ew things have ever created a more unified sense of wonder and excitement in the Star Wars community than the announcement of Ewan McGregor’s return as Obi-Wan Kenobi. When the beloved actor strolled out onstage next to Kathleen Kennedy and revealed his plans to don the robes once again, a wave of pure joy cascaded across the internet, and with the promised series mere weeks away, the fervor has never been higher.
Because of Obi-Wan’s return to visual media, we have been blessed with a number of written stories about our favorite saga-spanning Jedi starting with Mike Chen’s Brotherhood. Chen’s debut Star Wars novel takes us through “that business on Cato Neimoidia” alongside Obi-Wan, the recently knighted Anakin Skywalker, a conflicted Youngling, and a Neimoidian commando eager to do right by her people.
As the shadow of the burgeoning Clone Wars threatens to cover the galaxy in fear and suffering, a surprise attack on the Cato Neimoidian capital threatens the planet’s neutral stance. After successfully convincing the council and the chancellor to let him act as the Republic’s representative, Obi-Wan travels to the surface of the planet to uncover layers of deceit, reckon with his own government’s history of prejudice, and uncover a truth that could save the galaxy from unfathomable bloodshed...or tear it apart beyond repair.
Chen’s Brotherhood begins as all great detective stories do: with a disaster. The capital city of Cato Neimoidia is shaken both literally and figuratively by a series of massive explosions in what becomes known as the Cadesura disaster. Instantaneously, both the Republic and the Separatists point fingers at their enemies in an attempt to lure the neutral planet over to their side for the growing galactic conflict, but the Jedi are unwilling to accept any answers until they conduct a full investigation with one of their own.
And who better than the most recent Council electee.
Brotherhood’s plot spans out from this initial incident and mainly follows Obi-Wan as he partners with Neimoidian officials to discover the cause of the tragic explosion. Complicating this matter is the arrival of Count Dooku’s nefarious agent, Asajj Ventress, who appears under the guise of fairness but assuredly contains dastardly inclinations of her own.
Alongside Obi-Wan’s investigation, the book follows the trials of Ruug Quarnom, a Neiomoidian elite commando who wants nothing more than the safety of her people and the evolution of her mentee, Ketar, who has more than a few reasons for hating the Republic. Couple these storylines with a number of sections featuring Anakin’s first steps as a Jedi Knight while balancing a new marriage, mentoring a Youngling, and a brand new arm, and you have quite a lot to keep Clone Wars fans happy for hundreds of pages.
However, the strength of Brotherhood’s plot doesn’t necessarily lie in the uncovering of the main mystery. While there are certainly interesting twists and turns that are customary to most detective stories, the real meat of the book can be found in its exploration of the individual characters and the prejudicial notions of the galaxy at large.
Since the opening scenes of The Phantom Menace, Star Wars fans have been conditioned to view Neimoidians as “the bad guys.” Rather than reinforcing the stereotypes pushed forward by Lucas during those initial films, Mike Chen uses Brotherhood to acknowledge the Neimoidian people as a whole aside from the extremist views of The Trade Federation.
As Obi-Wan learns more about Neimoidian culture, people, and art from Ruug and others on the ground, so do we as readers. It is within these passages that Obi-Wan’s wisdom truly reveals itself, and although there are certainly scenes filled with action and excitement, these quieter moments shine even brighter throughout the narrative.
Beyond the business on Cato Neimoidia (come on, I couldn’t resist), there are a number of enjoyable departures that fill out the pages that are sure to excite longtime prequel fans. Fan favorite characters like Dex and Padmé make brief but intensely important appearances, and Chen’s love of this era is evident as he weaves all these threads together as the mystery evolves.
While the ending of the novel may not hold as intense a shock value as some other investigative stories in the genre (after all, we have a pretty good idea of who makes it out alive), Brotherhood’s plot presents a wonderfully self-contained story that thrives on the intimate balance between personal and social prejudices and the threat of galactic catastrophe.
At the heart of this book is…well…a brotherhood.
