Read from 12/06/2021 - 12/17/2021
Earlier this year, fans of the galaxy far, far away were treated to Star Wars: Visions, an anime anthology featuring nine unique takes on the franchise. The episodes were short, sweet, and left viewers hungry for more. A continuation would arrive sooner than anticipated in the form of Star Wars: Ronin, a sequel to the first episode of the anthology, "The Duel". It certainly wasn't my first choice for a continuation — "The Duel" was among the more self-contained episodes and its ending didn't beg for a sequel in the same way others did. That said, I wasn't going to complain about more content. If nothing else, I judged the book by its painting-esque cover and thought "damn, that's cool." 330-odd pages later, "damn, that's cool," is essentially my lasting impression. For all of its faults, Star Wars: Ronin has a style that I have to commend Emma Mieko Candon for cultivating. That said, style will only get you so far, and unfortunately, the characters and worldbuilding just weren't up to snuff to take Ronin all the way there. I don't want to say the writing was on the wall because you should never say never, but I will say that certain elements of "The Duel" make it a questionable choice to adapt, at least over its peers. A number of the Star Wars: Visions episodes are anchored by strong characters, others by strong plots. "The Duel" has neither — its claim to fame instead being its visual style. The stoic ronin, the setting, and even the eponymous duel are all only really as exciting as they are thanks to this style. Essentially - "The Duel" is very much style over substance. How do you transfer a product that relies on style into a medium that (generally)relies on substance? And credit where credit's due, Candon seems to answer, "by translating as much of the style as possible.". The one thing that Ronin excels at is fostering a contemplative, moody tone that sucks you in as a reader. We're seeing the galaxy picking up the pieces after the effects of war, in fact, it seems to be gearing up for another war as the book begins. Star Wars is no stranger to depicting the strange lull between antebellum and postbellum life, but Ronin is perhaps the most evocative of this lull. This is an era of reconstruction, one in which not everyone is able to move on. The scars of the past are fresh and those who served in the war are puppet by its ghosts — both literally and figuratively. Overall, the book is very atmospheric in the best of ways. Beyond that, the book has good pacing. Given the atmosphere, events aren't exactly exciting, but they are intriguing. While I was reading the book, it was an enjoyable ride. But that was when I was reading the book. After seeing how everything shakes out, I can't help but find the book boring. The atmosphere and pacing were enough to propel me to quickly finish the book, but the characters and world —the things that give the book weight — failed to deliver. I've only just finished the book and the things I've read are beginning to seep out my ear as I struggle to retain the information. First, the novel's themes seem to actively hamper its unique setting. Canon Star Wars largely operates within a system of strict binaries, binaries that Ronin plays with. In Ronin we see a nuanced take on the fundamental difference between Jedi and Sith — that of order vs. chaos. Yet it can feel a bit too, nuanced. I appreciate the effort to complicate a world that's sometimes oppressively simple, but as presented in the story, there’s not much difference between the Jedi and Sith. We're told how the Sith are oh-so-evil or how the Jedi are oh-so-oppressive when I struggle to see what makes one worse than the other. While I'm sure this is largely the point, it makes certain character motivations hard to parse. This is perhaps no better exemplified than with our main character, referred often as simply "The Old Man," other times "Ronin," and at other times "Grim." Whether by design or not, the fact that he's only referred to as epithets really drives the point home that he isn't a realized character. Sure, we get some narration about him, but we don't ever quite get in his head. We know he has regrets, but the story is sparse on the details, making it hard to care. In a show, having a stoic badass can work fine, but a mysterious character doesn't really work in a novel when they're the principal POV. The lack of information comes across as artificial. Even at the end of the story, I have a scant sense of his motivations, of his relationships, of who in the flying fuck this guy actually is. The character of Fox (also referred to as the Traveler) isn't much better. He's the same brand of Mysterious™ as the Ronin, just a bit more jolly about it. Ekiya and Kouru are the standout characters. The fact that they do have names alludes to them having actual personalities besides Mysterious™, thus I could actually latch onto them. There are some big reveals toward the end of the book, but they feel too little, too late and, like everything else, we don't spend too much time with them. While Star Wars: Ronin is an easy read, with some cool concepts, an interesting tone, and decent fight scenes, I feel that the novel doesn't really justify its existence as an adaptation, especially considering other Visions shorts are more adaption-ready. It reads as if Candon didn't take into account that what makes for an interesting episode doesn't always make for an interesting book.