At the end of Episode III, Obi-Wan Kenobi is forced into hiding after believing that he killed Anakin in their confrontation. He took with him the infant Luke Skywalker and pledged to watch over him until the time was right. Episode VI (or, to us Gen-xer's, Star Wars) sees "Crazy Old Ben" Kenobi pulled out of hiding to finally lead the teen age Luke back out into space to fulfill his destiny.
In between, we have been left to wonder how Obi-Wan became Ben and what life was like for him. This book gives us, at last, the first part of the answer. Set in the months following the end of Episode III, John Jackson Miller takes us on a journey to see how Kenobi struggles to transform himself from the galactic hero to hidden away hermit. The change is not a smooth one for a man used to throwing himself into the action and coming to the rescue of those in need.
The book has been, I think fairly, been called more of a Western rather than a true "Star Wars" novel. But, in truth, it must be what it is in order to successfully deliver Kenobi's story. Tatooine is a remote world where the events of the Republic/Empire are largely third hand tales and life is governed by the efforts to "farm" moisture from the dry desert air while the real threats come from the Hutt's who run the planet and the native Sand People who fight the settlers over it.
The story is largely successful and mostly convincing. Where the story does fall short is in the final acts. The action becomes excessively complicated and feels like something Lucas would throw together as a bunch of unnecessary "wiz-bang". The final disposition of Kenobi, while it ends as it does because continuity requires it, doesn't really get him there in a way I could quite buy into. To say more would spoil things. Overall, it is worth checking out, so I don't want to give too much away.
As is my custom, I consumed this as an audiobook. As has been the case of late, the audio production is superb, and Johnathan Davis, as I've come to expect, does an excellent job bringing these characters to life. He is especially convincing as Kenobi - an iconic voice well known thanks to Ewan MacGregor and James Arnold Taylor's portrayals in the movies and Clone Wars TV series. Davis picks up Kenobi's voice and mannerisms seemlessly and probably makes me give this story it's fourth star when I might have been inclined to just give it three.
This is not a book you read to see how the story ends. Anyone who has seen the Star Wars films know where the path leads. This is a book to read to find out how we got to the stories told in the Star Wars films. And this book does it masterfully.
I've read many Star Wars books over the years. Some have been great, some just OK, and many quite mediocre. This book sits at a high place on the list.
This book starts some 40 years before the events of "The Phantom Menace" and tells the tale of Darth Plagueis, the Sith Lord who recruited and trained Palpatine; the one who would eventually become ruler of the Galactic Empire. It picks up with Plagueis orchestrating the murder of his own master and his dropping the shackles of the apprentice role in the Sith Lord pairing. Over the course, we get to see how he finds Palpatine, and how all the pieces are put in motion that have their final payoffs in the prequel trilogy. Count Dooku, Darth Maul, the creation of the clone army, and the engineering of the Naboo crisis with the blockade by the Trade Federation. All with come to be understood and the roles that Plagueis and Palpatine (Darth Siddious) play in bringing them about.
It's more political thriller than space opera. It also represents a rather higher level of prose than I'm using to seeing in a Star Wars novel, and it was most welcome.
Finally, as usual, I took this in as an audio book. While Mark Thompson does well narrating the typical Star Wars novel as a jaunty, swashbuckling adventure, I don't think his style would have worked as well with this story and these characters. Daniel Davis does an excellent job bringing this much darker Star Wars tale to life.
Twenty years ago, Zahn jump starting of the expanded, post ROTJ Star Wars with an epic trilogy that remains a standard by which all later Star Wars books were judged. Seeing this special edition unabridged recording inspired me to revisit this title to see how well it held up. For the most part, it has aged well. Zahn offering a compelling and swift moving narrative giving us a look at life in that galaxy far far away after the Rebellion's victory.
Most important of all, though, is the unabridged redition of the complete story. To many Star Wars novels suffer from their abridgement into audiobook form. This gives the full experience and I hope that we will get to have the other two books of this trilogy in unabridged form soon as well.