A derided character leading into launch of The Clone Wars cartoon, Ahsoka Tano broke the mould, and changed the fandom forever. She defied all expectation, rose up against all her detractors to become one of the most beloved Star Wars characters outside of the film franchise, and arguably stands alongside our favourite film characters. She helped raise the voice for female fans of the franchise, changing the narrative that Star Wars was a franchise for boys. Has it all been an easy journey? No. Fans have had to rally for the character, demanding action figures and toys, buying and making their own apparel, and uniting for their own fan organised Ahsoka Lives Day at Celebrations. Consider for a second what other character has seen that devotion, passion, and love in recent years? There is no argument that Ahsoka Tano has impacted massively on the franchise.
Ahsoka Tano as a character was the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader. In simplistic terms over her journey she became confused, even disenchanted with the way of the Jedi, and its Council, eventually quitting to find her own path. Her hero’s journey was recounted in the animated series, The Clone Wars, a series of battles which took place between the events of films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. With the ending of The Clone Wars cartoon, Tano disappeared from our screens only to reappear in a further animated series Star Wars: Rebels set later in the timeline. Her journey between these series has never been told, and this novel, Ahsoka, attempts to bridge the gap.
If you have yet to read the novel, beware that elements of the book will be discussed that should be considered spoilers…
A year has passed since the execution of Order 66, many of the clones no longer see service and are being replaced by the less efficient stormtroopers. Ahsoka has survived this Jedi purge, living a quiet life under the alias of “Ashla,” a mechanic/pilot/hand-for-hire, on the Outer Rim planet of Thabeska. Her occupation becomes crucial to the storyline, as she collects parts from repairs that she later uses to fashion her lightsabers. Keen EU readers will recall the name of Ashla from the John Ostrander comic, Dawn of the Jedi – and it was interesting to see it re-used here. Ashla represented the light side of the Force, the light moon planet in the comic. Bogan the dark. Ahsoka is undoubedly the light side of this storyline, with perhaps the dark being the character we see ever present in Ahsoka’s mind – Vader?
Ahsoka is however forced to leave Thabeska, travelling to and finding a home on the the agricultural moon of Raada. Due to its riches of agriculture, Raada is a large food producer to the galaxy. This does not go unnoticed by the ever growing Imperial navy whom need resources for their continuing hostile command of the galaxy and war against the growing Rebellion. Food and agriculture plays a critical element to the overall plot with the Empire wanting a particular plant grown that will generate fast and efficient food for their armies. The plant however, will be destructive to the planets rich soils and could leave the planet impoverished. The Empire installs a garrison on the planet, and begins a hostile takeover of the planets assets – this results in Ahsoka and her new band of friends rising up and ultimately ending up part of a more formal resistance.
During the growth of their local resistance, Ahsoka struggles to contain her use of the Force which draws both Imperial and Rebellion interest. Bail Organa of the Rebellion takes an active interest in her as he has been slowly building the foundations of what will be the Rebellion. Over the course of the novel his Captain Antilles, and both the Alderaan ships Tantive III and IV feature in Ahsoka’s fight; by the end of the novel Bail and Ahsoka are discussing the building of an intelligence network – which she will run under the sudo name, Fulcrum. Highlighting just how far Johnston has tried to bridge the arcs of Ahsoka tales.
Unfortunatly, Bail is not the only person watching her with interest, so does an Inquisitor. The new character is the Sixth Brother, whom has been sent to investigate this new unknown Force user. The actions of the inquisitors form a crutial subtext to the novel, as they are hunting down force-sensitive children. These are “easy prey” for the inquisitors, many of whom have yet to face a “true” Jedi.
There are parralels in the plot to John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, the Kannan Jarrus tale. Like Kannan, Ahsoka must find her own way in the galaxy. Her direction is unclear, and the plot centres on her struggle to decide whether to run or help. There are also strong plot links to The Clone Wars, and Rebels through the plot device, Kyber Crystals.
To take on such a beloved and iconic character is a challenge to anyone, so one of the most interesting points I wanted to know as I picked up the novel was whether E. K. Johnston could capture the essence of Ahsoka, and that centred for me on the iconic dialogue, and monologues – so beautifully played by Ashley Eckstein in the cartoons. So much of the characters personality, and thoughts came from that silent, whispering self commentary Tano delivers – used in the cartoon as a means to convery her inner most feelings. Could this be captured on paper? In fact, Johnston not only captured it, she got into the mind of Ahsoka exceptionally well. It was fascinating to get inside the head of our favourite Togruta in such detail, and throughout the various stages of the novel.
