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‘Star Wars: Tales of the Empire’ review: A gorgeous but ultimately uneven set of stories

Lack of movies aside (at least until 2026), Star Wars is in a pretty good place right now, contrary to what the noisiest part of the fandom wants us to believe.

The live-action side of things, confined to Disney Plus for now, has been expanding the canvas with stories that feel different from each other even if they don’t always excel, and animation’s hit rate has been notable, with The Bad Batch successfully ending its three-season run plus Tales of the Jedi and Star Wars Visions opening up new, exciting possibilities. Does the surprise-dropped, six-episode series Tales of the Empire live up to that promise?

At first glance, this second anthology series feels as premium as they come, and the whole thing does deliver on that front. After Star Wars Rebels‘ slightly underbaked early seasons, Disney clearly allowed Lucasfilm to double down on animation like they’d done in the past with the pre-acquisition Clone Wars seasons. Every animated project from the company ever since has been top-notch stuff when it comes to looks and sounds, and the average storytelling has been satisfying as well. In fact, some fans even argue that Star Wars should just focus on animation now that the Skywalker Saga is done (something that’s definitely not happening).

For the most part, “Tales of the Empire” highlights there’s a lot of potential in the idea of bite-sized sets of episodes that flesh out certain events that normally wouldn’t have been told on the screen (big or small). However, this also begets the question of whether every secondary character we can think of deserves this treatment, and “Tales of the Empire” doesn’t do a fine job of selling us on Morgan Elsbeth’s grim past or properly developing Barriss Offee admittedly captivating journey into darkness and back from it.

Spoilers ahead for “Tales of the Empire‘s” six episodes

The Nightsisters make a last stand. (Image credit: Disney+)

Dave Filoni is, unsurprisingly, overlooking the whole project despite his ongoing live-action commitments. While shows like The Bad Batch have been left in the hands of veterans like Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau, who’ve done a mighty fine job, these two stories tie directly into three Star Wars eras and at least the Ahsoka series that debuted last year. The most important character of the two explored by the shorts is clearly the conflicted Barriss Offee, a fallen Jedi whose murderous actions during the Clone Wars pushed Ahsoka Tano away from the Order (it’s an amazing story arc you should watch).

Tales of the Empire smartly kick things off with Morgan Elsbeth’s tale of fear, anger, and hate. From the get-go, even the most diehard fans will wonder why we’re spending more time fleshing out a henchwoman who’s already come and gone. The appearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn in one of the episodes only makes the choice more baffling; he seemed like a far more logical pick for one of these, given that most viewers haven’t actually read the books that re-introduced him to the current canon and maybe skipped Star Wars Rebels too. With the blue-skinned mastermind poised to be the big bad of Dave Filoni’s New Republic-era event movie (set to arrive at some point after The Mandalorian & Grogu), any sort of investment in his character is valuable right now.

Thrawn offers Morgan Elsbeth a new purpose. (Image credit: Disney+)

Anyhow, we’re stuck with Elsbeth’s fall to even darker depths (she was already a shady Nightsister of Dathomir) after her coven is slaughtered by General Grievous and his droid army during the Clone Wars. We’d already seen this event play out in the first Star Wars series that hit TV, but switching the points of view is always an interesting exercise. The first episode also introduces the Mountain Clan, whose core tenets appear to be quite different from the Nightsisters’ beliefs, letting fans know that Dathomir is far more populated than we thought. Beyond that, there isn’t much going on until Morgan leaves the planet.

The time jump to well-advanced Imperial times is a bit baffling, as the character is re-introduced as, somehow, an engineering mastermind that’s already taken control of the planet Corvus and its people. This is where you stand to wonder if we could’ve skipped the Mountain Clan section altogether to instead explore how she gained enough power and influence to get tangled with the Imperials.

