Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 8 June 2017.
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 8 June 2017.
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
In the midst of the 2008 DC Comic crossover event Final Crisis lies this often overlooked and foolishly underappreciated miniseries, Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge, which focuses on the Flash’s most enduring villains, the Rogues.
Final Crisis was the big DC comic event of 2008, and is memorable for a number of key events, such as the apparent death of Batman, the death of the Martian Manhunter and the return of the original Flash, Barry Allen. In addition to this main series, DC also released a number of miniseries and one-shots that served as tie-ins to the main Final Crisis storyline and which are often forgotten in light of Final Crisis big events. I have to admit that I have never been a particularly big fan of the Final Crisis series, mainly because of the over-the-top and unnecessarily complicated storyline (you know, typical Grant Morrison writing). However, I did really enjoy the tie-in miniseries, including the dark comic Revelations, which focuses on the Spectre and contains the horrifying image of Dr Light being turned into a candle, and the massive Legion of 3 Worlds miniseries, which saw the return of two great characters. However, my favourite of all these miniseries has to be the subject of this review, Rogues’ Revenge, by iconic The Flash contributors Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins.
The Rogues are a group of iconic dangerous criminals in the twin cities of Central City and Keystone City who have banded together in opposition to the Flash. Different from the usual supervillains that inhabit the DC Universe, the Rogues have a sense of honour and mostly commit thefts rather than seeking world domination or pointless destruction. Usually led by Captain Cold, the Rogues have featured most of the Flash’s villains at one point or another, including Heatwave, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, the Trickster, Weather Wizard and even Gorilla Grodd. These characters have been recurring villains of the Flash for over 60 years and continue to be regular features of the various The Flash comics. The Rogues are also very well represented in other media, appearing in several animated shows and movies. One member, Captain Boomerang, appeared in the 2016 movie Suicide Squad, while the rest of the characters, especially Captain Cold and Heatwave, are major fixtures of the Arrowverse television series.
In Rogues’ Revenge, the core remaining Rogues, Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard and the second Mirror Master, have been having one hell of a year after breaking their number one rule: never kill a speedster. Tricked by the young psychopathic speedster Inertia, the Rogues attacked the Flash when he lost his powers and actually managed to kill him, which they never wanted to do. Worst, the Flash that they killed was only a kid, Bart Allen, the former Impulse and Kid Flash, who had been aged up by his time in the Speed Force. As the most wanted criminals in the world, the Rogues have spent the year being hunted by as fugitives by the collected superheroes. Briefly imprisoned on an alien planet with the rest of the world’s supervillains, the Rogues escaped and have returned to Keystone City, once again fugitives.
The Rogues are planning to permanently retire after their terrible mistake. However, when Inertia escapes from his imprisonment, the Rogues decide to go on one last mission and seek revenge for Inertia’s trickery. Joining forces with the new young and immature Trickster, the Rogues set out to break their number one rule just one more time.
However, their revenge is going to get far more complicated than they anticipated. The supervillain prophet, Libra, is uniting the other villains for the Final Crisis and wants the Rogues by his side in his new Secret Society. Their emphatic refusal does not go down well, and Libra sets about recruiting them by any means necessary, even if that means killing every member of the Rogues’ family to get their attention. The former Rogue, Pied Piper, is also hunting down his former cohorts, determined to repent for the role he played in Bart Allen’s death, while powerful anti-speedster Zoom has taken Inertia under his protection and tutelage. Against all these forces, this misfit group of killers and thieves seem incredibly outmatched, but never count the Rogues out of the fight. Can the Rogues get their revenge, and how will they react to the return of their greatest foe, the original Flash, Barry Allen?
This fantastic miniseries is the brainchild of legendary DC writer Geoff Johns and artist Scott Kolins, who previously did a joint run in The Flash Vol 2. Rogues’ Revenge is collected in a single volume and consists of the miniseries’ three issues, as well as two issues from Johns and Kolins’s run on The Flash Vol 2 issues #182 and #197, which focus on the origins of Captain Cold and Zoom respectfully. Rogues’ Revenge is an excellent series that puts the focus onto an incredibly intriguing and very different group of villains. Containing a superb story, some amazing artwork and some subtle, but interesting tie-ins to Final Crisis and other parts of the DC Universe, this is a really fun miniseries that is worth checking out.
