“If you’re not a Jedi, then what are you, Ahsoka Tano? Because to be honest, you still sound and act like a Jedi to me.” – Bail Organa
Ahsoka is the canon novel I have been the most excited about, ever since it was announced (well, until Timothy Zahn’s upcoming Thrawn novel was announced, at least. I’m dying to read that one). Though I did my fair share of complaining in my review of the 2008 Clone Wars movie, and even complained about not liking Ahsoka Tano in the movie, at the end of that review I wrote about how Ahsoka eventually became one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. She still is, so I couldn’t wait to read this book.
Ahsoka was written by E. K. Johnston, a newcomer to Star Wars literature. Part of me is always excited about reading Star Wars from a new author, though I won’t deny how much more excited I get when my favorite Star Wars authors of the past come back to write new stories. But, after having read this book, I’m glad to say that E. K. Johnston is a good fit in the Star Wars universe, and I would love to see more Star Wars stories from her in the future.
Ahsoka was released on October 11th, 2016. The novel takes place about one year after Revenge of the Sith, and gives us a glimpse into what life was like for Ahsoka Tano in the aftermath of Order 66. One thing I love about the new Star Wars canon is that it isn’t shying away from the time period in between the first two Star Wars trilogies. The Expanded Universe (now “Legends”) rarely told stories in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. In the new canon, we’re getting plenty of these stories (most notably with the upcoming movie Rogue One, and the ongoing TV series Star Wars Rebels), and the gaps are beginning to get filled in.
With this book, I did something that I have never done before; I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the physical novel. Usually, I hate audiobooks, but when I heard that this one was narrated by Ashley Eckstein, the voice actor for Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, and Rebels, I couldn’t resist. I was traveling all week for Thanksgiving, and I thought this would be a good thing to listen to as I was driving. Usually, when I read a book that I’m going to review, I take notes as I’m reading. I couldn’t take notes while I was driving, so my thoughts are pretty scattered. I might not be able to go into as much detail as I would like because of it, but my opinion of the book should still be clear.
The prologue of the novel takes place just before Revenge of the Sith. Ahsoka is on a mission to capture Darth Maul, who has overtaken the planet Mandalore. Though she left the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars fifth season finale, she is still working alongside them for the good of the Republic. She recently said goodbye to Anakin Skywalker, who has been called away to Coruscant to rescue Chancellor Palpatine from General Grievous, which is where Revenge of the Sith starts off. Ahsoka finds Maul, and the two briefly fight before Ahsoka springs her trap and captures the former Sith Lord. Though we don’t find out what happens next, because chapter one takes place a year later, this prologue was a treat to read because it continues Darth Maul’s story that was never finished in The Clone Wars or in the follow-up comic Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir, and provides us with some connecting tissue between that story and Darth Maul’s later appearance in Star Wars Rebels, where he mentions this encounter with Ahsoka.
In the first chapter of the book, the very first Empire Day celebration is about to occur. It is the one-year anniversary of the formation of the Galactic Empire, though Ahsoka remembers it as the anniversary of the Great Jedi Purge. She mourns the loss of the Jedi Order, of the Republic, and of her friends. She believes Anakin and Obi-wan to be dead. All of the Jedi are dead. She has gone into hiding, no longer using her Force abilities, in fear of being seen and hunted down by the Empire. She no longer goes by her real name, and instead goes by “Ashla” (which is a weird name for someone who is trying to hide her Jedi roots, since “Ashla” means “the Light Side of the Force” in the Star Wars universe). It reminds me a lot of Kanan Jarrus in the novel A New Dawn. In that story, Kanan, another survivor of Order 66, has also gone into hiding and is trying to blend in with “normal” people, no longer using his real name (“Caleb”), ignoring his Force abilities, hiding is lightsaber, and trying to cut all ties to his Jedi past so that the Empire doesn’t find him. Their situations are very similar.
Ahsoka eventually finds her way to a small farming moon in the Outer Rim called Raada (pronounced “rah-aida”), where she tries to start a new life as a mechanic. The moon is out of the way and relatively unknown, and is somewhere the Empire would never have a reason to look for her. She meets a girl named Kaeden who she quickly becomes friends with, even though she doesn’t want to get attached to anyone, and she doesn’t want anyone to get close to her as she tries to live life as inconspicuously as possible. The less connections she makes with others, the safer she (and they) will be.
The Empire eventually makes its way to Raada anyway, and instead of running, Ahsoka decides to try to help the people there–her new friends–and to do it while still hiding her Jedi abilities.
