The last few years I have finally started getting excited about the EU again. We’re stepping away from those long, long, long series that you either liked or hated and read anyway because it was better than nothing. We’ve gotten Mercy Kill and Scourge near the end of the timeline. Zahn gave us three amazing inter-trilogy novels. Knight Errant, Into the Void, and a handful of Old Republic novels have been beautifully fleshing out the beginning of the timeline. But Kenobi? It’s the end of the prequel trilogy, the beginning of the original trilogy, and it finally breathes another dimension into a well loved character.
Because if we’re honest, writing for Star Wars is something of a trap. Our most common complaint is that so and so didn’t “capture” Luke right. So, many of the authors write the characters the same way over and over again. It’s safer, and I sympathize. However, the thing that has always been Star Wars’ strongest asset are its amazing characters. And other than Zahn crafting the different facets of Han Solo like he’s the world most priceless diamond, we’re not seeing much of this these days.
John Jackson Miller might not be a name you recognize if you mostly read books from the current timeline. He’s no newbie though having worked on the Knights of the Old Republic, Lost Tribes of the Sith, and Knight Errant comics, and he’s written novels based off the last two. Kenobi is his first foray into the main timeline though, and I’m begging for it not to be his last. He took perhaps one of the most beloved characters of all time based on a few polls earlier this year and turned him from General Kenobi, Jedi Master to Old Ben, the local crazy hermit.
Probably the most common question I get about all Star Wars novels is: how many other novel must I have read to understand this book? With Kenobi, none! Although if you’ve got the time I do think it makes an extraordinary companion piece to Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization. While I am biased toward Stover’s book to the point of referring to it as The Book that Salvaged Anakin Skywalker, there was a distinct connection between the two portrayals of Kenobi and the emotional tones to the books.
Because Kenobi is a book that’s all about emotion. Unlike many EU authors, Miller takes into account the events that precede his novel and the impact they would have on his character. In short, Obi Wan is devastated. The calm and collected Jedi Master is too broken to completely recover. His entire world is gone, destroyed by his own apprentice, best friend, and brother. His training never prepared him for this. The heart of the book is the story of how Obi Wan pulls himself back together, reforging not just who he is as individual, but also what it means to be a Jedi. Many fans have noted the discrepancies in the Jedi between the two trilogies. Well, those begin here. The Force is death sentence not a gift, and moisture vaporators are more technologically important than lightsabers.
The other unusual twist to Kenobi is Miller’s decision to make a Tusken Raider a main character. Star Wars has always excelled at creating new and fascinating alien cultures. But rarely do any of them become important players in the story. Although once again, this is an area the EU as a whole is improving on by leaps and bounds. Still, Wookies and Twi’leks make up the majority of alien supporting characters with a few Hutts thrown in for good measure. And with the bright and glaring exception of Mercy Kill, there’s a general understanding that some of these other races are just inherently evil. The inclusion of the Sand People, and their interactions with Obi Wan suggest that maybe instead of evil most of them are just…alien. This isn’t a book that’s taking a stand on any issue be it race or the role of women. But as Obi Wan settles into his role of Ben, it’s clear he isn’t the only one changing. Very subtly all the people in the nearby settlement are touched by the former Jedi’s influence and off planet way of thinking. It’s a different kind of war that doesn’t require bold speeches and leading from the front, but it’s a war Kenobi finds himself well suited to.
This is the least dashing Star Wars novel I’ve read in a while. There’s a distinct lack of spaceships and planet hopping. The war is lost, the enemy is in control, and everyone is just hunkering down to wait for the next move to become obvious. Yet, the small cast and limited local is very reminiscent of the original trilogy where our main group of characters spend most of their time on the Falcon going, “now what?” The entire saga turns on this book, going from a vast and sprawling Republic to the cadre of brave, sarcastic, nobodies that take on the Empire. And most impressively, at the end of the book you’ll find yourself picturing an aging Ewan McGregor…except for the eyes. The eyes have the weary, haunted, undefeated gaze of Alec Guinness.