TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Tales of the Empire

Josh Reviews Tales of the Empire

There’s an enormously enjoyable animated corner of the Star Wars universe that many Star Wars fans know little about, but which has given me tremendous enjoyment over the years.  The animated Clone Wars show started off wobbly but turned into a wonderful show whose final four episodes represent some of my all-time favorite Star Wars anything ever, while the animated Rebels started off as a kids show but gradually developed into some of the most nuanced, compelling Star Wars stories ever made (and whose characters became some of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters).  Animation mastermind Dave Filoni has moved into live-action in recent years, working with Jon Favreau to oversee The Mandalorian and recently giving us an unexpected and delightful crossover between Star Wars’ animated and live-action worlds with the Ahsoka show, which was basically a fifth season of Rebels.  Mr. Filoni isn’t as focused on animation as he once was, but in 2022 we got to see the release of the animated Tales of the Jedi series, six animated shorts overseen by Mr. Filoni that were extraordinary.  Beautifully animated and richly emotional, connecting a number of intriguing dots across Star Wars canon, the show was amazing.  I desperately wanted more.

I am thrilled that the series, now titled Tales of the Empire, has returned with six new shorts!  (Each is around 15 minutes long.)  It’s as wonderful as I’d hoped!!

The series now moves into the time-period of the Empire, between Episode III and the original Star Wars.  Just as the first Tales of the Jedi show told two intersecting stories, one a fall (Dooku’s fall from noble Jedi to Separatist and Sith villain) and one a rise (Ahsoka Tano’s journey from baby to Jedi padawan to one of the most heroic force-wielders ever, and one of the few to survive the Empire’s purge), this new series does the same, albeit dipping even deeper into obscure corners of Star Wars cannon!  I could not have been happier!

The first three episodes of Tales of the Jedi chart the path of Morgan Elsbeth.  We met Morgan in the second season of The Mandalorian, in the episode “The Jedi” that brought Ahsoka into live-action.  Morgan reappeared in the Ahsoka show, as the right-hand woman of Grand Admiral Thrawn.  We learned in Ahsoka that Morgan was a Night Sister, the race of Force-wielding witches introduced in the animated Clone Wars show, who were connected to Darth Maul.  (The witches began as allies of Sidious and Dooku, but eventually Dooku had them all murdered.)  Here in Tales of the Jedi, we start Morgan’s story right in the middle of the massacre of the Night Sisters, in a sequence that is incredible in how it makes General Grievous be the terrifying, dangerous threat that he always should have been.  (I never thought I’d see the day.)  We see how Morgan survived the massacre and how she embraced her anger and rage, taking over the planet Corvus (where we met her in The Mandalorian) and partnering with Thrawn.

Episodes four through six dip even deeper into continuity, reintroducing us to the character of Barriss Offee.  Barriss appeared several times in the animated Clone Wars show.  She started as a friend of Ahsoka’s and a fellow young Jedi padawan.  But her experiences during the Clone Wars embittered her; eventually she turned against the Jedi and was involved in framing Ahsoka for a terrible crime.  I thought Barriss’ story was over; I never ever expected to see her again!  But here, we are reintroduced to Barriss, sitting alone in prison at the end of the Clone Wars.  Then, Order 66 happens, and suddenly someone who turned against the Jedi is seen as a hero, not a villain!  Barriss is released, and given an opportunity to be useful: as one of Darth Vader’s Inquisitors.  (The Inquisitors — evil force-wielders in service to Vader and the Empire — were introduced in Rebels and made their way into live-action in the Obi-Wan Kenobi show.)  This at first seems like the fulfillment of Barriss’ destiny.  She was already an evil Force-user when we left her at the end of the Clone Wars show!  But I suspected that, after watching Morgan’s fall, we’d get to see a reverse arc in the show’s back half, and I was delighted to see that was the case.  I never ever expected to like and be rooting for Barriss Offee!!  And yet after only three shorts, that was very much the case.  Amazing.

This show is an absolute must-watch for Star Wars fans.

The animation is extraordinary — just gorgeous.  This series takes place across the Star Wars universe, in multiple different locations, across many years.  It all looks beautiful.  The lighting is incredible.  The character animation is smooth, and the fight scenes are thrilling.

More importantly, the storytelling is incredibly sharp; efficient and poignant.  They are able to make us care about and invest in these characters in an incredibly short amount of time.  Many movies twice this show’s length fail to achieve that.  It’s incredible.

I have some more to say, but we’re venturing into deeper SPOILER territory now, so stop here if you haven’t seen the show.

Still with me?  Let’s dig in!

Episode 01 — “The Path of Fear”

  • The whole sequence with Grievous and the droids’ massacre of the Night Sisters was thrilling and terrifying.  I loved seeing the Night Sisters in action one last time, and it was exciting to see Grievous be bad-ass and vicious.
  • I’d wondered if the males on the planet, from whom Darth Maul came, would get involved in the story.  I enjoyed instead discovering there was another sect of female Force-users on the planet, the mountain-dwellers.  I enjoyed what we quickly learned about their culture and beliefs.
  • It wasn’t a surprise, but still sad, to see Morgan choose the path of violence and rage — which got a bunch of innocents killed.
  • This was a great start to this new season.

Episode 02 — “The Path of Anger”

  • It was interesting to see Morgan’s early days being in charge of Corvus.  No surprise, she was a horrible ruler right from the start!  I loved how beautifully they recreated what we’d seen in The Mandalorian here in animation.
  • I was excited to learn the back-story how Morgan connected with Thrawn.  But I was even more pumped to see this episode spotlight Captain Pellaeon!!!  Pellaeon was introduced, along with Thrawn, way back in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire.  They teased him at the end of Rebels (where his name was mentioned), and we saw him very briefly in the Imperial shadow council in The Mandalorian season three.  But here we finally get to see him for real, and he was absolutely perfect.  I was so happy.
  • I was also thrilled to see Rukh again (who was also introduced in Heir to the Empire).  I liked his redesign; he looked scarier than he did in Rebels.  I loved his fight with Morgan.
  • I loved that the project Morgan was pitching to the Imperials at the start of this short was the Tie Interceptor project, which we’d seen Thrawn working on, on Lothal, in Rebels!

