“Now there’s a familiar name,” Grand Admiral Thrawn says of Sabine Wren in Ahsoka’s sixth episode, “Far, Far Away.” Thrawn’s name, too, has become quite familiar, even to fans who haven’t read the many novels (canonical and not) he’s starred in or seen the animated series Rebels, on which he made his screen debut. In the first five episodes of Ahsoka, Thrawn was mentioned 21 times. Counting four more mentions on The Mandalorian, Mandoverse viewers had heard about this exiled Imperial master tactician dozens of times before they ever laid eyes on him (outside of Ahsoka’s trailer). That’s a big buildup for a Big Bad, and a long time to expect Star Wars fans to practice patience.
And so, some Ahsoka viewers may have groaned this week when one of the Great Mothers—we’ll get to them—told Thrawn’s minion Morgan Elsbeth, “You shall wait. He is coming.” Even in a different damn galaxy, where Morgan and her mercs had flown to find him, the Grand Admiral was fashionably late. But this additional wait would extend only a few more minutes. At long last, the villain arrived, traveling in style in his Star Destroyer Chimaera, and though he didn’t do that much, he didn’t disappoint. Finally, the franchise’s live-action Blue Man Group got a little bigger.
If you want your long-awaited, much-ballyhooed anti-villain to get over, it helps to have him roll up in an imposing ship, stride through ranks of intimidating troopers, and be played by Lars Mikkelsen (who previously voiced him in Rebels). The closed captions for the first five episodes of Ahsoka mentioned “ominous music” only twice—three times, if you count the “ominous majestic music” noted in Episode 4. The closed captions for “Far, Far Away,” on the other hand, alert viewers to “ominous music” seven times—not to mention six uses of “dramatic,” three of “tense,” two of “uneasy,” and one each of “mysterious” and “suspenseful.”
But the captions also label pieces of the score “adventurous,” “captivating,” “gentle,” and “joyful”—the last of which is invoked just as Episode 6 expands Ahsoka’s cast in another significant way. Thrawn and Ezra Bridger disappeared together at the end of Rebels, so it was only fitting that they reappear (almost) together too. At the end of “Far, Far Away,” Sabine is reunited with the former Spectre comrade she’s jeopardized her galaxy’s fragile, hard-won peace to save. Three-quarters of the way through this season, Ahsoka has reassembled the entire core crew of the animated series that spawned it. (Well, almost. The Zeb erasure is real.)
Ominous, adventurous, captivating, gentle, joyful—all of those adjectives could also accurately describe Episode 6’s seemingly Dune-inspired storytelling and cinematography. As befits our first glimpse of a separate galaxy—and a new frontier for the franchise—“Far, Far Away” is wondrous and mystical. Hyperspace itself looks different when you’re jumping between galaxies in a purrgil or on the Eye of Sion. The rest of the episode overflows with exotic touches and inventive ideas: a purrgil graveyard; night troopers with kintsugi-style armor, suiting Thrawn’s affinity for art; a howler, an endearing dog-horse possibly inspired by the 20-year-old game Jedi Academy; a species of sentient snails (or are they more like hermit crabs, or turtles?) known as the Noti; a new Nightsisters origin story. It’s all extremely Star Wars.
Of course, in some respects, the sixth episode resonates on a specific Star Wars frequency: “Far, Far Away” is unabashedly built for fans of Rebels and Thrawn. Again, it’s not as if Thrawn and Ezra’s actions here immediately make clear what the hype was about to those who weren’t on board to begin with. If you know them, though, then it’s thrilling to see them in live action, looking and acting convincingly like their previous incarnations. Sure, Thrawn could use some remedial wig work, and his build leans a little Violet Beauregarde, but his calm, masterful menace is Thrawn through and through. Ezra, all grown up, has much more (and much better) hair than he had on Rebels, but Eman Esfandi captures the adolescent Ezra’s earnest charm and feelings for Sabine and repackages them in a more mature (and more attractive) form. To invoke Willy Wonka again, these snozzberries taste like snozzberries. Ezra calls back to his holographic message by saying he knew he could count on Sabine; I knew I could count on Ahsoka creator/writer Dave Filoni to get these crucial characters right.
