-furthering engine, and miscasting other beloved characters to fit that narrative beside her.

    From the start, Ahsoka left the viewer wondering why Lucasfilm bothered with this Herculean effort to bring the iconic Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), the newer fan-favorite Star Wars Rebels crew, and the legendary Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), into live action, only to do little with their characters except move them from point A to point B. What did this series add to Ahsoka’s, the Rebels crew’s, or Thrawn’s stories as people, or reflect about Star Wars and its enduring themes that have inspired people for decades? Not much, apparently, other than becoming the Star Wars iteration of Disney’s live-action remake agenda, in the mistaken belief that characters can only be financially viable for merchandising to the mainstream if they are adapted into live action. (Ironic, given Disney’s role in making animation merchandising what it is today).

    The bar was, unfortunately, much higher for this show than most other Star Wars projects. It all feels unbearably sad, given these characters’ narratively rich origins. This letdown feels familiar — wonderful moments and compelling characters shoved into baffling writing decisions and shaky world-building, a disappointing echo of every frustration of the sequel films. Yet Ahsoka’s failures hurt even more, because Star Wars fans have spent more time with Ahsoka, the Ghost crew, and Thrawn than even the heroes of the original trilogy. Their stories are also some of the best written and most thoroughly explored in the franchise to date.

    Even the other live-action shows, like The Mandalorian or Book of Boba Fett, were working with mostly new characters, while Ahsoka is the conclusion of another Star Wars trilogy that includes some of not only Star Wars’ best stories, but some of the best animated shows of all time: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Thrawn comes from Timothy Zahn’s iconic Star Wars Legends novels, which defined a whole generation’s relationship to the franchise before even the prequel films existed.

    So how did it all go so terribly wrong? Contrary to some fans’ complaints, the “Disney Star Wars” era has the capacity to produce inspiring, interesting, and fresh takes on Star Wars’ most enduring themes. The High Republic stories, Andor, Tales of the Jedi, and Star Wars Visions have received critical acclaim, brought in new fans, and revived older fans’ interest. (Star Wars Rebels itself is also “Disney Star Wars,” and went from being dismissed as the “kiddie show on Disney XD” to almost universally beloved by even the worst fans, and now the entire launchpad for Star Wars television).

    To be fair, not every part of the franchise must be Andor in tone, mission, or even dialogue quality, and the constant comparisons by some critics have not really been helpful. But this wasn’t the problem with Ahsoka. The show’s glaring weaknesses in character development, setup, world-building, and pacing have made it the poster child for not only the issues of the entire post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars sequel era, but for the Hollywood film and TV industry right now as a whole. Ahsoka’s arrival in late August, during the final stretch of the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, ended up meeting the moment; with each new episode, the show demonstrated how many of its core issues, like fewer, shortened TV seasons to cut costs, the lack of full writers’ rooms, and the disrespect for animation in favor of live action, have eroded the medium of television.

    At first, it was refreshing to watch a Star Wars series revolve around a mostly female, non-white cast, whose characters shared complex, adult relationships. However, the series chose to place Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a character with a well-established arc and identity, into being a blank slate padawan role for Ahsoka’s development, in the same way it altered Ahsoka’s character for the franchise’s development. For far too many episodes of such a short series, Ahsoka left viewers wondering why Sabine’s response to losing Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi) was to want to become a Jedi, and why Ahsoka suddenly became unwilling to train her in the past. Sabine not being very Force sensitive and having to access her power in nontraditional ways could have been an interesting idea for Star Wars to explore.

    But a show supposedly focused on a single character, Ahsoka Tano, with only eight episodes and an urgent plot goal (find Ezra and stop Thrawn), was not the place to do so. The series addressed these key questions in less than two lines of dialogue at the end, making Ahsoka’s midway “turning point” confronting her past anticlimactic, and opening up even more questions that it didn’t have time to answer.

