Tatooine—a harsh desert world where farmers toil in the heat of two suns while trying to protect themselves and their loved ones from the marauding Tusken Raiders. A backwater planet on the edge of civilized space. And an unlikely place to find a Jedi Master in hiding, or an orphaned infant boy on whose tiny shoulders rests the future of a galaxy.
Known to locals only as “Ben,” the bearded and robed offworlder is an enigmatic stranger who keeps to himself, shares nothing of his past, and goes to great pains to remain an outsider. But as tensions escalate between the farmers and a tribe of Sand People led by a ruthless war chief, Ben finds himself drawn into the fight, endangering the very mission that brought him to Tatooine.
Ben—Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, hero of the Clone Wars, traitor to the Empire, and protector of the galaxy’s last hope—can no more turn his back on evil than he can reject his Jedi training. And when blood is unjustly spilled, innocent lives threatened, and a ruthless opponent unmasked, Ben has no choice but to call on the wisdom of the Jedi—and the formidable power of the Force—in his never-ending fight for justice.
John Jackson Miller began working on this Kenobi tale back in 2006, originally planning it as a Dark Horse comic series. The series was shelved until Jackson returned to the plot, developing it as a full length novel. While we’d all clearly have loved to see this as a Dark Horse series (and maybe one day we will) the story found the right stage in novel form. In short, Kenobi is a cracker.
Please be warned, spoilers ahead.
Laying down the framework for the novel early on as we read the words of Ben communing with Qui-Gon Jinn after he has become briefly embroiled in an Anchorhead barfight, our trustworthy Jedi is scarcely seen in the first 80 pages of the novel. Jackson instead sets out the key players of the story and their relationships on the desert world of Tatooine, deftly exploring the hardships, travails and challenges they each have to face. Life in the Pika Oasis was tough and the only way to survive was to be prepared and work as a community, which was easier said than done.
We find Ben much as we left him in Revenge of the Sith. Worn, tired, uncertain and uneasy. His world has been turned upside down and inside out. He is unsure if he is the last Jedi, but is too wary to contact either Master Yoda or Bail Organa for fear of alerting the enemy to his presence. Protecting young Luke Skywalker is clearly his one and only concern, but he’s still unsure of the best way to achieve that. It’s an interesting predicament to find Ben in, finding his feet on a new world, and not one he is visiting briefly as with most worlds in his past but as a permanent resident. Much to learn he still has.
And the novel also finds a battle between two Kenobi’s, as he himself admits when communing with Qui-Gon Jinn (yes, while we don’t hear Qui-Gon’s reply Ben communes with the much-missed Jedi). The sensible ‘negotiator’ Obi-Wan works against the new persona of Crazy Ben’, and that’s a line he has to tread all through the book, all the while balancing the greater good of the mission to protect young Luke Skywalker and ultimately restore freedom to the galaxy against a much smaller and more local concern.
And that’s the treasure this book provides, its intimacy and small scale. We hear Ben commune with Qui-Gon, revealing his own personal doubts and fears, all the while talking out his ideas more and more as the story progresses. We learn more of his feelings for Satine, his regrets over Anakin, his isolation from his Jedi family and the chilling realisation that everyone he has ever cared for could well be dead. We get to know and care about the fates of new characters such as Annileen Calwell, the owner of the Dannar’s Claim, a bar come garage come halfway house for the denizens of the Pika Oasis, her children Jabe and Kallie and her host of customers. It’s a brave tactic of Millers, and one that could very easily have backfired as naturally we’ve all been waiting for this Kenobi tale to feature Ben Kenobi heavily. But that’s the trick of this book – through their eyes you learn more about Ben than you ever would following him first-person. Sure, via that method you may learn more about what Ben knows, but through his interractions and the eyes of others we really see what makes Ben tick, and how he is going to need to adapt to become the crazy old wizard we know from A New Hope.
But what drives this novel? Well, it’s a coming of age story, an action thriller, a mystery story, a forbidden romance and an old fashioned western all in one. Ben is the man with no name (ok, he has a name but you get my drift), all with his familiar charm, but a charm that is increasingly worn at the edges. He finds himself drawn towards a family dispute, which we initially could attribute to his natural inclination to right wrongs but later learn is as much caused by his missing the feeling of family that the Jedi Order had given him. He is wise enough to spot that Annileen would-be-suitor Orrin is headed down a dark path that he cannot steer himself from, and makes choices for his new friends that will forever change their lives and cement himself even more into the lonely life of a desert hermit. The hermit he must be in order to protect himself and therefore Luke.
JJM does a marvellous job of immersing the reader in the hot, dry and arid world of Tatooine, littering the novel with places, names and concepts familiar to readers of West End Games products, Marvel Comics and everything in between. For example, the appearance of a character from the original Marvel Comics adaptation of A New Hope is marvellous (pun intended) and a clever explanation of a familiar question asked by readers of those early issues. We feel close enough to the stories of Revenge of the Sith AND A New Hope to feel rooted in the locations, both in time and place and yet we don’t see all the twists coming. And there are some twists, catching both us and the characters of the story out. And in a scene that could easily be misinterpreted there’s a premonition, possibly of his own demise.
Jackson is a brilliant world-builder, as we know from his runs on Knights of the Old Republic and the Knight Errant series and novel, and again in this novel we can feel a growing sense of location and story. Don’t be at all surprised if we return to Ben’s time in the Jundland Wastes, albeit with a largely different suporting cast. His own destiny is set, his choices made and sacrifices given. There are plenty of other stories that could be told in this desert.
I could write all night about this book, the ideas and clever references within, and hopefully I’ll get chance in blogs and podcasts. But for now the best compliment I can give to this novel is that it’s the closest any Star Wars novel has come to reminding me of the original and much-loved Han Solo novels by Brian Daley, specifically Han Solo and the Lost Legacy. In that novel we were introduced to Jessa and Doc, a family that Solo interracted and worked with and who we came to care about via the story, rooting us in interesting locations. Here in Kenobi we meet a new family and come to care about their plight in a similar, albeit less star-spanning manner. As someone who still holds those three books as the high watermark to match, I can’t possibly praise it higher.
Many thanks as always to Random House for the advance review copy.
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