8/10 – a heartfelt, introspective look at Ahsoka Tano’s journey from hidden ex-Jedi to Rebellion agent
Ahsoka Tano has quickly become a fan favorite since her first appearance as Anakin Skywalker’s fierce, agile and sometimes stubborn padawan in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. For those of you who may not know, this Togrutan was first introduced in the Clone Wars movie, was a main part of the Clone Wars series and then was brought back in one of the biggest reveals in Star Wars Rebels.
I recommend familiarizing yourself with her entire journey as a Jedi padawan in the Clone Wars before touching E.K. Johnston’s novel, which fills in some gaps after the events of Order 66.
🚨 SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYTHING AHSOKA TANO RELATED 🚨
Just before the Jedi’s downfall at the end of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka had already walked away from the Order and renounced her Padawan status, a reasonable response after murder accusations and a hasty expulsion by the Council. Shortly after that, she’s asked by her former Master and the Order to deal with Darth Maul on Mandalore because they are short-handed – this storyline would have been covered in the Clone Wars series, but sadly, it was cancelled after its fifth season.
While Ahsoka is about to defeat Maul, Order 66 begins and in the chaos, she makes the decision to save her clone captain and friend, Rex, instead of taking care of the former sith lord. She then fakes her death with Rex’s help and escapes Mandalore, leaving her lightsabers behind on the planet as proof of her demise.
E.K. Johnston’s young adult novel picks up around a year later and it gives us an insightful glimpse into Ahsoka’s life recovering from Order 66 amid the rise of the Empire. She’s working to stay hidden from this new threat, moving from planet to planet in the Outer Rim. She disregards her Jedi past and keeps herself from tapping into the Force, only relying on it for meditation from time to time. This was a similar response by other surviving Jedi, like Kanan Jarrus. You can read a bit more about his story in my review of “A New Dawn” by Jack Johnson Miller.
While Ahsoka is on the Outer Rim planet of Thabeska, she maintains a low profile and moonlights as “Ashla,” a hardworking mechanic, in order to make ends meet. Her alias should pique your interest since it’s the equivalent of “light” in the Star Wars mythology. Jedi wield the “ashla,” Sith wield the “bogan” (the dark) and the “bendu” (the balance) is the middle between the two.
And even though a locally well-known family, the Fardis, takes her under their wing, she keeps her distance – a promise to herself to not form any attachments again. Soon the Empire arrives on Fardi. She steals a transport from the family’s shipyard and travels to Raada, a system of farmers, fields and not really much else.
She settles here, but when she realizes that the Empire will keep expanding to other planets in the Outer Rim, she’s forced to decide whether to help the Raadan people fight back or focus on her own survival… and ultimately, what that might mean for her.
Johnston’s greatest strength is her writing of the main character, Ahsoka. She provides a clear look into the mind of this Jedi survivor in simple, yet poignant ways. Even though it’s been a year since the death of her Jedi brothers and sisters, and the fall of the Republic, Ahsoka’s handling of post-traumatic stress is a long process and perfectly natural, and Johnston doesn’t stray from this. It takes Ahsoka a while to find her footing in this new galaxy, but when she does, she discovers her new purpose – defying the Empire, first on Raada, then with random acts of heroism in nearby systems and finally as part of an emerging Rebellion.
I truly loved what Johnston did with Ahsoka and her personal journey. Some of my favorite moments included: Ahsoka sharing in a very subtle way that Anakin and Obi-wan were her adoptive parents; scenes where Ahsoka and Hedala Fardi connected more deeply with one another; Ahsoka’s tendency to talk to herself because she was used to having R2-D2 around; Ahsoka and R2’s reunion; Ahsoka reaching out with the Force to find and connect with her new kyber crystals to build another pair of lightsabers; seeing Ahsoka in action with these white lightsabers; and the closing conversation between her and Bail Organa where she decides on an agent name in service of the Rebellion.
Plus, Johnston adds flashbacks at the start of each chapter in order to give us a small snippet of information about something or someone central to Ahsoka’s life. Sometimes they are from Ahsoka’s perspective, but others focus on Anakin the moment before he met Ashoka for the first time and Obi-wan dealing with the after-effects of Anakin’s fall while in seclusion on Tatooine.
But, as much as I enjoyed this story, there were a few flaws I couldn’t overlook.
The villains. The Imperial leadership on Raada didn’t feel as developed as they could’ve been, even though the sixth brother was terrifying in the eyes of the Raadan farmers. Johnston’s approach seemed to miss a crucial sense of innate fear and horror continually evident in other Star Wars novels.
But, in that same vein, I wonder if it was intentional. An argument could be made that Ahsoka is both the protagonist and antagonist of her own story. She’s her own worst enemy. She continually fights her true nature. While her instincts point to being selfless and compassionate without hesitation to every person she comes across like she was taught to do as a Jedi, the needs of survival constantly outweigh these base traits until she figures out how she can adequately achieve both.
Overall, Johnston honors Ahsoka’s roots and starts to build the Force-wielder into the Jedi-non-Jedi so many fans admire and love in Rebels. But, if you haven’t seen or read about Ahsoka’s life during the Clone Wars, you may not get as much out of this book as you should.
If you’re hungry for more stories between the prequels and the original trilogy, or if your love of Ahsoka needs another reason for existence, give Johnston’s young adult novel a try.
Your admiration of Ahsoka will only grow… I assure you.