The bond between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker is explored like never before in Mike Chen’s Star Wars: Brotherhood. Read Max’s review
A Star Wars author rarely writes a book that seamlessly slides into place alongside established canon. Legends (and even New canon) was rife with many continuity errors that needed fixing, be it an author’s comment, a Story Group member’s clarification, or even a deliberate retcon. However, Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen does not have any of those problems. It fits into the timeline so well that I must assume Mike is a stickler for the rules (like me) and I commend him for taking the time to show it does all matter.
Star Wars: Brotherhood is a tale immediately after Attack of the Clones, but also concurrent with E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Hope, and Brotherhood simply does not step on its feet. I also love the transition from Attack of the Clones to the 2008 Dave Filoni Clone Wars series, and I will get into that shortly.
Mike Chen may be unfamiliar to most readers, but he had his Star Wars debut in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back A Certain Point of View where he penned the short story, Disturbance. This story took place from the viewpoint of Emperor Palpatine and I found it very vanilla. Looking back, I see that when I reviewed ESB CPOV, I did not select Disturbance as one of the top 5 stories in the anthology. So I was a little apprehensive when beginning this novel. However, I think Disney made the right call by giving Mike this second bite of the apple, as I highly enjoyed this novel.
as I said, Brotherhood takes place immediately after Attack of the Clones and switches from the perspective of Obi-Wan and Anakin primarily. The Jedi Order is preparing for war, and Mike writes the tension into this book as the war has broken out worse than a teenager’s acne. Battles are already being fought and it’s only been a few weeks since Geonosis. The Jedi Order wastes no time with formality and has promoted Anakin Skywalker and other Padawans into Knights. This may seem rash, but it makes sense that they should be Knights if they think to lead the Clone Army.
Obi-Wan has also gotten a promotion to Master and Anakin is no longer his student. He also is a rotating temporary member of the Jedi Council and has very mixed feelings about being given this honor. He feels he doesn’t stack up to the other council members. And seeing Obi-Wan’s moment of weakness establishes him as sentient with feelings, and not just a calm, serene Jedi.
Anakin is also written very well by Chen. The book perfectly captures his headstrong and unrelenting attitude, along with some of his more juvenile traits while also not showing too much Revenge of the Sith anger, showing that he will grow into it. He is reckless, doesn’t follow rules, and is very well aware of his advanced abilities. He also picks up that behind that indifferent demeanor, Mace Windu doesn’t much care for him. Mace just doesn’t like him and fans of the Clone Wars TV series have seen that (I think) and in Revenge of the Sith, Mace says bluntly that he doesn’t trust him.
Anakin also disturbingly feels the presence of his former mentor Qui-Gon Jinn. And when I say disturbing, I mean that Jinn has been dead for over 10 years, but Anakin seems to feel more of a connection to him than Obi-Wan. This attitude is highly indicative of how Anakin and Obi-Wan constantly butted heads while the teacher and student. And deep down, on some level, Anakin resents his former Master. However, it is said many times that Anakin has a strong, good heart and this foreshadows how even after he falls to the dark side, there is still good in him. His mother knew it. And Obi-Wan and Padme knew it.
Speaking of Padme. Padme takes the backseat in this novel. And I am okay with that because I saw plenty of her excellent characterization in Queen’s Hope. We see her mainly through the eyes of her new husband, who tries to keep their meetings a secret by wearing disguises and strolling through the under levels of Coruscant. However, Obi-Wan has taken notice of Anakin’s connection to Padme. But he pushes it onto the back-burner because he feels the war, and not being a hypocrite, takes priority first. By hypocrite, I mean his secret fling with Dutchess Satine of Mandalore. Obi-Wan knows he almost crossed a line, (like Anakin may be doing now) and doesn’t know how he feels about Satine in the present day.
I think he acknowledges his love for the Dutchess, deep down and doesn’t try and reach out to Anakin due to this. Besides. Anakin is finally out of his hair and no longer his sole responsibility. Obi-Wan remarks to himself, about how difficult Anakin was when he was his student. But overall, does admit that he is always there for him to save the day or himself.
The main mission in the novel is conjured from the throw-away dialogue at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith “that business on Cato Neimodia”, as Cato Neimodia’s main city has been targeted by a bomb. And the Neimodians are devastated and want to know who is responsible. Chen presents a very interesting bunch of politics in the Clone Wars, despite the acceleration I mentioned earlier. Dooku is still trying to play the “I’m an innocent idealist” card, and the Trade Federation itself maintains its neutrality. Huh? Well, Nute Gunray IS indeed a Separatist but leads a breakaway group of the Federation and the main conglomerate is said to not be involved.
