Biweekly Book Review: Brotherhood

I’ve said it before – most recently in my non-spoiler review for this book – but as someone for whom Obi-Wan Kenobi is an all time fave, I cannot quite believe he is at the centre of so much Star Wars storytelling right now.

Does this make me the biggest kind of hypocrite? I will openly and often decry the need for further stories about characters who have appeared frequently across Star Wars media, so why should I be happy we’re revisiting someone who has been around since the beginning?

Well, first of all, this is my blog and I can be as hypocritical as I like. Second of all, for all that Obi-Wan Kenobi has literally existed for as long as Star Wars has, he is still a character of semi-untapped potential. What do I mean by “semi-untapped”? I mean that when the time comes to tell stories about him in the unseen portions of his life, the storytellers are not weaving a tale out of whole cloth.

Obi-Wan is a character whose life we sort of understand. We know the broad strokes of the tragedy that has befallen him, but not the little events in between. In the case of Mike Chen’s Brotherhood, which we’re looking at today, we’ve seen Obi-Wan as Anakin’s master, and we’ve seen him as his peer. But the question of how they bridged that gap, and what tensions they carried forward with them, has remained a mystery. Until now.

The Story

If you’ve ever wondered what the “incident on Cato Nemoidia” was that Obi-Wan makes offhand mention of in Revenge of the Sith then wonder no more. At the dawn of the Clone Wars, a city on Cato Nemoidia is bombed, and the grieving locals are unsure where to place the blame.

Rather than sending Chancellor Palpatine to a potentially dangerous place, Obi-Wan Kenobi volunteers to go alone in a gesture of goodwill in order to investigate the cause and culprit of the explosion. Unwilling to let an agent of the Republic embark on this alone, Dooku informs the Senate and the Jedi that he plans on sending an emissary of his own along with Obi-Wan.

Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker, newly minted Jedi Knight, is learning what life and responsibility look like as a full member of the order. A short lecture to a group of initiates about what he has learned turns into a mission escorting them first on a relief mission, then to Ilum to collect their kyber crystals.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) Anakin never makes it to Ilum. Obi-Wan – working with local guard Ruug and her subordinate Ketar – is caught up in a local plot to discredit him and the Republic, spearheaded by Dooku’s emissary, the Nightsister Asajj Ventress, and is entangled in the aforementioned business on Cato Nemoidia that only Anakin can pull him out of. Well, Anakin and Jedi Initiate Mill Alibeth.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)

1. Connection to the Larger Story

“But Arezou” I hear you say. “Don’t you say that every time? And also wasn’t that the whole point of this project to begin with?”

First of all, yes. Second of all, also yes. But hear me out.

Objectively speaking, I know that all these Star Wars stories are set in the same broader universe. The connections exist, however organically or inorganically, and they are hard to miss. However, the way Mike Chen draws these connections for the reader is a thing of beauty. References to past events do not exist simply to tell us that he’s seen a star war. The references are made because they better serve the character and the story.

Take the reappearance of Dexter Jettster, the diner owner Obi-Wan visits in Attack of the Clones. Their dynamic in that movie suggests a long-time friendship, and yet we never see them together again. Granted, the bulk of the Clone Wars series takes place off of Coruscant – or if its on Coruscant its in the Temple/Senate – and Revenge of the Sith is set during a really…busy week in Obi-Wan’s life. So he doesn’t have much time for his Besalisk buddy. But another investigation is the perfect opportunity to not only revisit the character, but to show how and why he was such a confidant for Obi-Wan to begin with.

Though it was a much smaller moment, when Anakin makes a quick mention of his childhood friend Kitster, it was such a story highlight for me. I feel like so much of Anakin’s life is defined by loss and loneliness, that it’s often forgotten that he used to be a happy, social kid with best friends. True the moment is used to highlight how that friendship is a thing of the past, but it’s so crucial to who Anakin is, that it’s great that Chen remembered to include it.

Also, I didn’t realize this until someone pointed it out but I am shocked this is where we see Anakin and Obi-Wan meet Asajj Ventress. She’s so integral to the plot of The Clone Wars that it sort of feels like she’s always been there. But her introduction here is so seamless, even for those who know her from the show or from Dooku: Jedi Lost. There is just enough concealed about her, in both dialogue and narration, that it feels like a first introduction for the reader too.

