It’s been a long while since I’ve read a Star Wars novel. This one caught my attention as it features one of my favourite characters.
‘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 civilised 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.’
I’ve not read anything by John Jackson Miller before. Even though I’ve grown wary of Star Wars novels and the way they’re written, I had high hopes for this one due to the number of good reviews.
According to Miller, he wanted to write a Western and I can honestly say he has. With Tatooine as the setting, it certainly has the feel of a western complete with characters one would expect to find in a western.
There’s the plucky store/saloon owner, a fiercely independent widow with her teenage children. There’s the land baron who seemingly has it all but wants more; is he as charming as he seems or is he up to his eyeballs in bad dealings? His children are the requisite spoilt snobs. We even have the natives, in this case, the Sand People or Tusken Raiders, whichever name fits. And, finally, let’s not forget the mysterious stranger who rides into town, the one who’ll end up righting all the wrongs.
Am I coming across as cynical, so early in my review? I won’t apologise. Straight off, I’ll say that I was disappointed with this book. With the title of ‘Kenobi’, I was looking forward to reading a story about the man himself, preferably in first person. I wanted to know what happened in the years from when we see him leaving baby Luke with Owen and Beru Lars to the moment he saves adult Luke from the Sand People. Instead, I found myself reading a story about settlers struggling to survive against the Sand People with Kenobi himself relegated to the role of a secondary character.
My favourite part of the whole book was the prologue, told from another character’s point of view, where we get a glimpse of Kenobi with baby Luke on their way to the Lars’ farm. Then there are about 40 pages introducing the other characters with Kenobi nowhere in sight. Considering the title of the book, the man was absent for large chunks of it.
For the sake of baby Luke’s safety, Kenobi doesn’t want to draw attention to himself and he doesn’t want anyone to know he is a Jedi. All he’s been through – killing (so he believes) Anakin, learning his fellow Jedi have all been slaughtered, believing he and Yoda are the only Jedi left – that’s a lot for one person to process on their own. Peppered throughout the book are his meditations where he’s trying to connect with Qui-Gon Jinn, and we get Kenobi’s personal thoughts, which I liked.
Another thing that annoyed me – to the people he meets, he’s the mysterious stranger. But the reader already knows who he is. Surely for the concept of ‘mysterious stranger’ to work, it should also require the reader to not know the identity of the stranger. So, having the characters wonder about inexplicable noises and the strange blue light fell flat only because I knew it was his lightsabre.
Also, Kenobi kept making like Clark Kent/Superman – he’d either disappear at the start of a potential battle, sort it out and then reappear, pretending not to know what had just happened, or he’d use the Force subtly during a fight.
What about the other characters? I found them dry and uninteresting; I honestly wasn’t bothered what happened to any of them.
The main character, after Kenobi, is the storekeeper, Annileen Calwell. She did not come across as a widowed mother of two teenagers; most times, she sounded like a teenager herself. Bossy does not equal independent, in my opinion. And her stupendous ability to notice every single small thing about Kenobi, even in the middle of a fight, got old very fast.
The land baron character, Orrin Gault, was the same as every clichéd land/cattle baron in any Western. His children were drunk bullies with no redeeming qualities.
The one who seemed to have the most dimension was the leader of the Sand People, A’Yark. In fact, the Sand People were the ones I found most interesting. Miller showed them as more than mere faceless monsters; he explained their ways and customs in a way that, for me, made sense.
As for the plot, it didn’t do much for me. Settlers fighting the Sand People, surviving in the harsh landscape, trying to farm water with their vaporators, getting in deep with Jabba the Hutt and dealing with the consequences. There was a distinct lack of tension.
The writing was clunky. I didn’t enjoy the info-dump that accompanied the characters. Like in this segment when Orrin goes to Dannar’s Claim, which is Annileen’s store, also the cantina:
‘For Orrin, returning to the Claim was always like coming home. It wasn’t his home, of course; it was Dannar’s. And then Dannar’s and Annileen’s, and for the last several years, Annileen’s alone. But Orrin felt a tie to the compound that went beyond the law, or such law as there was on Tatooine. Orrin had laid the first bricks for the store, driven in the first landspeeder for repair, and eaten the first meal at the lunch counter.
A place was a thing, and you weren’t supposed to get sentimental about things. But it was also his last link to the best friend he’d ever had, and that wasn’t something he’d ever be able to ignore.
The Claim had been Dannar’s big idea. He was good with ideas, even better than Orrin was. Together they’d made great things happen in the oasis; one day, they’d imagined, Orrin’s farm and Dannar’s market would turn it into a second Anchorhead. Or even Bestine – Orrin could see that happening. The Pika had that much potential.
But Dannar had changed after marrying his sales clerk. He’d always kept a foot in the store after that, never willing to risk more than he could afford at one time. And after Kallie was born? Forget it.’
I won’t type up the whole thing as that entire chunk takes up about one and a half pages before we return to the moment when Orrin has arrived at the Claim. Similar back-story-dumps kept happening, pulling me out of the story; not all were necessary and those that were could have been handled better. I was not expecting amateur storytelling from an established author.
Another thing I was not expecting – a possible romance for Kenobi. It just did not sit well with me, probably because it did not feel right. Most of the females seemed to be instantly attracted to Kenobi; I get it, he’s a good-looking, charming guy. But, in the short space of time that the book encompasses, I found little concrete development between the characters to indicate that Kenobi would be ready to turn his back on the Jedi code, the only constant in a life that had been turned upside down.
At the end of the day, this book might as well have just focussed on Annileen, Orrin and A’Yark. The ‘mysterious stranger’ could have been any Jedi, maybe a Padawan or one who’d only recently gained the status of Master. Because the way Kenobi kept getting involved in situations would have made more sense for a younger, less experienced person, not someone of his standing who knows which fights to pick. To me, it did not seem plausible that Kenobi would have so readily and repeatedly jeopardised his crucial mission to protect, what was possibly, the galaxy’s last hope.
I’d give this 2.5*, only because of what we learn of the Sand People and their ways.