*****STAR DESTROYER-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!*****
“A Long Time Ago…”
As I may have said once or twice in this column, I make no secret of the fact that the Star Wars prequels are not really my cup of blue milk. Don’t get me wrong; seeing “Star Wars” at age 10 in 1977 was a transformative cinematic experience for me. Seeing “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” 22 years later in my early 30s was another matter altogether. Yes, I still saw it several times afterward, but it was more about examining the wreckage than enjoying the show. The two other prequels that followed (“Attack of the Clones,” “Revenge of the Sith”) didn’t exactly lift my X-wing out of the swamp, either (though “Sith” came a step or two closer to what made me fall in love with Star Wars). So, while the Star Wars prequels aren’t exactly my jam, I do appreciate that they have their own fan bases, and I respect that.
However, after Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, there seemed to be a concerted effort to unite the divided fandoms of the Original and Prequel Trilogies. New waves of books, and cartoons such as “Rebels,” begin using more ideas from both. While admittedly mixed, some of the results haven’t been half-bad. I largely avoided “The Clone Wars” cartoon series after the disastrously awful 2008 theatrical premiere frightened me away, but I did return for the final few episodes of its last season, and was impressed. I noticed much better development of the characters who populated the prequel-era landscape. In particular, the character of Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) had matured from an annoying, bratty-teenager into a fully mature and powerful being–full of regrets and anguish which force her to leave the Jedi Order. Good stuff.
Note: It’s not surprising that Ahsoka Tano has since become a fan favorite across Star Wars fandom, and is getting her own live-action Star Wars TV series, starring Rosario Dawson in the role originated by voice actress Ashley Eckstein. While the choice to replace Eckstein in live-action drew some ire among longtime “Clone Wars” fans, Dawson more than proved herself with her appearances as Ahsoka in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”
The later Disney+ live-action series, such as “The Mandalorian” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” also included ideas/characters from both eras. The mixed-results Kenobi miniseries featured the return of prequel-era Obi-Wan Kenobi (as played by Ewan McGregor), as well as appearances by Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton), Aunt Beru (Bonnie Piesse) and even Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader himself, Hayden Christensen (using software to simulate James Earl Jones’ iconic ‘Vader voice’). The biggest surprise for me came at the end of the six-part miniseries when the titular character is finally able to see the force-ghost of his old master, Qui-Gon Jinn, played by a returning Liam Neeson (my single favorite character of the prequel trilogy).
Nowhere was this fusion of eras more noticeable for me than at the recent Star Wars Celebration 2022 in Anaheim, which my wife and I attended in May (dressed as Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, of course). Even the much-maligned sequel trilogy, (which I enjoyed a bit more than most) was welcomed into the fold, as Kelly Marie Tran (“Rose Tico”) got thunderous audience applause during a live interview.
Through Herculean efforts by the Mouse House, the prequel and original trilogy eras are all simply Star Wars now. As Darth Vader himself might say, “the circle is now complete.”
“Tales of the Jedi” Episodes.
All of this brings me to Disney+’s latest effort to fill in more missing pieces from the prequel era in the newly-released “Tales of the Jedi”, which focus on the origins of two contrasting characters; the birth and ascension of Ahsoka Tano (once again voiced by Ashley Eckstein) as well as the corruption and downfall of Jedi Master and later Count Dooku (Corey Burton, filling in for the late Christopher Lee). We also see returning characters such as the prequel-era’s Yaddle (voiced by “Star Wars” live-action director Bryce Dallas Howard), Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), and Mace Windu (Terence T.C. Carson), as well as younger and older versions of Qui-Gon Jinn (the latter voiced by Liam Neeson, once again).
Produced by longtime Star Wars animation/live-action producer Dave Filoni and Charles Murray, “Tales of the Jedi” fills in many missing bits of lore throughout the prequel era, as well as shedding more light on character backstories. This paves the way for present and future live-action Disney+ offerings, such as the forthcoming “Ahsoka Tano” series.
“Life and Death.”
