– Minor Spoiler Review –
Westerns and I have had an on and off again type of relationship. I don’t necessarily hate them and I won’t go out of my way to indulge in them, but I don’t mind a few from time to time. Growing up, my father seemed to have high hopes my brother and I would follow in his footsteps and idolize John Wayne, a film called The Magnificent Seven, and Mr. Eastwood. I turned out to be the farthest from when I took up my love affair with Star Wars, but for the first time in a long, long time, we’ve found common ground: Kenobi, written by John Jackson Miller. While horror was added to the GFFA wonderfully in Death Troopers, I had my initial misgivings about putting a more straight-up Western in Star Wars. After having read Kenobi twice already, it’s hard to understand why I was so worried.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would’ve cared to read about an Annileen Calwell, Orrin Gault, or A’Yark the Tusken Raider from Tatooine I would’ve said no. In fact, their lives weren’t all that interesting until a man trying to hide settled in nearby, changing everything for them. All of their lives, having been affected unknowingly by Anakin Skywalker’s actions years earlier, found a catalyst in the hermit-in-training Ben Kenobi. But now I can tell you I’d eagerly read about Annileen and the Calwells, the Gaults, and A’Yark…all in an effort to learn and understand more about Obi-Wan’s time in the mostly shrouded and very intriguing period of his life.
With the title referencing Obi-Wan, it was a tad odd to realize that he’d not be a Point of View character in the novel, minus some meditation sections. But, as Obi-Wan put it, “…many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” So while the book gets off to a slower start by introducing us to the somewhat mundane but interesting lives of Annileen, Orrin, and A’Yark, it’s their points of view that will help form a picture of our titular character.
Annileen, nicknamed Annie(!), runs the Claim, a one-stop shop for all your oasis living needs. If that wasn’t enough already, she’s a single mother in charge of two teenagers coming into their own, and has to deal with her dead husband’s flakey business partner Orrin and his troublesome children. Strongly written, her character reads like a real woman dealing with a life that might just not be for her, but one she continues with for the sake of normalcy and the family. Then in steps the enigma that is Ben. Annileen’s attempts to understand her feelings for Ben bring a better sense of romance than seen in some movies and it never gets unbearable or wishy-washy. Her journey throughout Kenobi is the most relatable as it is hard not to care for her.
Orrin Gault is not your typical EU novel (now ‘Legends’) Star Wars antagonist. He’s not a Sith Lord, he’s not in control of a galaxy threatening superweapon, nor does he have any special powers. Instead, he’s a farmer with aspirations bigger than his pocketbooks, and it’s his fight to stay respectable in the eyes of his neighbors that drags him down a possibly irredeemable path. So instead of reading about some caricature enemy who seems overly powerful, we get a man caught up in more than he can handle. It’s a lot more interesting “descent to darkness” to read than the more recent series like Fate of the Jedi or Legacy of the Force, both with issues of their own characterizing intriguing villains.
Giving an insight to the often and well overlooked Tusken Raiders through the eye of A’Yark is one of best parts of the novel. The Tuskens as a “species” are usually something we just associate with bandits/thieves/and murderers and the other POV characters certainly speak to our perceptions. While following A’Yark doesn’t necessarily change said perceptions about their nature, it does certainly bring the Tuskens into a different light. And while there’s a twist associated with A’Yark’s leg of the story, I won’t ruin it here, but it immediately changes everything you’ve experienced, challenges your personal perceptions, and practically begs for an instant re-read of the novel.
Through them and their experiences, we get to see Obi-Wan struggling to stay uninvolved and in hiding, something both his previous training and natural disposition are having a hard time with. The concept of watching a Jedi, and it being Obi-Wan nonetheless, learn to be okay with inaction is fascinating. Obi-Wan was trained from little on to take action in assisting those in need, selflessly and in the name of the Force. Watching him here in Kenobi gives us a look at the Jedi we heard of but never really saw in the Prequels. The Clone Wars changed much in the Jedi, originally bred for justice, suddenly finding themselves more like the clones they fought alongside with, bred for obedience and action. They had lost sight of the bigger picture, instead focusing on the conflict at hand. Something Obi-Wan acknowledges and tries to regain as a hermit.
And while not having Qui-Gon speak is a tad of a let-down, his absence (and all the other Jedi, for that matter) forces Obi-Wan to come to terms with his new way of life, the mission he’s on, and the horrible events that unfolded in Revenge of the Sith. It makes Obi-Wan a stronger character than he already is; something I didn’t think was possible.
Here are a few other things:
- References to an Legends (EU) character like Sharad Hett are handled well. You’d still be able to understand Sharad’s history and how it affects the story at hand without having read any of the material he’s in.
- I didn’t notice it till my second read through, but it’s not till the climactic battle scene where we suddenly have a farmer named Waller talking. The way it’s written makes it feel like he’s been in the novel earlier, but I couldn’t find a spot where he was.
- The parallels between the legend of the sky brothers and Obi-Wan and Anakin were easily my favorite of the book.
- References to the Jedi Apprentice series and Satine from The Clone Wars were wonderfully appreciated and respectively used, no matter how small.
- Chronologically speaking, Qui-Gon doesn’t commune with Obi-Wan until awhile later, hence his being MIA here.
- Check out John Jackson Miller’s production notes for some informative BTS information.
- Update: Kenobi just won the Scribe Award for Best Original Speculative Fiction Novel for Tie-in Media. Totally deserved!
Expertly written by John Jackson Miller, the change back to the old way of Jedi justice, whether through a type of indirect or direct action, and Obi-Wan’s struggle both inwardly and outwardly regarding the loss of all he has held dear, is a tale well spun in Kenobi. The novel reminds you that even in a galaxy so large, there are normal people stuck in normal problems (so to speak) and life goes on no matter if there’s an Empire or a Republic in charge. And sometimes that’s more inherently interesting than the bigger picture…from a certain point of view.
+ Perceptions officially challenged
+ Small focus
+ Great characterizations
– A tad short
– Slow start
Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.
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