As past experience has proven, if I say I'm going to do a more substantial review and wait on it, I shall probably never do it, so best to do so now instead of waiting.
HOLY SHIT, Y'ALL, THIS BOOK.Star Wars: Kenobi
, by John Jackson Miller, takes place immediately following Revenge of the Sith, as Obi-Wan is trying to settle in to life on Tatooine, before he becomes the crazy old Ben of A New Hope. And for a novel that's actually named after a character, a lot of it isn't about Obi-Wan, which is what makes it so brilliant. Because Obi-Wan isn't a viewpoint character
. (While Obi-Wan does have a POV, sort of, the only time anything actually appears from his POV is when he's meditating.)
In fact, the name "Obi-Wan" only appears four times in the entire book, three times within the same few sentences, and the use of it is very, very deliberate. ( quote, spoilers )
I've been thinking a lot about fanfic and tie-ins recently, since I've been reading a lot of Star Wars tie-ins. It's a less obvious link when those tie-ins aren't dealing with movieverse characters -- anything set before the lifetime of the PT characters, largely; I don't have much interest in anything set after the OT. But tie-ins where movieverse characters are major or secondary characters, or which deal with movieverse events (novels set during the Clone Wars, for example, or set between ANH and ESB) are another beast entirely, because in some ways they are essentially fanfiction, just published and authorized fanfiction. But tie-ins -- interstitial tie-ins specifically, since (and someone who actually knows stuff about the post-OT EU can back me up here) tie-ins that take place after the main canon has been closed are yet another beast -- are a lot more limited than fic, because you can't have really, really major events in a tie-in, rather than on the big screen, so to speak: while there are lots of big events that take place in the Star Wars EU between TPM and RotS (whether in novels, comics, or the two TV series), there's no way to have Anakin's discovery, Qui-Gon's death, the start of the Clone Wars, or Palpatine's reveal, Anakin's fall, and Order 66 in a piece of secondary material. In fic, you can do that; you don't have to worry about the Hand of God or George Lucas saying NOPE NOPE NOPE. (I've also noticed that tie-ins tend to have a lot more blatant emotionalism even than fanfic, but I'm not sure if that's a characteristic of the genre or just of a couple of specific authors.)Kenobi
is an interstitial tie-in, since it's bounded by RotS and ANH. We know where Obi-Wan is before it starts; we know where Obi-Wan has to be by the time it ends. We know that Obi-Wan's story is essentially not going anywhere, which is one reason that there is very little EU material that involves Obi-Wan during the nineteen years between RotS and ANH. Miller slides around that conundrum (how do you tell a story about a character who isn't going anywhere except emotionally?) by not making the novel about Obi-Wan.
Let's back up.
The Pika Oasis, a small settlement on the edge of the Jundland Wastes. Annileen Calwell runs Dannar's Claim, the only general store for kilometers around. It's a small, more or less self-sustaining community largely populated by moisture farmers. Over the past four years, attacks by Tusken Raiders (the Sand People) have been on the rise, and the settlers around the Oasis have banded together to form a posse that reacts to raids if the alarm goes off. Of course, settlers who want to be protected by this posse have to pay for the privilege, but it seems a small sacrifice. Heading up the posse is Orrin Gault, a friend of Annileen's late husband. It's a system that seems to work well, as does Annileen's and Orrin's friendly relationship.
For the Sand People, things are changing rapidly, and in ways that threaten their millennia-old traditions. Reprisal attacks by settlers and changing environmental conditions have winnowed their numbers, forcing them to adapt their traditions or die. Four years earlier, an entire tribe of Sand People died under mysterious circumstances, further lessening their numbers. Leading the tribe near the Jundland Wastes is the one-eyed Tusken A'Yark -- called Plug-Eye by the settlers -- who wants nothing more than to clear the settlers from what was once Tusken land.
Into this comes a new settler, a stranger who calls himself Ben. Newcomers are a rare sight around here, especially ones who want to live so far from civilization. Despite his apparent reluctance to get involves in the community, he and Annileen soon become friends.