    The show also neglects one of Star Wars’ most important themes — its politics, which, contrary to some fans’ complaints, are as intrinsic to the franchise as they are to Ahsoka’s character. The series briefly touched on how she’s always felt being a Jedi is not about being a soldier, and the show proposed an interesting inner conflict: is her wartorn history a worthy legacy to pass on to an apprentice? Puzzlingly, the show omitted that she’d spent the last 30 years fighting for the Rebellion, specifically as one of its original intelligence agents, “Fulcrum.” Like Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, the most thematically consistent conclusion would have been Ahsoka coming to realize that fighting fascism was her way of bringing balance, protecting the light, and defining for herself what being a Jedi means post-Order 66. (Especially since her apprentice, Sabine, has also spent most of her life as a freedom fighter).

    However, the Ahsoka series, despite being written by Dave Filoni, the same showrunner who created Ahsoka’s important political arc in the Clone Wars, completely dropped this aspect of her character. In doing so, the series lost what makes her, and Star Wars, compelling. There were brief hints that the show may have wanted to cover these political issues of Jedi identity further, through Baylan Skoll’s limited screen time as a dark foil for Ahsoka’s complex relationship with the Jedi Order. Unfortunately, like everything else in this show, it was proposed too late and left mostly as another unanswered thread.

    Most of the show’s political moments are left to Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who had the unenviable fate of dealing with the New Republic’s half-baked political issues set up in the sequel films. Ahsoka, just like the sequels and The Mandalorian, poses some interesting questions about liberalism, neo-nationalism, and what it means to spend your life fighting fascism over and over. Unfortunately, these New Republic era projects offer few, and sometimes even politically questionable, answers for a franchise created as a critique of U.S. imperialism. Of course, this is all so that Star Wars’ newest, most popular characters can be uncontroversial fodder for merchandise, Disney+ subscriptions, and shareholders.

    Are these shortcomings the result of Filoni, who is white, serving as both showrunner and sole writer on Ahsoka, without additional, diverse perspectives in the room? Possibly. It could also be because both Ahsoka and the Rebels characters came from ensemble shows with writers’ rooms, and not even Filoni, George Lucas’ hand-picked apprentice, could convert their stories into a single character narrative without the input of additional writers, like he had on the animated series. While extremely experienced in animation, Filoni learned the ropes of live-action TV from his partnership with Jon Favreau for The Mandalorian, and Ahsoka was his first solo foray.

    But the real root of the problem seems to be that Disney higher-ups see these characters as only dollar signs, so they gave a visionary and talented creator the bare minimum amount of time and resources to continue their stories. The show didn’t need to be good to sell merchandise, especially when the characters were already familiar to viewers, similar to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has apparently been cutting key elements of the TV production process to churn out its many IP-stretching series.

    Here lies the bittersweet truth of Ahsoka — this eight-episode streaming series with one writer, the corporate pressure to maintain a streaming service’s profitability, and the responsibility of launching the future direction of the entire franchise, was doomed from the start. Whether it continues with another season, a movie, or not at all, Ahsoka is another victim of late-stage capitalism’s path of destruction through Hollywood, decimating incredible storytelling potential in its wake. Even Filoni’s considerable talent, much like that of J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, or any of the gifted screenwriters and directors these studios bring on for both major franchises and original prestige projects, can’t stand up to Hollywood’s intellectual property machine turning almost everything into passable “content,” good enough for merchandising and driving subscriptions. A few genuinely wonderful projects, like Andor, and compelling characters and concepts, like the Mandalorian, miraculously slip through the cracks to keep audiences interested, but this IP-squeezing race to the bottom continues. Let’s just hope that the recent gains by the WGA and rise in unionization across the industry can prevent it from continuing before more beloved characters are put through the wringer.

    Klaudia Amenábar is a media critic who co-hosts RuPalp's Podrace: A Queer Star Wars Podcast, and the Mystery Spotcast: A Supernatural Rewatch. She has appeared on NPR, the Mary Sue, io9, Comics Beat, and more.

    TOPICS: Star Wars: Ahsoka, Disney+, Dave Filoni, Rosario Dawson, Lucasfilm