With spiritual prose and challenges to everything we thought we knew about the Sith, the Jedi and the Force, Star Wars: Ronin cements itself as the boldest and most self-actualizing story Star Wars has ever done.
Star Wars: Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon follows the titular anti-hero, a former Sith who wanders the galaxy decades after a failed rebellion to overthrow greedy, unruly Jedi clans serving the Empire. A quiet and mysterious character, the Ronin nevertheless carries a samurai sword-like lightsaber that he sheaths in a scabbard — a glowing red weapon he certainly knows how to wield. Accompanying him is his astromech droid B5-56, a sassy and deadly mechanical creature wearing a samurai’s roningasa straw hat.
Expanding upon the story and characters from Star Wars: Visions: The Duel, the first couple of chapters follow the events of that anime short, delving into even greater detail the broken spirit of the Ronin and the savage motivations of the Sith Bandit — whose name is later revealed to be Kouru. From there, the Ronin is put through his paces in a multi-planetary quest alongside a cast of characters with broken spirits of their own.
Ronin is a true Star Wars tale, canon or not
Ronin is a slow-burn fantasy tale, doling out key details steadily in each chapter all the way through the very last passages of the novel. The book is all fortitude and no fluff, especially when it comes to the audacious reimaginings of Sith and Jedi lore we’ve come to love in Star Wars canon.
Like Visions, Ronin is not considered part of the Star Wars continuity, but breaking free of those restraints is a big reason why the novel shines so bright. Ronin is abstract and philosophical and meditative. It strips away the family-friendly space opera facade and the one-dimensional good vs. evil Western adventure to reveal a galaxy that’s always been multifaceted and swathed in moral shades of gray.
At times, Ronin feels more like Star Wars than canon Star Wars, chiefly because it not just leans in but dives into the saga’s key influences — Japanese culture, particularly that of the feudal Edo period and samurai lore. Like Visions, the lightsabers in Ronin are stylized like glowing katana blades and the characters’ clothing is reminiscent of samurai armor and robes and kimonos. And as we don’t often read many descriptions of Star Wars food, it’s a delight to see Japanese fare be featured so prominently in Ronin — from miso soup and rice with pickled vegetables to rice candy in brightly-colored wrappers.
Overall, Ronin is also a beautiful homage and celebration of classic Japanese jidaigeki (period dramas), especially that of Akira Kurosawa, whose work heavily influenced George Lucas’ original Star Wars stories. Candon has been candid about the specific influences they used in crafting Ronin, including ones gleaned from their personal experiences with Star Wars as a fourth-generation Japanese-American and a “chronically ill, queer cyborg.”
“A Star Wars movie made me ‘get’ representation, and I’ve tried to honor that feeling in this book for my own sake and for other people,” Candon said in an interview with StarWars.com.
Ronin being chiefly about a wandering, masterless space samurai in a galaxy composed of rival Jedi clans goes beyond the traditional “inspired by” trope. In this tale, the Sith aren’t necessarily the bad guys and the Jedi aren’t exactly the heroes. Ronin challenges the morality of both sides — from the “evils” done by the Jedi in service to a “peaceful” Empire to the Sith’s desire for freedom and autonomy. The idea of the Force also becomes more of a spectrum in the novel with dueling and complementing black currents and white flares.
By stripping away Westernized visions of Eastern culture, Ronin fully embraces the Japanese cultural core of Star Wars storytelling. Still, Ronin is deeply a Star Wars story, both including and remixing core tenets of the decades-spanning saga.
While the novel might be a harder sell for some, fans who enjoy the breadth of storytelling seen in the non-canon Legends books will certainly enjoy Candon’s avant-garde and at times mystical writing. Ronin pushes the saga’s boundaries and blasts open the doors of potential for what Star Wars can — and should — be.
Star Wars: Ronin: A Visions Novel is available now through bookstores. Keep up with all things Star Wars books at Dork Side of the Force.