While a number of characters, old and new alike, are responsible for moments of excitement and intrigue throughout this book, it would be a crime not to mention the titular relationship of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the start. They’re on the cover, after all. Even though there is a rather large portion of Brotherhood that separates our favorite pair, their scenes together flow with the effortless harmony of a John Williams score.
Mike Chen’s love of Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization is well noted, and although we’ll discuss that influence later on in regards to his overall writing style, Stover and Chen’s mutual admiration for the majesty of Skywalker and Kenobi as a duo shines brilliantly throughout this book. Aside from the beautiful flow of their aggressive negotiations, Obi-Wan and Anakin take moments to understand their new relationship in real time.
Gone are the constraints and boundaries of Master and Padawan. Now they are fellow Jedi. Equals. Brothers. Chen expertly handles each man’s attempt to understand this new status quo, and although they occasionally fall back into their earlier roles, there is true magic to be found when they find themselves perfectly in sync. When Anakin reaches this beautiful balance with his mentor, it’s hard not to be crushed by the years of friendship and love that his destiny took from him.
Aside from Obi-Wan’s counsel and friendship, Anakin also finds solace in the presence of his wife. Chen’s writing of Anakin and Padmé’s relationship does a marvelous job of finding the importance of intimacy as their marriage is still in its relative infancy. Padmé’s thoughts naturally dwell within the expansion of the Clone Wars in regards to her senatorial duties, but the quiet moments that she and Anakin are able to capture make the brief tenure of their love that much more heartbreaking.
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Mike Chen’s original characters that undeniably steal the spotlight from time to time as the book goes on. Ruug Quarnom, the aforementioned Neimoidian commando, and Mill Alibeth, a Zabrak Youngling who learns more than a few life lessons at the feet of reluctant mentor Anakin Skywalker, more than pull their narrative weight throughout the story.
Through Ruug’s eyes, the entire perspective on Neimoidians changes. Her adoration for her people rides right alongside her pursuit of the truth, and Obi-Wan’s near instantaneous trust in her allows us as readers to do the same. Her continuous dedication to discovering the root of her people’s suffering while simultaneously elevating them in the eyes of one of the galaxy’s most powerful Jedi is fascinating to witness.
She’s also extremely skilled with a sniper rifle.
Mill, on the other hand, may provide a slight amount of controversy for some. Her moments of doubt that she shares with Anakin allow Skywalker to talk through his own issues with the Jedi Order, but this earlier role as a prototypical teacher does give some added color to the Ahsoka relationship later in the Clone Wars. Whether you want Anakin to meet his future Padawan with fresh eyes or you were looking for a little bit more understanding of why Anakin takes to that role so quickly, Mill adds some unforgettable context to our history of The Chosen One.
She’s also extremely…well that would be a spoiler, now wouldn’t it?
Recently, series like The High Republic and the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy have raised the bar on original storytelling in Star Wars. These books have introduced us not only to new characters but new planets, political systems, Force abilities, and more. Brotherhood, on the other hand, takes this in a completely different direction by recontextualizing so much of what we’ve known and loved in the Star Wars prequels.
Between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, quite a lot happens in the Star Wars universe…to put it mildly. While so much of the Clone Wars has been told in the wildly popular television show, there are still plenty of gaps within character stories to flesh out.
Anakin & Padmé’s marriage. Anakin’s mechanical arm. Anakin’s Knighthood. Obi-Wan’s promotion to the Council. All of these moments are afforded proper reactions within Brotherhood, and the reflective effect that they are sure to have on Episodes II and III will be quite formidable.
The most important addition to this era of storytelling, however, comes in Mike Chen’s writing of the Neimoidian people. As stated multiple times already, Chen fundamentally alters the preexisting prejudice against the Neimoidians both in and out of the Star Wars universe through his introduction of multiple Neimoidian characters and an intentional dissection of Galactic prejudice.
Whether Lucas’s originally written xenophobia toward this group of people was intentional or not, Chen showcases just how damaging the actions of the Trade Federation and the response of the Republic were to the innocent civilians of Cato Nemoidia in a way we’ve never seen before. By the end of the book, it’s impossible not to sympathize with these people that the galaxy and the Jedi have clearly shunned for so many years, and the real world parallels could not be more evident.
