As we move beyond the halfway point of Ahsoka with the episode five episode titled “Shadow Warrior”, I find myself wishing the show was only six episodes in length. Not because it has been bad; quite the contrary. But because the lingering mystery of General Thrawn and Ezra Bridger’s whereabouts has dragged on for too long. The episodes, while highly entertaining and packed with geeky details for Star Wars die-hards, nevertheless follow the same general structure. This one doesn’t buck the trend all that much, although it does offer something meaningful in the return of the World Between Worlds, and a jaunt into the past led by Anakin Skywalker.
The episode’s title is significant. A slight twist in the wording and “Shadow Warrior” could easily be “Phantom Menace.” As we all know, the prequel film The Phantom Menace was the canonical first appearance of Anakin Skywalker, and he returns, played by a de-aged Hayden Christensen, to confront his former padwan Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) after her losing battle against Baylan Skoll (Ray Stevenson). And in the World Between Worlds, Anakin assures her that she did indeed lose. So why is she there? What does Anakin want from her? To complete Ahsoka’s training, he says. “Live or die”, Anakin says before challenging her to a lightsaber duel that she initially refuses to fight. But this is Ahsoka. She does fight. She even gets the upper hand for a moment, before Anakin pulls a trick out of his bag and she goes tumbling into…where?
This is all preceded by the arrival of General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the planet Seatos. Ahsoka is missing, Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) is missing, and there’s no sign of Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), Baylan Skoll, or any clue to Thrawn’s location revealed by the destroyed star map. We do get confirmation that Hera’s son Jacen (Evan Whitten), who is in tow with loyal droid Chopper, is Canun Jarrus’ kid and that he too has Force powers. Shortly after finding a solemn Huyang (voiced by David Tennant), Jacen senses something in the raging seas below. He can hear lightsabers clashing when nobody else can. Hera, continuing to defy New Republic orders, orders her X-wing squadron, including Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) to widen their search and damn anybody who tries to stop them.
Meanwhile, Ahsoka has entered a sort of waking dream or something. She comes to as her younger self in the middle of a pitched battle during the Clone Wars. Anakin is leading her into the fight, even calling this younger Ahsoka (played by Ariana Greenblatt, who played young Gamora in Avengers: Endgame) by her old nickname, “Snips”. So what’s this all about? What’s this lesson he’s trying to teach her? This episode is written and directed by series creator and Star Wars guru Dave Filoni, but I think he misses the mark a bit if he was trying to make this point clear. My guess, as Anakin tries to teach Ahsoka how to be both a soldier and a leader, is that she is meant to learn that the Jedi or more than just one thing. They have been called warmongers, appeasers, and worse. They are imperfect, as Ahsoka well knows. She famously quit the Jedi Order after being falsely accused of a crime during The Clone Wars‘ fifth season. Like Skoll, she lost her faith in the Jedi Order. And now, if she’s going to stop a returning Thrawn and rebuild the Jedi Order, she’s going to need to accept that being a Jedi defies any single label.
That’s my best guess. I could be completely wrong.
After her experience in the World Between Worlds, Ahsoka is rescued from the waters and brought aboard Hera’s ship. It takes her a day to recover, but when she does, Ahsoka uses her Force sensory powers (often seen in the video games, but rarely if ever outside of them) to get an idea of how to track Sabine’s whereabouts. Good thing flying overhead are the space whales, the Purrgil, who share a deep connection with Ezra. Taking a leap of faith, Ahsoka and Huyang fly their ship into the welcoming mouth of the largest Purrgil just before it blasts off into hyperspace for parts unknown.
I’m not going to lie; the final shot of whirling stars left in the wake of the Purrgil’s leap into hyperspace gave me chills! I wanted the next episode RIGHT NOW, and didn’t want to wait another week for the next chapter. My God, Industrial Light & Magic really showed off this episode. I think more than any other episode this one looked feature-film worthy. Everything from the Purrgil to the World Between Worlds, to Ahsoka’s hazy flashback sequence looked astonishingly good.
One thing I’ve stressed about each episode is that they are very light in plot, and thus forward momentum moves slowly. While on paper it seems like there isn’t a lot that happens, in execution there are tons of things that are just super cool. Seeing Ahsoka’s part in the Clone Wars really makes that era feel palpible and important to the overall mythos again. I still think there’s a tendency by casual viewers to dismiss the animated stuff, but this went a long way in connecting it to the current Filoni-era Mando-verse stuff. It was great seeing young “Snips”, sporting her green lightsaber, and showing that fierce spirit that we recognize in her adult self. I won’t lie, at first I thought the Purrgil stuff was going to be really dopey, and that they’d fly into its mouth and be greeted by a cross-seated Ezra saying “What took you so long?” Thankfully, that did not happen.
With three episodes of Ahsoka to go, I really hope to see the pace kicked into high gear. If the war against Thrawn is going to come, let it come.