Beloved character Ahsoka Tano comes alive in her own novel and audiobook in this long-awaited story by E.K. Johnston.
As Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, Ahsoka gained a legion of loyal fans clamoring to know how the young Jedi went from Clone Wars to Rebels. There is a good deal of set-up in this audiobook, but that’s to be expected. It really takes until chapter 7 to see the bad news (i.e. actual plot) brewing. But the lead-up to the main plot, while not thrilling, is revealing, and that may be its chief attraction to Clone Wars fans. Ahsoka’s guilt over having left the academy and then not been killed during Order 66 is palpable; survivor’s guilt is a real thing with this protagonist, and it gives her a human side (so to speak) to the swashbuckling, tough-talking Togruta that most of the others see. Ahsoka shows great thoughtfulness and ingenuity rather than relying on combat, and her situation uniquely positions her to avoid use of (or at least over-reliance upon) the Force, which makes her adventure all the more tense, at least in its opening pages.
As with most Star Wars canon, Johnston’s dialogue veers strongly into “pulp” and melodrama – though this is not a bad thing, per se, and will come as no surprise to Star Wars fans. One particular quibble listeners may catch on to: some of Johnston’s dialogue comes across as distinctly Western, if not outright American. “Don’t bug her if she doesn’t want to be bugged,” for example, seems a distinctly American idiom. Obviously no one – almost no one – wants to read a novel in a completely made-up language for the sake of “reality,” but idioms like these arise from a specific time and place, making their use in a galaxy far, far away somewhat jarring.
Or perhaps “sloppy” is a better word. Billed as a young adult novel, Johnston proves adept at drawing a character readers aged 12-to-15 can admire and relate to as Ahsoka tries to find her place in a world gone mad around her as the Empire grows. In such a novel, focused on such young characters, it’s natural to slip into terms like “don’t bug her” rather than the more mature “don’t bother her.” While such language gives the dialogue a ring of youthfulness, it still sometimes hits an off-note as being inauthentic to this universe, and so may be a result of sloppy editorial consideration.
Eckstein does an admirable job of attempting to differentiate the various character voices, and it’s a tall order for any narrator, but she doesn’t quite have the range other audiobook narrators do. True, hers is a clear and confident voice, yet overall seems not quite Star Wars—ironic, of course, given that she is the only actor to have voiced Ahsoka thus far. Fans will appreciate her return to the character, but voiceover is not the same skill as narration, and Eckstein does a somewhat middling job as narrator. Fans will likely applaud Eckstein’s inclusion in this production, but critics may find her not so well-rounded as more seasoned narrators. Her narrative voice is, however, clear and strong throughout.
The inclusion of music and sound effects in this audio production is not bad. It’s not necessary, either, but not bad. Or, worse – perhaps it is necessary to draw attention away from any deficits in the reading or story? In any case, the sound effects were well-balanced aurally, which really ought to be expected of a product associated with one of the world’s biggest entertainment franchises; production value here is high.
Occasional bursts of insight into Obi Wan and Anakin are enjoyable.; like any good Star Wars property, it fleshes out the prime characters we love so much. Shifts in POV seemed a matter of convenience rather than deliberate storytelling choices on Johnston’s part. The use of a board game to instigate Very Clever Ideas! was a bit old hat, but sufficient to keep things moving.
Ahsoka is a bridge novel, connecting the end of her journey in Clone Wars to her reappearance in Rebels. It is a welcome addition for those already fans of Star Wars audiobooks and of this breakout character, but not one recommended for listeners new to the Star Wars novel- or audio-universes.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Fans have long wondered what happened to Ahsoka after she left the Jedi Order near the end of the Clone Wars, and before she re-appeared as the mysterious Rebel operative Fulcrum in Rebels. Finally, her story will begin to be told. Following her experiences with the Jedi and the devastation of Order 66, Ahsoka is unsure she can be part of a larger whole ever again. But her desire to fight the evils of the Empire and protect those who need it will lead her right to Bail Organa, and the Rebel Alliance.
Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (narrated by Ashley Eckstein)
Series: Star Wars
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (October 11, 2016)