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Monday, 18 November 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS: KENOBI'



STAR WARS: KENOBI

A novel by John Jackson Miller

Published in hardback in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Having wanted to read a proper novel about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life and times as that strange old hermit going in and out of the Tatooine wastelands, looked on with disdain and mistrust by the general populace as a crazy old hermit, this was a book that I, and I’m sure many others, were most eager to read. How much you enjoy author John Jackson Miller’s adventure of the desert depends greatly on what you personally wanted to see explored. This is not quite the epic book I’d hoped for- it doesn’t go through the whole twenty-year period that Kenobi would have in exile- instead Miller sidesteps all that for the most part, focusing on the characters recent arrival on that planet far away from the brightest centre of the universe, and opts for something a little different, weaving a more intimate character drama than we’ve seen in a while, with the odd bit of requisite STAR WARS action-it’s a union that proves an enjoyably concentrated if hardly classic read.

As the book begins, Kenobi is isolated and could be considered lonely by any other standards if he wasn’t quite such a disciplined Jedi, though the weight of the galaxy remains fixed atop his shoulders, ladled with guilt about what has happened to his former Padawan and best friend Anakin, and his ultimate role in the destruction of the Republic and his beloved family that were the Jedi Order. Concurrent to these brewing thoughts, our bearded hero is trying to adjust and settle in to the Tatooine lifestyle such as it is, whilst also keeping a low profile.  Alas, such good intentions are not to be, for, no matter how far he tries to not be recognized or get involved, he can’t help attracting trouble and unlikely attentions- the results of being a newcomer within a small community, albeit stretched out over a large area, and quickly becoming a semi-nexus to events linked to a group of farmer settlers trying to carve out a living in the moisture capture business. With some of the locals proving too avaricious for their own good…

The harsh beauty and wilds of Tatooine, its powerful twin suns and its harsh environs, a place where day to day survival is hard for both the indigenous species and its human interlopers is strongly evoked in the tale’s 300 pages- a genuine plus for the book. It’s the wild west elements of the STAR WARS saga, that are satisfyingly explored- in many respects there’s an aura of several classic genre films about it translated to Lucas’s universe: from Alan Ladd’s SHANE to John Wayne’s THE SEARCHERS to Clint Eastwood’s PALE RIDER, as Ben’s Jedi skills are used, albeit subtly, in all manner of incidents: from rescuing wayward children to fighting off Krayt Dragons! Its here in this self-exiled land of little opportunity that the personality of Kenobi also becomes more humble and friendly in his singular existence, and in trying to communicate in these early days with the Force spirit of his late friend and mentor Qui-Gon Jinn- a handy narrative plot device to reveal Obi’s personal and innermost thoughts and feelings, filling in the gaps and adding some more character nuances between now and his later “death” by Darth Vader.
On this personal side of things beyond his small and basic hut dwelling, he even gets a love interest of sorts in widowed shopkeeper Anileen, spirited yet wanting more from her life, whose children comprise wayward son Jabe: a Luke Skywalker-type gone rogue, soon causing trouble, and eager and loyal, but also resolutely inquisitive daughter, Kallee. These three core characters are given believability by Miller and interact well with Kenobi, alongside some distinctively painted characters for the settlers community, young and old, human and alien, headed up by Orrin, a vaporator farm owner on the make, responsible for the defense of the various outlying homesteads against the livelihood threat of the Sand People- seemingly with a smile on his face yet bearing an ambitious soul looking to spread his business interests. It’s Orrin who ultimately fears Kenobi the most, considering him an unusual rival and hindrance to his long-term goals and his important relationship with Anileen.

Amongst all the new story material and character elements, Miller, with his clear and strong writing style, carefully and subtly weaves in the all-important continuity between EPISODEs III and IV when he has to, involving both Kenobi and the building state of the Galactic Empire in general- a lot of thought has clearly gone into the way this has been structured. Other important moments on the desert world that build up his new life history include becoming that aforementioned “crazy old hermit” (cleverly built up through the eyes and anxiety mindsets of the supporting characters he comes into contact with), finding and tailoring his new digs, riding his faithful Eopie beast of burden, Rooh, walking the Jundland Wastes, and even cadging the odd lift or two from a Jawa Sandcrawler.

Determined not to catch the always hungry eyes of possible Imperial spies and Jedi hunters, going into major cities soon proves difficult for Kenobi, but, at one major point of the book, it becomes unavoidable, resulting in his having no choice but to sneakily go into conflict against some of the planet’s undesirable criminal elements in Mos Eisley-notably an appearance by MARVEL COMICS original visual incarnation of Jabba the Hutt: Mosep, in an Expanded Universe history “patch-up” that proves nostalgic if a little forced.

Despite some crowd-pleasing scenes, there are still a few things here and there that are ultimately and disappointingly mentioned only in brief passing, like Owen and Beru Lars with baby Luke (whom Kenobi has recently delivered to their protective and nurturing custody at their Homestead), who sadly make no appearance in the book.

As well as human opponents (including a group of bored juvenile delinquents not too dissimilar, if more rowdy, than Luke’s deleted scenes Anchorhead posse), there’s also the threat out there amongst the rocks and boulders from the nomadic and belligerently hostile Sand People, of whom a core group causes trouble across the region, led by the mysterious, savagely intelligent creature that has been nicknamed “Plugeye”, determined to kill the human settlers and bring its people together in the process. Seeing the power of Kenobi, whose magic it first misreads as belonging to another, sets the course for further power struggles and violence to come…

The development of the race in the story is ultimately overdone to my personal tastes-their earlier, fascinating aura of unique mystery, which had been present in the films, now lost as they become just another set of sci-fi aliens. The development of Plugeye has a twist but it failed to capture my enthusiasm, especially when ladled with some previously established, far-fetched Expanded Universe storytelling. There’s nothing wrong with that old saying, “Less is More”, and that should have been applied here.

AFICIONADO RATING: In a year of STAR WARS publishing packed with good ideas that didn’t quite meet their full potential, KENOBI thankfully rises above my personal expectations to be one of the better and more pleasing additions to the current Expanded Universe crop, and likely only the first of an eventual series outlining our Jedi hero’s new life on the hauntingly beautiful world of Tatooine. 7.5 out of 10

Get hold of KENOBI here:





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