One of the things that I like the most about this miniseries is the way that Johns and Kolins really dive into their complex main characters and show what set them apart from all the other supervillains. The reader is given a look into the psyche of each of the Rogues, and shows the deep and dark troubles that hide within their minds. Alone, they are incredibly damaged individuals with advanced weapons, but together they are a functioning unit able to hang with the most powerful godlike beings in the universe. Each of the Rogues is a complex and intriguing character, and the creative team do a great job highlighting this succinctly in the miniseries. Heatwave is a pyromaniac whose life has been consumed by fire, Weather Wizard is still haunted by the fact that he murdered his brother, Mirror Master is fighting his baser instincts and his drug habit, while Trickster is a young punk who is desperately trying to join up with the other Rogues he idolises.
Captain Cold is the most complex of them all, and his life is shown in both the miniseries and in one of the issues of The Flash Vol 2, which I have to give the producers of this volume props for including. Captain Cold is the team’s leader and the definer of their moral code. Because of him, the Rogues try to avoid killing where possible, do not touch drugs and have a high standard when it comes to its members, which is why they have yet to fully accept Trickster into their ranks. Throughout Rogues’ Revenge, Captain Cold is able to control and anticipate the moods and needs of his team. At the same time, he is able to lean on his team when it comes to his intense personal matters and the history with his family. Issue #182 of The Flash Vol 2 does an amazing job of humanizing this character further, especially after you see him in action in the three issues of the Rogues’ Revenge miniseries. Overall, the creative team are able showcase the close relationship the Rogues have with each other, as well as how strong they are together.
I also enjoyed how Johnson explores the complex relationship that the Rogues have with the Flash. Despite him being the main superhero who has been opposing them for years, the Rogues make it quite clear that they never actually wanted to kill him, mainly because they knew how much trouble they would be in if they ever succeeded in finishing him off. The anger at how they were duped into attacking the Flash without his powers is pretty clear early in the miniseries, and there is a certain sense of regret as they describe how their attacks usually would not have killed a speedster. They also show some remorse that the Flash that they killed was so young, as they did not realise they were really attacking Kid Flash. While this initial examination of their relationship with the Flash is fascinating, the discussion that occurs at the end of the third Rogues’ Revenge issue is particularly interesting, as they talk about their relationship with the original Flash, Barry Allen, and how he was different from all the other Flashes. It is a great tie-in to the other comics focusing on this character’s return, and it also brings the Rogues’ story full circle as they decide to postpone their retirement in light of the relentless pursuit that they know is coming from their original Flash. You have also got to love the present they send to the returning Flash in order to appease his wrath for their role in Bart Allen’s death.
Rogues’ Revenge has an impressive and well-written story that is not only a lot of fun to read but ties in nicely with the major Final Crisis crossover event that was occurring at the same time. The central story of the tired and weary Rogues as they plan to engage in one last mission before their retirement is amazing as it allows for a deeper look at their methods, equipment and skills at defeating speedsters. The tie-ins with Final Crisis aren’t too over-the-top and mostly relate to the return of Barry Allen and Libra’s attempts at creating a new society of supervillains. Libra’s scheme to bring the Rogues on board is particularly fun, as he sends the team of knock-off Rogues to face them, utilising stolen copies of their weaponry. This is a great battle scene which helps show off how the Rogues are so much more than the weapons that they wield, as they utilise their skills and experience to eliminate their opponents in short order. The devastating and inventive uses of their weapons are very impressive, from Captain Cold’s wide beam cold field, to Weather Wizard growing a tornado inside of one of his opponents. The Rogues’ extreme violence in this scene is explained as the characters protecting their reputation, as there have been many copycats before, which fits these old veterans perfectly. I also really liked the reasons the Rogues give to refuse Libra’s request for them to join the Secret Society, having been burned by joining them before, and it was fun to see them predict exactly how the new Secret Society was going to come crashing down.
The artwork within this miniseries is very impressive, and it was great to see Kolins back in The Flash saddle. I was really impressed by the character designs Kolins used during this miniseries, as the four veteran Rogues all have their iconic costumes, but there is a beat-up and ragged look to them. This perfectly encapsulates the terrible year the characters have been happening, and each of these characters have a tired and weary look to them after so many years of fighting. I also cannot speak highly enough of the impressive fight sequences throughout the miniseries. The full and at times gruesome effects of the Rogues’ weapons are in full display throughout Rogues’ Revenge, as the titular characters unleash fire, ice, weather, tricks and mirror insanity on their opponents. The duelling walls of fire that occur between Heatwave and newcomer Burn are just gorgeous, and Weather Wizard’s various creations, such as lighting and fog, are drawn amazingly well. I also cannot get past how impressively well Captain Cold’s ice devastation is drawn, especially when it comes to the effect the freeze ray has the human body. This is an amazing bit of work from Kolins and the rest of the miniseries’ artistic team, and the art really helps to turn Rogues’ Revenge into a first-rate graphic novel.
