This discussion contains mild spoilers for Ahsoka, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Ahsoka is ostensibly a race against time as two competing factions fight to reunite with old allies. Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) hope to reunite with their old friend Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). On the other hand, Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto) hopes to locate Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) in order to create a gathering point for the remnants of the First Galactic Empire. That’s what the show is theoretically about. In practice it’s about cards.
Ahsoka Is halfway through the first season. These first four episodes were obsessed with stellar cartography. Ahsoka herself is introduced finding an orb with a map that could lead to Ezra. This map is stolen by Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), who brings it to Morgan on the planet Seatos. Morgan places the ball into an ancient stone monument and projects ancient star maps. Within these holographic projections, extended sequences take place in the first four episodes.
Apparently, war of stars is pulp literature. These types of stories are usually based on plot elements, on objects that the characters might fight over. These elements add a sense of drama to the story. Often it doesn’t matter what the object is or why the characters want it. What is important is that the audience understands that these players are involved in a game with a definite prize. Essentially, the card gives Ahsoka and Morgan reason to argue.
However, it’s starting to feel a bit tiring. After all, the card doesn’t represent the actual stakes. Ahsoka and Morgan don’t Really They want the card, they want what’s waiting at the end of the card. So the map is really an abstraction. It’s a delaying tactic. This allows the series to extend the drama to eight episodes. It’s also completely pointless. Because no matter who gets the card, the audience understands that Ahsoka will be reunited with Ezra and Thrawn will return.
This narrative shell game where the characters are searching for something rather than something specific Directions to Something specific wouldn’t be so frustrating if it were an isolated problem. Unfortunately, Ahsoka is just the latest example of a larger trend in modern pop culture. These existing franchises are increasingly about cards. These modern takes on established properties are often about characters struggling to find their way so they can actually begin the adventure.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a prime example. The film begins with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finding a Sith guide that takes him to Exegol, where he meets the somehow resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). However, to extend the film’s running time, Rey (Daisy Ridley) must retrieve a Sith dagger to give him instructions another Sith Wayfinder. However, this turns out to be a narrative dead end. Ren destroys the second Wayfinder and Rey uses the first to travel to Exegol.
If this plot structure sounds both convoluted and familiar, then perhaps it sparks something Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. In this film, the eponymous dial was split into two parts. The first half is presented in the film’s prologue, but much of the film is spent chasing the second half. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds clues in Basil Shaw’s (Toby Jones) diary that lead him to a “Graphikos” tablet, which in turn leads to the second half of the dial. It’s a map to a map to the third act of the film.
In some ways, this approach reflects the internal logic of modern franchise storytelling. These films and television shows are often based on the promise of what’s next, as evidenced by the frequent use of Post-credit scenes or Fan service Easter eggs. One often has the impression that the target group of this media is not fans who like the current film or series, but rather fans who are enthusiastic about it next Rate.
Therefore the structure of shows is like Ahsoka or films like The Rise of Skywalker mimic the experience of modern fandom, where it often seems as if what is being served is not intended to be filling or satisfying, but rather serves to whet the appetite for what comes next. If these franchise rates are vague, that’s just good marketing. Saying exactly what’s coming next only risks alienating fans. It’s easier to let them believe that could be everything.
After all, it’s halfway through the season Ahsoka has barely shown Eman Esfandi as Ezra and has yet to reveal what Lars Mikkelsen will look like as Thrawn. We can save these fan-pleasing revelations for the fifth episode Screening in the cinema. However, they come at the expense of the actual content of the story. Instead of demonstrating Why The characters want to reunite with Ezra and Thrawn, the focus on the map allows the show to keep Ezra and Thrawn in reserve for later games.
Of course, this structure may work. Hunter of the lost treasure is essentially structured as a series of Indiana Jones-themed set pieces, following one clue after another about the eponymous artifact. However, Hunter of the lost treasure Is one of the best films ever made. The Rise of Skywalker And Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny are not. As one of the greatest living American filmmakers, Steven Spielberg can break many rules with impunity.
Even then, Spielberg seemed to have been aware of the limitations of this approach. Spielberg Indiana Jones Sequels largely avoid or mitigate this structure. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mostly takes place in a single location. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade And Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are smart enough to build their quests around the emotional introduction of the characters Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
Here lies the real problem with structuring a movie or show around a character looking for a third-act ticket. While these storylines are convoluted and distracting, what they add to these stories isn’t the point. They serve to exclude them. This endless search for maps and directions serves to prevent any emotional engagement with the characters or the stories. Nobody really cares about a map, it’s just a nice hook that a movie or show can hang an action scene on.
There is a very revealing moment Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The villain Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) has just executed Indy’s old friend Renaldo (Antonio Banderas). Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) uses improvised explosives to help Indy escape Voller’s clutches. As they speed away from Voller, Helena quips: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again!” If you’re in a difficult situation, then that’s no problem!” Indy interrupts her: “My boyfriend just became murdered.”
It’s a human moment in a film that is often lost in unconvincing set pieces. It suggests an emotional cost to this life of adventure. For a moment it seems as if Indy is actually thinking about everything this life has cost him. However, that could ruin the mood. So the script clumsily suggests that the tablet that Helena deciphered for Voller was actually a decoy and that the real Instructions were hidden in a metal carving Inside the wax tablet. It’s just more action – more things happening.
It doesn’t mean anything either. Helena lied to Voller about the tablet, so she and Indy now have a tactical advantage. They have access to a map that Voller didn’t even know existed. It’s a victory for Indy and Helena. However, since this isn’t a culmination of anything significant, Indy and Helena Voller can’t lose. So Voller simply looks through his binoculars, notices the direction Indy and Helena are going, and realizes that he has been deceived. So nothing Strictly speaking happens.
That’s the problem with Ahsoka. The show did a pretty good job of articulating the backstory and plot mechanics for viewers who haven’t seen it Star Wars Rebels. However, no effort was made to delve into the emotional or character states. The audience might intellectually understand why Ahsoka and Sabine care about Ezra, but the show didn’t actually spend any time show or Development The. The characters have no arcs, even though they follow predetermined courses through space.
That’s the appeal of maps as action aids. They give the illusion of movement. In the truest sense of the word, maps allow films and shows to suggest dynamism. Characters start in one specific location and end in a different physical location. To an observer watching out of the corner of their eye, it looks like a character has evolved. More cynically, however, it allows these films and series to avoid the hard (and potentially controversial) work of actual character development.
It seems unfair to compare Ahsoka To Andor. However, Andor is the perfect counterpoint. Over the course of this season, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) embarks on a literal and abstract journey. The show is the story of Cassian’s radicalization. He moves through physical space, traverses the universe, but also changes himself. His goal is both emotional and physical. By the end of the season, it wasn’t just Cassian’s surroundings that had changed. He has changed.
That’s perhaps what these films and series are afraid of. Modern franchises are extremely conservative and are afraid that fans will overreact to the idea of their heroes changing and growing in this way Characters in stories generally need to change. Stagnation arises. These characters are running in place, their lives unable to progress beyond an established and idealized archetype. It’s what Stan Lee calls “the illusion of change.”
When these characters and franchises get stuck on treadmills, the promise of them finding a map at least offers the fantasy of forward movement without actually allowing for progress. That could be why shows are like this Ahsoka I keep coming back to maps as plot devices. A card is not a concrete object, but a delaying tactic. It’s the vague promise of something at the end of the rainbow when the audience just keeps watching. That’s the thing about maps: they’re never a final destination.