Episode 03 — “The Path of Hate”

  • This was the weakest of the shorts, in my opinion.  I must have been tough to decide where to leave Morgan’s story here, as she was already a villain by the last short, and we’d already seen her actual ending in the Ahsoka show.
  • This short was undermined by how hapless and dumb the New Republic representatives are.  I’m getting frustrated by how painfully useless the New Republic has been presented lately in Star Wars shows, from The Mandalorian to Ahsoka.  I know this is all meant to retroactively explain how easily the New Republic fell to the First Order in the sequel trilogy, but it’s painful to me as a long-time Star Wars fan to see that the government that our heroes Leia, Luke, Han, Mon Mothma, etc. fought so hard set up wound up being so ineffective.
  • I was actively angry at Nadura, the New Reublic senator, for so blindly leading her men to their deaths.  I wish the episode had shown her being a bit smarter and savvier — that would have made her defeat and death at the hands of Morgan be more of a tragedy.
  • I did smile to see the New Republic helmets and blue uniforms, as established in the recent Star Wars show, when Nadura and her group step out of their ship.  That instantly and effectively placed this short on the timeline for me.
  • I loved hearing Ahsoka’s theme, briefly, as Nadura is killed.  That’s a nice set-up for Ahsoka’s appearance on this planet in The Mandalorian.  (I’d assumed that when Nadura briefly calls for help on her comm that she was calling Ahsoka — but online I read that was the voice of Bo-Katan on the other end!  I wonder what that means?!)

Episode 04 — “Devoted”

  • Wow I loved this one.  It kicked off with a blast, as I loved seeing Barriss’ feeling Order 66 happen through the Force, and then watching the smoke pour from the distant Jedi Temple through her tiny window in her cell.  I found that sequence so moving!  The music, evoking the music of Episode III, was absolutely perfect, and the animation was gorgeous.
  • I loved every moment of Barriss’ initiation into the Inquistorious.
  • It was interesting that the Grand Inquisitor was already in place and fully evil, right away after Order 66.  We’d learned in Rebels that he’d started as a guard at the Jedi Temple.  I’d assumed he’d been turned by Vader sometime after the fall of the Jedi, but maybe that happened earlier?  I hope we get his full backstory someday!
  • It was a thrill seeing Vader at the end.  I only wish he was more involved!
  • I loved seeing the Inquisitors Lyn (Fourth Sister from Obi-Wan Kenobi), Marrok (who was revealed as a zombie in Ahsoka), and the unnamed Inquisitor killed by Ahsoka in the final Tales of the Jedi short, all again!  That was very cool!!

Episode 05 — “Realization”

  • I thought Barriss’ gradual return to the light was beautifully captured in this story, in which Lyn’s brutality (wow she murders a LOT of people!!) shocks Barriss back to herself.
  • The clifftop lightsaber battle, in the mist, was gorgeous!!  What incredible animation!
  • I thought it was nice to see a Jedi using the pronoun “they”.  (I only wish they could have done so without also causing a bit of confusion over how many Jedi were hiding in the mountains — when the kid says “they are hiding” I thought it was a group of Jedi, which caused me to wonder throughout the fight where the other Jedi were.  Surely they could have found a way to clarify that earlier, maybe by having someone comment about how this was a lot of fuss over a single Jedi, or something like that.)

Episode 06 — “The Way Out”

  • Another beautiful and moving installment; I truly can’t believe how much I loved and was rooting for Barriss by this point.
  • I loved the look of the older, wiser, more at peace Barriss.
  • On the one hand, it feels correct for a story set in this time period that it wouldn’t end well.  I am all for a tragic ending, and I was very moved by it.  My complaint is that Barriss comes off to me as a little foolish in the way she gets herself killed.  When she sends her friends away in her ship, it’s as if she’s resigned to death in a way that didn’t sit right with me.  Couldn’t she be more use to the galaxy alive??  Even if she wasn’t fighting in the rebellion, she could continue to help others as she’d been doing.  It didn’t feel right to me how she almost seems to throw her life away — it feels like a waste that could have been avoided.  (This sort of thing is baked into Star Wars — I must confess I still have a hard time fully understanding Obi-Wan’s death in the original Star Wars — it feels like he could have gotten out of that situation if he wanted to, and surely as powerful a Jedi as he was could have been useful to the galaxy?!  But I digress.)
  • Actually, is Barriss dead?  I thought we saw her stop breathing, but we don’t know what happens after Lyn carries her body out.  I hope she’s still alive and that we get to see more of her someday!
  • I loved seeing hints of the path for escaping Jedi and other Force-sensitive people, that we’ve seen alluded to now and then in recent Star Wars shows, particularly Obi-Wan Kenobi.  I loved that “The Way Out” title could refer to that, while of course also being about Barriss and eventually Lyn’s finding a way out of both the cave and of their evil paths.  (The redemption of these two Inquisitors… along with Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, seems to continue to put the lie to Yoda’s declaration to Luke that “once you start down that dark path… forever will it dominate your destiny.”  I think both the Jedi and the Sith are mistaken when they deal in absolutes!  But once again, I digress…)

Wow I loved this second installment of this series of Star Wars shorts!  This is everything I want in a Star Wars story.  I hope we get more installments in the future!!

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