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tar Wars storytelling is often at its best when something completely new is being created. Innovation and expansion have been constant allies of George Lucas’s faraway galaxy since the beginning of the Skywalker Saga, and with each subsequent entry in the Star Wars mythos, writers and filmmakers alike have pushed the boundaries of the franchise more and more. But it’s been a while since anything shattered the established framework quite like Ronin.

Ronin: A Visions Novel from new author (and literal queer cyborg) Emma Mieko Candon takes the framework of Kamikaze Douga’s short, The Duel, and paints a tapestry of rich mythology, torturous character evolution, and fantastical redefinitions of the Star Wars universe. 

Through the eyes of the titular Ronin, the mercurial Fox, and more, Candon weaves a web of mystic descriptions, questionable realities, and one man’s journey for redemption. And they create possibly the most distinctive and truly unique Star Wars novel of all time in the process.

Plot

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For most readers of Ronin, the story starts in a place that’s quite familiar, because well...you’ve already seen it. The opening chapters expertly novelize the scenes of The Duel, the opening short in the recently released Star Wars Visions animation collection on Disney+. A lone wanderer named The Ronin enters a small village with his trusty hat-wearing droid, and while the Ronin sips his tea, a group of bandits arrive and create a little chaos.

This sequence culminates in a phenomenal lightsaber duel between our hero and the leader of the bandits, a Sith wielding a lightsaber umbrella, and after a few revelations, the wanderer continues on this way.

But then the story really begins.

Ronin cover surrounded by various Canon hardcovers
Image Credit: Youtini

The Ronin’s initial quest is spelled out quite directly during the novel’s expository chapters, but the moment the “credits roll” on the Visions short, the rampant build of the novel reveals itself. Within the remaining plot, Candon inserts a lovable crew of misfits, the entire history of an alternate galaxy, all new lore about kyber crystals, the Jedi, and the Force itself, and enough deceptions and betrayals that will have your head spinning in waves of black current and infernos of white flare.

However, the velocity of that head spinning amongst a semi-familiar universe that is constantly being reinvented with some of the most beautiful, flowing prose we’ve seen in quite a while can be a tall order at times. As the story delves deeper into questionable realities rather than classically tangible story elements, it can become slightly easy to get a bit confused during a page’s first read.


Nonetheless, the repetition of reading Ronin’s pages may be a benefit to some readers as well. The power of the poetry and numerous additions to the generating universe definitely gain power through multiple reads, and once all of the puzzle pieces coalesce in the book’s final chapters...an instantaneous reread may be just the thing to do.

Characters

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With the creative burden of designing a brand-new universe naturally comes the responsibility of manufacturing memorable characters. Candon manages this by not only introducing Ronin, Fox, Kouru, and more to the audience through their deeds, but also by allowing us to intrude on the intimate thoughts of every single one of them.

Early on in the novel, it becomes clear that this story will not be told through the eyes of a single protagonist. Although the title reveals that the main thread of the tale will be the journey of the Ronin, the entire supporting cast is given agency and ownership of their various tales as well.

All the way down to the narration.

Names, identity, and allegiances play a large role throughout Ronin, and because of this, Candon identifies characters differently throughout the book depending on the point of view the reader is currently experiencing. For example, The Ronin may notate their newfound companion as “The Traveller” while Ekiya may narrate their conversations with this enigmatic crewmate as “Fox.” 

This choice can prove somewhat challenging to readers that have difficulty tracking brand new relationships and initial characteristics, but once the pattern is discovered, this choice colors the book with a remarkable sense of ownership for its characters. Not only do Ronin, Fox, Kouru, Ekiya, and others get to choose their own paths -- they get to dictate the makeup of their literal narratives.

Providing each new character with this level of power both in and out of the story could prove a risky move if the featured players lacked complexity and depth. Fortunately, that issue couldn’t be less of a problem. Ronin’s cast constantly ride the lines of trust, understanding, and base morality as they all race toward their own goals. This level of complex development within each member of the group can occasionally cause the main plot to unravel in favor of an internal beat shift, but the sacrifice always proves to be worth it.

After a year of growing attached to vibrant new personas in the latest waves of The High Republic, the shift to an entirely new cast in an alternate world could have easily been met with skepticism and longing for the familiar.

Fortunately, Candon’s skill in sculpting masters of identity and purpose alleviated those concerns from the turning of the first page.

Originality

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It is difficult to describe the originality of the concept and execution of Ronin without drifting into hyperbole. During the leadup to its release, there have been teases about how game-changing the style is and whispers of how vastly different the galaxy is presented. 

Simply put, there has never been a Star Wars book like this.

Star Wars Visions cover art
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Ronin’s concept echoes that of the entire Star Wars Visions project in that it represents a completely new take on the Star Wars galaxy. This is not Canon. This is not Legends. This is the story of The Ronin and his compatriots, and that’s it.

This marvelous sense of newness and unfiltered creation yields a product that nearly redefines the word unique, but there are a few helpful caveats that may ease the initial whiplash of the laws of this universe.

There are Jedi. They are not the same.

There are Sith. They are not the same.

There is an Empire. It is not the same.

There is the Force. You get it.