When Sabine and Ezra relinquish their hold on each other at the end of a lengthy, not-quite-brother-and-sister-style hug, both of them exhale, as if they’ve been holding their breath in anticipation of this moment. Five years after the Rebels finale tore the two of them apart and left them stranded and stifled in their respective galaxies, watchers of that series can undoubtedly identify. “Sometimes stories are just stories,” Shin Hati tells Baylan Skoll, but for fans with a preexisting investment in these characters, this episode’s story was more than that.
There’s a lot of talk about stories in “Far, Far Away”—their power, and their pitfalls. When the episode starts, in the belly of a purrgil, Ahsoka doesn’t want to hear one of the greatest hits from Huyang’s millennia-long stint as an instructor of Force-sensitive younglings. But after fretting about her apprentice’s seemingly selfish choice to prioritize finding her friend over barring Thrawn’s comeback tour, Ahsoka requests one of Huyang’s narratives from the Temple. Maybe she just wants to be comforted by a reminder of a world before the dark times … before the Empire, when the Jedi order was, well, in working order. Maybe she wants to scrutinize the old legends for truths about their destination. Either way, Huyang begins with a well-known phrase: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …” For Ahsoka’s audience, stories that start like that generally aren’t just any old “Once upon a time” tales.
That’s the last we see of Ahsoka this week, though the episode ends with Thrawn finding out she’s en route and requesting the dossier he’ll need to get inside her head-tails. (I don’t know how much intel Thrawn has at hand on Peridea, but a background check on Ahsoka might take some time to digest—and Thrawn has history with Anakin.) The other discussion of stories comes courtesy of Baylan and Shin. Unlike Ahsoka and Baylan, Shin (who wasn’t trained at the Temple) has known no children’s stories. There’s a yearning in her voice when she asks about the Temple and the Jedi; she’s never belonged the way one could as part of a larger order. But Baylan informs her that the story the Jedi told about themselves was skewed. “I miss … the idea of [the order],” he says. “But not the truth, the weakness. There was no future there.” Ahsoka reached the same conclusion when she walked away from the Jedi.
In Baylan’s mind, most stories blend together. “As you get older, look at history, you realize it’s all inevitable,” he tells Shin. “The fall of the Jedi, rise of the Empire. It repeats again and again and again.” He wants to break the wheel, but in the standard Star Wars galaxy, we know he won’t. The sequel trilogy tells us that the cycle is destined to repeat at least one more time.
The question of whether these characters can write their own stories suffuses this spinoff, which is itself part of a sprawling Star Wars tapestry, much of which was woven years ago. “The threads of fate do not lie,” Morgan said in Episode 2, foreshadowing this week’s witch talk about destiny. The three Great Mothers are named Aktropaw, Klothow (played by sci-fi/fantasy vet Claudia Black), and Lakesis, barely altered riffs on the three sisters of fate in ancient Greek mythology. (Who are known as the Moirai, which is almost the same as the name of Ahsoka’s spirit animal, Morai.)
Even the titular protagonist catches a case of fatalism: “She was fated to make that choice,” Ahsoka says about Sabine’s betrayal. However, Huyang demurs: “The Force provides you with insight, but it does not give one all the answers.” Sabine, he suggests, wasn’t fated to hand the Pathway to Peridea back to Baylan; she did so of her own free will, which worries Ahsoka even more. Sabine also scares the witches, who don’t sense her approach. To them, she’s a “loose thread”; to Thrawn, she’s seemingly someone whose “singular focus will reshape our galaxy.”
No offense to Ahsoka or Sabine, but based solely on this series, Baylan and Shin have made the more compelling master-apprentice combo. That’s partly because the late Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno completely crushed their respective portrayals; both have been mesmerizing. It’s partly because we haven’t seen layered, live-action dark siders like this duo before. And it’s partly because there’s so much mystery surrounding their goals: We know Ahsoka and Sabine want to rescue Ezra and thwart Thrawn (in one order or another), but Baylan’s objective—or at least his strategy—is much murkier. What is the “beginning” Baylan seeks? What’s the power greater than the witches’ that Baylan is seeking while the witches flee? For those answers, our wait will be a little longer.
