This collection of Star Wars short is far from offensive, but relies too heavily on callbacks to the past.
Part of the joy of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was that it could go anywhere. One week, you could watch physical manifestations of the light and dark sides of the Force duke it out with Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The next, a multi-episode arc about a tiny frog alien leading a bunch of misfit droids on a wacky mission. The quality wildly varied from episode to episode, not really hitting its stride until season 2. However, big swings in tone and creative influence ensured even the weakest installments demonstrated admirable ambition.
That same creative team and animation style returns for the new short film series, Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi. No longer confined to just telling stories between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, these bite-sized narratives can go anywhere in the Star Wars timeline. Now they’re free to explore clever new ways of telling stories. Sometimes, Tales of the Jedi lives up to that potential. Too often, though, this repetitive batch of shorts feels like somebody doing a speed-run of abandoned Clone Wars episodes.
It may call itself Tales of the Jedi, but something like The Adventures of Ahsoka Tano and Young Sexy Dooku would more accurately reflect the focus of these six shorts. These are the only two protagonists across the season. Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) moves from her first display of Force-sensitive powers to her exploits in the wake of Order 66. As for Dooku (Corey Burton), viewers witness him going from a Jedi who bends the rules in the name of right to traveling a much darker path.
It’s interesting Tales of the Jedi premieres alongside ongoing weekly installments of Andor’s first season. That live-action series constantly utilizes new ways to tell stories in the Star Wars universe, including a cast almost uniformly comprised of new characters. Meanwhile, Tales is way too in love with rehashing the past.
Some Star Wars fans may cheer at seeing familiar elements like Sifo-Dyas or a brief reprise of Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. Good for them. For others, including this reviewer, it is enough to make one wonder why waste precious minutes on fan service. The fifth episode of this season, “Practice Makes Perfect,” which is ostensibly about Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) intensely training Ahsoka, seems more concerned with setting up an element of Ahsoka and Captain Rex’s dynamic that figures into one of the last Clone Wars installments.
All the limitless possibilities of the Star Wars universe and this show chooses to make callbacks to TV episodes from two years ago. It’s thoroughly bizarre, especially considering how Clone Wars frequently embraced new elements over rehashing greatest hits and giving fan service. New characters like Cad Bane or Ahsoka Tano favored unpredictability over voicing regurgitated catchphrases. Even controversial characters like Zirro the Hutt came from a genuine creative impulse to go somewhere unexpected.
Too often…this repetitive batch of shorts feels like somebody doing a speed-run of abandoned Clone Wars episodes.
Tales of the Jedi is too hurried and familiar, but writer Dave Filoni (who penned all six shorts) still delivers some solid material that echoes The Clone Wars‘ creative high points. The varying environments seen in each short, for instance, are very welcome. For example, the second installment of this season, “Justice,” evokes an old-timey fantasy setting with its wooden taverns and barns. Its story, featuring Dooku and young Qui-Gon Jinn (Michael Richardson, Liam Neeson’s son) visiting a planet ravaged by an uncaring galactic senator, is the best of the bunch.
The measured contrasts between these two Jedi warriors’ attitudes and approaches are intriguing. In addition, there’s a welcome sense of moral complexity to the various citizens impacted by that wicked senator. Unfortunately, however, even this episode falls into a trap that plagues all the shorts. It overstuffs the running time to the detriment of the storytelling.
Another standout, “Choices,” sees a grisly confrontation between Jedi and a collection of guards play out against bright sunlight and towering cherry-like blossoms. It’s a striking backdrop that effectively contrasts with the morally complicated actions unfolding in the foreground.
The most welcome of Filoni’s writing flourishes is heavily involving Jedi master Yaddle (Bryce Dallas Howard) in “The Sith Lord.” Briefly seen in The Phantom Menace but appearing in no major Star Wars media since, she’s finally getting an opportunity to define herself as more than Yoda with longer hair.
Here, Yaddle is the measured yin to Dooku’s increasingly disillusioned yang in the wake of Qui-Gon Jinn’s death. At first, her personality seems to be little more than generic Jedi, but the escalating darkness of “The Sith Lord” soon lends more tragedy to her disposition. While Dooku grows ever closer to the Dark Side, Yaddle portrays the kind of heroics incongruous with the spreading evil. It’s great that the low-key nature of Tales of the Jedi allows somebody like Yaddle to come into the spotlight and take on unexpected levels of depth, even if it does highlight how often the rest of the show focuses on familiar faces.
The creative aspirations of Tales of the Jedi are admirable. They often come through in the execution of Filoni and director Saul Ruiz, and the stellar voice cast’s performances. Unfortunately, confining the season’s scope to only two characters and a largely melancholy tone means the shorts blur together. Exciting possibilities are apparent in Tales of the Jedi, but not often enough. Hopefully, potential future seasons aim higher rather than settling for what Star Wars geeks already know and love.
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi fires up the lightsabers on Disney+ on October 26th.