- Narrated by Joel de la Fuente
- A Star Wars: Visions novel
- Published by Penguin in 2021
- A Science Fantasy novel
- 12 hours 21 minutes long
On a nowhere world, a rogue force-user hunts down his former colleagues. But is this Ronin a killer, a hero, or something else? And when the mysteries of the Force are involved, is anything as it seems . . ?
Star Wars has a lot of influences, from World War II dogfights, to westerns, to the pulp serials of the Golden Age. But one influence that runs through the whole saga is George Lucas’ love of samurai. I’m not qualified to go into depth about all those influences, but the parallels between the Jedi Order and the popular image of samurai warriors is clear. With the Jedi (and Sith) being such a key piece of the Star Wars mythos, so rich for exploration, it was only a matter of time before someone took the Jedi back to their roots. This happened in the form of the Disney+ series Star Wars: Visions, in which a number of famous Anime studies put their own unique spin on classic Star Wars storytelling. The most remarkable thing about this series is that it was openly non-canon, mixing up time periods and worldbuilding to create wholly original creations. A bold experiment for Disney, who are pushing the Star Wars envelope in many different directions. Now, I personally cannot stand anime as an artform. The overall animation style and performances simply don’t work for me. But I liked the idea of Visions, and when I saw there was a book based on the series, I decided to give it a shot.
In taking all those influences and making them the core of the story, Ronin creates something that feels genuinely original. It’s hard to describe the feel of it, in truth. There’s always been an air of fantasy to Star Wars, from the quasi-magic of the force, to the tropes of prophecy and chosen ones. Ronin puts these in an openly science fantasy interpretation of the setting. I’m no historian, but the ideas of Empire are turned into something that more closely adheres to the history of Japan, with loyal force-sensitive warriors serving their emperor. The force itself is reimagined not as a natural part of the universe that binds all living together. No, here it is a dark spirit that whispers in the minds of force-users. There are still blasters and spaceships, but there are also droids in straw hats and epic lightsabre duels, including some lightsabres that are odd and unique creations.
All of this does leave some confusion, however. So much is swapped out and switches around, it’s hard to reconcile ‘canon’ Star Wars with this reinvention. Not that the two need reconciling, but when you have the idea of a Sith in your head, and then Ronin‘s Sith appear in a rather different form, it can throw you out. Some of my issues do stem from a larger inability to focus on audiobooks. Admittedly, I took a month off from listening in the middle of the book, which surely didn’t help my understanding. Joel de la Fuente’s narration is great, there’s no arguing that, and I got shivers each time he said ‘Ronin.’ But at over twelve hours, this really is pushing my audio tolerance. I try not to let this affect my enjoyment of the book, but it definitely made an impact. As an aside, this book has a lot of sound effect, that I found really added to the narrative. But I also listen at around 1.4x speed, which does affect a lot of the music in the background.
Even though it employs a lot of ideas that I’m not overly fond of, Ronin is an important novel for the future of Star Wars, showing that even after more than forty years, the franchise is still capable of generating something truly original.
Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Star Wars: Visions (TV Series)
Star Wars: Knight Errant, by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith, by John Jackson Miller