Had ‘Star Wars’ been released within the last ten years it would doubtless have been reviewed as a ‘genre mash-up’. SF, fantasy and war are all detectable in the mix. Looming large in the genre collection is also the western. The first half of the film treats the deserts of Tatooine like the frontier setting so beloved of John Ford. In fact, his seminal film ‘The Searchers’ is a direct influence on ‘Star Wars’ and one shot is specifically referenced, the one with the smoking post-attack homestead. ‘Attack Of The Clones’ steals more shots.
John Jackson Miller’s ‘Kenobi’ is firmly set in the realm of the western. Having delivered the infant Luke to the Lars household, Obi-Wan Kenobi sets out to be a hermit, keeping a low-profile and watching over the young Skywalker. Like a lot of plans, though, life gets in the way. While Tatooine may be a desert, there’s life in the frontier town of Dannar’s Claim. Annileen Calwell runs the local store, trying to keep her teen-age kids out of trouble and maintaining a fraught relationship with Orrin Gault, a moisture farmer and businessman. The moisture farmers eek out a meagre existence while under the constant threat of attacks from the nomadic Sand People, not to mention Tatooine’s arid weather.
Kenobi arrives in town and rescues Annileen from a runaway dewback. Though he doesn’t want any sort of social entanglement, crazy old Ben’ finds himself drawn into the affairs of the townspeople and the heart of Annileen.
The ‘stranger in town’ is a key western plot re-used many times and Miller does it justice in what is a highly enjoyable and character-driven ‘Star Wars’ story. Gone are the politicised, interstellar conflicts of ‘The Clone Wars’. This is a book about a man trying to restart his life, let go of the past and find some meaning. While Obi-Wan’s mission to hermitage could have been very dull, Miller has crafted such a believable world in Tatooine’s wild west that it is difficult to imagine the noise and bustle of Coruscant. In fact, the book makes it clear how isolated Tatooine is and all the other worlds seem far, far away.
Sensibly, the baby Skywalker is kept at arm’s length and there’s a pleasing host of new characters to encounter. From cowboys to gangsters and even a Mon Calamari town doctor, Miller shows us new and interesting facets of the Star Wars universe. Like the original movie, they all feel very real, too.
To say much more would spoil things, but ‘Kenobi’ is a highly satisfying read. Eschewing the high drama of the Clone Wars and focusing on smaller issues, is both a gratifying and remarkable thing to do. Here is a book about loss and starting again, perfect for the new post-Lucas era that the franchise finds itself in. Recommended.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 360 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $32.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-54683-8)