Review: Kenobi (Spoiler Free)

KenobiCoverKenobi by John Jackson Miller is just plain awesome.  Miller has exceeded expectations and written the pitch perfect story about Obi-Wan Kenobi as he adjusts to life as a hermit in the desert after the devastating events on Mustafar.  It’s a book that will make you laugh, it’s a book that will make you tear up at times, it’s a book that will surprise you, and it’s a book that you’ll find adding to your pile of yearly rereads.

Picking up immediately when Obi-Wan Kenobi lands on Tatooine, Kenobi tells the tale of a Jedi who must learn how to live a quiet life in hiding after decades of being a hero.  Despite his best efforts, Ben finds himself soon entangled in the events of a small community and the conflict between them and the Sand People even though he only wants to stay out of sight and protect the infant Luke Skywalker.

From Obi-Wan’s first appearance on page, Miller captures the essence of the character to a T.  A few chapters later, he greets someone with a “Hello there!” and it’s impossible not to hear Sir Alec Guinness in your head for that line and it’s equally impossible not to hear Ewan McGregor’s voice for so many of the other lines.  What’s beautiful about this book is that it manages to function as a character study (amongst other things) about a character who rarely serves as the point of view.  Readers only ever get Obi-Wan’s point of view when he’s meditating and speaking to Qui-Gon and yet his necessary transformation from Jedi Master to Crazy Old Ben never feels like it’s being viewed from afar.

The rest of the characters in this book certainly don’t go wanting for characterization.  Annileen Calwell is a strong and capable woman with her own agency.  This is really a book that’s just as much about her as it is about Obi-Wan and since about half of it is from her point of view, we really get to know her too.  She’s a widow who’s been left to run a large business and raise two children but there’s also a complexity to her that left me feeling that I knew her better by the end of the book than characters we’ve known for years.

The women in this book aren’t limited to stereotypes and they aren’t all cut out of the same fabric.  Annileen, her daughter Kallie, Leelee Pace, and Veeka Gault are all completely their own distinct people which is exactly how people in real life are: individuals.  Kallie is young and idealistic (and also adorably enthusiastic) while Leelee fills the role of Annileen’s best friend and Veeka is a less than savory character who really just needs to stay away from young Jabe Calwell.

On the flip side, we have Orrin Gault who is a driving force all on his own and we also have the Tusken Raider war leader A’Yark.  Both occasionally fill the antagonist role at various points in the story without ever really becoming a fully-fledged bad guy.  They have their own completely valid motivations for their actions.  Actually, the neatest thing about this book is that there are no villains.  There is certainly conflict between different groups throughout the story and there is definitely a character that you’ll likely end up strongly disliking but there is no villain.  Nothing is black and white.  It also fits nicely with how no one ever sees themselves as the villain.  All in all, it’s a very gender balanced cast of characters with unique motivations who don’t fall into the trap of overtired tropes.

While a huge part of what makes this book so wonderful is the characters, the plot certainly isn’t left wanting.  This is a story on a small scale on a backwater planet.  It hardly has galaxy-shattering implications but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Thematically speaking, it’s also an excellent follow up to Revenge of the Sith in terms of Obi-Wan’s character arc.  He’s spent his entire life flying around the galaxy to defuse planetary conflicts and he’s spent the last 3 years as a General in a galactic war.  Living in isolation on Tatooine is bound to be a bit of a culture shock and it shows right from the prologue when he dives into help defuse a bar fight, seemingly without a second thought.  The story of the conflict between the moisture farmers and the Sand People is just as compelling and as critical to the book especially as Ben gets more drawn into life in the Claim and builds a friendship with Annileen.

It’s also the smaller things that Miller does throughout the book that make it great.  He offers possible answers questions like ‘Why does Obi-Wan look so much older in A New Hope?’ and ‘Just how does he manage to live when he presumably has no money saved?’ within the story without making a big deal out of the answers.  He also gives a shining example of how to casually work continuity into the text without beating readers over the head with it.  There is one real instance where he references previous events that are vital to the story but he then proceeds to explain them within the text so readers not in the know won’t be confused.  One could easily hand this book to the non-Expanded Universe initiated and they wouldn’t be lost.

What it boils down to is this: Kenobi is easily one of the best Expanded Universe books in years.  It features a cast of fleshed out characters who readers will soon become invested in as they continue through the story.  It’s a story about a small settlement on Tatooine that manages to feel just as important as any Clone War battle.  And by the Force, it is good.

I give Kenobi a 5/5 and strongly urge everyone to go out and buy yourself a copy.

Note: Thank you to Random House and Net Galley for providing an advance copy to review.

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