This brilliant ability to capture the essence of a character extended to another well-known character, Bail Organa. How exciting was it to have that moment of recruitment between Bail and Ahsoka. It was refreshingly familiar yet oh so new, touching on themes and elements we have seen established in Rebels yet with a fresh perspective.
Getting Ahsoka and Bail right was crutial to making the novel work. The familiar has to feel familiar, or you generate an uneasiness in the reader. There are many with a more passionate take on Ahoksa than I, but I believe Johnston delivers well here.
Also familiar to fans of the cartoon, was the inclusion on an Inquisitor as the antagonist. This came a little left field for me, I hadn’t expected it, but it was delightfully exciting to have the Sixth Brother in the novel. Aggresion that was both relentless and ruthless in its execution, he added real elements of fear for Ahsoka throughout, and became a fantastic addition to the pacing of the novel.
There was also great moments in the novel from new and unique moments created by Johnston. She created a fascinating new concept in lightsaber crystals bleeding colour as they change from Force user to Force user – and I wonder if this is something we may see expanded on within Star Wars lore. It could create quite spectacular moments. The book goes into great detail on the nature of Kyber Crystals, detailing how the cyrstals are “meant” for people, and call out to their intended owners. Singing their own song somehow through the Force, “bleeding” when in the hands of a Sith, and able to be restored by a Jedi. Ahsoka demonstrates this action, turning her recovered crystals back to the white we see in her Lightsabers in Rebels. A nice touch.
There is a lot of exposition about the Kyber crystals in the novel, perhaps I have missed something from the TV series, or there is a reveal yet to come as I was left feeling like there was more to what I was reading, that was not clicking with me – and that became an issue of frustation for me. There is of course rumour that Rogue One will also feature heavily Kyber crystals so perhaps foundations were just being created for the movie.
One arc of the book that captured the heart-strings was the emotion of Ahsoka in regard to the young girl, Hedala Fardi. A Force sensitive child growing up in a world devoid of a Jedi Council, and devoid of a Jedi Master to teach her. What would become of this child? Will the Empire hunt her down? A child with wonderful abilities, yet those very abilities threaten her. Ahsoka could fill that void, but should she? I considered the idea that Ahsoka should have taken her under her tutelage, and then lost her – that could have been an interesting way to cause the emotion to join the Rebellion, and become Fulcrum.
For all the strength of the book, there were some elements of the novel I struggled with. The interludes every five chapters or so of the novel seemed to slow down the pace, and ultimately fail to deliver a knockout punch. They offered great little peaks into topics we have heard Ahsoka creator, Dave Filoni, touch on at various convention panels. Perhaps on repeat reading would prove less distracting, or pehaps those heavily invested in the character would embrace these moments more than I. They ultimately carried the story of events happening in the wider timeline rather than around Ahsoka in the here and now, and perhaps could have been told in another more direct tale in the franchise. The lack of depth of plot around Rex, and the Siege of Mandalore seemed a strange omission (featuring only fleetingly in the interludes) but this was perhaps more from my own desire to learn more of these events than a necessity to this particular story.
Maybe that very fan desire is an issue that you need to set aside with this novel. It would be easy to enter into this novel with a long list of expectations and desires. If you can leave that baggage behind you will be swept into a story, with a beloved character that connects you even more with her. This novel delivers a lovely blend of action, the crucially important Star Wars humour, an elegent portrayal of a character we love, as well as giving us new elements, worlds and characters to explore.
The novel is targeted at the young adult market. The battles, violence and level of threat in the novel certainly targets it at the higher end of this market, but Johnston has written it in a way to make it accessible to much younger readers. Parental consideration is needed here. At circa 400 pages, it is also not a daunting read for young people.
You certainly need a love of the character to become involved with the novel. I believe fans of The Clone Wars will be able to jump straight in, fans unfamiliar with the character may struggle in the short-term – this is certainly not an easy entry novel. There is also scope for a sequel, a Ahsoka: Fulcrum Years if you will. I have fond memories of Winter from the Expanded Universe, and Ahsoka in that role could be something special, and give us a new detective genre to explore in the Star Wars galaxy.
Johnston debuts in the Star Wars universe with an overall quite delightful novel, that does not shy from giving a fair measure of fan service. This is a much beloved character, and Johnston does her credit by acknowledging that in her writing. There seems scope for a sequel, and Johnston deserves the opportunity to deliver that. This is MUST buy for fans of The Clone Wars, Rebels, and Ahsoka – and they will be satisfied, yet still crave more when they pick it up.
With thanks to Disney Lucasfilm Press, whom provided me with a review copy of this novel.