Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers.
How excited were you for this book? I mean really. I remember when this book was first announced. It was last October at New York Comic Con. Believe it or not the book wasn’t announced to much fanfare. Not because fans weren’t excited for it, but because there were hardly any fans there to hear the announcement. The Star Wars Books panel was being held in the lower level of the convention center in an open area. There was an awesome panel of Star Wars authors including Tim Zahn, Jason Fry, Pablo Hidalgo, and Dan Wallace but there just weren’t many fans there. There were maybe 100 people there for the panel but most were either leftovers from the previous panel or waiting for the next one. If I had to guess I would say that approximately 20 fans were actually there to see the Star Wars Books panel. To make matters worse the area was so noisy you could hardly hear the authors as they spoke.
I was there covering the panel for the Official Star Wars Blog so I was desperately taking notes hoping to not miss any details. They mostly talked about books I already knew about, but then they dropped the news. There was going to be a book called Kenobi! I had to tweet this!
Oh, did I mention there was no cell reception in this convention hall? So for that small period of time only me and those other 19 Star Wars Expanded Universe fans knew that this book was coming. And it sounded awesome. Del Rey editor Frank Parisi said it was going to have a Western feel. It was going to be written by fan favorite writer John Jackson Miller. Miller wasn’t at the panel but he sent this message. “The greatest hero of the galaxy faces his toughest challenge yet. He must stop being Obi-Wan and become crazy old Ben.”
I was beside myself. Obi-Wan was and still is my favorite Prequel Era movie character. This book quickly shot to the top of my most anticipated list. As soon as the panel was over I searched for a cell signal so I could share this awesome news with the rest of the world. I’m sure someone with faster fingers got the news out there first but I tweeted it out as soon as I could. Judging by the responses I immediately got on my Twitter feed, I wasn’t the only one ridiculously excited for this book.
So did it live up to the hype? Before I answer that question. Here is the official synopsis.
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.
When you pick up this book be prepared to get to know some brand new characters. Because of the nature of the book and its setting, Obi-Wan is alone in this new world. When I looked at the Dramatis Personae I saw a bunch of Calwells and Gaults. I didn’t see any of the names I thought I might see in a book about Tatooine. No Lars. No Jabba the Hutt. I was a little nervous. I am the type of reader who likes my familiar characters. “Ok. So it’s gonna be about these new people and Obi-Wan. Well Obi-Wan better be the main focus. The star.”
He really wasn’t. If you are expecting a book all about Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting hordes of Tusken Raiders as he defends the Lars Homestead and baby Luke, you may be disappointed. This book is much more about the character of Anileen Calwell, a widow shopkeeper who comes in contact with Ben (as he is known in this book) and takes an interest in him. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed in the first half of this book as it seemed to be taking shape as a story about a lonely woman who had a crush on the mysterious Ben. Was this a romance novel?
In part I guess I would say it was, complete with “she felt his hand brush her hair” and “she fell into his arms” kind of lines. Star Wars romance is not really my kind of thing. Luckily for me it was a small part of the overall story and wasn’t overwhelming.
Frank Parisi wasn’t kidding when he said it would have a Western feel. The Tuskens were basically the American Indians with the settlers and moisture farmers playing the part of the cowboys. There were rich ranchers, simple frontier folk, posses, bar fights, and even cattle. Tatooine was a perfect setting for such a story. Bring in Ben as the mysterious heroic stranger and you have the coolest Western story you can imagine without lightsabers… except there was a lightsaber.
Don’t expect to see the lightsaber much though. Ben does use it when no other option is available which is not very often. Once I realized where the story was going I was ok with this. This is a story about Ben adjusting to living under cover. He is on the run and in hiding. As much as I wanted him to whip out his laser sword and do damage it just wouldn’t make sense for him to do so. Not that there aren’t any awesome Obi-Wan action moments. There are. And there is a specific contest later in the book where he has a face off that should have you cheering.
I have heard some fans compare this book to Darth Plagueis in its importance to the overall saga. Here I would have to disagree. Plagueis weaved itself much more into the film storylines and made me think differently about how I watched the Prequels. Kenobi feels much more like a standalone story. No major revelations occur and I won’t be seeing Sith or Hope any differently than I have before. There are definitely a number of nods to things we know but that is all they really are. Kenobi is really more a story about a family who comes into contact with Ben and how it changed their lives. It is also a nice look into the head of Ben as his own world is changing and he has to come to grips with it.
As a side note, die hard continuity fans can breath easy. John Jackson Miller did his homework. He knows who Sharad Hett is and he blended this Tusken heavy story in nicely with what we know from the Outlander comics. And not just a name drop. The story in this novel actually leans pretty heavy on elements found in those comics. Also look for references to a number of other EU characters including some of Miller’s own comic creations.
So did it live up to the hype? Probably not to the hype I was feeling back in October when it was first announced. I don’t think any book could have. But Kenobi is a very solid book. An interesting story that is beautifully written. In fact it could be my favorite Star Wars novel so far this year… although it would be a tight race between it and Into the Void.