2. Romance!

Another point that I’m sure has you all shocked to your core. Despite this not being a straight-up romance novel, the romance that we do get jumps out not only with how well written it is, but also it presents the kind of love we don’t get the chance to see very often.

Taking centre stage, romantically speaking, are newlyweds Anakin and Padmé. I mentioned in my Queen’s Hope review that their dynamic in that book didn’t work for me. I got no sense of the passion they felt for one another. One thing I mentioned in that review as well, was that it wasn’t necessary for us to “see” them together in a more intimate situation to believe the relationship.

Well, I am here to definitively say that we don’t “see” that in Brotherhood at all, and yet there is absolutely no doubt in my or anyone’s mind that the honeymoon followed them right off of Naboo and onto Coruscant, so to speak.

Beyond that, we get to actually spend time with the two of them together. They go on a really sweet date in the lower levels of Coruscant, away from their responsibilities and in plainclothes disguise so they can just be a young couple for once. We see how they tease each other, and how much they enjoy the others company. Plus we get some sense of how their minds work, and how they tackle the larger issues of systemic, galactic inequality in different, though equally passionate ways.

In a more just galaxy, there is no reason these two crazy kids couldn’t have made it work. If not for that meddling Palpatine…and the Jedi Order too…

Less prominent in the text but no less prominent in my heart are the Obitine crumbs we are gifted with. No, Satine the Duchess of Mandalore does not make an actual physical appearance in this book, but her presence is felt all the same. Dex mentions her to Obi-Wan in a discussion of various wartime politics – and in so doing re-canonizing where Obi-Wan got his “Ben” nickname from – while also managing to tease him just a little. Obi-Wan reflects a lot on what could have been, especially as he watches Anakin live through what he assumes in an infatuation with Padmé. It’s rewarding as a fan of The Clone Wars and of this ship in particular to see it acknowledged as an instrumental part of Obi-Wan’s life…and it gives me hope that we’ll see it come up in the series as well!

3. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s Dynamic

Obi-Wan and Anakin’s dynamic is, without a doubt, the thing on which the success of this novel hinged. It was also the thing I worried about the most.

Theirs is a strange relationship. I once compared it to an older brother who suddenly had to raise his younger half-brother that he didn’t know existed after their dad dies. Obi-Wan didn’t want to take Anakin as an apprentice and only does so because he promised Qui-Gon he would. Nevertheless, over the course of 10 years together, they do develop a closeness that surpasses obligation.

In Attack of the Clones we see Anakin tell Obi-Wan that he’s the closest thing he’s got to a father, but later in Revenge of the Sith Obi-Wan tearfully tells Anakin that they were like brothers. What seems like a contradiction in the scripts is bridged so fantastically in Brotherhood. The truth is that neither man is certain of where they stand anymore, and the rapid change from master-apprentice to colleague in the midst of a war doesn’t give them the time to reflect on the change.

Where they end up by the end, unsure of how to label they dynamic while also acknowledging that one of them simply doesn’t work without the other, is the most perfect conclusion they could have reached. Not to mention the way that realization is written clearly draws on the sentiment and style of Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novel, which is easily the most poetic novelization in Star Wars canon (I know its not “canon” anymore, leave me alone).

The way Qui-Gon is brought up as well was extremely satisfying. The common idea that none of this would have happened had Qui-Gon been around has never sat well with me, not least because no one believed the “Chosen One” prophecy more than he did, and if you think that wouldn’t have messed up Anakin’s mind…

But what I liked is that he wasn’t deified by the narration. Anakin holds him to a lofty ideal of course, because he is the great “what if” in his life. But there is no suggestion that this is absolutely the correct way of thinking. Plus Obi-Wan is also given the space to think on his own “what ifs” with Qui-Gon. He isn’t brushed aside as a stick in the mud who failed Anakin, which is unfortunately what can sometimes happen. Both men are given space to process their loss.

