Spoiler Free Review of Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
It’s only fair to start this out by saying I’m a book snob.
I really am; it’s hard not to be when you teach Literature for a living. You can’t make your life about Twain and Shakespeare, and not develop a proclivity towards powerful prose, enlightened, multi-faceted characters, and themes that resonate throughout generations.
Perhaps that is why I have had a love/hate relationship with the Expanded Universe. I’m a Star Wars fanatic for four generations, as well as a bibliophile for that amount of time, and I have certain expectations when I pick up a book with Star Wars on the cover.
I expect sharp characterization and smart dialogue that harkens back to my experiences in the theater, and this rarely happens for me with E.U. books. It’s really a daunting task to expect a book to reinforce those feelings of euphoria that we get from the characters on the silver screen from that galaxy far, far away. However, if you’re going to put Star Wars on the cover, then you are setting yourself up for either intense scrutiny or unbridled ebullience from our massive fan base.
I am happy to write that Kenobi delivers. Big time.
That’s not to say the that the prose is Shakespearian in scope. It’s not supposed to be. What it is supposed to be is captivating, exciting, and capable of evoking pathos for the character Star Wars fans know and love so well, Obi-Wan Kenobi. John Jackson Miller delivers on every level, and Star Wars fans are going to enjoy what Miller comes up with for his first Star Wars hardback novel.
In essence, Kenobi takes place after the tumultuous events that spiral out of Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan now goes by “Ben”, and starts to build the reputation of being that “crazy old hermit” we first heard about in 1977, as he begins his mission to look after Luke Skywalker. Miller seeks to give the book a western feel, with the stranger in a strange land motif, and it accomplishes that quite well through episodic adventures connected by a common thread.
For the most part, the voice portrayed in Kenobi is strong; I could hear Ewan McGregor/James Arnold Taylor every time I read any dialogue by Kenobi, and as I explained previously, I’m a hard sell on this. I think that’s why I have such a hard time with post Return of the Jedi E.U. I find myself thinking in caps, “LUKE WOULDN’T SAY THAT!” or “HAN DOESN’T ACT THAT WAY!”. I never experienced this when reading Kenobi, which is huge for me. If you love the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are going to enjoy this book.
However, some of the children in the novel are static, one dimensional characters (which I grant is status quo), and do not evoke the pathos of Annileen, Ben, or A’Yark, and are a minor disruption. In addition, the Meditation sections are missed opportunities, as we fall into the “Tell, don’t show” problem that is not present in any other part of the book. We can glean Kenobi’s insights and motivation through every passage, save for these brief segments that surprisingly, don’t reveal his inner conflict as strongly as his adventures in the Tatooine desert provide everywhere else. Neither of these elements are distracting, and these moments are rare, but they are there.
Fortunately, the leads (Annileen Calwell, a storekeeper; Orrin Gault, a moisture farmer and entrepreneur; A’ Yark, a Tusken war leader; and, of course, our titular hero) work well, and keep your interest. Pathos does exist in this book, and I have not read very many E.U. novels over the years that are able to accomplish this. You really care about what happens to Annileen, and I was genuinely intrigued by Orrin Gault; Kenobi is so captivating in it that you have a hard time putting it down. He faces some hard truths about the recent events in his life so famous to Star Wars fans, and the internal conflict that results from this works on many levels.
Not too many Expanded Universe novels can say that.
More importantly, Kenobi actually has something to say. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia are tackled in an intelligent, sophisticated way that borders on metaphorical. I won’t go into spoilers here, but one of the leads arguably steals the show, and there are some moments that you will actually have you gasp out loud while reading, due to the examination of these themes.
I know the expectations for this book are high, and I can happily explain that Kenobi does not disappoint. It’s one of my favorite Expanded Universe novels, and the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi feels like that friend I know and love so well. Bravo to John Jackson Miller for making this come to fruition for Star Wars fans.
I know I’m hoping for a sequel, and I’m guessing you will too.
4 ½ out of 5
Note: A big thank you to Del Rey and Net Galley for providing an advance copy to review.