What we do know now is how Morgan found the Pathway to Peridea: Those whispers she was hearing from clear across the intergalactic gulf were from the Great Mothers and their coven, sent at Thrawn’s behest. As it turns out, the Nightsisters—a matriarchal faction of Force wielders introduced decades ago in the Expanded Universe before Filoni ported them to current canon in the third season of The Clone Wars—are originally immigrants to Dathomir. Although Morgan is human, most Nightsisters aren’t; Sith assassin and Count Dooku pupil Asajj Ventress was a Dathomir native (and at one time, a Nightsister), and Darth Maul was the son of Nightsister leader Mother Talzin. For a time, Talzin was allied with Darth Sidious, but (surprise, surprise) Sidious betrayed her and stole her son to be his apprentice. Ventress ended up on Dooku’s bad side, and Sidious and Dooku dispatched General Grievous to Dathomir, where he wiped out almost all of the sisters.
Prior to Episode 6, Morgan and Merrin (of Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi: Survivor fame) were the most prominent of only a few known Nightsister survivors. However, the revelations that the Dathomirians originally hailed from Peridea, that their forebears were among the first to hitch rides with the purrgil (a.k.a. “travelers”), and that there are still witches active in the old country call the Nightsisters’ near extinction into question. Especially since the Great Mothers are presently allied with Thrawn and clearly aren’t fans of the Jedi, as evidenced by the way one Great Mother addresses Sabine as if she’s Wild Bill talking to Catherine. (“It will wait in solitude … or else it gets the hose again.”)
Now that these witches have revealed themselves to the Jedi, will they have revenge? Dathomir is a dark sidey sort of place, and one gets the strong sense that Peridea is too. (No wonder Dathomir struck the ancient purrgil riders as a nice place to settle down.) “This is a land of dreams and madness,” Baylan says, yet he wants to stay, a decision that sadly seems likely to spell his doom. (Here’s hoping it doesn’t doom Hati.) Tot
oa, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. At least the horse-dogs and crab-snails are nice.
Thrawn doesn’t seem to have spent much time hobnobbing with the Noti; he’s cloistered in the Chimaera, keeping his distance from the nomadic bandits that roam the surface. He’s also out of touch with Ezra, whose status he claims not to know. Perhaps the two have decided to live and let live, as long as they’re both marooned so far from home. (“If you survived, I’m sure he’s doing just fine,” Sabine snarks.) The Grand Admiral makes a grand entrance when he greets his visitors/rescuers, drawing a chant from his assembled troopers, but the literal and figurative cracks in his command are showing.
If you thought the armor Moff Gideon’s stormtroopers wore on The Mandalorian looked a little worse for wear, check out the resealed spiderwebs of cracks on these troopers’ plates and helmets. Also observe the nonregulation, mismatched sets—and, most obviously (and creepily), the golden, Sons of the Harpy–esque mask embedded within Captain Enoch’s helmet. This fleet has been a long way away from being able to requisition replacement parts—the Chimaera has had its own patchwork repairs—and in its isolation, Thrawn’s soldiers have cobbled together whatever parts they can.
Unless that “night trooper” name signifies something far more nefarious. In The Clone Wars and Jedi: Fallen Order, Nightsisters use talismans and chants to resurrect fallen Nightsisters and Nightbrothers (à la Morgan’s former mercenary Marrok). We know Thrawn has lost a lot of men—“During this exile, our numbers have dwindled,” he confides to Morgan—and he declares that “death and resurrection are common deceptions played out by both Nightsister and Jedi.” The troopers’ voices sound … wrong, and at the end of the episode, Thrawn tells the Great Mothers that he’ll “once again” require the aid of their dark magick. Are these zombie stormtroopers? Are corpses the “cargo” being transferred from the catacombs? Is Enoch (Wes Chatham) Star Wars Beric Dondarrion? (The Enoch in the Bible supposedly didn’t die.)
We don’t find out this week, because Sabine—and, subsequently, Baylan and Shin—ventures out onto the surface sans stormtrooper/night trooper escort. In Episode 4, Baylan promised Sabine, “You will be reunited with your friend,” and later reminded Shin, “I gave her my word. And unlike her former master … I shall keep mine.” In “Far, Far Away,” Thrawn allows Baylan to live up to the letter, if not the spirit, of the agreement, by letting Sabine set off to find Ezra alone.
