The Star Wars Legends novels (formerly known as the Star Wars Extended Universe) is rife with stories. Some are good, some are bad, and some read like bad fanfiction. I’m partial to the ones that introduce new characters in semi-familiar settings. Or ones that put a different spin on Star Wars–like taking a single character and placing him in the middle of a western. If we’re being honest though, a Jedi is just another incarnation of the cowboy trope, no?
Which is what John Jackson Miller did with Obi-Wan Kenobi when he wrote Kenobi. Fresh from the battle on Mustafar, Obi-Wan has gone into hiding with a mission to protect baby Luke Skywalker. Getting settled into a life of hermitdom is more complicated than it appears, however, as Obi-Wan can’t help but get involved in the local trouble. He meets Annileen Calwell, owner of Donnar’s Claim, a local provisions station a short distance from the Jundland Wastes where Obi-Wan makes his new home. Annileen is intrigued by the man who calls himself Ben as trouble seems to arise whenever he visits the Claim. But her late husband’s best friend Orrin Gault sees things differently. First Ben is a sales opportunity, then a nuisance, then a menace. Ben turns to some unexpected allies to uncover disastrous secrets, and is willing to take extreme measures to cover up his own.
The beauty of Kenobi is that Ben is never a point-of-view character. It switches between Annileen, Orrin, and A’rack, a Tuskan war leader struggling to help her people thrive. Ben is a curiosity, as would any stranger in a small town setting be, and his ability to dodge probing questions no doubt comes from a lifetime of experience. Despite not being a narrator for the main events, we do hear Ben’s meditative thoughts to Qui Gon, which serve as a diary of sorts. Qui Gon never responds, but Ben continues his meditations anyway. Jedi habits are hard to break.
The novel addresses the fact that Obi-Wan, who has always been in the center of the galaxy, is now forced to stay out of everything. The trouble magnet can no longer go looking for trouble. This takes an emotional toll on him, as he’s also dealing with the (supposed) death of his Padawan and the loss of the entire Jedi Order. All alone in the Jundland Wastes with a secret he can never tell, Ben is perfectly situated to don the title of a traditional cowboy. One part anti-hero, two parts man with(out) a past.
The narrative keeps the focus on the main story, which is the trouble that happens at Donnar’s Claim. Yes, events from the Star Wars movies are referenced, but they only serve as background details. As soon as they’re referenced, the narrative moves on. As a reader, I stopped caring about the background noise of the rising Empire. After all, the characters themselves don’t really care. On Tatooine, it doesn’t matter who runs the galaxy, they’re going to be better protected by Jabba the Hutt anyway.
I loved the small parallels happening through the story. Annileen’s youngest child, Jabe, is a teenager who starts down the wrong path but takes a turn by the end of the book. Ben sees a bit of Anakin in him and doesn’t take it upon himself to turn Jabe around, but he does help nudge him in the right direction. And then there’s the parallel of parents trying to make a life for their children between the characters of Annileen and A’rack. Though supposedly mortal enemies, they share a common motivation and come to respect the other.
Star Wars: Kenobi opened my eyes about life on Tatooine. Moisture farmers don’t use water to grow vegetation, they farm water from the atmosphere because that’s the only place they can get it. The reader also gets insight into the Tuskan Raiders with one of the point of view characters being a Tuskan war leader. A’rack’s culture is rounded with references to folklore and focusing on the things A’rack gives priority and the sources of A’rack’s frustrations with the Tuskans’ current state of affairs.
Star Wars: Kenobi gets brownie points for having multiple female characters who were not defined by their relationship to other men, loses a brownie point for the gender of one point of view character being a plot point, but gains more brownie points for not referencing rape. Is the novel feminist? Subtly so in some regards, but nothing to write home about.
Star Wars: Kenobi is recommended to people who enjoy fun spins in the Star Wars franchise, people looking to start reading in the Star Wars Legends universe, and people who like the character Obi-Wan Kenobi.