Author: John Jackson Miller
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 400 (360 of content)
Era: Rise of the Empire
This review contains minor spoilers.
Every once in a while, a novel comes along that’s just too good to put down. A novel that fills in crucial blanks that have been long shrouded in mystery. And a novel that reminds you just how much you love the characters that George Lucas created. Like the last such book, Darth Plagueis, Star Wars: Kenobi has been in the works for a long time, and it’s more than worth the wait. Author John Jackson Miller – known for penning the Knights of the Old Republic comics, Knight Errant, and Lost Tribe of the Sith – has managed to craft a novel that perfectly captures the mystery of “crazy Old Ben” and gives fans a peek into the solitary – or not so solitary – exile of the beloved Jedi Master on Tatooine.
Kenobi has the usual collection of acknowledgements, timelines, dramatis personaes, and the famous “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” epigraph, but it also adds an additional epigraph, prologue, and introduction, making it one of the longer collections of introductory material in recent memory. The intro itself feels very comic-book like, setting the stage with a brief recap of the state of the galaxy. Of course, given Miller’s background, this isn’t too surprising.
The vast majority of the story is told through the eyes of three new characters: Annileen Calwell, a storekeeper and the owner of Dannar’s Claim in the Pika Oasis; Orrin Gault, a moisture farmer and entrepreneur; and A’Yark, leader of the local band of Tusken Raiders. In fact, Obi-Wan/Ben’s meditations to Qui-Gon are the only time the reader is allowed to get inside the Jedi Master’s head. This approach was surprising and seemed somewhat strange at first – especially given the notable lack of Ben’s presence early on – but it quickly became apparent that it was the perfect choice. By portraying Ben through the eyes of the Tatooine locals, Miller is able to lend an air of mystery, awe, and even power to the character. His initial entrance was electrifying, even though it was obvious who it was. Miller perfectly captures Ben’s character, and you can almost hear Ewan McGregor or James Arnold Taylor speaking every word on the page.
Kenobi is set immediately after Ben arrives on Tatooine, a time when he is still struggling with what he was forced to do to his best friend in the galaxy and his inability to set things right. But when Annileen, her family, and the other Pika Oasis settlers enter the picture, Ben is given a chance to make a small difference in the galaxy and, in some ways, begin to heal his spirit as well.
While the Tatooine locals are only vaguely aware of galactic events, Ben’s mission to protect the infant Luke Skywalker requires him to maintain as low of a profile as possible. The Force and lightsabers are taken for granted in most Star Wars works, but they are so rarely used in Kenobi that when they do come into play, it seems like the most exciting thing in the world – as well as the most dangerous for its user. The same goes for Ben’s last name, which at times felt like the most important secret ever. When the book’s title is finally uttered, there is almost a sense that all hope for Ben’s crucial mission has been lost. Fans will, of course, note that Tatooine’s residents are familiar with Old Ben’s last name in A New Hope, but this fact is easily forgotten while reading Kenobi.
John Jackson Miller manages to pack in references to classic scenes and quotes from the films, The Clone Wars, and the EU, as well as nearly every Tatooine staple, but they never feel contrived or out of place. In fact, many of them are sure to make fans giddy with excitement. Miller also sneaks in a nice twist on a certain exit strategy and provides an explanation for Ben’s nickname, his use of the krayt dragon call for scaring away Tusken Raiders, and much more.
One might assume that nothing of importance happened during Old Ben’s exile on Tatooine… and they’d be wrong. Kenobi might not have gigantic space battles or epic duels, but it manages to tell an exciting tale full of action, emotion, and deception set in the wastelands of one of the galaxy’s most inhospitable planets. Like Darth Plagueis, Kenobi takes a few chapters to really get going. But once you’re fully introduced to the locals, you’ll quickly grow to love them.
If there’s one fault with Kenobi, it’s a brief scene in which Ben is suddenly compelled to recap everything that happened. This moment felt superfluous, as if it was only written to catch up readers who had inexplicably managed to not keep up with the plot. Thankfully, this is only a minor complaint regarding one of the finest novels in recent memory.
Kenobi is the light side equivalent of Darth Plagueis, and it’s so enthralling that it’s almost impossible to put down. If you’ve ever wondered what happened during Old Ben Kenobi’s exile on Tatooine – or heck, if you’re just a fan of Star Wars in general – you won’t want to miss this novel.
Advanced Review Copy (ARC) courtesy of Del Rey. All staff members can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.