The Year Of Kenobi: Hello There + ‘Kenobi’

When I was 8 years old, my parents took me to see The Phantom Menace. I’m sure I’ve told some version of this story before – on podcasts, in person, possibly on this blog – but what it all comes down to is I went in to the movie somewhat interested in Star Wars, and I walked out wanting Padmé Amidala’s wardrobe and to pod race professionally when I grew up.

I also walked out with a massive crush on the serious, skeptical Jedi apprentice whose eyes could light up in amusement at just the right moment to give me butterflies in my stomach and make my cheeks turn red. Not that I was willing to admit this of course. I think I at one point scoffed and declared Obi-Wan Kenobi “annoying”, but this was definitely a case of protesting just a little too much.

Throughout the years, the character has felt like my constant in the world of Star Wars. The one who drove my interest. It was learning that he played a major role in The Clone Wars that made me want to watch it at all. It was partially the knowledge that he was getting a novel about him (Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice) that sealed the deal on me diving into the canon works where before I had been on the fence. Until very recently, the Legends/EU book Kenobi was the only Legends book I owned.

The fact that he’s getting a show focused on him is, to me, still unbelievable. The poster is the background of my phone and I still cannot quite believe it’s happening. I don’t think I will until I see a trailer, and even then it’s not really going to click for me until I see it on Disney+ on May 25. Not to mention we are getting not one but two books focused on him later this year, in the form of Kiersten White’s Padawan and Mike Chen’s Brotherhood. Really, a weaker person would have crumbled under all the news and honestly I haven’t entirely ruled it out.

So how do we mark this exciting occasion, the best possible year to be an Obi-Wan fan? The Year Of Kenobi of course! In addition to covering the new releases, this year the blog will be taking a look back at Obi-Wan Kenobi in Legends, in whatever form I can get my hands on.

What better way to kick things off, then, than with the Legends book that shaped so many of my expectations for the upcoming series. The one that broke my heart and made me smile in equal measure. The one that gave me many an unexpected perspective to consider. Let’s kick off The Year of Kenobi with, appropriately, Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller.

*This review contains spoilers*

The Story

The Republic has fallen, and an Empire risen to take its place. Not that many on Tatooine have noticed. The problems of the far-off core are just that: far off. On the planet furthest from the bright centre of the universe, their problems are far more immediate and homegrown, and growing by the day.

One such problem is the ongoing conflict between the settlers of Tatooine and the Tuskens whose land has been infringed upon. While a local band of Tuskens, lead by the fierce A’Yark fight to push the encroaching outlanders out by any means necessary, the settlers have taken matters into their own hands.

Local moisture farmer and business man Orrin Gault has raised up a publicly funded posse known as the Settlers Call, a protection scheme where people buy in in exchange for the ability to summon help should the Tuskens attack their homestead. The Call is housed at the largest gathering place/shop in the Pika Oasis, Dannar’s Claim, run by fierce widow Annileen Calwell.

As the conflict continues to escalate, a new arrival in the nearby desert throws things into even more disarray: a very handsome traveller on a mysterious mission he cannot name. A traveller who goes by the name of Ben Kenobi.

Thoughts and Impressions

For a book called Kenobi, the man by the same name isn’t actually in it all that much. Or rather, his point of view isn’t in it all that much. The point of view characters are mostly Annileen, Orrin and A’Yark, with the occasional chapter drifting into the point of view of a minor character. But rarely do we get a look at events from Obi-Wan’s point of view. Instead, it’s as if in an attempt to stay hidden on Tatooine while he watches over Luke, he has closed himself off to everyone, including the reader.

The one exception to this is during the meditation scenes that occur at the end of certain chapters. Following Yoda’s direction in Revenge of the Sith that while on Tatooine, Obi-Wan can learn to communicate with his former master Qui-Gon Jinn through the Force. In these scenes, we see the events of the preceding chapters filtered through Obi-Wan’s perspective as he reflects on the mission that brought him to Tatooine, as well as the day to day concerns of the Pika Oasis that have begun to capture his attention. It’s one of the few spots in the book where the rawness of his emotion in the aftermath of losing everything and everyone he cared about is on full display.

Or, rather, on as much display as he’ll allow. Even when it’s just him, the Force and the idea of his old master, he still pulls back before he touches too raw a nerve, or before he can reflect too much on what he’s lost.

That’s not to say we get nothing from him emotionally when seen through the eyes of others. While Orrin Gault and his lot see him as an outsider and an interloper, and others of the oasis (mostly women) see him as a very handsome new arrival in a town that doesn’t get many new arrivals (and honestly, relatable), his friendship with Annileen Calwell does allow him some vulnerability. She’s the one who can read between the lines of what he tells her, and she is the one who eventually gets to the heart of the issue: that whatever tragic thing happened before he arrived, he absolutely blames himself.

Initially, he is hesitant to be anything other than a pleasant new resident of the area who needs a few essentials for his home. Even after saving Annileen’s teenage daughter Kallie from being crushed by her runaway mount (which leads Kallie to develop a huge crush on the mysterious Ben, which again – relatable), he strives not to have too much attention drawn to himself. In spite of that resolution, he and the widowed Annileen strike up a rather sweet friendship.

While Annileen is quick to notice that she’s drawn to the kind and handsome Ben, Obi-Wan is less willing to throw himself into whatever this is growing between them. There is, of course, his mission in guarding Luke. But also, he is haunted by the memory of what his closeness to Satine did to them both. He also makes mention of a “Siri Tachi” from his Padawan years, and I cannot wait to see if she either pops up in the Jedi Apprentice books or if – even better – she makes an appearance in Kiersten White’s Padawan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As achingly sweet as Obi-Wan and Annileen’s relationship has the potential to be, there is simply too much there. Too much baggage, too much damage, too many goals pulling them in opposite directions. True, she is the only person who comes close to hearing the truth about what happened with Anakin, but it’s still not enough. He is still tied to his mission and we as readers know this broken man is still destined to become the crazy old hermit known as Ben Kenobi. But it’s a testament to the writing that on rereading this I was hoping that maybe – just maybe – things would go differently this time.

Beyond the connection between Obi-Wan and Annileen, there is of course the very different connection he forges with the local Tusken tribe, led by A’Yark.

Long before The Book of Boba Fett did it, this book really shows the Tuskens in a different light than what the movies presented. They are the ones being demonized and harmed by the settlers and are not the monsters they are made out to be. Their culture and way of life is explored in detail, and the tribe under A’Yarks leadership is shown to be adaptable, open to mixing the traditional ways with the realities of the times they live in.

When it becomes clear that the local Settler’s Call posse is not as altruistic and well-intentioned as they would have liked others to believe, Obi-Wan works together wit A’Yark to come up with a mutually beneficial plan to both put an end to things and to allow the tribe to begin to heal for the wrongs done to them by the settlers.

Kenobi is a book I could talk about for hours, easily. It’s a fantastic look at how to do a local, small-stakes story and make it feel huge. Obi-Wan as a character is one who quite literally has played a role in shaping the current state of the galaxy for better or worse. And yet the only part of those events that follows him to Tatooine is the pain of his own loss, and his perceived failure. In helping Annileen and in helping the Tuskens, he applies the lessons learned during a difficult war and an even more difficult battle with one of the people he cared about the most, no matter how much the outcome/resulting memories might hurt. The man he is – the man the galaxy knew as Obi-Wan Kenobi – remains every inch the upstanding individual who cannot help but try to do right by those around him, no matter what name he’s calling himself.

***

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