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Aug 27 2013

Book Review: “Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller

Kenobi Book Cover

Introduction

Ever since word spread that John Jackson Miller would be writing “Kenobi”, I found myself more excited for this story than any since “Darth Plagueis” in 2012. What Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi was doing in the desert while waiting for Luke Skywalker (the galaxy’s only hope to defeat the evil Galactic Empire and overthrow new Emperor Palpatine) to grow up had been largely a mystery. Was he aware that Anakin Skywalker had survived his injuries on Mustafar? Exactly what did he do to make Owen Lars distrust him so much? Were there any close calls with the Empire during that time? Did he learn to commune with Qui-Gon Jinn? Was there any contact with Yoda or other Jedi who survived Order 66? These questions and many more have been on the minds of “Star Wars” fans for years. Does “Kenobi” answer any of them?

Plot Synopsis (courtesy RandomHouse.com)

The Republic has fallen. Sith Lords rule the galaxy. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has lost everything . . . Everything but hope.

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.

Review (Spoilers!)

In “Kenobi”, John Jackson Miller attempts something that has never been done before: “Star Wars” as a western. If you are going to do a western in the “Star Wars” universe, I can think of no better setting than the desert planet of Tatooine.

The Prologue of “Kenobi” takes place during the same timeframe as the ending of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Obi-Wan stops off in a cantina on his way to deliver baby Luke Skywalker to the homestead of Owen and Beru Lars.

After Luke is successfully delivered, Obi-Wan reaches out with the force for the first of several meditations with Qui-Gon Jinn that take place throughout the book. Even though he did not receive any direct responses from Qui-Gon, the meditations serve as a vehicle through which the reader is able to gain a perspective on Obi-Wan’s state of mind regarding the fall of the Republic, the banishment of the Jedi and his deep sense of loss when it comes to Anakin Skywalker.

“Kenobi,” perhaps more than any other novel, provides a window into the lives of the beings who operate farms or small businesses in the remote reaches of Tatooine. Annileen Calwell, a widowed single-mother of two older children, makes a living by operating Dannar’s Claim, a one-stop trading post, restaurant, and garage. Orrin Gault, an entrepreneur, is the owner of the largest moisture farm in the area and founder of the Settlers’ Call. Wyle Ulbrek is one of several moisture farm owners in the area who eek out a meager living by pulling water from the atmosphere of this dry, barren wasteland. Throughout the book, farm workers, mechanics and other patrons of Dannar’s Claim go about their busy lives as they weave in and out of the lives of the main characters.

The Settlers’ Call is an emergency alert and response system designed to defend member farms from Tusken Raider attacks. For a fee, a farm owner can join the Settlers’ Call. In the event of a Tusken Raider attack, a farm owner who is a member can trigger the alert. When neighboring farms hear the alert, they grab their weapons, load up their speeders, form a posse and help defend their neighbors from Tusken Raider attacks.

We find out that Orrin Gault has gotten himself in trouble by taking out loans from Jabba the Hutt to purchase new, state-of-the-art moisture vaporators for his farm. The debt begins to mount when the new moisture vaporators do not function as well as expected. When Orrin can no longer make the payments, Jabba calls the loans due in full, gives Orrin 24 hours to make a double-payment and two weeks to come up with the full balance of the outstanding debt. Or else…

This level of desperation drives Orrin to more aggressively leverage the Settlers’ Call as a protection scheme for money. Any farmer who was hesitant to join would find his farm under attack from the Tusken Raiders as a method to persuade him to join. What the farmers did not realize was that some of those carefully timed attacks were actually being carried out by Orrin, his children, and farm hands disguised as Tusken Raiders.

Among the more interesting story points in “Kenobi” is Miller’s ability to take the reader inside the mind of A’Yark, a great and proud Tusken Raider warrior. The Tusken Raiders in A’Yark’s tribe are dwindling in number as they are being slaughtered by the farm hands who respond to the Settlers’ Call alerts. A’Yark has lost many of her best warriors, but these unprovoked attacks are making her more determined than ever to attack the farms of the settlers with the warriors who remain.

Both A’Yark’s tribe and the moisture farmers in the area are victims of Orrin Gault’s scheme. Orrin’s manipulation of the farmers cause the Tuskens to be vilified even more than they otherwise would have been. Likewise, the seemingly unprovoked attacks by members of the Settlers’ Call against the Tusken Raiders cause the Tuskens to become more hostile toward the farmers.

On a micro-level, Orrin Gault’s scheme of playing two factions against each other for personal gain is reflective of what Supreme Chancellor Palpatine did to the galaxy on a macro level during the Clone Wars. His subtle manipulation of both the farmers and the Tusken Raiders was masterful. As he collected money from farmers for protection against the Tusken Raiders, he would stage Tusken Raider attacks against settlers and farms. This would prompt members of the Call to ride out and take revenge against the real Tusken Raiders, greatly reducing their numbers and, likewise, their threats against Orrin’s own farm.

In the end, how much can Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi afford to get involved with this situation? His mission on Tatooine is to hide, watch over and protect Luke Skywalker. Will he just sit idly by and watch Orrin’s scheme harm Annileen and the farmers? Or, will he put his mission in jeopardy in order to help both the innocent farmers and Tusken Raiders against their real enemy, Orrin Gault?

Final Verdict

While I was a little disappointed that “Kenobi” did not answer many of the larger questions that have been on the minds of “Star Wars” fans for years, I was very pleased with what it was — an enjoyable tale filled with action, drama, and memorable characters who fit very well into the established “Star Wars” mythos. It does a fantastic job of placing the reader on Tatooine for a taste of daily life on the planet that is farthest from the bright center of the universe. I recommend “Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller. It stops short of being highly recommended like “Darth Plagueis,” but it is certainly one of the most enjoyable books in the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe. Be sure to pick up a copy at the bookseller of your choice.

DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own..

1 comment

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  1. Brandon

    “Never judge a book by its cover”, never held more true than it did when I picked up this book with excitement, expecting it to be a good book. I was very disappointed by the writing style. I could not get past page 35. Every other sentence has 3 different points to make before you can even get a grasp on a coherent idea.

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