Biweekly Book Review: Visions: Ronin

This is a spoilery review. For spoiler free thoughts, click here.

When Star Wars Visions was announced, it didn’t take long for the announcement to follow that Del Rey would be publishing a tie-in novel to accompany the series. Since the show is an anthology, the novel – Star Wars Visions: Ronin – is based on only one of the shorts – the first one, entitled “The Duel”.

I’ve spent every day since reading it wondering if I should even do a Biweekly Book Review post about it. After all, one of the aims of these in-depth book reviews is to dive deep into the lore and see how it all connects. Since nothing in Visions is strictly canon, that doesn’t work as well here, but I’d argue that there’s nothing in any of VisionsRonin included – that’s a complete impossibility. It’s a pretty big galaxy after all.

But I’m going to proceed with this as the (so far) isolated story that it is. No forcing a visions peg into a canon hole. Without further ado, let’s take a short look at Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon.

The Story

On the Outer Rim world of Genbara, a lone traveller and his droid come across a village under attack. The attacker is a former Sith, and to the surprise of the village, so is the traveller who has come to defend them.

Despite defeating the old Sith woman, she doesn’t quite stay dead. This is a reoccurring problem throughout the Galaxy, with the bodies of dead Force users being reanimated and used to serve a further purpose. One group eager to know the cause behind this, each for a purpose of their own, is the crew of the Poor Crow: the mysterious Traveller, Ekiya the pilot, and Chie, an older woman with her own history with Force users.

What should be a simple quest for answers turns into a rehashing of old wartime wounds, with the Sith woman in hot pursuit of the Poor Crow crew, and the Jedi Lords with interests of their own meddling in the investigation.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)

1. The Setting

It’s been clear from the get-go that this story exists outside of the current Star Wars continuity. As a result, the setting/world the characters inhabit is vaguely familiar, but viewed through a different lens. In this case, it’s one that leans much heavier on the Japanese elements that informed so much of the Star Wars we all know and love.

It was a fascinating experience seeing the world in this way. There were just enough recognizable aspects to it that it was very clear this was a Star Wars story: the ships, the lightsabers, the droids. But everything from the characters, to the food, to the decor and aesthetic hews much closer to to those aforementioned Japanese roots.

2. The System of Jedi

Look, the Jedi Order is one that is worthy of a ton of critique. Even though most of my favourite characters in Star Wars are Jedi themselves, the Order is…not without flaw.

Not only does Ronin share that assessment, but the Jedi Order are almost painted as the antagonists? Though maybe that has something to do with the perspective being sold to the reader. We know the Jedi and the Sith went to war, and many former Jedi turned on their order when they could no longer support the cause of the fight. This, to me, is an interesting take on the Jedi/Sith war we always hear so much about, because as with anything, it doesn’t appear to be as black and white as “we defeated the Sith and they’re gone now”, which is probably what the Order wanted everyone to believe, even if we now know it to be untrue.

Further to that, the Jedi are structured differently than what we’re used to. Rather than a central Order, with scattered temples, the Jedi serve various Jedi Masters at their personal schools, Masters who in turn serve the Princes of the Empire. Again, we see that familiar-yet-unfamiliar vibe. It’s an Empire, but obviously not Palpatine’s (unless all the Princes battling for dominion are his clone-sons and watch me not entertain that idea even a little bit).

3. The Character Dynamics

The benefit a lot of Star Wars stories have on their side is that even when we meet a new character, we know enough about their background (Jedi, Rebel, Imperial, Outer Rim teen, etc) for them to feel familiar right away. But with Ronin, where everything starts from scratch practically, we don’t have the same advantage.

Without that in place, I worried I wouldn’t buy into the history and dynamics of the Poor Crow crew. Fortunately those worries were unfounded. As much as I wish I’d had more time with each of them individually to get to know who they are as people, as a collective I had no problem buying into their reestablished dynamic. Even where I didn’t feel connected to them, it was very clear how they were connected to each other.

4. Time to Set Up The World

For all that I said I really enjoyed the different elements this book brought – and I really did enjoy them – they were also my biggest frustration because I feel like I didn’t have enough space to absorb them.

Even though this is Star Wars, we are so removed from the existing continuity, that the gaps by brain automatically fills in didn’t need to be filled anymore. They didn’t exist. There were new gaps this time. And I’m not saying that everything needs to be explained for me off the top, but I do wish the book had gone a little more into how the world works, and specifically how it works for our characters.

I do acknowledge that it might come down to a preference in style. The whole thing had a nebulous, myth or legend feel to me, where the mechanics of the world don’t matter so much because that’s not what’s at the heart of the story. I’ve seen that that works for some, but after two read throughs of it, I didn’t feel like I understood the characters or the world they lived in any better than my initial impressions.

***

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