Star Wars: Ahsoka leans on Clone Wars nostalgia in “Shadow Warrior”

You know this week’s episode of Ahsoka is a big one because it Disney pulled out all the stops to release it in select theaters. Ahsoka is a show with deep roots in both the Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars animated series. In “Shadow Warrior” those roots come to the surface.

Since this episode relies heavily on nostalgia for the animated Star Wars shows, it may be a little less accessible to viewers who haven’t seen them, but no matter how you slice it, an episode guest starring Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker is bound to be an event.

As always, there are SPOILERS below.

(L-R): Chopper, Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Jacen Syndulla (Evan Whitten) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: Ahsoka Episode 5 review: “Shadow Warrior”

Last week’s episode of Ahsoka, “Fallen Jedi,” ended with Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) being reunited with her former master Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Chirstensen) in the World Between Worlds, a dimension outside space and time. “Shadow Warrior” makes good on that cliffhanger. It plumbs the depths of Ahsoka’s past, giving us a deep look at her psyche and serving up Clone Wars callbacks aplenty.

But before we get to Ahsoka’s closet full of skeletons, we have to set the board. “Fallen Jedi” ended with the good guys losing; Ahsoka was knocked off a cliff by Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson), Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) was spirited away to the galaxy where Thrawn and Ezra Bridger are in exile, and Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her squad of rebels arrived just in time to miss everything. That means that Hera, her son Jacen, and the best/worst Star Wars droid Chopper get to pick up the pieces.

They scour the surface of Seatos for Ahsoka and Sabine, but find only Huyang (David Tennant), who laments how Ahsoka and Sabine split up against his advice. The shot of Huyang standing on the cliff with Sabine’s helmet is burned into my memory. There are a lot of stunning shots in this episode; it’s easy to understand why Disney thought it would be worth putting it in theaters.

This episode was my favorite so far for Hera, who has been a little hit and miss for me this season. Winstead finally has a bit more room to settle into the character. And of course, Tennant is always a pleasure as Huyang. We also got a definitive confirmation from Huyang that her son Jacen has Force abilities, since his father was a Jedi. Conveniently, Jacen’s new abilities help locate the missing Ahsoka.

(L-R): Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: Ahsoka brings us back to the Clone Wars

The highlight of the episode is Ahsoka’s time with Anakin in the World Between Worlds. It’s a very transparent way to give us lots of lightsaber fights and to recreate The Clone Wars series in live-action. Despite it feeling slightly like a gimmick, most of the scenes land really well. The lightsaber duels are well-choreographed and exciting to watch even though there isn’t any real sense of danger; the whole thing is a sort of vision quest. There have been a lot of athletically talented Jedi actors throughout the Star Wars franchise, but Christensen as Anakin was always one of the best. It’s amazing to see that he’s still got it even though he’s much older than when he filmed the prequel trilogy.

The flashbacks take us back to two important times in Ahsoka’s life, starting with her first big campaign with Anakin on the planet Ryloth, which features near the end of the first season of The Clone Wars. Teenage Ahsoka is played by Ariana Greenblatt, who does a tremendous job. While The Clone Wars did explore how much of a strain it was on a teenager to be in command, there’s something about seeing it in live-action that makes it hit differently. In the animated series both Ahsoka and Anakin are cartoon characters; their ages aren’t immediately apparent. In Ahsoka there’s no avoiding the fact that Ahsoka is in command of a way even though she’s basically still a child.

These flashbacks explore those internal conflicts. We get fascinating moments like Ahsoka calling out Anakin for cracking jokes after a tragic battle. He tries to project wisdom, but the show doesn’t let us forget that this person will go on to become one of the most infamous mass murderers in the galaxy. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka is wrapped up in Vader’s blood-soaked legacy. Exploring what that actually means to her was much needed.

I do wish we had seen a little more of the scenery, though; both Ryloth and the subsequent flashback to the Siege of Mandalore are largely obscured in mist. These scenes have a dreamlike quality, which is nice, but they blur together a bit.

(L-R): Huyang (David Tennant), Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimately, Ahsoka chooses to live, accepting that her bloody past need not dictate her future. I was a little confused about the logistics of how she had just been floating underwater for hours on end without drowning, but I guess that’s the power of the World Between Worlds.

Upon being discovered by Hera and Huyang, Ahsoka eventually comes up with a plan to use the Purgill whales to go after Sabine and Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). These scenes have a certain magic to them; Ahsoka is clearly changed by her experience, rocking a white cloak and a calmer attitude, and the whales are one of the more majestic things we’ve seen in recent live-action Star Wars.

There are still some logistical things that bugged me, especially with the New Republic. Their issues with Hera trying to help Ahsoka feel forced, like the show struggling to invent tension where there’s no reason for it to exist. But at the end of the day, “Shadow Warrior” is such a solid episode of Star Wars TV that nitpicking it feels kind of pointless. This episode is a gift to fans of the franchise, and especially to those who’ve been along for the whole ride through The Clone Wars and Rebels. Showrunner Dave Filoni did good.

Ahsoka Bullet Points

  • It’s always nice to get more of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Carson Teva. He was a great stand-in for the audience as he suffered through off-the-wall plot turns, like flying hyperspace whales.
  • Speaking of the Purgill, they were magnificent. Gotta love a good Star Wars creature.
  • Did you notice Ahsoka killing Mandalorians during the Siege of Mandalore flashback? A cool touch.
  • Another great easter egg in the flashbacks is the appearance of Captain Rex, a clone commander who becomes a close ally of Ahsoka’s. He’s even voiced by Temeura Morrison, who played Boba Fett in The Book of Boba Fett and the original clone daddy Jango Fett in the prequel trilogy.
  • Yet another easter egg: Christensen was wearing Anakin Skywalker’s Clone Wars-era armor in the flashbacks. This was an outfit he wore for quite a lot of The Clone Wars animated series, but he never wore it in live-action until this episode.
  • Jacen was able to hear Ahsoka and Anakin fighting in the World Between Worlds. His father was Kanan Jarrus, one of the main Jedi characters from Rebels and Ezra Bridger’s master.
  • One thing that is making me nervous is that we haven’t seen Thrawn yet. While I did like how “Shadow Warrior” left Sabine and Elsbeth’s forces offscreen, we now only have three more episodes to go before the end of the season. That’s not a whole lot of time to develop the bad guy. It feels like Ahsoka will just introduce Thrawn ahead of Dave Filoni’s Star Wars movie. I’m reserving judgment for now, but I do hope this show feels like its own complete story instead of just a tee-up for a film.

Verdict

“Shadow Warrior” is a fantastic episode of Ahsoka which spends some much-needed time exploring how the show’s title character feels about being attached to the legacy of Darth Vader. Its flashbacks to the Clone Wars are a highlight of the entire series which will hit especially well for fans of the animated show. It does rely a little heavily on fan service and makes some irritating choices with the New Republic, but overall this is such a beautiful episode of television that it doesn’t feel worth getting upset about.

Next up, Thrawn’s return!

Episode Grade: A-

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