Sound familiar? That's right: Star Wars: Kenobi
is a Western.
. Miller always refers to the non-native residents of Tatooine, even the ones who have been there for generations, as settlers, because that's what they are -- still scratching at the surface of the world, essentially farming the rarest product on the planet: water. The Tuskens have a very distinct (and alien) voice and culture, but they're never presented as black-and-white bad guys (and they aren't the primary antagonists of the novel) and the impact of the settlers on their culture is never whitewashed by Miller. There's even a background robber baron, so to speak, ( spoilers )
. Obi-Wan is the mysterious stranger who rides in from out of town, trouble seeming to follow in his wake, who knows a lot about a lot, but not much about Tatooine.
Annileen and A'Yark are both great, fully-fledged characters -- Kenobi
is their story as much as it is Obi-Wan's, maybe more so. Even in Star Wars, it's rare to see a novel where the main character is a middle-aged widow with two teenage children who doesn't need a man, who's perfectly capable of holding her own, and Annileen is that woman. She's not royalty like Padme Amidala or Leia Organa, or a Jedi like Ahsoka Tano or Aayla Secura; she's a shopkeeper and a mother and a woman with a life of her own, friends, and dreams that she never quite managed to fulfill. ( spoilers )
There's a lot going on in this novel about identity, as there should be for a novel that's named after a character. It's also a novel haunted by ghosts -- not literal ones, I should hasten to add, since this is Star Wars and anything is possible, but the ghosts of the past. Tusken habits are changing because of Anakin's slaughter of the tribe in AotC. Obi-Wan carries the weight of the dead with him in every waking moment. Annileen's shop is her dead husband's legacy to her. But Kenobi
never wallows in any of it, which is a surprise and a delight. The closest that it comes is in Obi-Wan's meditations, and he always cuts himself off before he can wallow. Miller doesn't need
to have Obi-Wan wallow or dwell on Order 66; the reader knows what happens.
And that, I think, is the real difference between this novel and a lot of the other interstitial tie-ins I've read recently. Miller trusts the reader to remember the events of the PT; he never has to sit down and say, okay, kids, so the Republic fell and now there's an empire, all the Jedi are dead, Obi-Wan Kenobi's life is terrible. Because the reader knows that. Nobody picks up this kind of novel without already knowing that. But quite a few tie-in authors don't trust their readers, which is why you have the kind of blatant emotionalism in some novels that basically tells you what you already know, just in case you couldn't pick it up on the screen. (It's a show, don't tell issue, and certainly isn't limited to tie-ins or to fanfic because I've also seen it in purely original fiction, but it strikes me the most about those two genres because it echoes and tries to explain what already appears in the canon.)
I can't really ever think of tie-ins critically without comparing them to fanfic, because they do the same thing -- work in and around the existing canon to tell a story. This is probably the best example that I've seen so far, which I think is because it isn't
Obi-Wan's story. I don't think Miller could have written this novel from Obi-Wan's POV and had it be as good as it is. From an outside POV, it works because he trusts the reader: we know why Obi-Wan is on Tatooine, we know what his secret sorrow is, we know what his history is, we know what that mysterious blue light that sometimes appears around him in the midst of firefights is, and we know where his story ends. There's no need to write that from his POV. It would be extremely difficult to sustain a novel on that.
On Twitter earlier I said that Kenobi
is the profic equivalent of synecdochic
's SGA fic Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose
. It's an apt comparison; it's the same "the meaning of life is do the next thing" type of genre. They're very different stories, but it's the kind of genre you never expect to see in a pro tie-in novel. And it's brilliant
Just a note: Kenobi
has a couple of nods to the EU, but it's rooted entirely in the movies and you can read it without knowing anything about the EU. It's entirely self-sustaining aside from assuming that the reader has seen the PT.( notable bits, spoilers, now I'M going to wallow in blatant emotionalism )
Seriously, if you like the PT and you ever wanted to read one tie-in novel: read this one. It's fantastic. It's everything a tie-in novel could and should be. And the cover art
(by Chris McGrath) is amazing. I want it in poster size so I can put it on my wall and sigh over it.