Kenobi: Roundtable Reactions

Before we get started, I want to note that there’s been a lot of great Kenobi-related content online this week—both fan-made and official. While it’s the goal of Eleven-ThirtyEight not to get bogged down in reporting every little thing, I do want to quickly shout out two awesome fan reviews—one by Bria at Tosche Station, and one by Megan at Knights’ Archive. Lastly, whether you plan on reading the book or not (though why the hell wouldn’t you?), do yourself a favor and head to EW.com to hear James Arnold Taylor, voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars, read one of the book’s first-person segments in character. It’s magnificent. Anyway, ETE’s own Jay Shah and Lisa Schap received advance copies of Kenobi their own fine selves, so I thought it only appropriate to check in for their thoughts. Enjoy.

Mike: The thing that most stands out to me about Kenobi is that is might be the smallest-scale Star Wars novel ever. Not just in terms of the events of the book, but in terms of the perspectives presented, which are so tightly-focused that you don’t even know the gender of one of the major characters until halfway through. The best decision JJM made perspective-wise was to not actually tell any of the story from Obi-Wan’s point of view, instead only giving the occasional window into his mindset via his first-person attempts to commune with Qui-Gon. As for the plot itself, I feel like the whole thing could be boiled down to the word “parenting”, which is a pretty minor concern for a Star Wars book—no one is trying to take over Tatooine; no one even really cares about the Empire. Even the most outwardly antagonistic character, A’Yark, is also the one with the least power. They may be dangerous, but there is no threat whatsoever that her clan is going to wipe out the Pika Oasis. Thus, the book’s drama comes from how each of these people’s motives clash with the others’—and how even the slightest interference from Obi-Wan can totally alter that dynamic. Discuss.

Jay: The scale is small, but the ideas aren’t — and I think that’s a crucial element that Star Wars has been missing for a while. The post-NJO novels in particular have been stuck in this mindset that seems to think that a big conflict is required to discuss big issues, and that’s clearly not the case. The conflict in Kenobi is about as irrelevant as one gets on a galactic scale: we’re talking moisture farmers on a backwater dustball fighting with a group known pejoratively as either “sand people” or “raiders“. Heck, the farmers are living out in the boonies even by Tatooine standards: places like Bestine and Mos Eisley are referred to the way somebody out in the American west might have referred to glittering New York in the 19th century. Despite the technological advancement of the setting, there’s a clear sense of isolation and distance.

But what are the ideas that JJM gives us? Community vs individual values. Tolerance vs hatred. Identity. Power. Issues of family and business entanglements. The concerns the farmers and the Tuskens have are mundane, but they’re probably all the more weighty and relevant because they’re universally applicable.

This is an important thing Del Rey ought to keep in mind. Let’s look at A New Hope, or even the Original Trilogy as a whole. The primary action of the entire trilogy took place in the outskirts of the galaxy (excluding the minor “action” of Alderaan’s destruction and a series of treasonous events on Imperial Center), and featured a “pitiful little band” fighting a small Imperial taskforce. This wasn’t a galaxy-shaking conflict like the Clone Wars or the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and yet no element of Star Wars before or since has been as weighted with ideas as the original films.

The most complex novel of the New Jedi Order — Traitor — had almost all its action take place in a single location, and the stage was a single character. Yet the ideas exhibited by that novel were as important as those seen in Star by Star, which featured a galaxy-shattering battle for the heart of the galaxy.

Kenobi, I hope, sets the stage for further exploration into stories that don’t feature the galactic threat of the week, but still manifest all the themes present in Star Wars from the beginning.

Lisa: I actually think we’ve seen something similar to this before with the Coruscant Nights books. For sure Jedi Twilight primarily deals with a group of characters in a very small area of Coruscant. I’m not sure I read the rest of the trilogy but I know I really liked how that book focused on the characters and their small problems instead of some galaxy-shattering bad guy.

