It’s rare – though happening more and more these days – for someone else’s writing to feel like a win for me personally. I am of course not labouring under the delusion that anyone has ever written a book for me, specifically. But when a book comes along containing just about damn near everything you wanted to see in one place, it’s hard not to treat it like the gift it is.
Kiersten White has done something really special here. She has managed to take one of the oldest characters in Star Wars and give him a brand new story that feels as if it’s been part of the story all along. In a word, it is a masterpiece. In more than a word? Let’s dive into Padawan by Kiersten White.
Teenage Obi-Wan Kenobi feels out of place at the Jedi Temple. He doesn’t get to do the cool things his friends do, since his master Qui-Gon Jinn seems content to keep him around the temple working on things Obi-Wan finds far too basic.
When wandering the temple, Obi-Wan finds a long hidden carving in the wall from Jedi of the past, namely Orla Jareni and Cohmac Vitus. Intrigued by clues left behind by Orla, Obi-Wan uncovers a trail she left behind to a mission that went unfinished. He is curious enough to propose finishing the mission himself and proposes it to Qui-Gon, who seems willing enough. But when the day comes, his master is nowhere to be seen. Sick of this, and ready to try things on his own, Obi-Wan takes off without him.
The coordinates lead him to the nature-covered world of Lenahra, where the only residents appear to be a handful of teenagers who seem to be using the Force, but not in a way Obi-Wan can detect. He begins to contemplate what it would be like living life on this world as part of their little community, away from the Jedi Order, while gradually realizing things are not what they seem, and they might be in over their heads, and better suited to leaving the world behind for good.
I know Jedi Apprentice is no longer canon, but if any book were to bridge the gap between Obi-Wan’s headspace in that series and in current canon, it would be this book. Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice is a turning point for Obi-Wan, and for his and Qui-Gon’s relationship, where they finally fully understand each other as student and apprentice. But all that means is there were years before they reached that understanding where their relationship was uncertain at best.
But as though who read the Jedi Apprentice books will know, it wasn’t like a sudden switch flip from nothing to perfect partnership, there was a lot of give and take, and tentative understandings that crumbled under the weight of Obi-Wan’s (and sometimes Qui-Gon’s) anxieties. Because this book is so much longer than Jedi Apprentice, it isn’t required to stick so largely to the ongoing plot, and actually gives Obi-Wan time to sit with his feelings about his master, and his training — feelings that propel him to rebel and run away chasing adventure because he feels like no one truly cares what he does.
Another feature of this book that we haven’t really gotten to see with Obi-Wan before, simply by virtue of its chronology, is how his capacity for good, and his capacity to help others is so firmly engrained in him, even when he is the only person he needs to worry about. No apprentice, no master, no protogé. All he has to do is keep himself alive on Lenahra, and he can’t bring himself to do it. He gets so invested in the cause of Audj, Casul and their friends that it quickly becomes less about him running away, and more about trying to help others. Because if there’s one thing Obi-Wan Kenobi does, it’s care about other people.
One part of this book that has caught a lot of attention is a fairly small moment where Obi-Wan and Casul muse on the idea of romance and kissing in general, and their whole exchange nearly made me start shrieking on the airplane I was sitting in when I read this. Obi-Wan wonders about the idea of exploring intimacy with another — musing that his friend Siri Tachi (from Jedi Apprentice! The connections just keep coming!) would be down for it if he ever was — and even considers whether or not he and Casul should try kissing each other. Ultimately he opts not to, both because his focus is elsewhere and because he isn’t really feeling it. We know this won’t always be the case, as he is a few short years from falling head over ass in love with Satine Kryze. But getting actual, on the page confirmation that Obi-Wan Kenobi is both bi and demisexual was a revelation, particularly where the demisexuality is concerned. This kind of asexuality spectrum representation is rare, and characters seem to exist at the extremes of “down to fuck” and “no thank you not under any circumstances”. Really apart from The Love Hypothesis, a romance novel, I can’t recall ever seeing a character who was interested in the idea of eventually being with someone else romantically, physically, emotionally, provided they have that built up friendship and trust first. There’s a reason Obi-Wan’s mind goes to Siri before it goes to Casul. He knows Siri, he feels he can trust her. I can’t speak for every demi person out there, but I know my mind has often made similar connections. Thank you, thank you Kiersten White for this rep. It means more than you know.
As a final note, while this book isn’t technically a High Republic story, having Orla Jareni (and Cohmaca Vitus to a lesser extent) appear in an Obi-Wan story made my High Republic loving heart so, so happy. I couldn’t help but wonder, when reading those books, if Obi-Wan and the other Jedi raised at the Temple had any knowledge of the goings-on of the High Republic era. This little interlude, where he finds Orla’s message about her mission, but finds incomplete records as well and is unsure why she never finished her quest is extremely telling. While the adults of the Order might be aware of the hyperspace disaster, and the destruction of the Republic Fair, and the crashing of the Starlight Beacon, as well as the deaths of several Jedi due to the Nameless, this is not something the Padawans have been taught. Obviously the Nihil aren’t what poses a threat to the fall of the current Republic so it’s not like this is responsible for that, but I do wonder how all this will be addressed whenever Phase III picks up.
Final verdit: 10/10, no notes. This has become one of my favourite Star Wars stories and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have it at all.