Book Review – Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

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5_star_rating_system_3_starsAs you may have been able to gather from my review of it last week, I was angry when I finished reading Mad. So, when I started looking for my next read, I wanted something a comforting and silly. I’d owned Kenobi for a while but I’d not had the guts to start reading it. I admit that I haven’t read much of the Star Wars Expanded Universe because I’ve had my fingers burnt before. At this point, there is a lot of stuff out there and it’s difficult to decide which is worth reading. In my opinion, nothing will compare to the films and it’s not always possible for different writers to replicate the voice of these familiar characters. Obi Wan has always been a huge fan favourite so there was obviously going to be massive interest in the furthering of his story. There is still so little that we know about Ben that you could write countless novels about his story. But, at the same time, we all have such a clear image of how he acts and sounds. Would it be possible for a writer like John Jackson Miller to tell us more about a beloved Jedi without ruining our idea of him? It was finally time to find out.

I’m not sure what I expected from Kenobi but I knew that it was widely praised. Taking place after the events of Revenge of the Sith, it gives us a glimpse into the life Obi Wan lead whilst stranded on Tatooine. Although, it doesn’t really. The narrative takes the form of a classic Western where we see Obi Wan ride into town as the enigmatic stranger who causes a stir. There’s the classic rich landowner and his dickish children, the poor widow struggling to survive, and a group of Tusken raiders wanting revenge on the people who stole their land. Can Obi Wan resist the call of his Jedi duties or will he end up saving the day?

The novel opens with Obi Wan trying to keep a low profile and hide his links to the Jedi order. He lives alone in the wilderness in a rundown shack where he spends his time attempting to contact his old mentor Qui Gon Jinn. Unable to avoid civilization forever, Ben finds himself in the middle of a small community being ravaged by Tusken attacks. In order to prevent these attacks, a moisture farmer, Orrin Gaunt has set up a system of defense for which the residents must pay a fee. After Obi Wan forms an awkward friendship with the owner of a local store, Annileen Calwell, he becomes embroiled in the fight between man and raider. He must find a way to keep the peace and ensure the desert community doesn’t get torn apart.

Kenobi split between the perspectives of four of the main characters. We occasionally see the story through Obi Wan’s eyes but it is mainly the view of Annilee, Orrin and the leader of the Tusken raider’s, A’Yark. I’m never normally a huge fan of the split narratives but there is something interesting about seeing the story from all of these sides. It was clever of Miller to include the narrative from A’Yark’s perspective because it gave the Tusken more of a role. Instead of being the nameless cliched Western villains, they become real creatures with real feelings. It gives the simple and incredibly stereotypical narrative more depth.

But that’s something that really does lack: depth. It’s a fun and entertaining story but it lacks any real development. It’s a good Star Wars story and is a fine addition to the EU. But I did find myself wishing for more. I wanted more development of Obi Wan’s character and I felt as though I needed more from the other characters too. It all felt a little thinly sketched out. There are passages of vivid description of the landscape itself but very little in way of character development. It’s all kind of conventional and safe. They are stock Western characters placed in a science-fiction setting. Something that feels very familiar for Star Wars so it ends up being very inoffensive.

So, despite this being a perfectly readable novel, I ended up hoping for more. I wanted more Obi Wan and I wanted more from the rest of the characters. Kenobi is clever storytelling in that it’s simple and to the point. It has everything you expect from a Star Wars film whilst taking things from a more domestic setting. We aren’t seeing the potential destruction of the galaxy, as we usually would, but the destruction of a single community. It is a change that fools you into thinking you’re getting a closer look at one of your favourite characters when you actually aren’t. I don’t think it would be possible to hate this book but, at the same time, there is nothing about it that would set your world on fire. It is, for lack of a better analysis, fine.

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