Variety like this creates a vast new galaxy to explore and understand, but it does remove one of the comforts of the Star Wars reading life where you basically know the rules. Throughout the introductory chapters, this disconnect can prove slightly disorienting as you attempt to nail down this flavor of not-so-familiar mythology, but Candon’s ability to paint a tapestry of galactic history more than makes up for any initial confusion.

Once that creative bargain is understood, the full scope of the canvas laid out in Ronin’s pages can be seen and appreciated as new planets, historical events, weapons, and technology are revealed in nearly every chapter. While familiar terms like lightsaber and hyperspace coat the story throughout, there is an unexpected burst of adrenaline when learning how they respond in this new universe.

Almost like seeing the films for the first time all over again.

At this time, there is no way to know if we will return to this particular version of Star Wars reality in more books down the road, but experiencing Candon’s artistry in creating all of this from scratch is something to behold nonetheless.

Writing

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Emma Mieko Candon. What an introduction.

From the opening sentence of Ronin, it’s clear that the style of this book is a far cry from anything we’ve seen in Star Wars literature for years. Candon’s description, poetic rhetoric, and sentence structure craft Ronin into a story that flows with a similar grace as a river crashing through a torrid current.

Their dedication to breathing life into each phrase that composes each page is evident as the book progresses, and at times, the richness of the text may require rereading if you’re used to glancing over word choice and flavor in favor of plot advancement and discovery.

Ronin is a slower read, because Ronin is a specific read. And this tone may not work for every reader that wants to discover the reasoning behind character motives as effectively and efficiently as possible. It does, however, work wonders for those that wish to enmesh themselves within a style of prose not seen since Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith.

Author Emma Mieko Candon
Image Credit: Penguin Random House

Throughout the press cycle leading up to Ronin’s release, Candon has stated the importance of writing a story inspired by their Japanese heritage and creating a Star Wars book that only they could write (a particular initiative encouraged by Tom Hoeler at Del Rey). Because of that specificity of intent, reading through Ronin feels like hearing a story from someone who has lived within that world rather than discovering the work of an observer.

Because of the intensely particular linguistic choices that make up the book, it’s likely that more than a few readers will take longer than usual to make their way through the story. But if that’s what you choose to do...embrace the journey.

Let Emma’s words dictate the pace. Let the story arrive on its own terms as each page makes way to the next. It’s not often that a reading experience can be defined as something unique outside its content alone, but with Emma Mieko Candon’s Ronin, that feeling is undeniable.

Entertainment

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With a universe like Star Wars, the entertainment value of the property is rarely in question. After all, this is a galaxy full of laser swords, starships, and space wizards. Ronin pays beautiful homage to the level of entertainment that Star Wars fans have come to expect over the years, but it does so in a way directly linked to the Kurosawa films it so wonderfully sources for inspiration.

Even though Ronin conflicts often represent themselves through emotional and spiritual torments inflicted upon the characters, there is also no shortage of lightsaber antics and ship explosions to keep the blood pumping. Where Ronin differs in this classic form of entertainment is the style in which it is presented.

The best Kurosawa films emphasize the idea that a sword fight is so much more than a sword fight. It is an examination of an opponent. It is a test of will and honor. And there is so much going on within the mind of the warrior that we never get to see.

Luckily for us, Candon lets us right in the front door.

Candon’s battles and sequences of tense action are filled not only with literal descriptors of the conflicts at hand, but they also take us inside the larger ramifications of each blow, strike, and parry. This decision is perhaps less cinematic than the bombastic starship battles some fans may be used to, but the white hot intensity of fighting another being resonates all the same.

Aside from the thrilling fights littered across the Ronin’s journey, the entertainment value of the novel is additionally found in other nooks and crannies like comedic jabs, Force mythos, and historical worldbuilding and expansion. These methods of entertaining an audience may be slightly less verbose than the removal of a limb or the smell of a smoking blaster’s tip, but they flow down the river of Candon’s description beautifully.

Our Verdict

We have never seen a book quite like Ronin.

Inspired by a short. Expanded to a universe. Ronin exists outside continuity yet inside the spirit of Star Wars so viscerally that the future of Star Wars publishing may very well be swayed by its success. While years of phenomenal books of heroes and villains battling across a galaxy far, far away have filled our minds with wonder, Ronin creates something thought almost impossible by this point in the galaxy’s journey: something entirely new.

Emma Mieko Candon’s first published work begins a career with such a vibrant declaration of identity and being that their name is sure to raise eyebrows (and preorder numbers) with every subsequent release, and if they can do all of this with a blank page before them, we can only hope they’ll be given the keys to some of our favorite characters even further down the line.

Ronin shares a tale unlike any other with beautiful poetry, complex characters, and a mythology so rich it can practically be tasted. Have a seat, take a breath, and dive into the journey of a man, his droid, and the wonders of the universe.

Ronin is available now wherever books are sold, and be sure to check out our interview with Emma Mieko Candon on our YouTube channel or on The Living Force podcast feed!

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Originality
Ronin: A Visions Novel takes the framework of Kamikaze Douga’s short, The Duel, and paints a tapestry of rich mythology, torturous character evolution, and fantastical redefinitions of the Star Wars universe.
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Eric has been with Youtini since the beginning. As President, he oversees coordination of all book reviews and hosts The Living Force Podcast. On the rare occasion when he’s not geeking out about a galaxy far, far away, he loves playing video games, hanging out with his partner and pets, and hopelessly watching the Dallas Cowboys.

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