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Star Wars: Tales of the Empire





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Honestly, why would anyone sign up to join the Dark Side?

The name alone tells you that you’re probably not going to be one of the good guys. Seems like your superiors are pretty ready to kill you for the smallest of infractions—or, at least, lock you in a Force-powered chokehold for far too long. (And let’s face it, any time spent in a force-powered chokehold is far too long.)

I mean, sure, they promise power, power and more power. But dental benefits? Minimal. Flexible work hours? Forget about it. And don’t even get me started on their retirement packages. Because no one, it seems, ever gets to step away from the Dark Side and spend their golden years gardening.

So what’s the appeal?

This short Star Wars series asks us to consider how, and why, two Dark Side warriors decided to throw their lot in with the Empire (or the remnants thereof). And it seems that good dental insurance was way down on the list.

This Is Not the Way

We were first introduced to Morgan Elsbeth (onscreen) in a flashy cameo in Disney+’s The Mandalorian, then in a more prominent role in the first season of Ahsoka. The Nightsister (think a Force-wielding witch) threw her lot in with the megalomaniacal Grand Admiral Thrawn and showed, in Ahsoka’s final episode, just how far she would go to fight for a new, resurgent Empire.

But when we first meet Morgan in Tales of the Empire, she’s only a child, desperately running from General Grievous (who made his first appearance in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith) and his droid armies. Grievous killed Morgan’s mother, and his droids destroyed her people. Ever since then, she’s been nursing a destructive anger. “My world has been burning since I was a child,” she says, as one of the planets she rules is awash in flames. “Why should this one be any different?”

Morgan’s origin story takes up the first three episodes of Tales of the Empire. The tragic unraveling of Barriss Offee comprises the last three.

We don’t need an origin story as much for Barriss. Onscreen, we’re privy to it in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. A one-time Jedi and close friend of Ahsoka, Barriss came to believe that the Jedi had betrayed their original purpose—so she betrayed the Jedi in spectacular fashion.

In Tales of the Empire, we pick up Barriss’ story after her arrest. She watches from her cell as the Jedi temple is invaded and destroyed during the very last days of the Galactic Republic. But with the corrupt Republic quickly transforming into the evil Empire, seems that she picked a good time to be arrested.

Elements within that fledgling Empire see talent in her—and they have an eye on training her to become one of its fearsome Inquisitors, who’ll be tasked with rooting out the Jedi’s last remnants. If Morgan’s driven by rage, Barriss seems at first motivated by misguided idealism.

Yes, the people at the heart of Tales of the Empire are on a dangerous path. But the show itself? It’s sticking to the Star Wars road.

The Clone Shows?

In terms of content, Star Wars: Tales of the Empire is very much in line with what we’ve seen from many other of the franchise’s in-canon animated series, from The Clone Wars to The Bad Batch.

And given that Tales of the Empire deals with, essentially, villains whose experiences helped nudge them over to the Dark Side, this series can feel more grim than its more heroic brethren.

Naturally, the quasi-spiritual Force is a big player in the first season’s stories. And with the inclusion of Morgan, the Dark Side takes on an occult-like tang. (While Morgan doesn’t feel quite as dark and “witchy” as she did in Ahsoka, magical incantations and mysterious runes are all part of the Nightsisters’ overall vibe.) Moreover, we’re introduced to another group of Force/magic users in her story—a colony of peace-loving druids who can still flex some spiritual muscle if the need arises.

And, of course, Tales of the Empire can be quite violent. Characters fight often, and people are injured and killed. But even though viewers could face some disturbing imagery—someone getting run through the chest with a lightsaber, for instance—actual blood is kept to a trickle.

Tales of the Empire really has no sexual content pitfalls to navigate thus far; it just doesn’t come up in these 15-minute-long episodes. And bad language? That is thankfully lacking in this galaxy far, far away.

Certainly, Star Wars: Tales of the Empire comes with some cautions—but cautions that franchise fans know all about by now. And yes, the stories are perhaps a bit darker. But the Empire, for all its faults, keeps its ship decks squeaky clean and its personnel in line. And relatively speaking, Tales of the Empire is ship-shape, too.

Episode Reviews

May 4, 2024—S1, E1: “The Path of Fear”

Morgan, as a young teen, flees with her mother and fellow Nightsisters from General Grievous and the droids under his command. While Morgan escapes, no one else appears to do so; she’s rescued by a group that calls itself the Mountain Clan, and its grandmotherly leader invites Morgan to stay with them “until you find your new path.”

But Morgan is not exactly Mountain Clan material. The leader wants to keep the clan out of conflict, but Morgan is soon talking to other, younger members and encouraging them to fight Grievous and the droids. “I watched my mother die,” she says. “Are you prepared for the same, knowing there was more you could’ve done to prevent it?”

We do indeed see Morgan’s mother fight and die during the opening sequence. She battles Grievous with scythe-like blades covered in runes, and she uses what appears to be a magical incantation to fire those weapons up. But she’s stabbed by one of Grievous’ lightsabers. We see other Nightsisters fight and fall as the forest around them burns. Later, the Mountain Clan leader tells Morgan to look at the destruction from a safe location. “I’m afraid there’s nothing left of your people.”

Another fight takes place later. Buildings and ships are destroyed. A couple of people are injured, and one likely dies. It ends with a blinding display of force that destroys one side of combatants.

May 4, 2024—S1, E2: “The Path of Anger”

Now an adult and leader of a handful of planets, Morgan does a presentation for some Imperial bigwigs, introducing them to what she says is a revolutionary new fighting ship. Those Imperial officials are far more interested in plundering her planets than her spaceship design. But one seems interested in Morgan herself—her talent and drive. And soon, she’s introduced to one of the biggest Imperial bigwigs of them all.

Morgan battles an apparent assassin, but both survive the encounter. We hear a reference to Nightsister “witches.”

May 4, 2024—S1, E3: “The Path of Hate”

Morgan’s home base receives an unexpected visitor from the New Republic. Awkward, given that Morgan hasn’t told her systems that the Empire fell. Even more Awkward? The visitor asks Morgan to step down, relinquish control of her systems and surrender. But Morgan, in so many words, says, That’s not gonna happen.

The ensuing battle involves plenty of blaster fire. Several New Republic guards are killed. Another character dies as well; a ship blows up; a forest is set on fire—an intentional echo of the show’s opening scene, when young Morgan was surrounded by flames.

May 4, 2024—S1, E4: “Devoted”

Episode 4 moves on Morgan Elsbeth and introduces us (or re-introduces us) to Barriss Offee, a one-time Jedi who betrayed the Jedi Order. She was imprisoned for that betrayal, but there’s a new government in town: The fledgling Empire believes that Barriss was right all along, and they want to give her a chance to use her unusual skills for the benefit of the new galactic order.

She’s not the only ex-Jedi to be pulled aside, however—and competition for the job being offered is fierce.

Barriss spars with a character known only as the Grand Inquisitor. “The lessons you learned from the Jedi greatly limit your power,” he tells her. “But I will help you overcome this weakness.” Both have their faces a bit bloodied in the melee, and one combatant is Force-thrown against a wall. She fights against an old friend (Dante) as well, each determined to kill the other. (If they didn’t fight, they were told that both would be killed.) Someone is locked in a Force chokehold and dies—either from the hold itself or from the resulting fall into a deep, dark pit.

Another applicant leaves the training facility. The next day, the Grand Inquisitor tells Barriss and Dante that their cohort had a “terrible accident.” A character is shocked against a forcefield wall. We see explosions from a distance. Inquisitors kneel before their new master.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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