A STAR WARS WESTERN

STAR WARS: KENOBI
By John Jackson Miller
464 pp. Del Rey Books, $7.99.

Have you ever wondered what Obi-Wan Kenobi did after going into exile on Tatooine following the events in the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith? Well, thanks to author John Jackson Miller – we have a story centering around the much-beloved Jedi and his time on the infamous desert planet. Though this book is no longer considered official canon after Disney purchased Lucasfilm back in 2012, it is still part of the Star Wars Legends line, which are sort of “what if” scenarios until Disney deems otherwise.

The story itself is structured to read like a western, with Obi-Wan Kenobi playing the traditional role of the drifter blowing into the backwater town of Dannar’s Claim, which is under constant attack by Tusken Raider bandits. The Tuskens fill in for the role of the traditional western antagonists, Native Americans – and are led by a cunning strategist named “Plug Eye” by the people of Dannar’s Claim, but known as A’Yark by her people . It’s an admittedly strange-sounding premise but is a surprisingly good take on the tropes normally found within similar stories.

At first, the citizens of Dannar’s Claim are distrustful of “Ben” Kenobi, but after Obi-Wan saves a local woman, Annileen Calwell, and her teen daughter Kallie – on an individual basis many of Dannar’s Claim’s citizens slowly warm to him, though he tries to keep his distance. A man named Orrin Gault, who wants to marry Annileen, is suspicious of Obi-Wan and soon the two come to a head, with Obi-Wan investigating him and discovering that Orrin is deeply in debt to Jabba Desilijic Tiure, a brutal crime lord. When Obi-Wan interferes with one of Orrin’s schemes, he outs Obi-Wan as a Jedi and threatens to reveal him to the Empire.

Miller is no slouch when it comes to action, but if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re not going to find that here. Instead, Miller explores the town of Dannar’s Claim and the surrounding desert wastes, and tells the story of those experiencing the unique brand of mystery that seems to surround Obi-Wan Kenobi. For much of the book, indeed, you will not be inhabiting Kenobi himself but instead inhabiting citizens of the town such as Annileen, and even A’Yark, the leader of the band of Tusken Raiders. That’s not to say that you won’t be getting a dose of Kenobi, because you do – but for a book with his name as the title, it’s probably not what you’d expect.

What the book did really well, I think, was to give voice to the normally-bland identities of the Tusken Raiders, or “Sand People” as they’re sometimes referred to. We do not find the mindless savage in A’Yark’s character that we’ve seen in the films, hollering and waving her gaffi stick – but instead a strong and cunning individual whose only limitations are due to religion and technology. Miller provides a complex breakdown of Tusken life and culture, which is nice to see done in such an effective and interesting way, and turns the Sand People into complex and complicated foils for several characters rather than the two-dimensional villains we’ve seen before.

The writing was fairly slow-paced, with the action building to a sort of climax in the middle, but then mellowing out and  building to yet another climax moment by the end. The structure makes for easy reading, and the characters are all pretty engaging, especially what you do get of Obi-Wan. As you’re reading, you can’t help but think of Ewan McGregor, who played Obi-Wan in the prequel trilogy. Miller effectively channeled McGregor as he wrote, and that’s a good thing because McGregor was one of the best things about the prequel trilogy and he’s the most interesting character residing in Dannar’s Claim by a long shot.

So, while still not official canon and while the events in Star Wars: Kenobi are not what actually happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi during the twenty years between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – right now it’s the closest we’re going to get until Obi-Wan gets his own solo film, and it’s worth seeing what might have been. Obi-Wan deserves more coverage as a character, and Miller has given we fans of the Jedi Master his due.

May the Force Be With You.

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