A few months ago, Secret Invasion came and went to little avail and even littler remembrance. I decided then that I was done with new Marvel shows. (Not you Loki, you’re the exception). Now that Ahsoka has come and gone as well, I think I’m about ready to do the same with Star Wars. As a lifelong fan of the galaxy far far away, this makes me sad. Being bored by new Star Wars is not a state I ever thought I’d be in. It’s not one I rest in happily, either. I’d like to talk about why.
Some of my earliest memories are of watching Star Wars. One of the greatest achievements of my childhood was the day I finally beat my dad at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. This franchise is in my blood and I will continue to love it despite my disappointment. That said, that doesn’t mean I’m just going to blindly accept lackluster Star Wars as anything but. Bad Star Wars should be critiqued, good Star Wars should be praised. And if you love Bad Star Wars, great. I love a lot of Bad Star Wars too, just not a lot of recent Bad Star Wars.
The Mystery Box Syndrome
The worst lesson that the Star Wars franchise carried over from its days under the tutelage of JJ Abrams is that of the mystery box. The basic idea of it as a storytelling instrument is that you should constantly tease what’s inside the box or what the backstory of a person, place, or thing is. The Force Awakens is rife with mystery boxes, some good and some bad. The problem with that kind of storytelling though is that it is never about the box itself. In other words, the thing you’re promising to show next is always worth more than the thing you’re actually showing. This leads to a cascade of mystery boxes inside of mystery boxes where nothing is ever really explored, only teased.
The biggest problems in the sequel trilogy stemmed from the fact that The Force Awakens asked about a thousand questions it never intended to answer. Now, I like The Force Awakens. It is not a bad movie. It is a terrible framework to wrap the future of the franchise around, though. Its lack of intention let The Last Jedi (My favorite Star Wars) go off in its own direction. This was great for the film individually, but again, terrible for the franchise as a whole. This all came to a screeching collision with The Rise of Skywalker. Suddenly, the franchise was forced to answer all the thousands of questions that nobody had given more thought to than, “This would be a good cliffhanger.”
Ahsoka‘s Many Boxes
Ahsoka is not the only Star Wars show to suffer from mystery box syndrome. However, since it is the most current, I’d like to express my frustration with it specifically. Ahsoka is a boring show because it is consistently more interested in what it promises to show you next rather than what it shows you at present. It uses a “when we get there” approach to developing its characters. (I use the term “developing” lightly because nobody really develops in this show, but more on that later.)
This creates such unsatisfying conclusions because the thing that was teased last episode becomes meaningless in the next because there’s instantly something else to tease. These characters just run from box to box without any time to breathe or have any kind of personal realization. Each episode is merely about setting up the next cliffhanger. This happens to the point that the season ends without any resolution for most of its characters, just a “Next time on Ahsoka.”
The most glaring example of this is the character of Baylan Skoll. Even after the finale, I’m still seeing articles asking, “What is Baylan’s goal?” Six episodes with the character and it was never made clear what he’s actually after, either internally or externally. We got a few exposits of backstory, but there’s nothing to differentiate him from any of the dozen other former Jedi baddies we’ve had from the franchise lately. The only semi-concrete detail we get is a Mortis family tease at the end of the season. These are recognizable characters, but they don’t mean anything within the context of this story.
Characters Fall Flat
The other major problem facing the Disney+ Star Wars shows is that there’s no interpersonal conflict. There’s the usual good vs, evil, yes, but the characters themselves hardly ever disagree in any permanent or meaningful way. Ahsoka can be boiled down to one side that’s bad because Empire and another that’s good because not Empire. Take this in contrast to Andor or the first season of The Mandalorian where the lines are much more blurred. Characters who want the same thing disagree on how to do it. Characters are on the same side but want different things. Allies dislike each other, poor choices are made just as well as short ones. People die, and characters drop in and out. There are real stakes to the relationships in these two seasons. However, these stakes are completely absent in the majority of other Star Wars shows.
Ahsoka is bloated with happy, nice, inoffensive characters. Everyone is generically sized to have a palatable personality with one minor quirk that the show will beat you over the head with. They all make inconsequential decisions that set up the next mystery box. There’s no intrigue, no suspense, no real tension. What little development they have is usually buried in another mystery box and dismissed with a cheap joke and a smile. It is especially unfortunate because Rebels, where most of these characters originated, does all of these things really well. We’ve seen these characters feel real and developed so it feels especially wrong to see them come into live action half-baked.
