arely has a year been so hyper-focused on a single character than 2022. Between book releases, comic releases, and of course, the premiere of his own show on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi has had quite the renaissance within the Star Wars community.
What began as a relationship with an old wizard in 1977 has blossomed into the knowledge of almost every moment in Old Ben’s life. We’ve witnessed his time as a Jedi Knight, his ascension to Master and Council member, his prowess on the battlefield of the Clone Wars, and of course his legendary battle with his former pupil, Anakin Skywalker. Each of these trials and tribulations have revealed a man who is a master of poise who represents everything a true Jedi should be.
But this wasn’t always the case.
Kiersten White’s Padawan sheds light on a relatively unexplored time in the life of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he travels to an uncharted world in search of purpose and adventure. Along the way, he meets new friends that not only challenge his conception of the Jedi structure, but also that of his very relationship to the Force.
White presents Obi-Wan as a somewhat brash teen who is unexpectedly thrust into the role of leadership amongst an environment he has never known and peers whose trust he is desperate to earn. While the future general slips and falls along the way, he emerges from this trial well on his way to being one of the greatest Jedi in the history of the order.
Padawan begins with a journey. A frustrated young Obi-Wan Kenobi finds himself at a crossroads filled with self doubt about his place in the Jedi Order and even his value in the eyes of his master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Although he has excelled at almost every task afforded to him save for the elusive art of meditation, and yet his future as a Jedi Knight is uncertain.
So he goes exploring.
What begins as a mission to uncover secrets left by Jedi of generations long gone becomes a solitary quest that leads Obi-Wan to the enigmatic planet, Lenahra. Lenahra’s surface is home to a wealth of new wildlife, a ragtag bunch of misfit survivors, and a mysterious Power that coats the entire world in mystery.
In classic young adult fashion, Padawan’s plot focuses mainly on Obi-Wan’s internal evolution while using the surrounding environments as a gateway for his discoveries about his own strengths and shortcomings. While there is assuredly a planet wide conundrum to solve, each twist and turn serves more as a lesson that Obi-Wan will carry with him later in life than as a cinematic set piece.
Nonetheless, White weaves in more than enough action scenes and foot races to keep the story moving. Amongst the quiet moments of serenity and contemplation are life threatening treks through Lenahra’s jungles, tense showdowns of betrayal, and more than enough scenes of levity and wit to make even the most cynical readers crack a smile.
Are there some slightly convenient plot devices? Sure. Is the dramatic tempo of the story slightly uneven? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, Padawan presents a character focused story ideally crafted for those who see themselves in the shoes of a younger Obi-Wan, and if a few tidy coincidences are needed to make that happen, then such is the will of the Force.
From the moment you lay your eyes on the piercing gaze of Obi-Wan emblazoned on Padawan’s cover, the book tells you which character is going to occupy most of your time throughout this story. White’s writing of Obi-Wan is especially interesting, because this is not the Obi-Wan of the Disney+ series, the Prequel Trilogy, or even Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice. Rather, this is an Obi-Wan more reminiscent of the Jedi Apprentice series from Legends.
White’s reverence for Jude Watson’s series of books shines clearly through a number of references throughout Padawan, and fans of those adventures may find a kindred spirit in this portrayal of Kenobi. Far from the measured, wise teacher we see later in his life, this Obi-Wan is in a period of constant struggle.
What if I never become a Jedi Knight?
Did Qui-Gon even want me as an apprentice?
Should I even go back to Coruscant?
All of these questions flood Obi-Wan’s mind throughout the book, and by the end, they aren’t all necessarily answered, but the trajectory toward the future Council Member is now crystal clear. For those of us facing our own internal struggles on a daily basis, seeing such a legendary Jedi struggle in this way is not only intriguing but potentially healing as well.
Aside from Obi-Wan, the book is littered with a supporting cast of mainly younger characters that act as his conduits for understanding and growth. Chief amongst these is Audj, a Mikkian from Linahra who leads a band of children not too dissimilar from the Lost Boys of Peter Pan. Audj, her brother Casul, her partner Zae-Brii, and the rest of the crew show Obi-Wan the ways of their home planet and introduce him to its secrets both helpful and dark.
While this band composes a fitting makeshift home for Obi-Wan on his journey, none of the supporting cast quite reach the heights to make them exceedingly memorable. While Audj, Casul, and Zae-Brii all receive a decent amount of time with the seemingly stranded Jedi, the rest don’t quite have the opportunity to form a lasting impact. However, the scenes featuring the full crew are absolutely enjoyable, and the strength of the familial bond is undeniable all the way to the climactic final chapters.
There are some additional cameos that we won’t spoil here which White handles with dexterous finesse, and for fans of other Star Wars media…let’s just say there are more than a few gasps heading your way.
Crafting a completely original story is a tall order for any author. When that story happens to feature one of the most prolific Jedi of all time who has recently starred in some amazing books like Master & Apprentice and Brotherhood, that order may as well be a grande. Possibly even a venti.
At Padawan’s beginning, the similarities to these earlier stories are found more easily as we see Obi-Wan’s life in the Jedi temple and his interactions with some familiar characters like Qui-Gon. But all of that goes right out the window when we touch down on the surface of Lenahra. We’ve seen planet’s full of stranded refugees, and we’ve seen planets full of predators, but Lenahra combines those concepts with its own unique spin.
Without spoiling too many plot twists, Lenahra is a very connected planet. Every plant, animal, and mineral swirls around each other in a perfect song, and everything that attempts to disrupt that harmony soon finds the error of their ways. Experiencing this type of planet through the lens of a Jedi reaching out through the Force is fascinating to say the least.
Rather than learning about Lenahra through its topography and climate, we discover the workings of its very soul.
White also expands the idea of found family (a favorite trope of the Star Wars universe) by creating a complex network of amongst the Lenahran people. By combining The Lost Boys a bit with Lord of the Flies, Audj’s crew are able to craft a life for themselves unlike anything Obi-Wan has ever seen. These are children fighting for their lives on a daily basis, but they are simultaneously unwilling to let go of their home, and this dichotomy intrigues not only Kenobi but also us as readers.
While we will never tire of visiting planets like Corellia and Coruscant, Padawan’s journey to a planet unlike any other is a beautiful reminder that the galaxy is so much larger than we think.
The last few years have continued to expand the reach of the Young Adult market, and books like Padawan make a lot of us quite jealous that the popularity of the genre was a bit more understated when we were teenagers. White’s writing of Obi-Wan and the Lenahrans is absolutely accessible for writers of any age, but if you’re a slightly older reader, you can’t help but wish that you had met these characters when you were going through similar struggles.
White’s writing doesn’t take itself too seriously when it doesn’t need to, and although there are striking visual descriptions aplenty, she doesn’t get too bogged down in the miniscule details of every scenario. That being said, a few more reminders about the specifics of all the new creatures and characters would have been a bit helpful in the continued visualization of the planet, but in a choice between over-explanation and this kind of efficiency, White correctly landed on the latter.
Due to the nature of the lessons Obi-Wan learns throughout the novel, some readers may feel slightly force fed by the moralistic nature of the book’s conclusion. While these lessons absolutely impact the future of Obi-Wan’s Jedi, those used to a slightly more subtle unfolding of a protagonist’s personal chapters may find these turns a bit more direct.
Nonetheless, White’s handling of Obi-Wan’s adventure of self discovery and burgeoning heroism hits exactly the tone she intended with an audience of those in search of their own moral foundations. And no matter your age, it’s never too late to learn a little something from a Padawan.
Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.
2022 has been an incredible year for Star Wars content, but it must be said that a lot of the recent material has been…pretty heavy. We’ve delved into the doomed depths of the dark side, experienced betrayals of brotherhood, and witnessed the true depravity of a galaxy splitting itself apart.
So it’s pretty nice to have some fun.
Padawan radiates enthusiasm and fun from the start, and the result is a light and easy read from start to finish that perfectly encapsulates the strengths of the young adult genre. After the well crafted yet often brutal stakes of books like Shadow of the Sith, Padawan’s straight up adventure tale is a breath of fresh air, and that levity weaves itself throughout the book.
The entertainment factor reaches its peak near the end of the novel as the action ramps up along with Obi-Wan’s personal connection with his new friends and the planet as a whole, and the speed at which the final pages fly by is utterly fantastic. From planetside parkour to the glory of a swinging lightsaber, White puts together a thrilling finish that ends the book in a state of pure joy.
That being said, there is a definite spark of happiness that is elicited whenever we’re able to wander the halls of the Jedi Temple alongside our heroes, and starting the book in that environment is a stroke of genius by White. Even though we may not be familiar with each character that makes up the first few chapters of the novel, starting the story with our feet on solid ground lets us give in fully to the feelings of unknown adventure as Obi-Wan rockets off to Lenahra.
On the whole, the highs and lows may not be as vast as some of the more cinematic novels we’ve read through recently, but a young Obi-Wan adventure with top-notch world building and a continuous sense of joyous discovery may be just what this year ordered.
Kiersten White’s full length Star Wars debut brings us an outstandingly fun adventure that allows us to peer through the eyes of one of our favorite characters during one of the most formative times of his life. Obi-Wan’s characterization throughout the book explores a side of him we haven’t seen since his younger tales in Legends, and the result is a unique exploration of a man who’s gotten more exposure in 2022 than he’s seen in the last decade.
While the story may be more tailored to readers closer to Kenobi’s age within the novel, there is a special comfort in the knowledge that teenagers across our own galaxy will be able to see their trials, their struggles, and their victories through the eyes of a man who grows up to be such an important leader in galactic history.
Padawan is available now wherever books are sold, as well as on Audible where it is narrated by Gary Furlong.