I agree with what both of you have said. I think these are the styles of books the fans are looking for. Every once in awhile it is nice to have a series like the NJO where the whole galaxy is in danger, but for the most part as a reader I want to be able to connect with the characters and that is easier for me to do in a smaller scale setting. I can empathize with Kallie. I’ve been that girl who didn’t want to work in a store and would rather be in the barn with the horses. Wives who have lost their husbands can empathize with Annileen on the struggle to be a single parent raising two headstrong children while still working hard to provide for their family. Military mothers can feel the heartbreak along with A’Yark as she sees the body of her son lost in combat.

I also think every one of us has had a friend that you knew was going down the wrong path in life and you tried your best to save but couldn’t. The look into Obi-wan’s thoughts through use of the meditation to Qui-Gon was refreshing because we don’t get that depth in the Star Wars novels anymore.

A small point of contention and I think this is sort of drawing a fine line, but I don’t think ‘parenting’ in the right word to define the plot. Perhaps how I feel is a direct result from the parenting going on in the book, but I think ‘being able to admit you’re wrong and turning back to a different path’ defines the plot. We saw the result of several characters who had the option to do this and I don’t see how Orrin’s choices had anything to do with parenting.

Mike: Jay, I love that you invoked Traitor—I’ve seen people online begging for Kenobi spoilers, and my mind keeps going back to Traitor as the perfect example of a book where the plot itself, by literal description, only tells you the tiniest bit of what the book is really about; where the value isn’t the story as much as how it’s told. This is one of those books.

Lisa, I get what you’re saying. In my review I defined it a little more broadly as “responsibility”, but it’s definitely responsibility as filtered through a parental lens—it seems very deliberate to me that Annileen, Orrin, and A’Yark are all parents, and each of the children is an early window into how the three of them will develop as the novel goes on. Orrin is the perfect example, actually—I knew he was trouble the moment I met Mullen and Veeka.

And speaking of Veeka, another great thing about the book is the range of well-developed female characters, both human and otherwise. She’s definitely the brains of the Gault children (not that that’s saying much), but I think a lot of Star Wars authors would shy away from creating a young woman who’s that, well, damaged, without being outright evil. And the A’Yark twist, of course, is something I don’t believe has ever even been attempted in SW—and will be informing my conversations about gender representation in the GFFA for a very long time.

Jay: Yeah, there have been so many people who want spoilers and that seems to be missing the point. This isn’t one of those post-NJO novels where everyone is dying to know what’s happening next: we’re not seeing a set of plot points run in sequence, like the last seasons of LOST or Battlestar Galactica. It’s something with vision, like the earlier seasons of those shows: where the ideas mattered more than a chain of scenes and events.

What’s great about the A’Yark twist is that you’re in her head the entire time: her point of view comes right at the beginning, and the fact that it IS a twist says a lot about the audience’s own expectations about gender roles and behavior. That the audience expects a hint of what she was seems to suggest that there ought to be some difference, some tell — but then, why should there? We, the audience, supposedly are beyond the patriarchal strictures of Tusken society. We wouldn’t — although perhaps this is wishful thinking — blink in surprise at the idea of a female soldier. Yet despite all that talk, we’re still surprised. At least — I was. How did you take it, Lisa?

Lisa: I definitely did the jaw drop thing, but I was more surprised to see it because we just usually don’t in Star Wars books than by the concept that there is a Tusken female known as Plug Eye as the leader of the Sand People who are conducting raids on the people of the Oasis. To be fair I’m not sure I ever really thought about the gender of the Tusken Raiders and in my female mind I think half of the ones I see are females anyways unless told otherwise and I must’ve missed the memo that Tuskens have a patriarchal society (or decided to ignore it since I dislike the male-dominated Star Wars world sometimes). Very artfully done by Miller though to sort of let the reader think whatever they want about the gender until he slapped us in the face with the fact that it was female and kind of how dare we think it was male all this time. I need to go back and reread those parts where we’re in her head to see if there are clues.

