In “Dreams and Madness,” Hera stands before the council to explain her actions. However, Senator Leia Organa sends C-3PO to the Senate council with a message exonerating Hera. Meanwhile, Ahsoka and the Purgil arrive at Peridea. The Great Mothers locate Ahsoka, and Thrawn sets fighters on her ship while Sabine dodges telling Ezra the truth. Balon and Shin split up, her facing Ezra and Sabine while he holds off Ahsoka. Huyang provides cover for Ahsoka to steal Balon’s ride and reunite with Ezra and Sabine. Eventually, Thrawn calls his troops back, acknowledging that Ahsoka has lost too much time to defeat them.
“Dreams and Madness” is an interesting episode, although not one that suits its title. The title card led me to believe we would learn more about Peridea in this episode, but we did not. Interestingly, there’s a Studio Ghibli documentary called Kingdom of Dreams and Madness; I can’t help wondering if Dave is making an intentional reference. Besides the bizarre title and its lack of relevance to the episode’s plot, I mostly find “Dreams and Madness” frustrating. I love some things about this episode, but I have some issues, and we still need a lot of answers with only one episode to go. We still don’t know what Balon’s mission is, why Thrawn is working with the Great Mothers (and why they want to work with him), why this show is named Ahsoka, etc. Let’s take a deeper look.
The first third or so of “Dreams and Madness” is a delight for fans of the original trilogy, prequels, Clone Wars, etc. I loved seeing C-3PO and hearing that classic John Williams theme. I’m glad they went this route instead of trying to animate the likeness of Carrie Fisher into this, like in Rogue One. This also raises a question for me. A few episodes back, Carson Teva remarked that Leia could only make excuses for Hera’s mission for so long. But if she can retroactively sanction said excursion, making it legal, why didn’t she do that in the first place? Senator Xiono is insanely unlikable. Filoni is trying to make all three people who watched Resistance cheer at his demise on Hosnian Prime. Making a main character’s father so horrible and setting him against Hera and Leia is an interesting move, even if, again, very few people watched Resistance, and even fewer enjoyed it. Filoni is giving this creation of his the opposite treatment of someone like Ahsoka or Bo-Katan. I don’t know why he would be so insistent that they pretend Thrawn isn’t and could never become a threat, but it’s beyond frustrating since we know better. It reminds me of Minister Fudge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return. You don’t even want to take precautions? Really dude? Not exactly protecting the people of the galaxy.
Another fun bit comes in Ahsoka’s training as she works opposite a hologram Anakin made for her to serve this exact purpose. Hayden Christensen acts out Anakin’s dialogue from the Tales of the Jedi episode “Practice Makes Perfect”. I’ve loved this show’s merging of prequel Anakin and Clone Wars/animation Anakin. Ahsoka has managed to use Anakin in a meaningful way that furthers its primary character, which is far more than can be said of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve heard people say that Christensen is just fan service in Ahsoka, but I will have to strongly disagree. His appearances in Kenobi would qualify for that in my book because the timeline and lore were damaged just so a legacy character could appear, and nothing interesting was even done with him. What did we learn about Anakin from that show? How did his presence inform Obi-Wan’s character or choices? The difference is that Ahsoka had to deal with this trauma. There was no way around it; she’s been carrying it since The Clone Wars, and fans deserved to see how it played out. I don’t know how you do that without Anakin because her most important connection was with him, and he caused much of the damage (if unintentionally). I often find myself torn between “just enjoy it for what it is” and “that’s just nostalgia,” both of which are reductive arguments that exist to antagonize fans with a different opinion than the person employing them. I don’t really have nostalgia here because I was grown when Rebels came out, and I didn’t see The Clone Wars until after that. I think this is a case where at least Anakin’s inclusion serves this show and the larger story of Ahsoka as a character. If this is just “member berries,” you can say that about anything. And then what’s the point?
“Dreams and Madness” looks and sounds great. This is the most cinematic episode thus far, but I hope they have something special planned for the finale. I especially loved the look of the shot when Ahsoka exited the Purgil, though this whole segment is tense and exciting. The music is outstanding here, even better than the prior episodes, and it has always been great. I love Kevin Kiner’s work on the animated series, and I’m so glad he got the opportunity to shine. You love to see it. Unlike Ludwig Göransson’s work on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, which brought a new sound to Star Wars, Kiner pays homage to and expands on the work of John Williams. I’m not saying it should always be like this; I greatly enjoyed the Mandalorian sound. But it’s fun and even soothing to return to the classic style.
I had a feeling Balon and Shin would split up, but for some reason, I imagined a betrayal would be involved, and Shin would make the decision. With them divided and Balon nowhere to be seen, I can’t help wondering what the finale holds for them. I’m disappointed that their parting was so anticlimactic, as these two have been one of the most exciting aspects of the show. Ray Stevenson’s tragic, untimely passing casts a shadow over his character, and I can only hope they somehow tie up Balon’s story in a satisfying, fitting way. I find Ahsoka’s remark about reuniting with Ezra and Sabine puzzling. She cares about both of them and even promised to find Ezra in the World Between Worlds in Rebels. But even one episode ago, she didn’t seem concerned about finding him at all, only stopping Thrawn. I understand the needs of the many and all that, but it’s jarring for her to be hugging Ezra like they’re besties all of a sudden. I also feel let down by the lack of conflict with Ezra and Sabine; she still hasn’t told him any of the truth, and there must be consequences. She has fully undone his sacrifice at the end of Rebels, and this can’t be something he just brushes off. Ezra is a fun, go-with-the-flow guy, and Eman Esfandi has brought that to life beautifully. But this is a major betrayal done for the most selfish of reasons. He has to be a little upset with her. Finally, I booed when Ezra wouldn’t take his lightsaber back. His force karate was pretty cool, but I don’t want the saber to be gifted to Sabine; Ezra built it, and he’s still alive. Is he no longer going to be a Jedi? I really didn’t like this.
“Dreams and Madness” is middling. It has a lot going in its favor, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t let some of its most interesting characters down. I’m glad to see Thrawn steps ahead of our heroes, and I hope he ultimately wins in this series. He has to. But the last three episodes were far better than this and truer to the characters.