Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston is on bookstore shelves now, and we’ve got a spoiler-free review for you below.
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When she first debuted in The Clone Wars in 2008, no one guessed Ahsoka Tano would become as popular a character as she is today. First impressions certainly didn’t strike a cord with many Star Wars fans. When fans first met her, she was an annoying 13-year-old Jedi Padawan learner who had a long way to go endear herself to them.
But the animosity towards Ahsoka was not to last. Over the course of The Clone Wars‘ five seasons, the Togruta won the love of television audiences with her fun and fierce personality, thoughtful character growth, and mature story arcs. Such was the intensity of her popularity that The Clone Wars series director Dave Filoni brought her back to the small screen in his next animated series set in the galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels.
It is not overexaggerating, then, to say Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston was the most anticipated Star Wars novel of the fall. With such high expectations swirling around it, I’m not surprised the young adult novel falls slightly short of the mark. Ahsoka is a solid story, to be sure, and masterfully written; it only just fails to deliver that sense of “Wow!” I (and probably other Star Wars fans) have come to expect from the character in her television appearances.
Image Credit: Disney-Lucasfilm Press
Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Rebels, Ahsoka tells the story of how the former Jedi Padawan finds a new purpose in a galaxy now ruled by a ruthless Empire. As befits a novel entirely about her, every scene featuring Ahsoka is perfect. This character is what fans are reading the book for, after all. Her thoughts, her actions, and her relationship with the galaxy are what make Ahsoka interesting.
Aside from the main character, however, Ahsoka‘s plot is mediocre. This is because it’s a plot we have already seen many times by now, both in Star Wars literature and in Star Wars Rebels. Dynamic hero comes to backwater world and makes friends with the locals. The Empire invades the planet to exploit its resources and the denizens are more or less enslaved. The hero must then decide whether or not to help the people whose world she has become a part of.
“I want to be the one who listens to what people need, who finds out what people can do and then helps them do it.” – Ahsoka Tano
It’s not a bad story, nor is it badly written. And there are some cool new characters that come out of it. Like Kaedan: a local girl who develops a crush on Ahsoka. The problem is the story is an old one, and because of it is old you don’t go, “Wow!” after reading it. There are parts of the story that elicit that reaction. For example, towards the end of the book, we learn how Ahsoka gets the white-bladed lightsabers we see her wield in Star Wars Rebels. There are also interludes throughout the book – sort of like miniature chapters between chapters – that grant glimpses into different times and character perspectives. These asides, together with the scenes that show Ahsoka’s state of mind and personal growth are what take Ahsoka from completely mediocre to just short of wonderful.
There are benefits to Ahsoka being written in this way, with the main character bringing to life an otherwise well-trod storyline. The latter allows Ahsoka’s true self to shine through and do what she does best: save people. It is also a bridge from Ahsoka’s old life as a self-exiled former Jedi to being a significant player in the galaxy again.
But there is still something missing. Perhaps it is all the cool ideas and adventures the book hinted at in the interludes but didn’t explore. Perhaps it is the fact the main character has risen to mythic status in Star Wars canon; the setting in her book is too provincial for her.
More than anything else, however, Ahsoka is missing originality in its plot. A provincial setting is fine. Allusions to awesome untold events are great. But what prevents this book from being perfect is its telling a story we have now heard many times: a hero comes out of hiding to save a poor, defenseless people from the Empire.
In the end, what makes me love this book is Ahsoka herself. But maybe that, or rather she, is the point.