Overall, Rogues’ Revenge is an outstanding tie-in miniseries that does so much to stand out from its overarching crossover event. The focus on the Rogues, who make up one of DC’s most complex group of supervillains, is a compelling choice from the creative team, who do an incredible job showcasing these amazing characters. Featuring an intriguing storyline and some first-rate artwork, this is a fantastic miniseries to check out, and one of my favourite underappreciated gems in the DC Universe.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 14 December 2017.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I will be looking at the thrilling and enjoyable first tie-in novel to the Veronica Mars franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.
Veronica Mars was a highly regarded (at least for the first two seasons) teen crime television series that aired for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. The show, staring Kristen Bell in her breakout role as the titular character, was an incredibly fun and compelling mixture of teen drama and serious investigation. Veronica Mars is a teenage private investigator who finds herself investigating the murder of her best friend, following a cover up by the town’s rich and powerful inhabitants. The first two seasons featured epic season-long mysteries, while the third season contained two half-season mysteries. Each episode also featured a mystery-of-the-week storyline that would often play some part in that season’s overarching storyline. In addition to the intriguing and complex mystery based storylines, fans of the show could also enjoy the heartfelt drama and romance between the show’s main characters, as well as the interesting social dichotomy of the show’s main location, Neptune, California. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after its third season, and fans were given an unsatisfactory and incomplete series finale.
However, due to support of the Veronica Mars hardcore fans, referred to as “Marshmallows”, as well as an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, the show was revived with a 2014 Veronica Mars feature film. This new movie was set nine years after the show’s third season and showed Veronica’s return to Neptune. The creators attempted to capitalise on the success of the Veronica Mars film by creating some additional material in the Veronica Mars universe. This included the meta web series Play it Again, Dick as well as two novels set in the aftermath of the movie. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line was the first of these novels released, coming out the same month as the Veronica Mars movie, while the second book, Mr. Kiss and Tell was published a year later in 2015. Both books were written by series creator Rob Thomas and short story author Jennifer Graham, and Thomas has stated that they are both considered to be cannon.
I only ended up watching the Veronica Mars show a few years ago, but found myself really getting into the excellent storylines and memorable characters. I managed to avoid any spoilers so I was able to enjoy the incredible mysteries of the first two seasons, both of which were very clever, with complicated and hard to predict solutions. After enjoying both the shows and the movies, I also decided to check out the associated books and obtained an audiobook copy of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, which I have listened to several times. With the recent announcement of a Veronica Mars revival series airing in 2019 to be set five years after the events of the film, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to re-listen to and review The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line as part of my Throwback Thursday series. I am particularly interested to see if Thomas will continue to consider this book as canon when the new series of the show is released, as there are significant narrative developments that may prove hard to explain to those who haven’t read this book.
Neptune, California is usually the home of sun, sand, the ultra-rich, their low-income employees and a corrupt sheriff’s department. But something else has descended on Neptune: spring breakers. With busloads of college students descending on Neptune, the town has been turned into one long and boozy event. It’s all fun and games until one girl disappears from a party and her case is picked up by the conservative media as a call to action against Neptune and spring break.
After nine years away, Veronica Mars has returned to Neptune, the town where she experienced so many traumatic events. After saving her former/current boyfriend Logan from a murder investigation, Veronica has given up her career as a lawyer and has returned to her old addiction, private investigating. With her father still recovering from a suspicious car crash, Veronica has taken over Mars Investigations and is desperately trying to keep the business afloat with small, petty cases.
With the media storm around the missing girl intensifying, Veronica is called in to find her before Neptune’s spring break economy is ruined. Diving into the parties and sordid holiday fun, Veronica soon finds that the house that the girl disappeared from is owned by a dangerous pair of brothers with serious criminal connections. Though Veronica is convinced that the owners of the house are behind the disappearance, the case becomes even more complicated when a second girl disappears from the same house. Worse, the second girl has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past that will rock her to the core.