4. Realistic Foreshadowing

Sometimes Star Wars stumbles into the problem of foreshadowing something so heavily that they might as well be yelling “Get it? Get it?” in your ear over and over again. Annoying, since you can usually get it without the yelling.

Fortunately, for all that it does foreshadow quite a bit, Brotherhood never falls into that trap.

There is one small moment, when Ruug is speaking to Obi-Wan about Ketar points out that she taught him all he knows for better or worse. It’s such a small moment that speaks to the turmoil that will inform the last 20 years of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life. And it all happens in such a blink and you miss it way.

The most obvious bit of foreshadowing to me is Anakin’s relationship with his proto-Padawan Mill Alibeth. She is a Dathomirian girl who feels her emotions very keenly and can sense the emotions of others very easily, when she lets herself fall in tune with the Force.

Though she is never formally Anakin’s student, she does accompany him on the mission and she is the first one he imparts his Jedi wisdom to. She also openly questions the mandates of the Jedi and the necessity of them acting as soldiers and warriors. As much as she enjoys being in tune with the Force, she doesn’t really feel the system in place is for her. I wonder who that sounds like?

Watching Anakin try to reach a young girl struggling with her place in the Jedi Order, only for that girl to eventually walk away is something that obviously mirrors his relationship with Ahsoka. But where Ahsoka was thrown under the bus by the Order, Mill feels emboldened by the options it presents her, choosing to use her talents for goodwill and healing rather than fighting. It almost makes me wonder what would have become of Ahsoka Tano under different circumstances.

Which then takes me to a whole other level of heartbreak when it comes to foreshadowing. This doesn’t just set up a fall we know is coming, it also pays off other stories so well, namely those of The High Republic.

I’ve said before that The High Republic does a really good job at drawing those clear lines where you can see how they got from that era to the prequel era. But this is now the first prequel-era story that has really come to be while taking the existence of The High Republic into account.

As the conflict with the Nihil rages on in those books, the Jedi are forced to question their place in all this. They work together with the Republic so why not help them with this one fight? It’s not like it’s forever.

And therein lies the danger. We don’t know what happened in the intervening 150 years but we do know that this tenuous separation between Jedi and Republic wears thinner and thinner. So much so that they occupy military command roles before it’s even formalized, and once it is formalized it’s all over so quickly no one has any time to process. There’s no resistance because there’s nothing holding them back and preventing them from falling. So in this way too, Chen weaves together the story, connecting the Clone Wars era and the High Republic era.

5. Humour

One thing I think a lot of people forget about the prequels – either because they’re focused on another aspect or because they’re just plain stubborn – is just how funny they are. There’s a tendency to take Star Wars too seriously, and yeah I’m 2 years into a Star Wars deep-diving book blog so it’s not like I don’t take it seriously but it’s still supposed to be fun at the end of the day!

All this to say that Brotherhood understands not only how funny the prequels are but how necessary that humour is to the overall tone of the story and the characters. It’s not Anakin and Obi-Wan without the banter, after all. This one has the added benefit of that tight third-person narration that lets us inside their heads. Their inner monologue shares the same sense of humour as the person they are when speaking, and it’s almost impossible not to hear it in their voices.

6. Needs More Padmé

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Padmé we do get in the book. Honestly, that’s probably the root of the problem in that I like the Padmé that Mike Chen has written so much that I’m sad we don’t see more of her.

Not only does this Padmé genuinely feel like the one I see onscreen – going back to what I said earlier, I can practically hear Natalie Portman – but I love how faceted she is. She has all the heart we know her to have. She cares for Anakin but not at the expense of her cause. In fact, she balances both of them quite well. She is determined to make a go of things while changing the galaxy for the better.

I also loved, in the few moments we had, how fallible she is. She is not a perfect person, and in her way – as most Senators at the time did – contributed to the slow crumble of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. Even when it’s casually suggested that Palpatine not be made privy to investigative details, she insists he be told. After all, he’s a friend and she trusts him. Even without the Force to draw on, Palpatine’s manipulative powers know no bounds and this moment was genuinely scary. It’s what made me wish we’d had a few chapters from her point of view.

Random Thoughts

I really like that Mill’s status in the order by the end is left juuuuuust ambiguous enough that I can tell myself she survived Order 66.


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