– Spoiler Review –
Ahsoka, by E.K. Johnston, is a YA novel that sheds a little light on the fan favorite eponymous character’s life post-The Clone Wars, pre-Star Wars Rebels. Johnston captures reader engagement with an excellent portrayal of Ahsoka Tano, dream character meetings, and a small focus, though that focus, the book’s pacing, and some questionable compositional choices do hinder the overall experience. Overall, Ahsoka fans or people looking for a quick and fun Star Wars book shouldn’t be deterred though, as there is still plenty to enjoy despite the flaws.
Taking place roughly one year after Revenge of the Sith (as it starts on the first inaugural Empire Day), Ahsoka finds the young Togruta struggling to find her place in a galaxy where the Jedi are personas non gratas, extinguished rather thoroughly by Order 66, shouldering the burden of being unable to protect those who used to rely on them. As she gets involved with separate conflicts, a smuggling family who has a Force-sensitive child and a group of farmers newly under the Imperial’s yoke on a backwater moon, not even her training from Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi nor her experience fighting in the Clone Wars could’ve prepared her having to find a new way to fight for what’s right.
Thankfully a book titled Ahsoka is truly about her, mainly how she copes with survivor’s guilt and the desire to help others honed into her from a very young age from the Jedi and the very real worry on how her true identity could bring more harm than good to those she does end up sticking her montrals/head tails out for. Johnston really captures Ahsoka in such a way she’ll feel immediately recognizable to The Clone Wars fans and throughout the book she slowly begins to sound and act a little more like the very adult Ahsoka we meet in Star Wars Rebels. But that initial characterization is so important because it quickly reminds fans of all the reasons they loved the character in the first place, like her sarcastic humor and determination, while it could easily endure her to new fans learning about Ahsoka for the first time via the book or those who just met her on Rebels. While I might have some issues with the book overall, and it might not be the sweeping tell-all tale some people were hoping for (I personally didn’t expect it to be), Ahsoka proves to be an affable lead character in her first solo outing, which should be more than enough for some to consider picking up the novel.
One of my favorite parts of the novel revolves around Ahsoka and Hedala, a Force-sensitive child she meets while helping out the Fardi family, a group of smugglers who turn out to be doing good deeds with the usually nefarious profession. As we saw in Rebels S2 “The Future of the Force,” the Inquisitors are rounding up Force-sensitive children and Ahsoka was actively preventing said scheme, a mission she takes her first steps towards in Ahsoka. Her desire to help the girl highlights how alone Ahsoka feels, as not only she can’t feel any Jedi presence in the Force but that there’s simply too many responsibilities for just her to take up in a Jedi-less galaxy alone. But she does everything she can to make her continued existence count or else why would she have lived, a question full of survivor’s guilt she carries throughout the novel. On Raada, the backwater farming moon, she learns the hard way about getting involved in the small town’s struggle against the Empire while still trying to protect her true identity: a small section of the farmers she tries to teach how to fight doesn’t trust her and they put themselves in harm’s way, ruining all of Ahsoka’s carefully laid plans and getting others killed or captured. The farmers who do trust her end up learning her name before she leaves so as not to bring an even bigger threat against them, but it happens anyways while she’s away. Whether she uses her abilities/reveals herself or not, she has attracted more trouble than the farmers can handle and she spends a lot of the book struggling with finding the middle ground to helping out others and their conflicts going forward. It should come as no surprise her answer to the dilemma leads to her position as the first Fulcrum of the Rebel Alliance, as she learns being one step removed prevents the trouble using her Jedi abilities brings to others while still allowing her to help as best as she can. It’s not the typical Jedi way, but of course she’s not a Jedi anymore. How she ends up with Bail Organa’s fledgling rebellion involves her striking out on her own and helping others while smuggling with the Fardis, which Bail notices the pattern and reaches out to her (though the Sixth Brother notices it as well, causing him to take interest in Raada and forcing her back there). I appreciated how cautious both of them where about working together, because even though they both had mutual friends from before, it doesn’t guarantee their priorities align these days.