While it would have been easy for the authors just to create a lazy tie-in novel, Thomas and Graham actually created a complex and multi-layered mystery narrative that serves to keep the readers excited and guessing the entire time they are enjoying it. There is quite a lot going on within this mystery storyline, as for most of it, the protagonist is uncertain about what crime she is actually investigating. There are a lot of false leads, suspects, hidden clues and several pulse-pounding scenes in which Veronica finds her life threatened as she attempts to uncover a major break in the case. The final conclusion of the investigation is pretty clever and has a few sneaky twists that are hard to see coming. The authors also amp up the drama during certain parts of the book as Veronica is forced to confront some heavy subjects from her past, as well as the anger and despair of the people she is investigating. There is also further antagonism between Veronica and the towns’ corrupt sheriff, who Veronica is actively investigating for corruption, as well as a dramatic fight with her father, Keith, who is dismayed by his daughter’s decision to remain in Neptune as a private investigator, a decision which caused her much grief in the past.
One of the more interesting things about the original show was the social makeup of the fictional setting of the town of Neptune. In the show, Neptune is home to both a rich upper class, known as the “09ers” in reference to Neptune’s fictional postcode, and the people who work for them or are employed in the town’s businesses and local economy. As a result, several of the episodes of the original series focused on this discrepancy between these two distinct social classes, which was often represented by the rich students receiving unfair advantages at Neptune High. This was continued in the 2014 Veronica Mars movie, which showed that the sheriff’s department had become especially corrupt and were more focused on protecting the rich and powerful than arresting real criminals, as seen when they framed a side character, Weevil, with a planted gun. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line continues to explore how corrupt the city has become under the new sheriff, and how incompetent the police have become. This is shown early on in the book when Veronica is hired by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce to find the missing girls, as the town’s business leaders lack confidence in the sheriff’s investigative skills. When Veronica queries why they still support him, they make it clear that his policy of doing what the richer citizens want makes him a desirable tool. There are also some dark reveals about the serious crimes he turns a blind eye to in order to avoid confrontation and stay in power.
While there is less focus on the town’s social divide, the authors did add a new element to the plot of this Veronica Mars book: spring breakers. The plot of this book shows the town completely overrun with drunk, drugged-up and sexually excited college students keen to enjoy the beaches and parties of Neptune. Thomas and Graham pull no punches when it comes to these descriptions, attempting to fully encapsulate the chaotic and at times dangerous activities that the students get up to, often highlighting how their behaviour at times degenerates to the level of a drunken mob. This spring break background serves as an entertaining and intriguing background for the murder mystery storyline. There is a good amount of humour watching Veronica acting the part of a drunken sorority girl as she attempts to blend in with the crowd, as this is in complete opposition to her usual prickly demeanour. This spring break storyline will also be an interesting read for those planning to check out the upcoming revived season of Veronica Mars, which is apparently going to focus on a spring break serial killer which initiates a conflict between the upper and lower classes of the town.
As this is a tie-in book to a television and movie franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line appeals to fans of Veronica Mars the most. Readers will be relieved to see that Veronica still maintains her trademark sarcasm and the jaded personality she developed at a young age when she learned how much other people sucked. This book is set only a few months after the Veronica Mars film, and shows the aftermaths of the events that occurred during it. Long-time Veronica Mars characters Wallace Fennel, Keith Mars and Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie all appear in the book in significant roles, while minor movie antagonist, Dan Lamb, returns in a similar role for this book. In addition, other popular characters like Logan Echolls, Dick Casablancas, Eli “Weevil” Navarro and Cliff McCormack have smaller roles within the book. While it is good to see them again, their minor appearances have mainly been added in for fan service. One of the most memorable things about this book for fans of the show are the significant developments that happen in Veronica’s personal life, as a character from her past returns with some massive changes. While these developments serve an important part of the book’s plot and offer some excellent and well-appreciated emotional moments, I will be very surprised if they carry through into the new season of the television show. Overall, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line serves as a fantastic addition to the Veronica Mars franchise and contains a huge number of elements that will prove extremely appealing to fans of the original show.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is definitely one of those novels that is best enjoyed in its audiobook format. This is because the Rob Thomas and the producers of the audiobook were able to get Kristen Bell to come in and narrate this version of the book. As Kristen Bell does a bit of in-show narration, it makes sense for her to continue it here, with Veronica serving as the only point-of-view character. Having her narrate the actions of the book and everything she sees makes it feel a lot like the television show and gives it a natural and authentic feel. It was also pretty amusing to hear Bell do the voices of her co-stars from the shows and movies throughout the book. I think she does a pretty good job of her narration of the other character’s voices, as there are distinctive approximations of all the relevant characters, in addition to new voices for the exclusive book characters. Overall, if fans of this franchise are keen to experience a new Veronica Mars adventure, this is their best option. Written by the show’s creator and voiced by its lead actresses, the audiobook version of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is essentially just another episode of the show, and is the best way for fans of the Veronica Mars show to enjoy. At 8 hours 43 minutes, it is a quick audiobook to get through.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is an excellent piece of the amazing Veronica Mars franchise which presents the reader with a continuation of this fun universe and allows fans of the show to see what happens next to their favourite characters. Featuring a clever and intricate central mystery that twists and turns in multiple unexpected ways, this book is a fantastic read as told by its iconic protagonist. Best enjoyed in its audiobook format with the voice of Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, narrating the story, this is a recommended read for all fans of the fans of the show, and may prove to be an intriguing introduction for newcomers to the franchise.