With this book being pitched as “the business on Cato Neimoidia,” Chen could have simply taken an easy route whose sole purpose would be to distinguish this story’s specific details from those written down in Legends. Instead, he chose to craft a narrative that brings to light the goodness and struggles of a people that have been mistreated for far too long not only by the Star Wars galaxy…but by the Star Wars community as well.
Mike Chen loves the prequels.
We often discuss how much passion and joy on the part of the author can infuse a Star Wars book with just that little bit of extra magic, and Chen’s clear adoration for the chronological beginning of the Skywalker Saga are very evident in the way he writes Brotherhood.
Writing a relationship as well loved as Obi-Wan and Anakin is a daunting prospect, but Chen’s ability to handle their connection assuredly harkens back to Matthew Stover’s handling of the pair within Revenge of the Sith. From time to time, Chen’s homages to Stover’s original descriptors do cause the writing to be a bit too verbose, but these occasional distractions do little to detract from the book’s overall quality.
It could be said, however, that Chen’s most obvious skill lies in his ability to craft dialogue for characters old and new, alike. Every predetermined character from Obi-Wan to Asajj Ventress sound exactly in sync with their previously written and recorded counterparts, and the new additions we loved so much above fit right in step with the syntax and cadence of the broad universe.
For fans of the prequel movies (and frankly, all of Star Wars), there is little doubt that some of the quotes Chen litters throughout the book will bring a tear to your eye. The care with which Chen writes about the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan serves only to further intensify the pain of Anakin’s fall, and knowing that it’s coming only a few years down the line truly feels unbearable.
Amongst the sheer volume of spectacle-filled epics Star Wars literature has provided lately, there exist a number of character-focused stories that provide a different type of entertainment. These books excited audiences with dynamic character relationships, the exhilaration of easter eggs, and some exhilarating action sequences of their own.
Brotherhood is one such book.
While the opening act gets off to a bit of a slow start, Mike Chen uses the stylistic format of shorter chapters and multiple perspective shifts to keep the reader guessing at every turn. In time, this tactic builds a continuous momentum that reaches its peak at the perfect moment during the novel’s climax. This initial buy-in may feel slightly off kilter to fans of more immediate action, but the foundation that Chen lays more than pays off once the blaster bolts start flying and the lightsabers ignite.
But it’s not just the action that keeps the pages turning at a rather remarkable rate. Brotherhood’s entertaining charm also comes from the love letter it writes to the Clone Wars era as the story evolves. Despite the back-to-back releases of Queen’s Hope and Brotherhood, the Clone Wars era has taken somewhat of a backseat in the Canon since the conclusion of the television show’s magnificent seventh season. Because of this small hiatus, the return to the time of Republic Jedi and Separatist foes is frankly intoxicating. Chen’s mixture of familiar characters, wartime tension, and political and social issues culminate in a finale that plays out almost like a full episode of The Clone Wars, and if you have twenty minutes to spare once you finish the book, I guarantee you’ll throw on an episode.
Finally, Chen’s skill with speech writing - especially in regards to political action - brings back the memories of some of the greatest speeches we’ve heard in the saga. There are a number of monologues throughout Brotherhood regarding the upcoming war, de-escalation, and the desire for peace that stir the blood just as much as any shootout. Despite the fact that we know war is inevitable, you can’t help rooting for the words to work just this once.
By combining precise and deep character development of old favorites and new standouts with strong plot, political and social commentary, and thrilling action, Mike Chen makes a striking debut in his first full length Star Wars novel. While the wording can, at times, lean towards the overly verbose, his core passion for the characters and skillful dialogue crafts a novel that thrusts us back into the Clone Wars at the perfect time.
It’s hard for anything in Star Wars literature to outshine The High Republic, but Brotherhood reminds us that there will always be room for books about any era, any character, and any relationship on the shelf. And if they can teach us about ourselves, our prejudices, and even our enemies…sign me up for every single one.
Star Wars: Brotherhood is available now wherever books are sold, as well as on Audible where it is narrated by Jonathan Davis.