Ahsoka, Disney+, review: the saviour the Star Wars franchise needed (again)

Rosario Dawson's Ahsoka is a firm fan favourite
Rosario Dawson's Ahsoka is a firm fan favourite - Lucasfilm Ltd/Disney+

Star Wars fans could be forgiven for feeling that Disney is playing a Jedi mind trick on them. Last year, the franchise staged a spectacular comeback with Tony Gilroy’s witty, gritty Andor. But all the goodwill was immediately squandered by an unfortunate third season of The Mandalorian, aka the further adventures of Baby Yoda. Interstellar rock bottom was struck with an appalling episode in which Jack Black and Lizzo delivered panto-worthy performances as ditzy deep-space aristos. The Force was turning into farce.

Against that dark background – and with the Disney+ streaming service losing millions – the pressure is on Ahsoka, in which Rosario Dawson plays the eponymous hero: a former Jedi warrior with an Oompa Loompa complexion and cold, penetrating eyes.

Bringing her to the screen is a gamble as the character is beloved by the Star Wars audience. She has featured across a dizzying sprawl of cartoons and novels as well as popping up in The Mandalorian. But she is an action figure reborn in her new series, set after the destruction of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi. It’s a space opera full of bite and brawn – one that promises to go some way towards restoring the damage inflicted by The Mandalorian’s downward spiral. Thankfully, Dawson has enough muscular charisma to carry it.

Ahsoka has two qualities lacking from much recent Star Wars output. A solid story and an imaginative visual twist on George Lucas’s universe. We join Ahsoka as she is on the trail of the evil and semi-mythical Grand Admiral Thrawn, aided in her mission by a green-hued New Republic general (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

To this pacy and straightforward plot, series creators Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni bring a unique look. They’ve gone back to the original late Seventies Star Wars concept art by iconic illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. That retro aesthetic is channelled into killer robots and spaceships straight from a prog-rock album sleeve. There is also a good robot, voiced by David Tennant and a dead ringer for the paranoid android on the cover of Queen’s News of the World LP.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Ahsoka
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Ahsoka - Suzanne Tenner/Lucasfilm Ltd/Disney+

Ahsoka represents an unashamed bid for the hearts and minds of hardcore fans. As with the titular character, Grand Admiral Thrawn is a big box-office draw in the Star Wars universe. Portrayed by Lars Mikkelsen, he’s kept intriguingly off-screen in the first two instalments. So, too, is Hayden Christensen, aka the former Anakin Skywalker, who will return in flashbacks as Ahsoka’s Jedi mentor.

In Star Wars, it’s often easier to root for the baddies, and that is true of Ahsoka. Vying with Dawson in her pursuit of Thrawn is a duo of renegade Jedi, played by Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno. They’re fantastically villainous and not afraid to whip out their lightsabers. One of the pair also features in a nail-biting showdown at the end of episode one, which suggests that, for all its recent woes, Star Wars may be about to take flight once more.

On Disney+ now