Let it be known: at some point during Ahsoka, Grand Admiral Thrawn is going to be found, and when that happens, be warned! Half the Star Wars show has been spent thus far lining up this big return, mentioning the central villain in hushed tones and mentions. We should be afraid of him because all the heroes are petrified, and some stuff happened in Rebels.
That’s a bit flippant — Rebels is a great Star Wars show that ended on an emotive cliffhanger. We saw one of our favorite Star Wars characters, Ezra Bridger, sacrifice himself to make sure Grand Admiral Thrawn gets sucked into hyperspace to parts unknown. Ahsoka and Sabine Wren, comrades of Ezra, then dedicate themselves to one day finding him, wherever he may be.
Ahsoka picks up this storyline, where the potential cost of bringing Ezra back becomes letting the Star Wars villain return and fill the power vacuum consuming the Galactic Empire after Emperor Palpatine’s defeat. This would be bad, but halfway through Ahsoka, the only evidence for viewers who haven’t seen Rebels has been that Thrawn is popular among the baddies, but the goodies aren’t even comfortable saying his name out loud.
Creator Dave Filoni has clearly outlined the Disney Plus show, believing most of the audience will be clued in on Ahsoka’s past outside of The Mandalorian. It’s not an invalid conclusion, but even as an informed Star Wars fan, he’s erred too hard on assumed reverence for me.
Ahsoka hasn’t drawn any kind of useful portrait of Thrawn. We don’t know what his plan might be or even what anyone fears he’s going to do. Baylan Skoll and the arrest in the first two episodes tell us that Empire sympathizers are still around, so that’s nothing new, and space fascism has lots of mainstream opposition at this point.
There’s nothing wrong with some assumed knowledge of long-lasting franchises and stories. Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings; many of the best sci-fi series and best fantasy series have points at which they take leaps with what the audience knows, otherwise half of every installment would be explaining the previous one. With Ahsoka, Filoni’s fallen on the lightsaber of assumed understanding.
The show doesn’t just believe you know who Thrawn is; it’s operating under the assumption you’re already excited about him. I’ve read Heir to the Empire, the 1993 novel by Timothy Zahn that introduced Thrawn (and got a namedrop in Ahsoka episode 4), and I’ve seen all of Clone Wars and Rebels. I’m smack bang in the middle of the Millennial and Gen X overlap that Filoni’s targeting and I just don’t care that much.
Zahn’s trilogy of Thrawn books are cool – and very worthwhile if you’re curious about trying any Legends material – and Rebels was fun, but they never inspired major excitement in me. Admittedly, I came to Heir to the Empire in my late teens, after the Prequel trilogy and a litany of Star Wars games had more than satiated my fascination with a galaxy far, far away. Maybe I should’ve been absorbed in the expanded universe instead of playing Battlefront 2 for hours and hours.
I suspect the real problem is that I wasn’t a teenager in the early ’90s when the Thrawn trilogy was the defining text concerning a long, long time ago. Ahsoka seems informed by Filoni’s own youthful desire to play with one of the best Star Wars villains. The merging of space whales and the World Between Worlds has the energy of Star Wars fanatics batting around ideas in fervent discussion, and I say that because it’s the kind of thing my friends and I would absolutely have thought about.
But Filoni has stunted Ahsoka slightly by relying so much on a time when staying informed on Star Wars seemed like a much smaller club. Disney owning Lucasfilm has created a whole other dimension of ubiquity for Star Wars. You can’t go anywhere without some form of Darth Vader or C-3PO branded something on the shelves.
Fans of the last decade have been spoiled for choice on ways to engage in the Force. There have been top tier videogames, prestige-level television productions, five whole Star Wars movies, and some excellent books. The decision to reset the canon on the expanded universe created an automatic jumping-on-point for readers.
Thrawn used to be the coolest thing in Star Wars. And then we got a lot more Star Wars. He might still be capable of causing shockwaves, but Ahsoka’s yet to give us any proof of that. At this point, when he comes around, I’ll just be sad; it’ll probably mean the end of Baylan. Sorry, Dave, but it’s not 1993 anymore. It’s time to let Star Wars move on.
Check out our guides to the Skeleton Crew release date, The Acolyte release date for more of what’s coming, and our Star Wars movies in order list will tell you where Ahsoka fits in the grand scheme of things, as well.
If you’re bored of a galaxy far, far away, though, you can check out our comprehensive list of the best TV series ever made.