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Review: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

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For years Star Wars fans have wondered about what happened on Tatooine between Episodes III and IV. What was Obi-Wan, celebrated Jedi Knight and general in the Clone Wars, doing for nearly twenty years while Luke grew up? How did he survive the loneliness and the guilt over what happened to Anakin Skywalker for so long without cracking? Numerous fanfics and theories have been written about those missing years, but now we finally have canon material thanks to John Jackson Miller.

There are two things that really strike me about this novel that help not only set it apart from other EU books, but other novels on the shelf altogether.

First is the fact that despite the title, the story is told not from Obi-Wan’s perspective, but from those of Tatooine residents he encounters while delivering the newborn Luke to his relatives. As I said in my review of the prequel story “Incognito”, this method of storytelling helps put the mystery back in the Jedi and shows the newcomer to the desert world just as he is: a foreigner who is simultaneously intriguing and strange. “Nothing good comes from the Jundland Wastes”, as is stated a few times in the story, helping to add to Obi-Wan’s…excuse me, Ben’s oddness to the farmers of the oasis. His Force abilities and the way things seem to get shaken up whenever he’s around are a puzzle to those around him, especially to A’Yark (leader of the Tuskens and part of a very big plot twist you won’t see coming), Orrin (unofficial leader of the people of the Pika Oasis), and Annileen (matriarch and owner of the town’s only general store). As such, there are many moments where the characters may not understand why Ben acts so strangely (the “new” clone trooper spotted in Mos Eisely, Ben’s aversion to questions about where he came from and why he’s on Tatooine, why he “talks to himself”, why he refuses to call Annileen “Annie”, etc), but we the readers do. Miller does a fantastic job with not beating us over the head with references to the events of the films while still maintaining continuity by hinting at them.

Second is the humor. You wouldn’t think that a story centering on the aftermath of the fall of the Republic, the genocide of the Jedi, and the rise of Darth Vader would have numerous funny moments, but Miller makes them happen effortlessly and seamlessly. Given how little those on Tatooine care about the politics of a galaxy that considers them little more than hillbillies, it’s not surprising that their lives remain relatively unchanged by all the chaos surrounding the Empire’s rise. Basically, if you’re not cracking a smile or two during the prologue alone, you have no sense of humor and should just put the book down right then and there. Annileen is especially quick-witted and her children, Jabe and Kallie, are the main recipients of her one-liners.

All of that being said, there are several moments where we get glimpses inside Obi-Wan’s head. His one-sided conversations with Qui-Gon Jinn, labeled “Meditations”, are more than a man’s attempt to ease his newfound loneliness and work out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life if he can’t be the Jedi he’s always been. They’re a window into his very soul as he agonizes over the people who have helped shape his life and what he felt he had to do to his best friend and former student. They’re really very heartbreaking at times.

What really puts this book over the edge is how much like a traditional Western it reads. Not so much in the sense of Stetsons and spurs and stagecoaches, but the honor codes and morals and even the romance of the genre. It’s not often someone can compare a Star Wars novel to one like Lonesome Dove or True Grit, but Kenobi comes pretty darn close. While I’m not a fan of all the sudden love interests Obi-Wan seems to have lately (both canon and otherwise), the romance angle is not central to this particular story (so it doesn’t read like a fanfic, thank god) and is in fact very organic given the events.

I really have nothing bad to say about this book at all. It actually answers a lot of questions about that twenty-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (especially why Obi-Wan didn’t change his last name if he was in hiding), and while I wasn’t a fan of the potential love story aspect, objectively it worked and the book would have been poorer without it. Mr. Miller, you have outdone yourself and as a Star Wars and Obi-Wan fan I applaud you most exuberantly.

Now when can we expect a sequel?

About Reporter Michelle Lawhorn:
Michelle, a.k.a. Stormraven, is what can only be described as an eclectic nerd. Her interests and expertise range from Doctor Who to Lord of the Rings, cosplay to comics, and Bollywood to opera to name just a few. When not raving about her “fandoms”, she can be found working on projects as an Associate Editor at Haven Publishing and adding to her ever-growing list of Things to Cosplay. She can currently be found searching for more material to feed her newfound obsession with Star Wars.

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