Johnston, E. K.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Ahsoka
Beginning a year after 'Revenge of the Sith' (18 BBY), this book follows former Jedi Ahsoka Tano as she goes from fugitive to insurgent to member of a larger Rebellion. Living as a mechanic in the Outer Rim, Ahsoka soon finds her new way of life threatened by the ever-growing Galactic Empire and has to decide whether to continue as fugitive with no ties or to step in to help those in need and embrace her Jedi heritage.
Curiously, this book wasn't released as part of the adult novel line and seems to have been relegated to the second-tier 'young adult' books, however it is every bit the match of the adult books in writing style, length and content. So, don't be discouraged by (evil) Disney's marketing mistake.
I've always wanted more stories of Jedi struggling to survive following Order 66 but I was a bit wary of the Jedi in question being Ahsoka Tano, who has never been a favourite of mine. But Johnston soon sets us on a path which reminded me greatly of the excellent 'Kenobi' by John Jackson Miller and I warmed to Ahsoka more than I expected to. Things got even more interesting when events force (no pun intended) Ahsoka to begin planning an insurgency, linking up aspects of her character seen in the TV series 'The Clone Wars' (she helped train 'Rogue One's Saw Gerrera, don't forget) and later in 'Rebels'.
I was also pleased to see Bail Organa play a fairly large part in the book and to get a sense of his struggles to create the Rebellion in its very earliest days.
I would also like to praise the author not only for the inclusion of a gay main character but also the way in which it is done. Kaeden's teenage crush on Ahsoka is never presented salaciously nor is it presented as a stigmatism, it's simply an aspect of their character relationship like any other. Perfectly handled.
For me there were two significant downsides to this book. The first and simplest of which was the (not-much-of-a-)mystery regarding the collection of electronic components Ahsoka finds herself subconsciously collecting without understanding why. I literally figured out what they were going to become the first time they were mentioned and the repetition of the 'mystery' thereafter became tedious.
The other downside to this book, and far worse, is the way it pussy-foots around events between Ahsoka's exit from 'The Clone Wars' and her appearance here. Sure, we get brief interludes which show us snapshots of what went on but to skim over things like Ahsoka's last meeting with Anakin or Order 66 or her confrontation with Darth Maul on Mandalore just seems to be robbing fans of the stuff we really want to see. It's like the author is dangling the promise of those storylines only to snatch them away at the last moment. This willful avoidance of significant (and relevant) events spills over into the story itself when Ahsoka is reunited with Artoo. She knows that he's not had a memory wipe, but at no point does she do what any real person would and ask what happened to Anakin. I understand they have to preserve the internal mystery so that its payoff in 'Rebels' works, but it breaks the reader's suspension of disbelief.
Overall a very worthy Star Wars novel though.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Queen's Shadow
Beginning 28 BBY this book follows Padme Amidala's transition from Queen of Naboo to Senator of the Republic. Aided by her loyal handmaidens and guards, Padme travels to Coruscant and attempts to navigate the twisting corridors of galactic politics, making allies and enemies along the way.
It is bizarre, given how the marketing of Star Wars works (i.e. if a character is famous, slap them on the front of the book and use links to the films to sell it), that this is the first full-length novel to focus entirely on Amidala, seeing as how 'The Phantom Menace' is now twenty years old. Also, it's worth noting that like 'Ahsoka' this book is definitely an adult novel in length and content, regardless of the fact that it was marketed as a YA book.
My best guess for why this is the first proper Amidala book is that the character is a bit boring. I know there will be fans out there that will lose their minds over me saying that, but the truth is that, by the nature of her character and her career as a politician, Amidala spends most of her time just talking to people. And the sitting/standing around talking that happens so much in the Prequels is one of the things that they're most criticised for (well, that and Jar Jar, of course).
This book, then, was something of a surprise to me in that it does pretty much just involve Padme sitting/standing around talking to people. There is almost no action whatsoever, just endless discussions of political committees, trade routes and legislation. Why is that a surprise? Simply because I actually mostly liked it. Johnston is such a good writer and is so in tune with the characters she focuses on, that you never actually get bored of them sitting around talking. Moreover, you look forward to discovering how the Queen we saw in Episode I becomes the very different Senator we see in Episode II, as well as seeing how the Republic itself begins to change over that period.
It's in the hints of what's to come that this book really shines, be it Padme's occasional glimpses behind Palpatine's friendly facade, the growing division within the Senate or, in a couple of notable scenes, a Senator having secret conversations with a mysterious patron who can only be Dooku. Where I did find the book tedious, however, was in the endless descriptions of Amidala's outfits. For me, the fashion of Star Wars has never been of particular interest and having quite so much time dedicated to fabric types, hairstyles and embroidery patterns rapidly became boring in a way that the sitting around talking hadn't done.
Johnston makes an inspired choice for the epilogue, jumping ahead years to the finale of Episode III and showing how one of the characters we've come to know through the novel reacts not only to Padme's death (14-year-old spoilers, by the way!) but to the sudden rise of the Galactic Empire. It left me hoping that Lucasfilm will give the author a third book to tie-together this one and 'Ahsoka'.
4 out of 5