There are a few interludes scattered throughout the book. Most of them are flashbacks that deal with parts of Ahsoka’s past. We learn a little bit about her life before joining the Jedi Order, and we get some new insight into her time as a Jedi. Some of the interludes include some familiar faces from the movies or TV series. These interludes are very interesting, and help to flesh out Ahsoka and the other characters who appear in them. I feel like I can’t say too much about this story without giving a lot of it away, but I was very satisfied with the book as a whole. The first half of the novel was pretty good, not amazing, but it held my attention. It really picked up in the second half though, and I really loved all the connecting threads it made between The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and the first two Star Wars trilogies. In a way, both of the TV series have always felt sort of separate from the movies, but this book made them all feel very connected, which was something I loved about it.
There are many cool details in this book. We get to see how Ahsoka got her white lightsabers that we see in Star Wars Rebels, and we learn a bit more about lightsaber construction in general, and how Dark Side Force-users get their blades to turn red. We get to see what the galaxy is like during the first year of the reign of Emperor Palpatine. We get a look inside Ahsoka’s head, which gives us greater insight into who she is and how she thinks.
Even disregarding the character of Ahsoka Tano, this book really sets the stage for things to come in the Star Wars universe after the formation of the Empire. There is no Rebel Alliance yet, but we get to see some of the earliest stages of organized rebellion taking shape. If you read the other canon novels that take place in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, you can see how this rebellion slowly but surely starts becoming the Rebel Alliance that we see in the movies. This is very fun to see, especially with familiar faces like Bail Organa at the helm.
Along with seeing the Rebel Alliance take form, this book, and the other novels in the canon, do a fantastic job of showing the oppression of the Empire. We don’t see this in the movies. We hear about it, the characters in the movies know about it, but we as the audience never get to see what the Empire is really like, because most of the original Star Wars trilogy takes place on uninhabited or undeveloped worlds. In these stories, we get to see how brutal life under the Empire really is, and these stories actually strengthen the movies quite a bit because of it.
This book was very entertaining. Though I listened to the audiobook, I’d still love to go back and read the book on my own (hearing Ashley Eckstein voice Ahsoka Tano was great, but hearing her voice every other character in the entire novel–especially characters we’ve seen on-screen before–was a little bit silly. This is one of the main reasons I avoid audiobooks in general). Ahsoka truly is one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, and getting a whole novel about her was a huge treat. Ever since seeing Ahsoka walk away from the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars, I’ve always wanted to know what she did next. Where did she go? How did she deal with Order 66? Did she continue living as a Jedi, or not? We get answers to those questions. Getting to see her character develop from what we saw in The Clone Wars, to what she was in Rebels (which takes place approximately 15 years later) is very cool, and leaves me hoping for more Ahsoka stories in the future.
As a huge fan of the character, and as a huge fan of little universe-building details and connecting tissue between the TV shows, movies, and other canon stories, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short one, much shorter than your standard adult Star Wars novel, which makes it a great book to read if you don’t have much free time to commit to reading. E. K. Johnston did a very good job with this, and most importantly, did justice to the character of Ahsoka Tano. If a writer can’t write a character in a way that feels like what we’ve seen on-screen, that can ruin a story. Luckily, Ahsoka feels like Ahsoka in this book, and so do the other characters who we’ve seen before.
I have one minor gripe about the audiobook version of the novel, which doesn’t affect my opinion of the novel itself or alter the score I’m giving it, but it was something that bothered me. Star Wars audiobooks are cool because they generally have Star Wars music and sound effects playing in the background. This audiobook was no exception, but the thing that annoyed me is that even though we were getting familiar Star Wars themes from the movies playing in the background, in a book called “Ashoka” we never, ever hear Ahsoka’s theme music from The Clone Wars and Rebels, and instead we get themes that feel out of place, like Padmé’s theme, even though she’s not in this book, or even alive at this point in the Star Wars timeline. Having Ahsoka’s theme in the audiobook would have been a huge plus. Oh well.
If you’re a fan of The Clone Wars and Rebels, then I definitely recommend this book. If you don’t care much about either TV series, you probably won’t get the same level of enjoyment reading this, but you’ll still probably appreciate it for the way it builds the universe in between the movie trilogies and fills in some of the gaps in the story. Now that this book is out, and there’s no sign of Ahsoka reappearing in Rebels anytime soon, we might be done with Ahsoka Tano stories for a while. The book does leave room for a potential sequel, or continuation of the storyline in some form, so I hope we get more eventually, but this book definitely satisfies my want for more Ahsoka, for now.