I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
Tatooine. Some call it the cradle of the Star Wars universe. It's home to the creatures the fans know and love: Jawas, Banthas, Sarlaccs, Krayt Dragons, and Tusken Raiders. And now it is the home of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker.
Beginning shortly before the end credits roll on Revenge of the Sith and covering the ground in the first weeks after the movie, this book reveals the long-awaited tale of Kenobi's transition from venerable Jedi Master to "just a crazy old hermit." As one might expect, it's not easy to simply stop being who you are, and "Ben" finds himself neck-deep in settlement affairs and sand people attacks before he knows it. The end result is all the heart of an old western and the storytelling magic of Star Wars as John Jackson Miller gives us a look into the depths of the soul of a failed hero.
Narrated by Star Wars audiobook veteran Jonathan Davis, this book is given an even greater depth thanks to a bona fide performance. To be honest, I was hoping for a full one-man show from James Arnold Taylor, who voices Kenobi on The Clone Wars, but Davis' performance is strong enough to stand on its own for the right reasons. The strength of both writing and narration allow one to simply get sucked in and see it play out on the movie screen of the mind. Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but that's what happens for me when Star Wars returns to its roots within the scope of the film saga and finally expands out our understanding of one of its central characters.
While technically a stand-alone adventure, the very nature of the story is that it requires a familiarity with the films to fully appreciate it. But then, if you're not already a fan, why would you be reading this book? As one who is a little more deeply entrenched into the EU, I can say without really spoiling anything about the plot that canon cops are going to be screaming over the rather important reference to Sharad Hett. If you don't know who that is, don't worry - it gets explained, and it works within the scope of the story well. There's just that one tiny point that will irk the diehards specifically because of how woven it is into the backstory. For myself, I don't let it bother me. I found it to be a rather cool nod to an early prequel era comic, and let's be honest here: neither the novels nor the comics are actually canon. Forget this "layers of canon" nonsense, because Star Wars is the only franchise where the younger fans haven't figured it out yet. Regardless... it's a non-issue to the plot of this story. I will simply say this instead, that much like with Darth Plagueis, this book should probably be elevated to a higher level closer to the canon of the films because of the material it does cover.
What IS an issue to the plot of this story is an inside look at the culture of the sand people. As with other appearances of this race here and there throughout the EU, they are suitably creepy and fearsome, and it's a treat for this fan to get a story revolving around them.
One tiny personal disappointment I do have, and this is a bit of a character spoiler, but not a plot spoiler, is that Kenobi at no time learns that Darth Vader is still alive. I was hoping to have this scene, but perhaps they'll leave that for another story. There is no Vader in this story; it's Kenobi-centric, and all that implies. Tatooine is remote, after all, and the news travels slowly. A sense of how slowly is depicted here.
To make up for that tiny little disappointment, what we're given is a range of characters, most of them moisture farmers, who are actually interesting. These characters are so well written that you come to care for their plight in short order, which connects you to Kenobi as he fights his instincts to get involved.
I'll also add that I am a huge fan of ironic justice, and the ending of this book just works for me. It's brilliant, it's huge, and it's a bit disconcerting, and I'll say no more about that.
From there, you sprinkle in a few well-placed classic Ben Burtt sound effects and musical cues from the maestro John Williams, and what you have is one of the better written, better performed, and better produced Star Wars audiobooks on record. I've heard it said in early reviews that it's perhaps better than Darth Plagueis. I don't know that I'd go quite that far, but it is an excellent companion novel to Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, covering pretty much the same time frame and type of character transition in the wake of Ep. III.
Bottom line, in terms of importance to the EU and caliber of quality, this is one of the best in the line, and one that the fans simply must have.
I had a blast reading the book. Now to hear it performed, it's even better. Mashups like this usually don't impress me because most don't go for broke and waste time winking at themselves. This... this is greatness incarnate, and I daresay the Bard would approve.
A full cast of pros playing it straight and yet still coming across with a Monty Python edge, the classic sound effects and music... it's comedy gold. I can't imagine how many times they had to stop recording in the attempt to not bust a gut. I haven't laughed this hard in ages, and I think I spooked my co-workers this morning.
Joe Schreiber proved on Death Troopers that he can write for very specific subgenres. With Maul: Lockdown, the prison subgenre is given the Star Wars treatment. The first half of the book plays through every stereotype and expected classic bit imaginable in a way that's too much fun to just skip over. As Darth Sidious observes, any situation is rendered unstable when Maul is present, and Schreiber goes out of his way to show us exactly what that means. The second half, however, spends some time showing us the superior workings of Maul's mind and his worthiness to be a Sith apprentice. Being an amazing fighter isn't enough to be a classic villain, after all.
Taking place during the events of Darth Plagueis, shortly before The Phantom Menace, this book is NOT the sequel you might expect. Where it's placed in the timeline is the necessary due to Maul's limited operation periods in the Star Wars timeline, but Lockdown doesn't use Plagueis as a crutch. Instead, this is a standalone story that has but one objective: to let Maul loose to wreak havoc. Ironically, unleashing Maul means putting restraints on him, and that only seems to make him even more dangerous.
As with Death Troopers, Schreiber's incredibly descriptive prose brings a heightened sense of action and grit to the story. The inevitable fight scenes play out vividly.
Veteran Star Wars narrator Jonathan Davis is once again in top form, bringing the characters and situations to life as few others seem to be able to do. Mix in sound effects and a handful of classic John Williams musical cues, and the movie in your mind is complete.