The apprentice lives. One of the best Star Wars characters that originated outside of the live-action movies returns in this action-packed, character-driven novel, which follows Ahsoka Tano’s adventures after the destruction of the Jedi Order.
Those people familiar with my previous reviews may have noticed that I am a bit of a Star Wars fan, having reviewed several pieces from the current Disney Star Wars extended universe in the last few months. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that I have watched and enjoyed the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated television shows. Both of these shows are very well done, can be appreciated by a varied audience and contain a large amount of the classic Star Wars heart and respect for the franchise’s lore and history that was missing in some of the more recent movies. While many memorable characters were introduced in these shows, perhaps the most significant to the lore is the titular character of this book, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice.
For those of you failing to remember Anakin having an apprentice in the live-action movies, you are not going crazy; Ahsoka has yet to appear in any live action movie. She was instead introduced in The Clone Wars animated movie and served as one of the main characters of The Clone Wars television series, all of which take place in the years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Despite being one of the most popular characters on the show, Ahsoka would leave the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars and only appear in the sixth season as part of a short vision sequence. As a result, fans of the both the show and the character were frustrated and confused about what Ahsoka’s fate was and whether she had survived the events of the third prequel movie. Fans didn’t get their answer until a couple of years later, at the end of the first season of Star Wars Rebels, where it was revealed that Ahsoka had survived the Jedi purge, becoming a member of the early Rebel Alliance. Ahsoka, now wielding a pair of white lightsabers, became a key character in the second season of Star Wars Rebels, in which she was still an incredibly cool and powerful warrior. She was utilised to perfection in this new show and had what is easily the best scene in the entire run of Star Wars Rebels: her long-awaited confrontation with Darth Vader. The sheer emotion and intensity as Ahsoka finally came face-to-face with her old master and discovered that he was responsible for the fall of the Jedi was just amazing and is one of my favourite moments from all of television.
Following her appearance in Star Wars Rebels, Disney commissioned a young adult Ahsoka book, which was announced on 31 March 2016, one day after the Star Wars Rebels season 2 finale. This book was released in late 2016 and was written by young adult author and Star Wars fan E. K. Johnston. Ahsoka was Johnston’s first foray into Star Wars fiction, although she is currently working on Queen’s Shadow, a young adult novel focused on a pre The Phantom Menace Padme Amidala, set to be released next year. I have no doubt that a review for Queen’s Shadow will appear on this website in due time. Now, with the recent announcement of a seventh season of The Clone Wars and the reveal that Ahsoka will be appearing in this new season, I decided to check out this book to see if it did the character any justice. I chose to enjoy this as an audiobook, rather than read a physical copy.
During the Clone War, Ahsoka Tano was a fierce warrior and a commander of the Republic’s clone troopers. However, after the devastation of Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66, which saw the clones turn on the Jedi, everything changed. Fighting on Mandalore, far away from her master, Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka is unaware of his fall to the dark side of the Force, and only just manages to escape the purge of the Jedi Order.
Now, one year after the fall of the Republic and the rise of the new Galactic Empire, the former Padawan is in hiding on the outskirts of the galaxy, trying to avoid any Imperial attention. Living under an assumed name and with her trusty dual lightsabres gone, Ahsoka scrapes a living as a mechanic, intentionally distancing herself from the Force in order to hide her Jedi abilities.
