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What is the new ‘Star Wars’ show ‘Ahsoka’ on Disney+ and why should you care?

What is the new ‘Star Wars’ show ‘Ahsoka’ on Disney+ and why should you care?

Christopher Borrelli | Chicago Tribune

Ahsoka Tano pilots a flying quesadilla through an unsettled galaxy. As a member of the Togruta species, she is a native of the planet Shili, and not the Togruta colony found on the planet Kiros. (Such an easy mistake to make.) According to Wookiepedia — a product of the semi-sentient human species of the planet Earth — Togruta can be blue, purple, white, yellow or red. Ahsoka is sort of spray-tan hued, though a bit lighter. The Togruta are distinguished by their loyalty and their montrals, which Wookiepedia describes as “cone-like horns” jutting out of their temples, but, to humans, it looks like small octopuses passed out on their heads and the Togruta were totally cool with it.

How much of that did you already know?

It might matter if you follow the new “Ahsoka” series on Disney+ into the darkest reaches of “Star Wars” lore. To put it in fluent George Lucas: “Ahsoka” is set on the outer rim of the galaxy. But if you come to “Star Wars” every decade or so? “Ahsoka” is about a Skywalker-adjacent figure with no presence in the films, though, because of animated shows and novels and other Disney+ “Star Wars” series, has become one of the most intriguing characters of an constantly thickening universe.

If anything I have said so far has already turned you off, I understand.

“Star Wars,” like Marvel and DC and Harry Potter, has exhausted a lot of people who don’t really care enough to splash around in the minutiae of their respective worlds — and plenty of those who do. For every C3PO you know like your own grandmother, there is always an Aldi-brand C1-10P. That’s why it’s hard to admit: “Ahsoka” is worth caring about. The first two episodes are perhaps overly pensive and sluggish but the heart is certain and the promise is often exciting. Rosario Dawson, who plays Ahsoka, struts through clash after clash with a self-possession typically reserved for male Mandalorians and Han Solos, and her crew, pilot Hera (a green Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and graffiti artist/demolition expert Sabine (a star-making turn by Natasha Liu Bordizzo), bring fire.

These first episodes also suffer from what the first episodes of nearly every TV series must endure: The band is being assembled. Except here, Ahsoka is putting the band back together. And the band has a history. If you’ve seen the animated “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” shows, you’ll be fine. If not, some background: Ahsoka was a brash padawan (aka protégé) of even brasher Anakin Skywalker, who fell into a space fryolator one day and came out Darth Vader. Ahsoka watched Anakin losing faith in the Jedi, and the Jedi’s response to a struggling Anakin partly soured Ahsoka on the Jedi. She was a Jedi, yet a Dylan-esque one: She set out on her own, helped form a movement, but stayed a powerful enigma. In “Rebels” — also by “Ahsoka” co-creator Dave “The Man Who Would Be Lucas” Filoni — Ahsoka crossed paths with a group of nascent Empire agitators that included Sabine and Hera. A young Jedi named Ezra Bridger was the soul of the squad. But when that series ended in 2018, Ezra vanished — and their threat, Admiral Thrawn, vanished with him.

If that sounds like a lot to know, it is.

“Ahsoka” nods to reams of past history while setting up the series’ new mission: Find Ezra and, with him, Thrawn, aka The Man Who Could Be a New, Improved Darth Vader. Timeline-wise, all of this happens just after the fall of the Empire in “Return of the Jedi” (making it contemporaneous to “The Mandalorian”). But pockets of Empire true believers linger through the galaxy, despite how many times its former leaders are indicted for subverting democracy. (Seriously.) It’s a universe with a power vacuum, a conundrum that, to a certain extent, those recent “Star Wars” movies (“The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi,” etc.) took on.

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The promise of “Ahsoka” is partly a redo, with even sharper heroes and more evocative villains. Thrawn — who doesn’t appear in the first two episodes but is blue and suave and evil and played by Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen — would bring a different flavor to “Star Wars,” a bad guy more reliant on intelligence than armor and brawn. The character (first introduced 32 years ago in the “Star Wars” novels of Timothy Zahn) wants to restore the Empire, without the arrogance and self-satisfaction that curdled it. Ahsoka, similarly, recognizes the need for a smarter Jedi order that doesn’t shy from necessary shades of gray. After last year’s terrific “Andor” series on Disney+ upended the possibilities of live-action “Star Wars” — veering into genocide and systemic oppression with a startling anger (the show has been nominated for eight Emmy awards) — there’s desire for fresh tones to emerge from a very old franchise.

“Ahsoka” looks eager to try its hand at revival. It is serious and almost entirely female-led — in front and (somewhat) behind the camera. That mirrors a fandom that, in recent years, has moved closer to gender parity, and given the “Star Wars” ecosystem new energy. But like “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” — all cocreated by Filoni and Jon Favreau — “Ahsoka,” and the larger “Star Wars” biosphere, is still striving to balance the breezy nonchalance of 1977 alongside decades of legacy. It wants to be fun and thoughtful. Sometimes that means characters sigh a lot. Other times it results in a wonderful sequence in which Rosario Dawson is dropped into Ray Harryhausen-ish special-effect battles.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who create “Star Wars” today are the loneliest people around, both loved and hated by generations who can’t decide what they want anymore. “Ahsoka,” so far, leaves us wondering where “Star Wars” is now. Do we still love it? Do we need it? Do we want more people to come in and fill the gaps of old stories? Or write new stories? Elevate new voices? My answer, I guess, is yes, yes, yes, but then again: Yes, we could all use a break. From Batman and Indiana Jones and Vin Diesel, too. That’s been the lesson of our “Barbie” summer, and it’s long been the lesson of “Star Wars”: Absence grows the heart.

Also, the montrals.

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(Christopher Borrelli is a features reporter/columnist for the Chicago Tribune.)

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