The book does switch to other POVs, including Bail Organa, Kaeden and Miara (two sisters Ahsoka befriends on Raada who were my favorite after Hedala), the Sixth Brother Inquisitor, and Jenneth Pilar. Almost all the POVs add to the story in the book, while some reveal details fans have been itching to learn for awhile now. Bail’s sections cover why and how he’s going about starting his rebellion efforts and what that double life means for his adopted daughter, the one thing in the galaxy he cares the most about. It’s that love for Leia, and the desire to give her a galaxy worth growing up in, that pushes him to commit to the cause of defying the Empire, no matter the cost and let me say, hearing those truths from him is a huge highlight. The Sixth Brother reminded me a bit more of the Grand Inquisitor (who also gets a brief, but shrug inducing appearance) in that we see him function a lot within the Imperial military, instead of how we frequently saw the later Inquisitors on their own in Rebels S2. The Sixth Brother was interesting to me because a lot of his sections include him doing actual paperwork and showing how he takes advantage of the Inquisitoral’s high placement in the military’s hierarchy, like when he didn’t file paperwork on a slightly incompetent commander because if he ran into that person again he already had that person’s fear to use against them. While none of his POV sections reveal just what exactly the Inquisitors are doing with the Force-sensitive children they take, all in all they provided an unseen glimpse into how they operate within the confines of the military. However, one POV character felt like a complete waste: Jenneth Pilar, a man who brokerages Imperial assets in a cost-effective way but cares little for the suffering such plans cause. Other than to describe to readers why the Imperials are doing what they are doing on Raada, he serves no purpose and just ends up running away towards the end of the book, making him feel quite literally like a throwaway character and I question why he was ever included in the first place.
Much like the Aftermath Trilogy, Ahsoka has interludes, small side stories that first focus on Ahsoka herself but then bring readers stories from around the galaxy. In the Aftermath Trilogy, the interludes work very well for the format especially since the second book began weaving those seemingly random side stories into the larger narrative. In Ahsoka, things start off promising, as we finally get to see bits and pieces of the Siege of Mandalore and how Order 66 affected it, including a part about Rex and Ahsoka agreeing to flee into the Outer Rim, faking their deaths. But while the following interludes are all unique and interesting, with highlights being Anakin’s POV in the moments leading up to him meeting Ahsoka for the very first time and Obi-Wan mediating on Tatooine (studying Yoda’s homework for him), it seemed strange the interludes didn’t continue focusing on Ahsoka. The book is short as it is, tightly focused on only a few months period, and the Siege of Mandalore interludes only show very small slices of the whole battle, so why not use all the interludes for Ahsoka instead of other characters? In fact, the non-Ahsoka ones make it feel like Johnston and the editors wanted to tell a bigger, expansive story at one point, but narrowed it down to a tighter focus instead. In the end the non-Ahsoka ones don’t add anything to the book or the story being told, which makes it even more noticeable we barely get enough time with Ahsoka as it is and how these take away from more of her story, even if they are a couple cool, but random side stories.
The book’s narrow focus on an already small part of Ahsoka’s life lends itself to a pretty concise tale, allowing for a tidy beginning, middle, and end, while setting up for her role in the years to come with the Rebel Alliance. Considering her fate is usually left open ended in the other tales we’ve had with her in it, it was a relief to see her alive, well, and heading in a direction that both she and fans are happy with as this book closes (even if we already knew it was coming). But the tale isn’t smooth, as there were some pacing issues, made even more apparent due to POV shifts or how there seemingly wasn’t much tension. We knew Ahsoka would live and several of the supporting characters were killed senselessly early on meaning their fates could easily go either way, so even when a ticking clock scenario presents itself Ahsoka still takes her time, which she justifies by making sure she is properly set for the battle. To readers the ticking clock doesn’t feel urgent either, not only because the book spends a good chunk of time building up to the final battle, only for it to last a page or two, but because it makes the new characters expendable and doesn’t flesh them out enough to make you care about them. Don’t get me wrong, I already mentioned I did like the characters, but I never managed to get attached to them (besides Hedala of course!). On top of that, the narrow focus heightens the pacing issues because it’s already a very small, controlled tale but it seems to go off on tangents or play with interesting ideas only to pass them off for the next tangent instead of continuing the already small main story. Another issue, though minor, is that I found the action scenes to be mostly incoherent, as there weren’t a lot of details to flesh out the battles or fights and it felt like reading an outlined version of them.
When Ahsoka isn’t busy trying to figure out how to continue on in the Imperial age, she meets some familiar characters that make for reunions I’d only ever dreamed about seeing. Through most of the book, Ahsoka occasionally talks to herself, a hold-over from her time always surrounded by the clones or Jedi…or even Artoo, who she gets reunited with when Bail has people reach out to what he perceives as a possible Jedi survivor, which ends up being Ahsoka. I’m a little surprised she didn’t ask him what he knew about Anakin’s fate, but I think in the end he’d have told her what she had already assumed: that he was dead, even if that’s not necessarily the truth but neither actually know any better (though you think he could mention Anakin turned evil before he “died,” but maybe that’s a revelation she gets later on). Likewise, her and Bail slowly coming around to trust each other (as I mentioned earlier) were definitely highlights.