Ahsoka journeys to a remote farming settlement on the Outer Rim moon of Raada. Settling into her new life and making connections with its inhabitants, Ahsoka believes that she has finally found her sanctuary. But her hopes of a peaceful life in her new home are quickly dashed when the Empire arrives, imposing their totalitarian rule on the people of Raada. The agricultural potential of the moon is vital to the future of the Empire, and the workers are being forced to farm a new and mysterious plant. Determined to help her new friends and wanting to make a difference, Ahsoka uses her wartime experience to help form a resistance in order to undermine Imperial control.
But when she is forced to reveal her full powers in order to save her friends, she once again finds herself on the run. However, this time her actions have not gone unnoticed. Her old ally, Senator Bail Organa wants her to join his fledgling rebellion, while the sinister Inquisitor, the Sixth Brother, arrives on Raada with plans to capture her, using Ahsoka’s friends as bait.
Because I am a fan of the titular character, I did go into Ahsoka with some rather high expectations. Luckily I quite enjoyed Ahsoka, powering through this book quickly while appreciating how Ahsoka’s new adventure fit into the existing Star Wars chronology. This story is very good, with an excellent blend of character development, Star Wars lore and some scintillating action and adventure. The book contains a well-paced narrative that not only features Ahsoka’s personal story, but also examines the viewpoint of several side characters, in order to move the plot along, while also showing the impacts of Ahsoka’s actions from a different viewpoint.
This book is mainly focused on the adventures of Ahsoka, and fans of the animated show will appreciate seeing how she not only managed to survived the purge of the Jedi, but how she became the hardened rebel agent we encountered in Star Wars Rebels. I feel that anyone who reads this book will appreciate the considerable amount of character development and insight that occurs with the titular character. At the start of the book, Ahsoka is afraid, hiding who and what she is from the world while also denying herself access to the Force. She is filled with regrets, concerns for her missing Jedi family and guilt not just about surviving but also about leaving the Jedi Order before its fall. Throughout the book, her adventures, the new friendships she develops, the people she helps and the role she plays on Raada all help her to find a new purpose, as well as re-establishing her connection with the Force.
There are a number of great scenes featuring or concerning Ahsoka in this book. These include her battle with the Sixth Brother, the forging of her new white lightsabres and the epic scene where she unleashes her Force abilities for the first time in a year. It was also intriguing to see her advising the farmers in guerrilla tactics and helping them sabotage the Imperial occupation. Fans of Ahsoka will appreciate the similarities this has to one of the character’s most significant arcs from The Clone Wars that featured her training a guerrilla army to combat a Separatist invasion, including a young Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker’s character in Rogue One). I also enjoyed Johnston’s focus on the connection between Ahsoka and the female character Kaedan Larte. It was great seeing this character help get Ahsoka out of her shell, and the subtle romantic feelings between the two of them was an interesting character direction for Ahsoka. Overall, I thought Ahsoka contained an incredible take on its titular character, as Johnston not only provides the reader with a much clearer picture of Ahsoka’s fate following The Clone Wars, but also provides a powerful look at her thoughts and feelings following the destruction of the Jedi.
In addition to exploring the fates of one of their favourite characters, fans of the franchise are also treated to another intriguing look at events in the Star Wars universe not covered in the movies or television shows. Ahsoka is set one year after the events of Revenge of the Sith, and shows the early days of Imperial control in the galaxy. There is a palpable and well-utilised feeling of dread throughout the book as the various point-of-view characters encounter the steady increases in Imperial control as their military expands its influence. It is fascinating to see the early Imperial military machine in action, especially when it comes to controlling and pacifying smaller planets and moons. One of the most interesting aspects of this is the type of troops being utilised. By this point in the Star Wars’ chronology, the Empire has started to phase out their clone troopers, replacing them with the human stormtroopers that appear in the original trilogy. During her encounters with them, Ahsoka notes that these stormtroopers are still quite green and are nowhere near the clones’ level of competency when it comes to battle, controlling territory or dealing with Jedi. This changeover in troop type for the Empire has not really been covered in too much detail before and is quite fascinating to see.
The exploration of the Empire’s methods of hunting down the remaining Jedi is also intriguing, as one of Vader’s Inquisitors serves as the book’s main antagonist. The Sixth Brother is shown not only hunting fully trained Jedi like Ahsoka but also tracking down Force-sensitive children for his masters. The extent of the Inquisitor’s power and influence is explored in some detail here, and I enjoyed seeing Ahsoka’s impression of these Inquisitors’ skills and actions, especially as the Inquisitors were also trained by Darth Vader. Readers will also note the obligatory hints at the creation of the Death Star throughout the plot of the book, which is an important part of the overall Star Wars chronology.