This story sees the birth of fan-favorite character Ahsoka Tano, in a small alien village on her home planet of Shili (yes, I Wookieepediaed that one). A year after her birth, the baby girl is taken on her first hunting trip by her mother Pav-Ti (Janina Gavankar), with the blessings of the Village Elder (Vanessa Marshall). A large predatory beast sneaks up on Pav-Ti and attacks her, before making off with curiously unafraid infant Ahsoka—who’s dangling precariously in her sling from its jaws. A devastated Pav-Ti returns to the village, unable to retrieve her baby from the clutches of the lionesque predator. Later that night, the beast enters the village with baby Ahsoka riding safely on its back, using her innate Force ability to tame the wild animal into submission. The Village Elder then recognizes that Ahsoka is a born Jedi.
Note: A handsomely animated story with a timeless and deeply mythological feel; one of the best of the lot (next to the series’ finale “Resolve”) but that’s more a matter of personal taste and character preferences. Baby Ahsoka’s origin story feels arguably more epic than when we met young Luke Skywalker on Tatooine in “A New Hope.” The tale knows exactly where to end as well, since I’m sure the sight of Jedi knights arriving on Shili to steal the little girl from her mother would hardly do them any PR favors…
This story focuses on future Sith Lord Dooku (Corey Burton), during his days as a Jedi Master, with his young ‘padawan‘ pupil, Qui-Gon Jinn (Michael Richardson). The two of them are sent to negotiate for the surrender of a kidnapped Republic Senator’s son from an impoverished rebel faction on his home planet who’re demanding greater social equity. Realizing the Senator’s son sympathizes with the rebels, the corrupt Senator is then confronted by an angered Dooku, who holds him in a force-choke, against the Jedi code, before his padawan Qui-Gon successfully talks him down. The shaken Senator promises reforms.
Note: This story sees the first stirrings of Dooku’s eventual disaffection to the Dark Side of the Force. Young Qui-Gon Jinn acts as a sobering influence over Dooku’s darker impulses. Their relationship is not too dissimilar from Qui-Gon and his own future padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kenobi would also have to reign in the sometimes cavalier (though not cruel) older version of Qui-Gon in “The Phantom Menace.”
Count Dooku’s story is further probed as he and Jedi Mace Windu (Terence T.C. Carson) are sent to investigate the death of a fellow Jedi knight. Investigating a shifty Senator named Larik, Dooku and Windu are unsuccessfully ambushed by the Senator’s guards. The group are part of a resentful faction within the Galactic Republic who don’t trust the Jedi—seeing them as the Senate’s trained lapdogs. Dooku and Mace eventually subdue their attackers, who were responsible for the Jedi’s death. However, as a result of his own lost temper during the conflict, Dooku is passed over for a seat on the Jedi High Council; a seat now taken by Mace Windu. A seething Dooku’s increasing disaffection with the Jedi Order grows…
Note: I enjoyed this story, though it does call to mind Mace Windu’s later astonishment when Dooku is mentioned as a possible assassin in “Attack of the Clones” (2002). Windu defends the rogue Dooku by insisting that assassination “isn’t part of his character,” even for a former Jedi knight. Yet we see that Windu himself had a front row seat to Dooku’s rising anger and disaffection towards the Order. Seems a bit odd for Windu to simply ignore/forget this very telling chapter in Dooku’s past, only ten or so years later.
“The Sith Lord.”
Filling in a bit of missing time from “The Phantom Menace,” we see Qui-Gon (voiced by Liam Neeson) returning from Tatooine to Coruscant to inform the High Council of his encounter with the Sith Lord, Darth Maul. The increasingly resentful Dooku tells his former padawan that the Jedi Council won’t believe him. The story then cuts to after Qui-Gon’s death and funeral services on Naboo, as Yoda-like Jedi Master Yaddle (Bryce Dallas Howard) discovers Dooku has been plotting with another Sith Lord, Darth Sidious (voiced by Star Wars legend, Ian McDiarmid). Carefully following them on Coruscant, the diminutive Yaddle confronts them both by herself. After a fierce lightsaber duel, Yaddle is then force-crushed by a heavy door, in order to preserve Dooku’s Sith secrets. The murder of a fellow Jedi is the act that solidifies Dooku’s defection to the Dark Side.
