Released in the wake of Disney+’s Visions, Star Wars: Ronin is based on “The Duel”, the first episode of the series by Kamikaze Douga. The novel, by first-time Star Wars author Emma Mieko Candon, redoes the short in the first two chapters and then continues the story of the Ronin, as well as the Sith “bandit”, from there.
I personally have been reading Star Wars novels since the early ’90s and have read every of the 100+ novels ever released under the Star Wars banner. I don’t say this to boast, but to give weight to what I am going to say, and that is that Ronin is unlike any Star Wars novel ever released before. And although the novel is unlike anything we have been given before, the tone does match that of Visions, which is also unlike any other Star Wars project.
Visions was released as a series of shorts by Japanese creators that fused Japanese culture with the Star Wars universe, and that is what Ronin continues to do in written form. I will try and give as few spoilers for the story as I can, but unfortunately the basis of the story, which the entire premise is written around, could be considered a spoiler. So consider that your slight spoiler warning.
The story follows the “fallen” Sith warrior known only as the Ronin as he tracks down other Sith in his attempts to eradicate the galaxy of their kind. His attempts at tracking down the Sith are hindered by the Sith Bandit, whose name we eventually find out is Kouru, and was seen in the Visions short. At the end of “The Duel”, she was supposedly killed, a matter reemphasized in the novel. However, she becomes resurrected by the Sith Witch, who was the leader of the Sith in this region of space. The resurrection of Kouru, as well as the dwindling numbers of Sith, leads the Ronin to team up with a group of spacers in an attempt to kill the Sith Witch once and for all.
The other main characters are the spacers, which were introduced solely in the novel. These include The Traveler, a non-binary individual with a mysterious past; Ekiya, the captain of their ship, the Poor Crow; and Chie, who was a bounty hunter tracking down Force users. Together, with Kouru and Ronin, they attempt to eradicate the Sith from the galaxy.
Although the canonicity of the story is in question, it seems to take place a long time before the movies, when there was a Sith uprising led by The Dark Lord and the Sith Witch. Eventually, 20 years later when the story takes place, the uprising has failed and the last few remaining Sith are in hiding. If it does fit into canon, and I can imagine it easily doing so, it takes place in a region of space isolated from everything that we had heard about both Jedi and Sith before.
Speaking of, the Jedi and Sith in this book blur the lines from their movie counterparts. The Sith aren’t pure evil, nor are the Jedi pure good. Actually, the Jedi are probably worse than the Sith in this book, and I will gladly root for the Sith before any of the Jedi as they were portrayed here.
Most Star Wars novels can usually be broken down into either character-driven novels or action-driven novels, and this one can almost be considered neither. It is generally a character study, however, the flow of the text is melodical, like an epic poem in modern form. It is written in such a way that it feels like you are sitting around a campfire with Grandpa and Grandma relating a tale from long ago that has been passed down through the centuries.
The story feels like it was written as if the entire ancient Japanese culture had been transported to the ancient Star Wars galaxy and grew up there, intermingling the two experiences into one tightly woven fabric. It is an experience unlike any that we have had before in the Star Wars publishing world, and one that I can see people both loving and hating. It is not “business as usual” in any sense of the phrase. This is something new.
And besides all of that, we also have our first instance of a major book character being non-binary. While non-binary characters have cropped up here and there in the Star Wars mythos, they have rarely ever been center stage. Here we are unapologetically given The Traveler, a non-binary major character who I would argue is even more of a major character than Ronin himself. And the Traveler is absolutely the best character in the story for me. They are mysterious and nuanced. Throughout the story, they play games with the Ronin, keeping their personal story a mystery that is slowly unwrapped throughout the book, until we, as an audience, learn everything there is to learn about them. And it makes them an even greater character than they were to begin with. The only thing I wish for would be a visual of the character because Candon’s description of them in their Fox mask makes them sound really awesome and definitely ripe for cosplay.
Besides the Sith/Jedi duality that we see throughout the novel, I found it interesting the way names come up as a main theme of the story. Some of the characters go by several names, some of them nicknames of their own choosing or even nicknames not of their choosing. The Traveler goes by “Fox” based on their mask that they wear, but they also have a given name that is held as a mystery. The Ronin doesn’t have a name but gets several titles and/or nicknames throughout. Even the Bandit gets to play the name game. It’s an interesting story motif on what a name gives us as people and what knowing a person’s name tells us about them.
The audiobook is narrated by Joel de la Fuente, who has an accent that I was not expecting for this story but I eventually got into it. Like I said about the story above, he reads it like it is Grandpa recalling a legend of the Sith from long ago around a campfire and I am here just soaking it all in.
Overall, this was one that is hard to categorize. The novel itself reads like nothing I have read from Star Wars before, and for that reason many people will love it, while others will hate it. The text is melodic, and flows as you work your way through the book, but because of that melody, the story does not get right to the point. Ever. It is meant as a lulling story, not an action-adventure set piece that you read through quickly and are done with. It is something that you are meant to soak in and enjoy; not just the story, but the prose in which it is delivered. It is something that I can definitely recommend, but reader beware, this is not “business as usual”.
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