These early days of the Imperial military is not the only thing covered in the book, as Johnston also explores the opening actions that would lead to the formation of the Rebel Alliance. Johnston uses minor Star Wars character Bail Organa to great effect here, showing the work he beings immediately after his heroics in Revenge of the Sith to oppose the Emperor. Ahsoka also features several cameos from other characters in the Star Wars cannon, and readers can look forward to seeing fan favourite characters Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2D2, a young Princess Leia and the Grand Inquisitor. This is a compelling and insightful addition to the Star Wars extended universe, and readers will be amazed by this new viewpoint into one of the franchise’s most volatile periods.
As I mentioned above, I chose to listen to the audiobook version of Ahsoka rather than track down a physical copy to read. This was mainly because the creators of the Ahsoka audiobook managed to score Ashley Eckstein as the narrator. Eckstein is the actor who voices Ahsoka in both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and I loved the idea of having the definitive voice of the character narrate this crucial Ahsoka story to me. As Ahsoka is the most prominent point-of-view character, this works out incredibly well, and the reader can enjoy hearing Ahsoka tell the story of what is around her. Eckstein also provides excellent voice work for all the other speaking characters that feature in the book, as each of these characters were given a distinctive voice that does not feel out of place.
While I really enjoyed hearing Eckstein narrate the story, another benefit of listening to Ahsoka on audiobook is the use of the iconic Star Wars music, as well as the book’s cool use of sound effects. The creators of the Ahsoka audiobook have inserted John Williams’s iconic score from the movies into a variety of the book’s scenes. While this is slightly distracting in one or two places where the music did not quite fit properly, it works incredibly well for most of the book. Several of the story’s big scenes, such as the pivotal battle sequence where Ahsoka reveals her Jedi powers for the first time since she went into hiding, are underscored by this music. With this grand and powerful music playing in the background, these scenes are given a real epic quality that you just do not get from reading a psychical copy of the book. It also serves to make Ahsoka feel a lot more connected to the movies, as the listeners are provided with a score that is instantly recognisable as belonging to this franchise. In addition to the spectacular musical inclusions, the audiobook also features a range of relevant sound effects that really add to the book’s atmosphere and authenticity. These sound effects range from droid noises and the sounds of ships starting up, to background music when the characters hang out in the cantina. None of these sound effects distracts from the story and for some of the battle scenes, the lightsabers and blasters sounds really add to the reader’s excitement and involvement in the action. Another thing I found fun while listening to Ahsoka on audiobook was the producer’s use of some sort of voice modulator for when Eckstein narrates the voices of stormtroopers or other characters wearing helmets. This is a nice touch and really speaks to the producer’s attention to detail. I am unsure how effective this would have been if Darth Vader had appeared in the book, but I’m sure I would found the end result amusing one way or another.
Clocking in at just over seven hours long, this is an easy book to get through and the inclusion of the classic Star Wars music, fun sounds effects and the definitive voice of the titular character make it an excellent way to experience this fantastic story.
Ahsoka has been written with a young adult audience in mind, and is definitely an enjoyable book for younger readers who are curious about the Star Wars universe, are fans of the animated shows, or are just looking for an exciting adventure in space. That being said, the book does not pull any punches, and features an extended torture scene and quite a few deaths, including one particularly gruesome kill by the Sixth Brother. While some of this can be a tad heavy, I personally feel that anyone mature enough to be familiar with the Star Wars franchise is probably going to be mature enough to not be affected by this violence. Despite being intended for a young adult audience, Ahsoka, like many of the Star Wars young adult range, is definitely a series that can be appreciated by an older audience, especially those familiar with the franchise and the titular character.
Overall, I was very happy that I checked out Ahsoka, as it not only provided greater insight into the history of one of my favourite Star War’s characters but also painted a detailed and intriguing picture about the early days of the Empire. Featuring a surprisingly deep and emotional story, this is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars extended universe that will appeal to fans of the amazing animated show, while also offering character based adventure to the more casual reader. Definitely best to check out in the audiobook format, readers will love how this morphs this impressive Star Wars story into a memorable experience that becomes very difficult to turn off.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 18 May 2017.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 9 November 2017.