Here are a few other things:
- Seeing as this book was more concerned with showing how Ahsoka comes to cope with life post-Order 66 and joining the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance, if you’re interested to learn more about what she’s been up to elsewhere check out my coverage of the Ahsoka’s Untold Tales panel at Celebration Europe back in July. It has more details about the Siege of Mandalore, like that Anakin gave her a Rex-led platoon calling themselves the Ahsoka Loyalist Troopers, discussion of the False Jedi who tries to steal Ahsoka from her village before Plo Koon comes to pick her up (something Ashoka mentions several times in the novel), details on Ahsoka’s first boyfriend (named Nix), and teases about her fate post-Rebels S2 finale. The full panel is available in video form in the post!
- The whole concept of how dark siders essentially warp the lightsaber kyber crystals, much like anything that has to do with the Force for them, making them bleed and therefore why they always have red sabers was one of my favorite little reveals peppered throughout the book. The fact that Ahsoka “healed” them, allowing them to choose how to represent themselves to their potential owner, made them white is a pretty awesome backstory for her new lightsabers (and that she defeated the Sixth Brother to get them without a weapon only adds to it).
- Ahsoka quickly learns small towns might be an easy way to hide from the Empire, but make it near impossible to hide herself from the scrutiny of the locals, a lesson Obi-Wan learned in the excellent Legends novel, Kenobi.
- Ashla, the name she goes by while being undercover, is the name Filoni originally wanted to go to her. George vetoed it, as Ashla is the name given to the light-side of the Force by ancient Force users (and just the Force in general by the Lasan).
- There’s an audiobook version of Ahsoka read by none other than Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka herself! Here’s a preview clip.
- Beyond some composition missteps, there were a few editorial flaws I noticed that were both funny, but a little jarring. Firstly, on page 104, Vartan refers to Ahsoka as Ahsoka, not Ashla, which is incorrect considering she doesn’t reveal her true name to anyone until pg 166. Since there were so many times Ahsoka or Ashla were being used, I’m not terribly shocked there was a slip-up. Secondly, at the tail end of the book when Ahsoka is listening in on a conversation between Bail and a child Leia (page 344), we are in Ahsoka’s POV but yet, “He had no idea how Bail did it…” (emphasis being mine) which I think you can understand why that might be an issue.
- A big congrats to Disney Lucasfilm Press and E.K. Johnston for Ahsoka hitting #1 on the NYT Bestsellers List of YA novels! If this doesn’t speak to the popularity of the character, I don’t know what will, but I hope it helps get people at Lucasfilm considering where else to tell Ahsoka’s story and that her ambiguous fate/future in Rebels’ S2 finale needs resolution. When I first heard the news, I wasn’t surprised considering when I was at Barnes & Noble buying the book (I forgot to pre-order it and didn’t want to wait for it so hence me in an actual bookstore), the person in front and behind me were both buying a copy (fans of the animated shows who wanted to know more about what happened with Ahsoka, like most of us!) and the cashier said she had sold at least 15-20 copies about 10 minutes before I got there.
- Johnston reveals what actors she used as models for certain characters in the book.
- There are several interviews worth checking out: Over at Club Jade, James moderated a Salt Lake Comic Con panel that included Johnston and he’s put up an abridged transcript with the pertinent Ahsoka parts; Full of Sith’s Bryan Young, with Amy Ratcliffe, chatted with Johnston and Pablo Hidalgo at SLCC in the panel “The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano.“; the official site talks with Johnston about when she starting watching The Clone Wars and how it was like writing Ahsoka without her friends and mentors alongside her.
- Johnamarie Macias over at her site, The Wookiee Gunner, has a review of Ahsoka that mirrors most of my thoughts rather closely. Jay Shah has a really well-written piece at Eleven Thirty-Eight regarding how the novel’s tight focus was actually the type of story Ahsoka really deserved.
Nothing’s ever perfect and E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka certainly has its fair share of issues, the overall experience makes the book a must-read for fans of the character, The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, or any fan who wants an easy, enjoyable Star Wars read.
+ Ahsoka Tano’s internal journey
+ Connecting and setting up some dots for her between TCW and Rebels
+ Quick, enjoyable read
+ Dream character meetings
– Pacing and incoherent action scenes
– Non-Ahsoka focused interludes, while intriguing, take away from book’s focus
– Why was Jenneth even in this book?
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Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening