“… you owe me one, and not for saving your skin for the 10th time.”
“Ninth time. That business on Cato Neimoidia doesn’t … count.”Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith
“What business on Cato Neimodia?” For nearly two decades this little bit of dialogue has gone unanswered. The canonical answer has finally arrived in the form of Star Wars: Brotherhood, one of the latest adult novels released and the first novel in the Star Wars galaxy for author Mike Chen, who also penned a short story in the The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View anthology.
Taking place shortly after Episode II: Attack of the Clones and before The Clone Wars movie, the novel explores the relationship between Anakin – who just prior to the novel is knighted – and Obi-Wan, who attained the rank of master with Anakin’s knighting and also was provisionally appointed to the Jedi High Council. This book also takes place immediately after (and slightly overlapping with) the recently released Queen’s Hope, which focuses more on the Padmé side of this group of characters.
Slight spoilers ahead!
Since attaining the rank of Jedi Knight, Anakin is sent off on his first mission as a Knight, distributing aid to war-torn people while Obi-Wan plays the investigator on Cato Neimoidia where an explosion has torn apart a large chunk of one of their cities. Initially, the Republic is blamed for the bombing, however Obi-Wan convinces the Neimoidians to let him come and investigate the bombing to determine who was actually the culprit. With the help of a fellow Neimoidian, Ruug, Obi-Wan uncovers a plot much more sinister, leading him into much deeper trouble than he had expected.
As in Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan’s troubles cause Anakin to want to come to the rescue; however, Anakin is not alone, having befriended a youngling, Mill Alibeth, with a unique connection to the Force. Together the pair try and save Obi-Wan, all the while trying to prevent the already at-war galaxy from getting deeper into war.
Entitling the book “Brotherhood” makes one initially feel like the entire story is going to be a “buddy cop” adventure between Anakin and Obi-Wan, however the two don’t get together until nearly three quarters of the way through the book. They do have brief interactions at the beginning of the book, but Brotherhood is less a buddy cop story about them going off on adventures and more a tale exploring their changing relationship and how each of them feels about it.
After a decade being together nearly constantly, Obi-Wan and Anakin both need to find ways to live their lives without one another. To put it mildly, Anakin has some issues he is trying to work through in the novel, including his incredibly recent marriage to Padmé (likely only about a month or two before the novel takes place), his new robotic arm which is giving him problems, and of course, having the freedom he has never experienced before having gone directly from slave to Jedi Padawan.
Obi-Wan, on the other hand, has to learn to come to grips with the fact that Anakin is a Jedi Knight now and is allowed to make his own mistakes without Obi-Wan there to scold him. Throughout the novel, Obi-Wan falls back on calling Anakin his Padawan, only to correct himself, and even thinks wistfully what would be able to be done if the two of them were on the mission together. He also has to work on his trust of Anakin, believing that Anakin will do the right thing in the long run.
The story isn’t an action adventure piece that one might assume with Obi-Wan and Anakin as the leads. It does, instead, take its lead from the bookends around it: Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars movie. Here Obi-Wan plays the investigator, much like his role in Attack of the Clones, with an eventual morphing into the “negotiator” role that was thrust upon him in The Clone Wars movie – a title that never felt truly earned up until this story. The result is a much slower story, a character piece if you will. And although there are bits of action, mostly towards the end, that isn’t what the story is about.
It is amazing how Mike Chen truly inhabits the minds of these characters at this specific place in time. They feel authentic and the struggles that they are going through also feel apt for where they are in their lives. He hits the notes perfectly, so much so that even though the beginning of the story is very slow, by the end of the book you are getting misty-eyed over the emotional growth that the characters end up taking. And most of these growth moments are laid on the shoulders of Obi-Wan, who really takes the brunt of the emotional baggage throughout the story and his decisions in the book, good or bad, are right ones for the character to make at the time.
Anakin’s emotional growth takes a different turn. He goes from the headstrong Padawan learner that we see in Attack of the Clones to a Jedi Knight ready to lead a Padawan learner of his own. And although he seems hesitant at the beginning of The Clone Wars movie to take on Ahsoka, he does so by the end of the movie. His interactions through this book are what help propel him into the headspace able to accept such a challenge. I was constantly reminded of the lines in the The Clone Wars movie spoken by Anakin to Ahsoka: “You never would have made it as Obi-Wan’s Padawan. But you might make it as mine.” We see Anakin slowly grow out of the childish and stubborn Attack of the Clones Anakin into the leader from The Clone Wars.
Chen pairs each of the main characters with emotional guides that help them to move forward in their lives and although that is their primary purpose, they are not one-dimensional characters at all. Ruug and Mill round out the primary characters nicely and provide the readers with perspectives outside of the Anakin and Obi-Wan dynamic. Each chapter of the book is titled after one of the four characters, with that chapter being written in the first person perspective of that particular character.
Finally we come to the villains, who almost feel like an afterthought. The villains are dominated by fan favorite (in her first canonical appearance) Asajj Ventress. She plays the coy diplomat for Dooku representing the Separatists, all the while we the audience knows her true identity and are just waiting until she springs her trap. Her mind games do lead to some questions regarding the story where another of Dooku’s minions are mentioned but, as far as we know, there hasn’t been any other minions that Anakin has faced up to this point in time.
My biggest problems with the story, besides the slow start to the narrative, is that the ending doesn’t ever really get resolved. The buildup for the entire story ends up with a mysterious villain off in the distance, and although we can place our assumptions on who did the dastardly deeds, we aren’t ever truly satisfied with the conclusion we are given. Perhaps a more clear-cut resolution was needed in order for the story to feel complete, or the questions that remain are what are needed to propel the story of the Clone Wars into the future. I am not sure.
As usual, I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Jonathan Davis, a veteran of the Star Wars audiobooks. Davis has a deep voice and smooth delivery with an accent that reminds me very strongly of Qui-Gon Jinn. That subtle reminder of Qui-Gon actually works really well for a story focused on Obi-Wan. Davis also delivers the lines with a cadence that fits the narrative; neither too fast, nor too slow, allowing one to enjoy the story as it happens.
Overall, I ended up greatly enjoying this one. It did start off slowly and took a while to get where we needed to go, but after about the first half or so the journey became rather enjoyable. Mike Chen nails the characterizations of Obi-Wan and Anakin, to the point that The Clone Wars movie feels like a natural progression of this story. Even with an ending that leaves more questions than answers, Brotherhood is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of prequel Obi-Wan and Anakin.
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