Note: This story tells the tale of both Dooku’s final severance from the Jedi Order, as well as what became of Yaddle, the female Jedi of Yoda’s (and Grogu’s) as-yet unnamed species. The previously mute character was last seen on the Jedi Council in “The Phantom Menace,” and is now voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic World: Dominion”), the daughter of Ron Howard (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”). The younger Howard is also a veteran director of live-action Star Wars herself (“The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett”). Surprisingly, Yaddle doesn’t speak in Yoda’s classic verb-subject-object manner, either. Another surprise in the story comes from hearing actor Ian McDiarmid‘s return to the role of “Darth Sidious/Senator Palpatine”, a role he first originated in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” During the “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” cartoon series, Palpatine was voiced by actor Ian Abercrombie. Once again, Disney+ spared no expense…
“Practice Makes Perfect.”
This tale sees Master Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) creating a rigorous new series of lightsaber combat exercises for his young padawan, Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein), forcing her to deal with a squad of aggressive clone troopers through a series of exhausting drills. We also see the return of Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), who is on hand to rib his own former padawan, Anakin, as he puts an inexperienced Ahsoka through her paces. After practicing Anakin’s drills for years, we then cut to an older, more seasoned Ahsoka, as she is forced to employ these techniques in order to survive the Jedi purge known as “Order 66” (from 2005’s”Revenge of the Sith”); a purge her former master spearheaded after his own turn to the Dark Side…
Note: While the dark ending makes for a great cap to the tale, there’s a bit too much redundant lightsaber practice in this episode for my personal taste, making the repeated exercises feel as redundant for a viewer as they do for Ahsoka. For a brief while, I felt like I was watching an animation demo instead of a story. However, that sober and foreboding ending (which segues into the the final few episodes of “The Clone Wars”) makes the seemingly interminable exercises forgivable.
This final tale begins with Padme Amidala’s funeral on Naboo after the fall of the Galactic Republic. Clandestinely attending Padme’s funeral is an in-hiding Ahsoka, who is fleeing Sith inquisitors who are hunting remaining Jedi stragglers. Ahsoka then leaves the core planets to live an anonymous life on a farming planet under an assumed name. After befriending a brother-sister pair of fellow farmers, Ahsoka instinctively uses her force powers to prevent the sister’s accidental death when an overloaded repulsor-lift vehicle tips over. The brother notices Ahsoka’s last second force-powered save, and secretly reports her to the Empire as a fugitive, in the hopes of a cash reward. In ‘gratitude’, the Empire sends a masked Inquisitor to make an example of these would-be harborers; razing the village and slaughtering all villagers. Ahsoka is then forced to kill the Inquisitor (with his own weapon), before making the decision to join the Rebellion, and reenter the fight…
Note: This final tale sees the reluctant former Jedi Ahsoka once again forced into the fight, as we’d see later on, in both “Rebels” and “The Mandalorian.” This story is an important bridge for the character, and upon further reading, I learned this tale was based on a 2016 book called “Ahsoka,” written by E.K. Johnston. I also appreciated that the character’s original voice actor, Ashley Eckstein, was brought back to say a final farewell to the character before she’s played in live-action by the equally talented Rosario Dawson. “Resolve” is a poignant and moving chapter in the life of a character I wasn’t initially fond of, to be honest. But now, like so many other Star Wars fans, I get the appeal of Ahsoka Tano. Not surprising that I’ve seen so many young girls cosplaying as Ahsoka at Star Wars Celebration 2022, and even on on Halloween night, a few evenings ago. She inspires.
Summing It Up.
These six, 15-minute cartoons, which are handsomely rendered, are surprisingly engaging, with more of a brooding tone than “Rebels” or even early “Clone Wars.” I have to admit; I began watching these with some reluctance, fearing I’d have to hit Wookieepedia every few minutes to bone up on Clone Wars-era minutiae. But after the first two episodes, I was hooked. The near-cinematic quality of these brief animated adventures (with a total running time of only 90-odd minutes) makes them an all but risk-free time investment. Perfect, bite-sized Star Wars treats.
“Tales of the Jedi” is fairly accessible to most Star Wars fans—even those like myself who only have a broad strokes knowledge of the prequel-era cartoons (at best). Yes, I’m sure I missed a few hundred or so Easter eggs here and there, but it doesn’t matter; these six short episodes work almost as well as standalone Star Wars short stories. With non-taxing running times, gorgeous visuals, and a surprising return of high-end voice talent, Disney+ has gone all out to make these previously untold short stories a lot more entertaining than I expected.
May the force be with us, indeed.
Where To Watch.
All six episodes of “Tales of the Jedi” are available to stream exclusively on Disney+.