The most chilling feature of E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka isn’t anything to do with its depiction of the horrific Sixth Brother, the shadow cast by Order 66, the brief glimpse of the Grand Inquisitor, or even the insight the book gives us into Palpatine’s plans (although these are all excellent in the book).
For this reader the chills came through the strange and disturbing character of Jenneth Pilar. This character, depicted only in brief moments, shows us exactly how this new Imperial regime makes its mark on the Galaxy in the treatment of the small moon Raada and its sparse inhabitants.
“Raada was a tedious little place but it would serve its purpose. The Empire would get what it wanted and then be on its way. The farmers would have their freedom again, for all the good it would do them. They really should have thought of the risks before they became farmers. Jenneth turned a blind eye to his part in their incipient suffering, a privilege that came with never really having suffered.”
E.K. Johnston, Ahsoka, page 120
Pilar shows the reader the truly frightening side of the new Imperial dispensation. His cold and clinical measurement — measurement of what decency tells us should not be measurable — laid bare the awful truth about life under the Empire, that it would crush its populace under the jack-boot for the sake of efficient brutal control and a meager return.
Witness his implementation of a bumper yield on the farmland of Raada conducted in such an artificial and monstrous way so as to render the moon’s soil barren thenceforth. This is a scorched earth policy on the Empire’s own turf. It robs the Empire’s own citizens of sustainable existence and leaves them to starve and die. Palpatine will not shed any tears.
As with Count Vidian in A New Dawn, there’s zero regard for the farming community or environment left behind on Raada after the Empire’s smash and grab run. Both are to be left destitute, with no means of production and starving; cast-off as a by product of the Imperial machine.
We know that the Empire is rotten, but Johnston’s novel hits home in terms of its small but important insights. It is intense to watch the dread creep drift across all the characters. These minute details complete the overall picture when one stands back.
Memorably Johnston shows us a scene where a group of recently arrived Stormtroopers enter the farmers’ local Cantina and look its customers up and down, expecting them to vacate their seats at the bar. Shortly afterwards a particularly awful realization dawns on the reader when a drunk comes in and picks a fight with this newly established Imperial presence. We know at a gut level it isn’t going to end well. This isn’t the local police. This is an occupying force with brute strength and cold calculation as its twin characteristics.
Notable too is the fact of the locals increasingly resorting to the parochial game “crokin” as a means of conversing quietly (under the guise of discussing the game). Open conversation or meeting in public are non-starters. Meeting in private perhaps more deadly. Imperial curfews are imposed and tested at the inhabitants’ own risk.
These are the critically important details that are peppered throughout the book. They underpin the dread reality of the Galactic Empire. Its citizens are left with a stark choice. Comply or rebel. It’s not an easy choice though.
Johnston’s book reminded me of the Thane parts of Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars but without the counterbalance of the Ciena perspective. We see the injustice solely from the victim’s perspective; and its more appropriate in this context.
The Ahsoka book for me is also reminiscent of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games saga. For Raada read District 12. Ahsoka’s galaxy is dystopian, it’s bleak, but the choice to rebel is not an easy one; don’t con yourself that you would be the one brave enough to speak out against the regime.
The range of characters that Ahsoka comes across in her stay with the Fardis and in Raada are delightful and add a depth and tone to the Galaxy. The novel takes its time in showing how difficult an insurgency is in such conditions. Intriguing glimpses are given into the lost potential of untrained Force users through Resistance and rebellion takes something special.
Johnston shows us the seeds of the Rebellion as we come to know it in germination, but the seeds are cast far and wide, and the reader hopes they haven’t rested on rocky ground.
Our eponymous “not-a-Jedi” is smart enough to recognize the new dispensation for what it is. In this new world order going in all guns blazing is gonna get you killed, and killed quick. Sure you may take a couple of Bucketheads with you; but you gotta think smart. Fools rush in.
This is the Ahsoka that greets the reader. She was lost in the blur of post-Order 66. Like Caleb Dume (in another great book) she knows what went down when the Order was executed. Unlike him she was outside the Jedi framework so maybe she had a head start.
I think some readers may have expected this book to be about Ahsoka. I think it instead stars Ahsoka. It is instead about how a society, of which Ahsoka is part, responds to a dictatorial regime. Ahsoka is a fulcrum in this process before she become the Fulcrum. The book signals her central role. She ties to Bail Organa, to Kenobi, and to Anakin. Her role is grounded in her past experience, and embeds her in the events yet to come.
This is a world of secrets, and in this world no-one knows more secrets than R2-D2 who also makes quite a mark on this book towards the end.
“The little blue-and-silver droid disconnected from the console he was working on and rolled across the floor to her so quickly that she thought for a second he might have flown. He was beeping so fast she could barely understand him, but she could tell by his tone that R2-D2 was as happy to see her as she was to see him.”
E.K. Johnston, Ahsoka, page 277
There is a truly touching moment when Ahsoka and R2-D2 both mourn the loss of their friend and colleague Anakin. There’s an hilarious moment when, realizing that R2-D2 has been up to his usual old tricks, Bail Organa refers to the astromech as a “little metal devil”.
In closing I want to mention some features of the book and its structure. Firstly the book is populated by lovely little interludes demarcated by a light grey page coloring (see contrasting pages below). These sections are full of interesting insights, particularly those relating to Anakin, Kenobi, Maul and the construction of a lightsaber. In fact between this and the content in Heir to the Jedi, the devout Star Wars reader is developing quite a knowledge about these things!
Secondly the cover art is to die for and the actual dust cover and hardback cover is a thing of beauty, the font, layout and presentation are beautiful and its a lovely thing to have on your shelf.
Special mention therefore goes to Wotjek Fus for the jacket illustration. It is a testament to the value of having books on one’s shelf, and I will love being reminded of a great book each time I see Ms Johnston’s book on my bookcase.