“Ahsoka” by E.K. Johnson
In many ways, Ahsoka Tano is the Harley Quinn of Star Wars. Sure, she’s nothing like the psychotic villainess who’s in love with the even more psychotic Joker but the trajectory of their characters are very similar. Both weren’t part of the original “mythology” but were created for an animated television series where each took a life of her own and quickly built up a devoted fan base. Ahsoka is as much a part of Star Wars now as Quinn is part of Batman and the DC universe, though if “Ahsoka”’s book sales, popular appearances on “Rebels,” toy sales, etc. are anything to rely upon, it won’t take 24 years for the spunky Togruta to make the leap to live action as it did for Harley Quinn.
Publishing this novel was a smart move for the Lucas Books department then, knowing Ahsoka’s vast popularity. I figure a lot of people will love this book because they love Ahsoka and Johnson does a decent enough job characterizing her. A lot of people will love this book because there are prequel references aplenty as well as references to “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” as you might imagine. There are times when Johnson knows how to produce the feels. However as a novel, it’s good but doesn’t quite reach “great.”
“Ahsoka” takes place soon after the fall of the Republic and the birth of the Empire. She is on the run after surviving Order 66, trying to keep a low profile, and using the fake name “Ashla.” At first she is under the protection of a family on an obscure planet that is running some kind of shady operation (it’s true nature is revealed later in the book), then when the Empire comes to town, she has to scram. She picks another obscure planet, this time some kind of agricultural backwater that surely won’t attract the attention of the Imperials. At first it’s kind of a dullish existence for her but she occupies her time befriending the locals, including a pair of orphaned sisters, and prepping for her inevitable departure. The latter turns out to be a smart move because ta-dah, the Empire arrives and their plans for this crummy world is to plant crops to feed the troops at the expense of the locals’ ability to grow crops to feed themselves. The farmers also quickly get a taste of the new management’s oppression and violence. This all puts Ahsoka in some bad, no-win situations where she learns the hard way dealing with the Empire is nothing like what she had to do during the Clone Wars and worse yet, she has no one to look to for guidance. Everyone she ever knew is dead or in hiding somewhere. She cannot even feel other Jedi in the Force. People are losing their lives around her and not only does she feel powerless, she blames herself. Adding to her problems is an Inquisitor popping up to look for Jedi or possible adepts. With all of this going on there are flashbacks to different times with her old pals. The book sets up how/when Ahsoka created the lightsabers seen on “Rebels,” introduces an Inquisitor (but doesn’t reveal much about him), and reveals how she ends up being “Fulcrum.”
I’ll get to the book’s flaws first. If you’re dying to know the details of how Ahsoka escapes the clone troopers of doom, this book isn’t it. There is a brief description that seems sort of based on Dave Filoni’s original plan for how she survived Order 66. (To summarize, Anakin gives Ahsoka a detachment of troopers loyal to her sometime after she leaves the Temple, including Rex. Rex helps Ahsoka survive Order 66, and the other troopers are killed. Ahsoka takes off on a giant wolf. Rex goes underground.) While it references the siege on Mandalore, it does not go into that battle much beyond a brief mention. Most of the story is centered around the agricultural world of Raada and I’m sorry, basing a big chunk of a novel on mean low-level Imperials and an impending ecological disaster isn’t terribly interesting. It’s like a three-star episode of Clone Wars extended to 200 pages. The original characters seem right out of Tumblr-approved fan fiction: female, young, appropriately diverse, and there to fangirl over/crush on the main character. Others are basically fodder for the bad guys. Let’s face it, it’s rare that OCs in these books are really all of that interesting or memorable. On top of it all, the narrative seems disjointed. Ahsoka leaves planet A, goes to planet B, decides to go back to planet A because a kid in the family might have the Force, and goes back to B after not accomplishing anything significant on A, with some interludes and flashbacks thrown in the mix. There’s not much sense of a trajectory or an arc until toward the end of the book. There were some arguments on the SWPAS FB about the methods Ahsoka used to create her lightsabers but usually I don’t stress over those kinds of details unless they’re outrageously outside of the canon.
But as I’ve mentioned, Ahsoka is at least written in character. Of course I appreciate bringing in the prequels but where the book really does shine is when Ahsoka wistfully recalls Anakin or Padmé or some other long lost friend, when Ahsoka reunites with Artoo, or with any scene involving Bail Organa. I truly wish he had a bigger role in this because I thought Johnson did a great job writing him. There were some terrific scenes with him and a baby/toddler Leia. There were also some fun scenes with Ahsoka in action. At least the book does address one important issue and that is not only Ahsoka adjusing to life under the Empire but finding her new place in the galaxy and discovering what she has to do differently from the ways of the past.
“Ahsoka” leaves a lot on the table, so the possibilities are wide open for future novels. I just hope they focus on the meat of Ahsoka’s life story and come up with a more compelling, coherent plot.