You know me though, I’ve been asking for strong female characters for awhile now and it is refreshing to see them show up in Kenobi. Annileen definitely had some hard decisions to make, especially the one to leave her home in the hopes of providing a better future for her children. A’Yark was simply trying to keep the tribe from falling apart and battling ghosts, really, with the Tuskens being blamed for things they didn’t actually do. I know Jay is a big fan of Kallie, but I don’t necessarily classify her as a strong female character. I think she would get there, but I rather like her in the mold of a typical teenager. She had to have been modeled after Miller’s equestrian adviser in that her animal story parts are very similar to anyone who has ever seriously been involved with training horses. I read those parts with much skepticism because of how horse-type things are usually written about incorrectly and displayed hilariously in movies, but I actually couldn’t find fault with them.

Mike: On the A’Yark thing, I should note that Lucas has since pointed out to me that something along the same lines is done in the TOR novel Fatal Alliance—I haven’t read it personally, but the consensus seems to be that it wasn’t quite as impressive as this version. I for one did immediately go back and reread a bunch of her POV stuff and didn’t find any hints.

Last topic: favorite EU moments? I loved loved loved seeing Jabba’s “substitute” Mosep Binneed—for those who don’t know, Mosep dates back to the very first issues of the Marvel comics Star Wars adaptation (and technically even appears in ANH), at which point he was called “Jabba the Hut”, because no one in those days knew what Jabba was going to end up looking like. His “true” identity as Mosep didn’t come about until the late nineties, but even since then people haven’t exactly been falling all over themselves to use the character.

Like with all the EU in Kenobi, Miller started with a role he needed to fill, not just a desire for fanservice, and he knew enough to recognize that Mosep would fit that role perfectly—but if you didn’t know the character’s history already, you wouldn’t think anything of it.

Lisa: I’m a sucker for a Kerra Holt reference so I enjoyed Miller’s ability to fit one in and have it make sense when Kenobi was thinking about other Jedi who survived without the Jedi Order and were able to make a difference in their small part of the galaxy. Definitely a lot more movie references than EU moments. I cringed in sympathy for Obi-Wan every time someone referred to Annileen as Annie.

Jay: Well, I did sort of shake my head at the random publicity that JJM gave to his other original characters — particularly because I have yet to finish KOTOR or KE and everyone has been bugging me to, so it was kind of bothersome to have Kenobi tell me to get on it too. I’ll get to them, I’ll get to them, I promise! :p

Actually, I should never make promises of that sort.

As far as EU citations go… I might have missed most of them, probably. I’m not an expert on Rimward lore, alas.

5 comments

  1. […] into an explanation of a core theme of the novel (though not necessarily the plot). They also have a roundtable on the book this […]

  2. Lisa Schap Lisa Schap says:

    Since this didn’t come up in our discussion, can someone please tell me why a Mon Calamari doctor was on the desert world of Tatooine?

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      Same reason an Ithorian agriculturalist was in Chalmun’s.

    • Nick Adams Nick Adams says:

      Well, the Quarren apparently are ok with the world, given their appearance at Jabba’s Palace. Yes, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a Mon Cal to appear on Tatooine, but it is easy enough to assume that this was either not by direct choice or because as a doctor he/she decided to go where there was the most need.

  3. The tells before the reveal aren’t in A’Yark’s POV — they’re in others. Viewers note her having a shorter physique and wearing baggier clothes than normal — and distinctively lacking a bandolier (which would tend to press on her chest and highlight her breasts).

    It’s not any kind of giveaway beforehand, but Miller does set up the information you need to help make it credible.

    As for Fatal Alliance, it cheats somewhat — Dao Stryver is referred to with masculine pronouns and even listed as male in the dramatis personae. She’s presented as this big badass Mandalorian warrior antagonist whose sex is completely irrelevant other than that everybody assumes it’s a guy. Then at the end she takes off her helmet and she’s a lizard-lady and weren’t you all surprised by this completely irrelevant twist that you never could have guessed because we lied to you?

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