Star Wars: Ronin: A Visions Novel by Emma Mieko Candon is an adaptation and expansion of The Duel, the first episode of the recently released Star Wars: Visions show which was produced by Kamikaze Douga. It focuses on the titular Ronin, a former Sith now wandering the galaxy with his faithful droid. Forced into conflict with a Sith bandit to protect a small village, the Ronin is soon brought back into the life he had once left behind. That’s a very vague description, and the official publisher summary gives more, but I think this book works best when you go in as blind as possible, aside from the Visions episode it’s based on which only makes up the first few chapters before it really starts expanding. Ronin thrives with constant world-building as it explores a distant time-period in the Star Wars universe.
Having just seen the trailer by the time I started this book, The Duel was definitely the Visions episode that I was most excited for and filled me with questions about this fascinating take on the Star Wars universe. Things like the strange umbrella saber, the lightsaber sheath and these two red bladed warriors fighting got me so interested and I just wanted to know more, and thankfully Ronin delivers in every regard. Aside from a few brief moments before the events of The Duel, Ronin opens up with the events of the episode itself but is mostly focused on continuing the story of our titular Ronin. Comparing the opening chapter to the show really demonstrates Emma Mieko Candon’s strength as a storyteller. After finally watching the episode, it looked exactly how the book had described it. The strong action narration is a constant throughout the book, something essential for a story that lives up to the name of the episode that inspired it.
As someone whose real love of the expanded universe of Star Wars really only started when Disney shifted the long, confusing complicated stories of “Luuukes” and Chewbacca getting killed by a moon into Legends, the so-called “canon” of Star Wars has been something I’ve cared about deeply, perhaps a little too much. It’s easy to get caught up in the cameos and connections in a story and focus less on the story itself, and when it was revealed that Visions, and the connecting Ronin novel, were “non-canon” I was slightly apprehensive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that was a good thing. Allowing these creators their own interpretations of Star Wars would only get rid of restrictions and really let these creators run wild. And Ronin absolutely proved that right. It’s one of the most bold and innovative pieces of Star Wars media I’ve ever read, watched or listened to since the Original Trilogy, taking the standard trappings of the Star Wars universe that we know and love, the Jedi and Sith, Lightsabers and the Force, spaceships and droids and tells a truly unique and wonderful story with them. Whilst Ronin may not be part of the larger Star Wars canon, I found myself caring less and less about that as I read on. That being said, the story of Ronin is one that could easily fit into that canon, and I hope it one day does, as it fleshes out a part of the Star Wars universe that has been barely touched and is rife with potential.
With The Duel being a mostly action focused episode of Visions, Emma Mieko Candon was given a fairly blank slate with these characters, and they flesh them out wonderfully. While I won’t spoil anything about Ronin’s history, having an ex-Sith protagonist makes for a fascinating story. Seeing the Jedi vs Sith argument from a different perspective makes Ronin something truly unique, and the relationship between the Ronin and B5-56, his astromech with the lovely straw hat, is incredibly sweet and one of my favourite person/droid friendships. In classic Star Wars fashion, Ronin also expands the cast of The Duel with a spaceship crew full of interesting characters to join the Ronin on his journey, each with their own fascinating backstories and motivations. That’s very vague, but watching the secrets of these characters unfold in front of you is too good to spoil.
The inspiration of Seven Samurai on the original Star Wars is no secret and much like A New Hope, the Kurosawa influence is abundantly clear in Ronin. Fitting for a book from a Japanese-American author that is inspired by the work of a Japanese animation studio, the Japanese influence is woven throughout the entire book and the world it builds. Every name, place and food is packed full of inspiration from Japanese culture, and even the descriptions of the Force show a clear relationship to Japanese symbolism. Despite being a reimagining of the Star Wars universe in many ways, Ronin’s real respect for it’s influences both cultural and Star Wars make it a wonderful and authentic story and a must-read for Star Wars fans.
I’m far from the only one frequently disappointed and underwhelmed by the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in live-action Star Wars, but once again the books deliver where the movies and shows have not. One of the lead characters is non-binary, and it also features (to my knowledge) the first trans-man in Star Wars, Yuehiro. And whilst he doesn’t have a massive role in the story, although it is important, it was still a very pleasant surprise to see a character definitively shown to be transgender, with even a mention of hormones. There’s also a few prominent queer relationships, and it’s always nice to get more of that in the Star Wars universe.
Overall Ronin is one of the most interesting pieces of Star Wars media in quite a while. Free of the restrictions of canon, it’s not afraid to tell a vast and expansive story that becomes more and more intriguing with every page. Its’ characters are complex and full of fascinating history and heart. For anyone who enjoyed the Visions episode it’s based on, or anyone who enjoys Star Wars at all, I cannot recommend this book enough.