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Shadowhawk takes a look at John Jackson Miller’s latest Star Wars novel, set after the events of Ep III: Revenge of the Sith.
“If you’ve ever wondered what Obi-wan was doing on Tatooine between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, then this is the novel for you. With a western-style spin on things, this is the story of the man who was forced to kill a friend, who bears the guilt for everything that happened, and the man who wants to leave his troubled past behind. An awesome novel from start to finish.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
The Star Wars Expanded Universe, as it has developed over the decades, is one of the richest science fiction (expanded) settings around. I honestly don’t think that any other franchise can compare, except for Star Trek, given the depth of the setting explored in both. In recent years, there have been some really good novels coming out of the SWEU, such as those set in the Old Republic setting that ties into the game Star Wars: The Old Republic or the new series of classic-era novels that started last year with Martha Wells’ excellent Razor’s Edge (review). Joining these stellar released last year was John Jackson Miller’s latest novel, Kenobi, which explores the period between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of A New Hope.
It is the story of Obi-wan Kenobi as he returns to Tatooine, bringing with him one half of the galaxy’s last hope against the new order that has sprung up almost overnight: the Galactic Empire. Having given over Luke into the custody of his uncle and aunt, Obi-wan now has to carve out a life for himself on Tatooine, standing watch over the boy and keeping him safe from harm. But things are not easy, because Obi-wan was never prepared for the life that he has to lead now, cut off from the galaxy and even the rest of Tatooine. This is a period of adjustment for him, and it is in this aspect of the novel that Miller really excels: he captures the character’s emotional turmoil pretty damn well.
And that’s the thing really. In the SWEU, Obi-wan has always been one of the most conflicted characters, going back to his years as a Padawan. His relationship initially with Qui-gon Jinn was quite rocky and it wasn’t until many years later that he really centered himself, and became the character that we’ve seen in the films. With Kenobi, Miller delivers a more modern interpretation of the character that stays true to that history, and also breaks some new ground. Raised in the Jedi Temple, with the entire Order as his family, now he has to eke out a solitary life, away from everything else, and this is tough. He is drawn to the camaraderie of the people around him, and yet he can’t afford to get close to any of them. He has a duty, and if there’s anything that Obi-wan has ever been true to, it is his duty.
Miller’s approach to exploring the character initially appears odd but really works out by the end. We actually don’t get to see the character that much as significant portions of the narrative are given to the supporting cast, such as Annilee Calwell and her two kids, or Orrin Gault and his misfit kids, or the Tusken Raider A’Yark. I would have loved to have gotten a novel that focused almost exclusively on Obi-wan, but I am quite satisfied with the approach that Miller took because it helps to flesh out the culture and people of Tatooine. The planet really is a wonderful setting, and Miller uses that as much as he can to make this novel as interesting as possible. We have the Sand People, the Jawas, Jabba the Hutt and his thugs, moisture farmers, businessmen, Krayt Dragons, and everything. We even get some really tantalising glimpses into the Sand People’s culture, and how the coming of Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones and his massacre of an entire tribe of Tusken (Sand People) changed their society. Those were some really cool bits, particularly as Obi-wan himself learns of what Anakin did in that time.
Of the supporting cast, I really liked Annilee. Initially she comes across as a bit ham-fisted and cliched, but by the end of the novel she develops into someone far more, something unique. And I loved that. Given that the entire story is told as a Western, there are some genre signposts that need to be put up and addressed in the story, so we have Obi-wan as the loner new-guy, and Annilee as the widowed business-owner and Orrin as the (kind of thuggish) rich landowner and the Sand People are the outlaws, and so on. But, it’s not all about just that. Miller breathes a life into each and every aspect of the novel and he makes it all click together. Annilee particularly stands out and while there is some sort of romantic tension on her part where Obi-wan is concerned, Miller stays away from making it any kind of an obsession or crush or something. He handles it all with maturity and with respect. Annilee is a character who stands on her own, can deal with her own problems, and isn’t really afraid of anyone. That’s the kind of characters I want to read more about.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this novel before I got into it. I am a huge fan of Star Wars fiction, and I generally like most of the stuff, except for some glaring few cases where I am disappointed by what I read. But thankfully, Kenobi is in the top-tier of Star Wars novels that I’ve read to date, right alongside such masterpieces as Stackpole and Allston’s X-wing series, or the various books that Timothy Zahn has put out over the years or what not. It is an amazingly action-packed story that gives the setting of Tatooine its own distinct vibe and feeling, almost as if the planet itself is a character. And of course, we have the cultural exploration aspects of the novel, which are second to none in the rest of the SWEU.
Suffice to say, Kenobi is a novel that I highly recommend to all fans of Star Wars.