Book Review – Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston

Summary

Ahsoka Tano, once a loyal Jedi apprenticed to Anakin Skywalker, planned to spend the rest of her life serving the Jedi Order. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, she left the Order and forged her own path. Anakin and the other Jedi were still there for her, though, whenever she needed them—or they needed her.

Then the Emperor took over the galaxy, and the Jedi were ruthlessly murdered. Now Ahsoka is truly on her own, unsure she can be part of something larger ever again. She takes refuge on a remote farming planet, where she befriends a young woman named Kaeden and begins to carve out a simple life for herself. But Ahsoka cannot escape her past, or the reach of the Empire. When Imperial forces occupy the planet, she must decide whether to become involved—even if it means exposing her identity. Her choices with have devastating effects for those around he…and lead her to a new hope for the galaxy.

Ahsoka

Star Wars: Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston follows the titular character and former Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, a popular character from the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and later Rebels. This is a novel that exists specifically to fill a gap, as she is a character that disappeared from the storyline before the ending of the former series, only to appear again in the latter, much more grown and experienced. I was interested in reading this as a fan of the series, wanting to know more about an impactful character who unfortunately was not originally conjured as part of the prequel trilogy of films.

Of all of the new Disney canon Star Wars books I’ve read over the last couple of years, this is the first one that explicitly advertised itself as targeted toward young adults. This did temper my expectations a little bit. It’s not that YA fiction cannot tell well crafted, even timeless stories, but with this being a media tie-in on top of that, I admittedly didn’t set the bar especially high. As it turns out this mindset helped with my experience reading the novel overall.

In terms of character I think Johnston deserves a lot of praise. She captured the voice of Ahsoka almost perfectly, which I imagine could be a difficult thing to do when translating a character from animated series to novel. The ways she thinks, feels, and talks were immediately familiar to me, as if she’d simply stepped from screen to page. Being a novel named for a character, a lot of the focus is unsurprisingly character driven, exploring her experiences as a former Jedi in the fledgling Empire. I enjoyed seeing her struggle to adapt to a life of isolation, her abilities and past forcing her to sever close ties with other people for her own protection as well as theirs. She was previously an emboldened, outspoken, and influential person as a Jedi and military figure, and to see that shift toward needing to lead an unassuming life was impactful. I especially liked how her getting in touch with the Force was represented, showcasing the heartrending void left behind following the eradication of the Jedi Order.

The plotline itself was where this book kind of fell apart for me. While it had been interesting for a while as the story followed Ahsoka settling into a small agricultural community on a moon called Raada, there was a particular point where she was forced to leave, the second time in the story she found herself in such a situation. It wasn’t bad in and of itself, except for the fact that instead of moving on from that situation it became baggage weighing the story down. There was an urgency to the situation on Raada, requiring Ahsoka to promise to return with help, yet it is all left suspended while she continues on at a seemingly leisurely pace, not really in a hurry to return. Worst yet, she spent this time being a mechanic and doing good deeds around the galaxy while smuggling for a prominent family, but all this was pretty much glossed over. We were told that she’s been up to these things, but nothing in particular was shown to the reader. The plot orbited around the concerns of Raada needlessly, while at the same time having Ahsoka away from it all to tie things in with already established stories that happen after the fact.

I’m honestly growing a little wary of Star Wars novels like this that focus on a particular character while working to fill in a section of lore. These are observations I had when I read Lords of the Sith and Tarkin as well, that these novels have interesting character insight, some stand-out sequences, and interesting expansions of lore, but were tied down to an uninspired plot or sequence of events that makes the whole novel less worthwhile. My mileage did vary depending on the book, but I did come out of each with a twinge of disappointment. Ahsoka couldn’t just be a character driven story about someone struggling to find a place in a hostile galaxy, it had to tie things into Ahsoka’s history in the series Rebels, and while I understand the drive to do so, I wish it was not executed so clumsily. To varying degrees these stories have felt like filler, when they should be compelling stories in their own right that happen to manage a connection to continuity and/or provide some revelations, rather than putting those latter factors first.

All of that being said, I still enjoyed Ahsoka despite itself. This was an unknown within the continuity that I wanted to read about, and while the story was underwhelming I still enjoyed how the character was written and what she was internally going through. As a YA the writing was definitely less subtle, but the content didn’t feel sanitized for a younger reading audience, so I appreciated that too. If you’re a fan of the character it’s worth checking out, but as someone getting into reading the new canon of content coming out, this is definitely a novel you could take or leave.

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