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REVIEW: Ronin: A Visions Novel

by @holocronGeorge for @sw_holocron

Star Wars: Visions took fans of a galaxy far, far away by storm last month and left us eagerly awaiting more adventures in the unique and enthralling worlds created for the series. One of the highlights of Star Wars: Visions was The Duel, a beautifully crafted short film directed and written by Takashi Okazaki that followed a former Sith lord as he defended a village against a Sith bandit leader. Thankfully, this short film was only an introduction to these characters and the intriguing and innovative world they inhabit as author Emma Mieko Candon continues the story with Star Wars: Ronin – A Visions Novel, an ambitious and truly unique book that tells a Star Wars story unlike anything we’ve seen to date.

Ronin, like the short film it expands upon, does not adhere to the narratives and rules set forth in broader Star Wars canon. And author Candon embraces this freedom wholeheartedly. This is not the Jedi Order we see in the films. This is not the Empire that Palpatine commanded for decades. Even the concepts of Sith and Jedi are reconceptualized in this novel. As such, Ronin is a Star Wars story unlike any other. Candon provides some context for this twist on the Star Wars universe, but leaves much of the explanations and exposition to the reader to freely generate and interpret. While some may find this unfulfilling, it actually makes Ronin feel even more like a true Star Wars story. The original Star Wars film provides several paragraphs of text in an opening crawl before plummeting viewers into a galaxy that takes a bit of time to get used to. Explanations about the world, governments, and other features are left to comments made by characters throughout the film. The same can be said for Ronin – Candon is not spoonfeeding the audience with dense exposition, akin to George Lucas’ approach to the original Star Wars film.

Instead, Candon’s story positions the characters in the forefront. Ronin uses the events of The Duel as a set-up for a story that heads in plenty of unexpected directions. As with many great Star Wars tales, Ronin starts off as a seemingly straightforward story, but ends up covering plenty of unexpected and exciting territory. This is in large part due to Candon’s work with the titular character, a former Sith who journeys in the Outer Rim on a mysterious quest. Star Wars has a long history with villains turned good, or heroes turned bad, and Ronin continues this legacy in fine form. It’s fascinating to position an ex-Sith as the protagonist and fans of The Duel who wanted to find out more about such a cool character will be more than satisfied with how the character is handled in this novel. It also wouldn’t be Star Wars without a quirky droid, in this case a straw hat-wearing astromech named B5-56. The droid’s relationship with Ronin is superb and evokes similar relationships between Anakin and R2-D2, Ezra and Chopper, and Poe and BB-8.

Where Ronin excels perhaps more than ever is its ability to honor the legacy of Star Wars and Japanese culture so seamlessly. Like The Duel, Ronin plays out like a calculated intersection between A New Hope and an Akira Kurosawa film like Seven Samurai. Despite being a novel and, therefore, deprived of the visual medium at Kurosawa’s disposal, Candon miraculously manages to capture what a Kurosawa / Star Wars story novel would be like. The book is filled to the brim with references to and inspirations from Japanese culture, in addition to many easter eggs and references to Star Wars lore fans will love. Also of note, Candon takes LBGTQ+ representation in Star Wars to another level in Ronin. The franchise has slowly but surely introduced queer relationships and non-binary characters in recent years, and Ronin furthers this representation with a host of fleshed out characters and relationships.

Verdict:

Star Wars Ronin: A Visions Novel is a must-read for fans of The Duel and the Star Wars: Visions series overall. Emily Mieko Candon’s book marks a refreshing and stark departure, both in style and world-building, from previous Star Wars stories in telling a tale that beautifully interweaves Japanese and Star Wars influences into a cohesive tale. Ronin is driven by a host of intriguing and fleshed-out characters that take the reader on a journey to some pretty unexpected places. All in all, Ronin: A Visions Novel is our favorite Star Wars book of the year to date.

Images courtesy of Del Rey

Star Wars Visions: Ronin is available to purchase on Tuesday October 12th!