The catch is that Baylan and Shin are sent to tail her and kill her if she finds Ezra, which would seem to contradict another promise from Baylan to Sabine: “I give you my word, no harm will come to you.” (This deal is getting worse all the time.) Then again, Baylan may have no intention of carrying out Thrawn’s wishes—just as Thrawn has no intention of letting the mercenaries live. Might Baylan be contemplating a temporary team-up with Sabine and the non-Temple-trained hero he dismissed as a “Bokken Jedi”? As Baylan tells his apprentice, “The enemy of our enemy is our friend. For now.” The next two weeks should give us more of an answer to Shin’s question from Episode 2: “What happens when we find Thrawn?”
A few final observations:
- I noted above that “Far, Far Away” seemed especially Dune-ish, even by the standards of a franchise that’s always heavily drawn on Dune. The witches with eerie voices. (“Great Mother” isn’t far from “Reverend Mother.”) The prominent score. The big spaceships on the planet’s surface, and Peridea’s stark, panoramic vistas (only slightly marred by the Volume’s telltale flat terrain). The tough-to-track-down natives sheltering the exiled hero, who learns to live with and lead them. This isn’t a substitute for the delayed Dune: Part Two, but during this dark time for content, we’ll take what we can get. And despite the Western-style setting, I also got Hoth vibes from Sabine setting off alone on a mount, despite seemingly long odds, to find her friend. (She even has a tracking device like the one Han Solo uses to search for Luke.) Notably, though, she didn’t say she’d see Enoch in hell when the captain told her to “die well.”
- “Far, Far Away” has a few solid Sabine sight gags, including the Mandalorian slicing up the staff of a surviving bandit and sending him running; patching things up with her apologetic howler; and trying to open the door of her prison cell with the Force, just as the Chimaera arrives and rattles the building. Although this apparent use of telepathy was a fake-out, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sabine try and fail to move an object this way. Filoni has to be setting up a scene later in the season where she finally pulls it off. “Her focus to find Ezra Bridger blinds her,” Baylan says, echoing Padme’s line about love blinding Anakin from Episode III. Now that she’s found Ezra, maybe the blinders will be off. And maybe she’ll be more open to the reflection she tells Baylan she typically tries to avoid.
- Well, the hero of Lothal was where we all expected him to be: living with a roving band of friendly, skittish crab folk. (Too predictable, Disney.) Understandably, Ezra’s really out of the loop. He hasn’t been chatting with anyone in his home galaxy via Nightsister shortwave, so he doesn’t know whether his gambit to take Thrawn out of the fight actually resulted in the liberation of Lothal. Presumably, he doesn’t know that the galactic civil war is over. He doesn’t know which of his other friends are still alive! (“I can’t wait to go home,” he says, which will be easier said than done with Thrawn issuing orders to shoot to k
rill when the purrgil appear.) Honestly, as happy as he and Sabine are to see each other, and as tear-jerking as their embrace is, their reactions seem somewhat understated. That’s pretty par for the course on Ahsoka, though: Amped-up animation this is not. (Ezra really got a glow-up, though. Crab-snail life agrees with him. Also, I inwardly aww’d when Sabine called the Noti “Your very own brand of rebels.”)
- Thrawn has always been adept at developing allies, as he has on Peridea, but on Rebels, he arguably underestimated the power of the Force, which Darth Vader warned Grand Moff Tarkin not to do. Thrawn doesn’t make many tactical errors, and he’s certainly learned from that one, enlisting the aid of the witches, maneuvering to get rid of all other Force-sensitives save Morgan, and chiding even her for underestimating a Jedi when Ahsoka draws near.
- Hera appeared in the “previously on,” but not in the episode proper. Given everything else that was going on, I can’t say I was sorry not to get a live look-in at her dressing-down on Coruscant. I assume we’ll see her again this season, but her story line felt fairly inessential when she, Ahsoka, and Sabine were in the same galaxy. Right now, it would be tough to check in on her without it feeling like an undesirable detour.
Prior to Episode 6, Thrawn was not a name we hadn’t heard in a long time; it was one the Mandoverse was wearing out before its owner debuted. But Mitth’raw’nuruodo was worth the wait. And after three good-to-great episodes in a row, it must be said: So was Ahsoka. “What a delight it is after so long to see a familiar face,” Thrawn says to Sabine. The only thing better than that is seeing two long-lost, familiar faces in the same episode. “Far, Far Away” was a fable worth storing in our archive memories.