Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Episode 5 of Ahsoka.
The Big Picture
- Episode 5 of Ahsoka finally focuses on Ahsoka as the true protagonist, allowing her to shine and explore her past, conflicts, and emotions.
- The previous episodes of Ahsoka suffered from an unclear balance between Ahsoka’s character and the Star Wars Rebels‘ story threads, resulting in scattered themes and simplistic scenarios.
- By spotlighting Ahsoka and giving her more narrative clarity and character agency, Episode 5 taps into the potential of the series and showcases the strengths of Rosario Dawson’s performance.
After four episodes hampered by empty nostalgia and stilted dialogue, Episode 5 of Ahsoka finally hits a mark. Not a perfect mark, mind, but one less addled by cogitative dissonance than the season’s first half. Dave Filoni‘s goals — story-wise and stylistic — still feel hastily assembled in “Shadow Warrior,” and what’s assembled remains as muddled as the drearily lit battle scenes. Ahsoka has consistently relied on nostalgic imagery over the quality character writing Filoni displayed throughout Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels that made both series so acclaimed. For all of Filoni’s confusing choices, especially given his stewardship of a protagonist celebrating her fifteenth anniversary this year, what “Shadow Warrior” offers in tandem are invigorating glimpses of how phenomenal this series might have been with significant tweaks.
The main adjustment? Centering its title character. It’s a devastatingly simple change, but it’s likewise been no secret that the great Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) has felt sidelined in her own story; a conundrum that, in turn, bequeaths upon Ahsoka the series an identity crisis. Episode 5’s undeniable focus on Ahsoka (her history, her conflicts, and her heart) lifts the tale to its best facsimile of imaginative greatness to date — which also makes Ahsoka‘s untapped potential even more tiresome.
Ahsoka Tano Hasn’t Been the Star of Her Series So Far
In theory, a live-action Star Wars: Rebels sequel should’ve been easy. Jumping mediums is no cakewalk, but Dave Filoni concluded his second animated series with an undeniably clear template. Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) vowed to find the vanished Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi), and Ahsoka’s involvement made sense given her relationship with Ezra. Rosario Dawson’s debut as Ahsoka Tano in Season 2 of The Mandalorian was a backdoor pilot that secured a full series named after Dawson’s Tano, which automatically suggests a focused, different individualism than, say, Rebels Part II.
Instead, Filoni’s efforts to split the series between Rebels‘ disparate story threads and Ahsoka’s character didn’t strike a coherent balance. The Rebels cast deserve the wider platform afforded by live-action as much as Ahsoka does, but their escapades claimed most of the previous episodes’ screen time — time that’s precious given Filoni’s penchant for shorter episodes. Tackling too much at once left Ahsoka with scattered themes and characters stuck in discordant states, simplistic scenarios, and exposing expository dialogue. As of Episode 5, Ahsoka Tano had inexplicably operated as a passenger in her own series. Narrative clarity? Character agency? Rebels‘ strong suits had vanished alongside Ezra and Grand Admiral Thrawn. “Shadow Warrior” adjusts its priorities in accordance with the series’ title and thrives for it. (The longer runtime doesn’t hurt.)
‘Shadow Warrior’ Finally Focuses on Ahsoka as a Character
Unequivocally, the reason “Shadow Warrior” succeeds by any measure is because Ahsoka steps into the role of true protagonist, both titled and spotlighted. Hayden Christensen‘s return as Anakin Skywalker might be another instance of Filoni relying on nostalgic set pieces over meaty character work. Still, her Master’s presence in the World Between Worlds provides a natural outlet to examine how Ahsoka’s past informs her worldview and her current choices. As discerningly pointed out by Collider’s own Maggie Lovitt in her review, “Shadow Warrior” doesn’t present anything revolutionary. How many times must lightsabers going “brr” take precedence over telling conversations? In that vein, one might call Episode 5’s offerings “crumbs.”
Nevertheless, it’s here the flashes of greatness appear. It’s in the scars the Clone Wars left on Ahsoka as an impressionable child; it’s through Ahsoka’s habitual decision to be a warrior who defends and protects instead of an obedient soldier subject to the Republic’s blithe whims. In “Shadow Warrior,” Ahsoka remembers who she’s always been — a woman outside the Order yet reverent to its founding principles of justice, peace, empathy, and light. She’s a survivor not just in practice but in soul. For a solid 30 minutes, there’s no question who Ahsoka‘s real protagonist is. This emotional journey is distinctly hers alone.
Chipping past the “look, it’s a loth-cat!” distractions to explore the skeleton keys responsible for making Ahsoka who she is rather than coasting along on established fans’ knowledge of the past is the desperately vital adrenaline Ahsoka needed since day one. It’s especially crucial given how Ahsoka Tano has existed at an unnatural remove since The Mandalorian. It’s fair game to speculate that her withdrawn state stems from her reckoning with Darth Vader in Rebels. Answering such pressing questions in defined terms (and posing new ones) should be this series’ narrative structure and thesis, not a blip on its episodic radar.
So with such a rich tapestry, why did the premiere spend five minutes on Ahsoka figuring out a Force puzzle? Why is the Thrawn-as-MacGuffin plot devouring entire episodes when her heroine’s journey could propel the series forward in equal measure? And why didn’t Episode 5 provide a clear explanation for Ahsoka’s personality shift between Rebels and The Mandalorian? The dramatic heights of Ahsoka’s spiritual restoration in Episode 5 and her resulting joy are the thematic foundations her story deserves — just magnified tenfold. Imagine how enriching the series would be if it fully embraced Ahsoka’s tenacious legacy in all its permutations and possibilities: her doubts, her convictions, her emotional wounds, and her reasons for being, both old and new.
Spotlighting Ahsoka Makes a Flawed Series Stronger
If Anakin’s appearance unlocks the chains restraining Ahsoka’s emotional clarity, so does “Shadow Warrior” finally allow Rosario Dawson to embrace her leading lady role with multifaceted open arms. She and Christensen do the heavy lifting with little dialogue and sublimely deft skill, meeting one another on the acting field as intuitively and fiercely as their characters’ lightsabers clash. Any emotional impact propelling “Shadow Warrior” into the realm of true resonance falls to their remarkable performances. Their chemistry is instant and warmly familiar. Dawson’s undaunted body language shines through fight choreography that’s often felt uninspired, and Ahsoka’s ancient but metaphorized anger crackles across her face like a banked fire.
More importantly, Filoni’s direction lets Dawson embody her inherited character’s quintessential warmth, empathy, and wit. This smiling Ahsoka is confident in her steps. When she connects with the purrgil through the Force, her radiant peace speaks to that matured yet easy buoyancy that fans adore. At long last, an Ahsoka Tano that’s as winsomely expressive as she should be!
Saying that Episode 5’s strengths are flourishes of improvement applied to a prosaic canvas reads like damning with faint praise. Indeed, “Shadow Warrior” occupies a tenuous spot that’s neither entirely glorious nor fully glum. It’s almost a World Between Worlds portal: a metaphorical Wayback Machine where Dave Filoni didn’t try to have it both ways and instead strengthened, and therefore clarified, his series. Whether Episode 5 marks a narrative turning point away from his live-action trends remains to be seen. Either way, “Shadow Warrior” distills Ahsoka‘s potential into a 30-minute bottle. It’s not everything, but it’s something: a celebration, a causation, and a sadly unexplored “what if.”
New episodes of Ahsoka premiere Tuesdays on Disney+.