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Saturday, 6 July 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC REVIEW: 'THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF OBI-WAN KENOBI' BIOGRAPHY



STAR WARS: THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF OBI-WAN KENOBI

Written by Ryder Windham

Published by SCHOLASTIC BOOKS INC-UK


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Hermit - Mentor – General - Jedi


Since 1977, the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi has certainly become amongst the most beloved of the Saga’s heroes-played to perfection by the late, and will always be great, Sir Alec Guinness-so much so that, in many ways, to me and to other fans, he’s the ideal super grandad that we’d always wanted-good spirited, noble, life-affirming (though with the occasional sad stare of a tragic, experienced life-past) and practical-with a warm twinkle in the eyes, and yet also a totally cool, kick-ass warrior, of highly esteemed bravery, and carrying a lightsaber- a weapon for a person from a “more civilized age.” Ewan McGregor, a modern actor of fine note, has carried on the tradition of bringing the part of Obi to life for a whole new generation of fans in the Prequels, and, for the most part, satisfying those that had previously embraced Guinness’s original portrayal, too-not an easy accomplishment but once which he seems to have pulled off with remarkable easiness and style- and equally succeeding in bringing in a whole new legion of fans, who have embraced both him and the older aspect of the character, and Guinness, to their hearts, too (it’s still amazing to consider, as Ewan McGregor once said, that Sir Alec (or “Big Al” as he was once affectionately referred to by Mark Hamill) managed to encompass all the wonderful things about the part and bring to them such magic, in reality, in just three quarters of one film!). For many, Obi-Wan and STAR WARS go together like the solid durability of forged steel, so to tell the story of this unique man, who also just happened to be a unique Jedi Knight, by Ryder Windham, must have been a great challenge to realize in the second of his biography series for the saga.

As Ryder states in his opening acknowledgements, this is not at all the complete story of Kenobi, it never will be as there are still adventures about the venerable Jedi to be written (the same with Anakin/ Vader), but he presents as full a timeline of the important events in his life, and beyond it, as possible, and continues the same type of story framing template he utilized for the previous Vader book, this time starting from SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE leading in to RETURN OF THE JEDI, as Luke Skywalker returns to Obi’s deserted home on Tatooine and learns the secrets of constructing an all important new lightsaber for himself from a special book that the venerable old Master had left for him (with Ryder handily using Luke’s thoughts and memories whilst there to fill in important areas of the story that Kenobi was not around for). It is as Luke reads sections of the book, constructs his new laser sword and meets up with his friends to discover where the Carbonite form of Han Solo has been stashed by Boba Fett, before his arrival at Jabba’s Palace, that the true story of Obi comes to life around him. Though Obi’s youngest childhood is not touched upon until he’s a Jedi Padawan at thirteen in the Temple (taking a trip to the secret crystal world of Ilum with new Master Qui-Gon Jinn (always nice to have his character in the books, especially alongside Obi-Wan)), important bits mentioned or fully realized also include the first meeting between Obi and the loveable Dexter Jettster (one of the few non Jedi in the saga that we actually see Obi having friendly inter-action with-will there be further past timeline stories with the two characters together?? Let’s hope so!!), which takes place during an early mission by Kenobi for the Republic.

It’s clear that the author has more fun playing around with the structuring of the story than before, and it’s never boring to read. As with the Vader book, he also successfully adds a lot of new material, and expands on further sequences to help fill in the greater amount of blanks in Obi’s history, and all of our heroes and villains act in character. There are attempts to tie up lose ends and, whether we like it or not, correct continuity to the new Expanded Universe standard, mostly for the good here (and even adding to the story, with Qui-Gon, prior to his death against Darth Maul on Naboo, fearing for the plight of Anakin’s mother Shmi on Tatooine, trying to help her win some influences against her enslaver, Watto). Unlike the previous Vader biography, the CLONE WARS also gets a bit more depth, though, sadly, Kenobi’s friendship with Bail Organa of Alderaan gets no look in at all bar Leia’s hologram message about his having served under him during the battles. Later on, the possible explanation for Obi-Wan adopting the name Ben, different to what was original planned for by Lucas in the EPISODE III movie, is also revealed.

There are a few wasted opportunities, though-I was disappointed that we didn’t have more about how Obi and Qui-Gon and how they first met in the Temple, and their premiere mission together (a scene actually showing thembecoming Master and Apprentice for the first time would have been most welcome), and, after EPISODE III, how they were able to communicate in the netherworld of the Force, or even how Yoda actually trained Obi to do this... mysteries that may be revealed another time, another place…

Though the latter grief/plight of Kenobi seeing his Padawan Anakin Skywalker’s turn to evil is documented, as is his stubborn weakness-a blindness- to the idea that the newly crowned Darth Vader can’t be turned back to the good side of the Force and therefore must be destroyed, the guilt, the haunted by the past aspects of Kenobi after the destruction of the Republic, the events of ORDER 66 and the introduction of the Emperor’s “New Order” are not really brought to life here, nor is the true horror he feels about the situation with Anakin/Vader (his failure of his late Master’s promise to train him, and the further guilt of not foreseeing/stopping the Chosen One from turning to the dreaded Sith), though Kenobi’s later exile section is commendably brought to life and adapted from several strong works, including James Luceno’s equally commendable DARK LORD novel.

You may have thought old Obi-Wan had been twiddling the thumbs of his lightsaber, looking at his antique animal rug collection and thinking about the good old days of the Republic during his nineteen year period of exile to a small hovel on the outskirts of the Jundland Wastes, but you’d be wrong, the venerable Jedi Knight would prove pretty active in that mysterious and highly elusive time space between REVENGE OF THE SITH and A NEW HOPE. There are also some nice little sequences between Obi and Luke-once again that nice grandfather/guardian aspect by the Jedi towards the boy (an aspect that would be absolutely murdered by FAMILY GUY in their hilarious EPISODE IV “special edition”), whilst still acting as his protector, in the sequence of the book that we should call Kenobi’s “wilderness years” on Tatooine between Episodes III and IV, with Windham writing for both the Ewan version of the character and Sir Alec’s, and very successfully merging one into the other.

Of the Tatooine part, only the Tusken Raider Jedi Knight story, with Obi coming into conflict with the double lightsaber fighting A’Sharad Hett, which previously appeared in the STAR WARS LEGACY comic issue 16, feels out of place for me and didn’t quite work. Despite its adequate inclusion in to the books continuity as part of the exile section, it just feelswrong.

Past the events of his “death” in EPISODE IV, Obi-Wan continues to be lively for a “ghost” (though his transformation is not really expanded on-it literally is a case of he’s there, now let’s get on with the story-a little bit more development would’ve been nice!!) and continues to keep an eye out for Luke in the Force netherworld. However, apart from his on-screen appearances to maintain/deliver vital plot information in EMPIRE (even going to Hoth at one point and prodding Han Solo’s Tauntaun in the right direction to find the injured Luke) and JEDI, this is where the character’s journey, and the book itself, comes to an end. The final chapter, set five years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI, and linked into Timothy Zahn’s HEIR TO THE EMPIRE novel, where Obi returns to Luke in a dream to say goodbye, is of much emotional note, bringing a sad but necessary sense of closure for Obi-Wan and his friendship with Luke, yet also providing a positive hope for the future…

AFICIONADO RATING: Despite it’s 9-12 age group reading range, this book, for anyone fascinated by the timeless appeal of the sophisticated, yet old world charm, of Obi-Wan Kenobi, is essential reading. 8 out of 10

Above image: the superb double cover art work for the book series continues, this time by artist Hugh Fleming (with thanks to Chris Baker).

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