Aside from being the human (or alien) equivalent of the color beige, these characters also don’t change. They feel almost sitcom-esque in the sense that they’ll be the same person in the finale as they were in the pilot. Take the titular Ahsoka, for example. There’s been a lot of hype over “Ahsoka the White” and this mind-blowing transformation she supposedly takes. That’s true in the fact that she wears grey for a few episodes and then white for a few after that, but there’s no real internal or external change. This shift is clearly based on Gandalf’s death and resurrection in The Lord of the Rings, but it lacks the momentum that his transformation brings to that story.
When Gandalf returns in The Two Towers, he is no longer the Gandalf that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli knew. Not only is he mistaken for Saruman the White, but he has somewhat forgotten who he last was. He returns more powerful and more focused on the broader mission. Not only that, but his return permanently alters the course of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and Merry’s arcs. The Fellowship disbands much earlier than Gandalf’s return but it is truly broken upon his return. Why? Because this new Gandalf sees the bigger picture for Middle-Earth and makes that his focus. This turns Aragorn into a King, Pippin into a Steward, and Merry into a Squire, and it saves all of Gondor and Rohan in the process.
Ahsoka The White
Ahsoka can’t claim any of this. She falls off a cliff in an obviously fake death that is revealed fake minutes later. During this baptism, she encounters the ambiguous ghost of Anakin Skywalker and relives a few Clone Wars highlights. Anakin tells her she’s afraid of becoming her master, but never once does the show give us any glimpse into Ahsoka’s dark side or any Anakin-like tendencies. This episode is basically the show gaslighting its audience into believing there is tension when nothing is actually happening. Ahsoka then duels her master and returns to the land of the living in a new set of white robes.
Ahsoka’s death doesn’t galvanize any allies. She doesn’t collide with the pre-arranged course of the plot and send it in an unexpected new direction. Ahsoka merely resumes where she left off and does exactly what Ahsoka the Grey would have done. Again, there is false tension but nothing in the story or the character or her relationships changes. Nothing is exciting about Ahsoka the White that is deeper than cosmetic. It’s absolutely bland storytelling that mimics exciting things and promises exciting things rather than putting in the work to create an exciting or even emotional experience.
I love tooting Andor‘s horn, so I shall do it here. This show is the gold standard for Star Wars television. It is a sharp, bold, and exciting series where unique characters are placed in tense situations and make decisions that impact each other. The plan does not go according to plan. People die. Objectives are reached and new hurdles are put in place. All this is done without any lightsaber battles, no end-of-the-world plot, and almost no reliance on cameos and legacy characters. The things that Andor does to make itself great aren’t original ideas on their own, they are just well-done fundamentals of good storytelling. These same fundamentals are absent from The Book of Boba Fett, The Mandalorian Season 3, and now Ahsoka.
Part of what people gravitate to Andor for is its satisfactory mini-arcs. There is no singular plot to this show in the sense that good must fight evil because they are trying to build, find, etc. Rather, the characters are burdened with one goal at a time. We get to see them struggle to reach their goal, face tension between their different opinions and desires, and be changed by their experiences. Then we get to watch that evolved version of the characters tackle new and more exciting goals. Most importantly, these goals are not left as teases for the next episode or next season. Instead, the focus is on the box itself and not whatever thing they’ll write into the box later.
Stop Promising Interesting
There is no try. Rather than promising to be interesting, if Star Wars is to survive, it needs to be interesting. It needs to stop promising that the next story will be even bigger and better, and take the time to make the stories it is telling bigger and better. This means creating real characters who lose as much as they win, and building up the box itself rather than the mystery thing promised to be inside.
Characters need to have personality, and that includes flaws. This doesn’t mean having one character tell another they have a flaw, but giving these characters opportunities to choose poorly and face the consequences large and small. Rather than fitting every ally into a tiny box of shareable goals, we need some tension and some conflicting desires between them. We need more Star Wars stories that feel real, that rely less on cameos and more on the emotion that made us fall in love with these stories all that time ago.
Star Wars The White
We need Star Wars to die and be reborn if it is going to continue to engage audiences and be legitimately great. This means ending the constant churn of content and getting back to the heart of storytelling. Legacy characters can be fun, but I would love to see new characters that get to be developed and grow so that they reach the levels of a Luke Skywalker or an Obi-Wan Kenobi. I want villains as memorable as Darth Vader. That means they have to be given the room to develop, grow, and be a part of stories that are more exciting than simply what comes next.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Ahsoka and Star Wars? Comment down below!
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