This Star Wars: Ahsoka review contains spoilers.
Writing about Jedi in the aftermath of Order 66 is a delicate process. A Jedi survivor must be nigh-unstoppable compared to the people around her, but also intentionally hidden, impressive but burdened. With Ahsoka, E.K. Johnston tackles that problem with mixed results. The novel is a great example of positive portrayals of female characters, but a slow beginning and unfocused characterization hurt it.
Ahsoka Tano is on the run. After leaving the Jedi Order shortly before Order 66, she has cast her lot in with average citizens of the galaxy, the people who she notes are “merely good at things, not prodigious.” She finds herself on a planet called Raada, which is suffering under the same sort of bureaucratic evil the Empire is implied to be committing all across formerly Republic space. While the Empire forces the area’s farmers into servitude, Ahsoka has to make a choice – whether to keep running, or to reveal herself as a Jedi.
The book does a good job of showing what her personality was like between the two eras of her life, the Clone Wars and the Rebellion. Getting inside her head lets us see her fear and how she comes to her conclusions, erasing some of the distance I felt from her on The Clone Wars. Author E.K. Johnston skillfully captures both sides of her personality, the enthusiastic, confident Padawan and the contemplative Jedi. At times her battle taunts are “rude for no reason, the kind of thing that would’ve had Master Kenobi rolling his eyes.” In other moments, she’s kind and heartfelt.
Despite neither one of them being present for most of the story, Ahsoka’s relationships with Anakin and Obi-Wan are illustrated too, sometimes in flashbacks and sometimes in the present-day story. She stumbles into referring to Anakin and Obi-Wan as her adoptive parents, which is adorable and emphasizes how close she was to them. As plucky as she is, she’s still a young veteran of an unpleasant war, and part of her is relieved to no longer be a hero. “Now she almost preferred the solitude. If she was alone, she didn’t have to make choices that affected anyone other than herself.”
Her musings on how much she loved the Jedi, and on Order 66, are painful, and Johnston does some good work with the unique perspective a Dark Times-era Jedi brings. Ahsoka compares Imperial storm troopers unfavorably to clones, and “refused to imagine [the stormtroopers] with Rex’s face.” A lot of the flashbacks refer to things that have been discussed behind the scenes in The Clone Wars, such as the Seige of Mandalore, and although it’s unclear whether they’ll ever be touched on in more detail, they brought some of the best character work in the book.
The novel deepens Ahsoka’s characterization and does a good job of showing how she changed into the calmer person she has become in Rebels. However, it would have been nice to see more of these changes directly impact the end of the novel. The finale depends on Ahsoka working on a project that we never really see from her point of view, which prevents it from becoming a key emotional point. Her relationships with other characters are strong, but those characters feel a bit underdeveloped and lack a lot of physical description.
The scope of the novel moves back and forth primarily between two planets, and the focus on this instead of the very early Rebellion sometimes makes the story feel small in scale. On the other hand, some big moments in Ahsoka’s life are still mysteries, perhaps meant to be revealed in The Clone Wars itself but never making it to the screen. It’s a gradual book, not detailed enough to be a satisfying slice-of-life story but too sedate to always work as an adventure story.
Sometimes it does succeed as an action story, though, and it’s cool to see Ahsoka hold her own. The novel also provides many other female characters for her to interact with, from devoted Kaeden to a young apprentice of Ahsoka’s own. Ahsoka even thinks of Padme as one of her inspirations. However, it would have been nice to have seen more from the other characters’ points of view.
When not on Raada, Ahsoka is in hiding with the Fardi family. Their proto-Rebellion organized crime setup is intriguing, but because Ahsoka doesn’t concern herself with it, we don’t get a lot of detail either. Ahsoka works for the family’s business, but those parts are portrayed relatively quickly and concern themselves with Ahsoka’s solo do-good missions, not so much with the family. She’s treated with lenience when she starts doing Robin Hood missions on company time, and more consequences for her actions – or a more direct link to the family’s own rebellion – would have been nice.
Kaeden and Miara are a nice example of sisterly love in a franchise that doesn’t have a lot of that, but could also have been developed a bit further. Ahsoka’s arrival on Raada also strained credulity a little for this adult reader, as she’s accepted very quickly into the community and given a conveniently empty home and a job.
The villain is a new Inquisitor, but he doesn’t give us much more than we knew before about this dark order. He and the main Imperial officer could also have been given more characterization. In this way, the book matches the tone of Rebels perfectly – we’re still not sure what’s up with the Inquisitors’ order.
Although the book starts out slow, Ahsoka’s heroics make for an entertaining story in the faster-paced second half. Part of the strength of the book is that it is an evolution of Ahsoka far beyond the quippy character she was in The Clone Wars. The show did a lot of that work, but the novel takes it the rest of the way. Unfortunately, neither the story nor the characterization are quite strong enough to either stand alone or compliment one another. This story of a lone Jedi ends up feeling not so much like a glimpse into a little-known history, as just a pause between regimes.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.
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