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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Season One of “Ahsoka” and Season Four of “Star Wars: Rebels,” both on Disney+.
For the duration of its 46-year history, the fantastical stories of the “Star Wars” universe have been united by a decidedly grand, escapist preamble: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” With the latest episode of “Ahsoka,” the creators make a sweeping decision that forever alters the dynamic of these famous words. In fact, they bring the story to a new galaxy entirely.
“Ahsoka,” whose titular character gained popularity for her appearances in the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars: Rebels,” follows the journeys of former Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) several years after the fall of the Galactic Empire. The season’s plot centers on a “Rebels” cliffhanger that has lingered since the show’s conclusion in 2018: the unknown whereabouts of Jedi hero Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi) and the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen). In the final episode of “Rebels,” Ezra sacrifices himself so that the nascent Rebellion may succeed against the Empire; he devises a plan by which powerful space whales known as purrgil, who are capable of lightspeed travel, take him, Thrawn, and a ship of Imperial troops to a distant, unknown location, with no certainty of return.
In tackling the first on-screen appearances of Ezra and Thrawn in five years, “Ahsoka” undoubtedly feels the pressure to honor the weight of their absence, and it delivers on this goal via the unprecedented stakes of venturing to a different galaxy. To truly separate this new galaxy from anything fans have encountered before, the creators first imbue the characters’ intergalactic journey with a distinctive visual identity, chiefly via unique depictions of lightspeed travel and the exterior of the extragalactic planet. They further develop this effort with thoughtful writing that leans into the fantasy elements of “Star Wars” more than any project in the franchise’s recent memory. Finally, with the high stakes established, the reintroductions of Ezra and Thrawn, as well as Ezra’s interaction with fellow “Rebels” character Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), perfectly exemplify how “Ahsoka” succeeds at both expanding what “Star Wars” can be and bringing back some of its most vital pre-existing pieces in a satisfying manner.
Unique visual choices early in the episode immediately raise the stakes of traveling to this new galaxy. With the only viable map already destroyed by the villains, who have also taken Sabine hostage, Ahsoka realizes that the only way to follow them is to park her ship within the mouth of a lightspeed-jumping purrgil. As Ahsoka and her droid companion Huyang (David Tennant) travel in this dangerous but markedly Jedi-esque manner, there’s something peculiar about the visual depiction of the purrgil’s lightspeed travel. Beyond the steady, blue swirls that are typical for the portrayal of a “Star Wars” ship mid-lightspeed, Ahsoka’s purrgil is flanked by irregular streaks of purple, yellow, and green that generate a sense of mystical uneasiness at the beginning of this journey, unlike anything audiences have seen before. Additionally, when the villains and Sabine arrive in the new galaxy, specifically at the planet known as Peridea, it becomes evident that the planetary ring they pass through is mostly composed of purrgil bones and other aged matter – a harrowing indication that reinforces the extragalactic danger of this circumstance.
Apart from its visuals, the episode is also charmingly self-aware of the significance of introducing a new galaxy into “Star Wars” lore. In the beginning of the episode, as Ahsoka and Huyang eagerly anticipate the wonders and potential challenges of entering this galaxy for the first time, Huyang proposes to tell Ahsoka a story from his memory archives, and he begins with the words, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s a fun pang of irony from the creators, given that the characters are, for once, far from the galaxy they call home, to the extent that it makes sense for this moment to include the first on-screen utterance of these classic “Star Wars” words. At the same time, though, after this moment, Ahsoka and Huyang do not appear for the remainder of the episode, and in this way, Huyang’s lead-in serves just as these words always have — as a narration of a fantastical story taking place in another galaxy. So, even though Ahsoka herself takes more of a backseat in this episode, she and Huyang certainly retain a symbolic prominence here, as the ones who frame the first foray into the new galaxy. The aura of fantasy in the new galaxy is further enforced by the villain Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson), who, despite being a rather stoic character, marvels at Peridea as “a land of dreams and madness… children’s stories come to life.”
With the weight of the setting and the story both properly established, the reintroductions of both Thrawn and Ezra certainly feel like they’re allocated their due significance. As Thrawn marches onto the scene, the Imperial troops who were isolated with him on Peridea chant his name in unison, in a gripping indication that, during what was roughly 10 years of exile, they came to view him as some sort of god-king. Foreboding organs dominate the musical score, as is often the case for Thrawn’s scenes in “Rebels,” and the final touch is delivered by the chilling voice of Lars Mikkelsen, whose original work in “Rebels” made the character’s eloquence and strategic prowess unmistakable.
Ezra, on the other hand, seems to have been leading a totally different life. When Sabine finally finds him, he appears to embody the giddy optimism crucial to his “Rebels” characterization, and he has evidently been spending his time with a civilization of turtle-like creatures. With his first line of dialogue, he joyously tells Sabine, “I knew I could count on you,” in a gratifying callback to a similar line in the finale of “Rebels,” when he places his utmost confidence in her and hopes she’ll eventually come to find him. Crucially, Ezra’s live-action casting is spot-on; so far, actor Eman Esfandi both looks and sounds the part originated by Taylor Gray in “Rebels,” so it’ll be exciting to see what the season’s last two episodes have in store for him.
The episode’s unique treatment of the new galaxy and its stellar reintroductions of Ezra and Thrawn ultimately make it one of the strongest pieces of content “Ahsoka” has offered yet, and some of the best “Star Wars” in recent years. With that said, there’s still much to be resolved in the season’s final two episodes. Perhaps most necessary is a fuller explanation of what happened on Peridea in the 10 years since Ezra and Thrawn’s disappearance; despite an initial indication of happiness, it’s a sure bet that Ezra endured significant hardship and change during a solitude that lasted from his late teens through most of his twenties. It’s also worth noting that, as of this episode, he and Sabine have not yet discussed the conditions of his supposed rescue. Once he learns that Thrawn will also have the chance to return to their galaxy, it’s likely he’ll be shaken by the possibility that the impact of his sacrifice may be lessened.
In a broader storytelling sense, it remains to be seen whether the new galaxy will be a mainstay for the future of “Star Wars” content, or if it’ll be relegated to the background now that its current narrative significance has been realized. For a universe that simultaneously delivers stories along so many different points on the timeline, an additional galaxy might prove to be a useful instrument for explaining why certain characters do not appear in projects that take place later on in the chronological lineup. Ultimately, whatever the role of this new “Star Wars” setting going forward, “Ahsoka” certainly gives it a strong starting point, and we’ll now always have more than one galaxy far, far away.
—Staff writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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