With tensions rising on Corvus due to the lack of work, Elsbeth becomes even more of a villain running only on hatred. If Barriss Offee’s journey is pure Star Wars through and through, eventually leading to redemption, the Nightsister’s tale is that of rejecting any sort of peace

Barriss Offee joins the Inquisitorius. (Image credit: Disney+)

After her TIE Defender project is rejected by major Imperial figures, Thrawn of course picks it up and enlists her help to fix the “mistakes” that everyone in the Empire seems to be overlooking according to the Chiss. You can guess what comes next, so the third chapter moves the story to the post-Empire era, with the New Republic looking to reach out to every world they can.

There’s a nice touch here about Elsbeth’s quiet campaign of suppressing information from outside the planet, with Corvus’ population barely aware that Palpatine’s Empire is no more. Of course, the New Republic’s arrival is unwelcome and all hell breaks loose when she’s told to turn herself in.

At this point, anyone who’s watched Mando season 2 and Ahsoka knows it’s leading right into the beloved ‘The Jedi’ episode. The thing is, we don’t extract more valuable nuggets of information out of this three-part tale, and Morgan Elsbeth was never that big of a deal, no matter how great Diana Lee Inosanto’s performance is.

Lyn Rakish recruits Barriss Offee.  (Image credit: Disney+)

Barriss Offee’s story, meanwhile, offers a far more engrossing look into how the evil Inquisitorius organization came to be and how she navigated a galaxy in turmoil after Order 66 happened. A number of animation fans expected her to show up in the Ahsoka series, given her character arc hadn’t been finished yet anywhere else, but that didn’t happen. Now, she’s received a much-needed push forward with the three shorts that follow her rise among the Inquisitors and the inevitable redemption that comes after.

Nonetheless, the mid-point transition comes across as too sudden, and the whole thing feels like it’s missing at least one more chapter that shows Barriss completely engulfed by the Inquisitorius’ brainwashing and resulting crimes against the Jedi survivors. The first of her episodes is fascinating because of how much it reveals about the early days of the organization and their base of operations on the moon of Nur (in the Mustafar system), Darth Vader cameo included.

Two highlights here are the Grand Inquisitor (once again voiced by Jason Isaacs) shown as an imposing figure after his weak live-action debut in Obi-Wan Kenobi and the cruel final test to become an Inquisitor.

The Grand Inquisitor tests Barriss Offee. (Image credit: Disney+)

It’s Offee’s middle episode that falters the most due to the aforementioned reasons. Her internal conflict was definitely key to realistically getting her to the destination, but we barely get to experience her life as a proper Inquisitor, and Lyn’s (aka the Fourth Sister) permissiveness of Barriss’ compassion is a bit of a plot contrivance, given what’s been established about the Inquisitors beforehand.

This leads to a lack of friction at the center of the story that feels like a ‘sorry, we don’t have the time for this’ kind of situation. It’s definitely a tale that makes up for Morgan Elsbeth’s inconsequential one, but it’s hard to shake the feeling this one needed an entirely different format to properly flourish.

Much like the strong visual storytelling on display, clearly influenced by Dave Filoni’s recent live-action efforts and evolution as George Lucas’ heir, the final episode puts the characters over the plot. The final confrontation between Barriss, now a ‘healer’ hidden somewhere in the vast galaxy while the Empire does its thing, and Lyn isn’t an epic clash of lightsabers. Instead, the former Jedi and Inquisitor turns Lyn’s fear (what the Sith and their Jedi hunters see as a strength) against her, and calmly talks her out of a path of hatred she willingly chose and could also leave, Luky Skywalker style.

Barriss and Lyn move forward together. (Image credit: Disney+)

This hopeful note to end on (in spite of Barriss’ near-fatal wound), even during the darkest of times for Force users, feels like classic Star Wars and underlines Filoni’s strengths as a storyteller when he doubles down on themes and the more spiritual side of the Star Wars universe.

It is, however, an open-ended conclusion that makes us wonder if we’re getting a Hidden Path animated show of sorts in the near future after Asajj Ventress’ suspicious re-introduction in The Bad Batch season 3.

In this franchise, everything happens for a reason.

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