The politics of early war are very fascinating, and I have to gush over Chen’s ability to convey this. It is similar to the beginning of the war in Ukraine (which is ongoing as of this review) when troops were massed at the border and nobody knew where it was going to go. However, war is a powder keg and politics are often the assailing books of matches.
Obi-Wan manages to convince everybody that a Jedi envoy should go to Cato Neimodia alone and not the Chancellor. Kenobi thinks he is protecting the Chancellor from a possible dangerous trap. But the audience, in reality, knows that Palpatine is pulling the strings. And this is perhaps the earliest instance of the Chancellor trying to get rid of Obi-Wan so his path to manipulating Anakin is easier. When Obi-Wan gets to Cato (completely alone as agreed on), he meets a mysterious woman who is Dooku’s envoy. Yes. Here we have it. The first canon appearance of Asajj Ventress. Yet it is not the Ventress that we know and love (hate) as her role as a Force-wielding Sith apprentice, is like the war. In its early stages and nobody knows who or what her role is. Her role is to make Obi-Wan’s investigation as difficult as possible. And she does it in a very subtle and passive-aggressive way that I find literarily titillating.
Also on Neimodia, Kenobi encounters two Neimodians who are assigned as royal guards. They are the older and more experienced Neimodian commando Ruug Quarnom and her idealistic, hotheaded “apprentice”, the young Ketar. Ketar harbors a deep-seated hatred of the Republic and is beside himself at the disaster in Zarra City. Throw away all the stereotypes you have of Neimodians being spineless, untrustworthy cowards because Ruug is one of the most badass characters I have ever read. One that manages to be an efficient killer, but also an empathic being and trustworthy confidante.
THE LEGACY OF THE TRADE FEDERATION
Anakin openly says in the novel that he doesn’t like Neimodians. And this is made clear that it is a very much shared viewpoint in the Republic. People associate Neimodians with the greedy, evil Trade Federation and completely ignore its rich and bountiful culture. Ketar is such an angry young man because of Anti-Neimodian sentiment, and it parallels real-world race relations. As an Asian man, Chen may have taken the opportunity to give the Neimodians a voice. As many have compared them to stereotypical people of Pacific Islander descent that first appeared in The Phantom Menace in 1999.
When a system turns its back on groups of different ethnic origins, it often stokes the flames of hatred and brings out the very worst in people. Obi-Wan needs to find out who bombed Zarra fast and must be prepared to accept that it could be the Confederacy. OR it could be somebody affiliated with the Republic. Grim thoughts indeed.
The subplot of the novel strikes me as incredibly creepy because it has Anakin getting over his dislike of teaching younglings. We all know he will kill many of them during Revenge of the Sith, so I feel a little sick when reading that. He forms a bond with a particularly empathic Jedi youngling, Alibeth Mills. Who like Luke Skywalker after her, tries to cut herself off from the Force as she can’t handle the powerful emotions she is bombarded with. Her condition is very similar to Imri Cantaros, a young Jedi from The High Republic who struggles with handling his Force empathy ability.
The book is very, very fun to read as the story moves slowly but realistically. And the character’s introspection is done incredibly well. Chen also drops in a lot of treats in the form of Easter Eggs – acknowledging characters known to people from Legends, and events that happened (now canon) from Legends. I also like how he transitioned the Jedi into soldiers and leaders of the Clones. Who, incidentally are quickly giving each other nicknames and calling the enemy ‘clankers.’ There are also female Clone Troopers. And this is a bold retcon to the seemingly all-male clone depiction of The Clone Wars. I guess the Kaminoans tinkered with more chromosomes than just Omega. The book’s mission itself isn’t super-exciting but it’s so well written and procedural, that I feel it is the perfect bridge from AOTC to Clone Wars.
Also, during the war, politics can make things move very slowly. And I love when fiction has an element of realism in it. I honestly don’t have any grievances with this book, other than a somewhat slow pace. Mike truly earned his saber under the stars and I hope to see more of him going forward. Star Wars: Brotherhood is also an apt title. Because we truly do see Anakin and Obi-Wan transition from Teacher and Student into something more. Equals. Equals in arms and equals in the Force.
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Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!