Obi-Wan Kenobi fans are eating good these days. We’ve got a lot on our plates to consume a fantastic Disney Plus show, a limited Marvel series, Brotherhood by Mike Chen, and now Padawan by Kiersten White. Obi-Wan’s fledgling days as a Padawan under Qui-Gon Jinn remain relatively unexplored. Claudia Gray set the bar incredibly high with Master and Apprentice and now Kiersten White reaches back even earlier into Obi-Wan’s past with Padawan. White not only continues the high quality of storytelling Obi-Wan’s been treated to, she tells one of the most unique Star Wars stories we’ve been treated to.
Padawan could very well bookend the Disney Plus series Obi-Wan Kenobi. Ewan MacGregor’s portrayal of a person who’s accepted defeat and lives a mundane, melancholy life of exile is far from the Jedi we met in the prequels and A New Hope. He’s even further from the person we meet in Padawan. This youthful Obi-Wan, recently paired with his new master Qui-Gon Jinn, isn’t the stoic, thoughtful Jedi who abides by the Jedi code and is weary of more impulsive members in his ranks. Kiersten White’s Obi-Wan is filled with doubt, frustrated by his new master’s cryptic vernacular, and wonders why the Force calls to him at all. Obi-Wan certainly doesn’t handle those insecurities the same way his future apprentice did, but they are just as present and overshadowing in Padawan. White introduces this character and along his journey plants all the seeds of the Jedi and person we know Obi-Wan will become.
This review will contain a few SPOILERS, so if you’re looking to go in fresh you should probably stop reading. Come on back when you’ve had a chance to experience this story for yourself. What I can say without spoiling anything is Kiersten White nailed the character. It’s a fresh, uncharted take on the character and she surprised me so many times while staying true to everything I love about Obi-Wan. It’s a chance to experience this character in a setting and scenario we’ve never seen him in. With all the Obi-Wan content at our fingertips, White added another gem to behold in the embarrassment of riches his fans have right now.
Padawan opens with Obi-Wan getting into mischief with his fellow Padawans at the Jedi Temple. One of them plays a prank on him and he’s not amused. Obi-Wan is trying to find his way and feels his new master, Qui-Gon Jinn, doesn’t think much of him. Obi-Wan yearns for a more active training and all Qui-Gon wants him to do is meditate. White illustrates Obi-Wan’s frustrations and insecurities without making him sound aggressive or impatient. Obi-Wan doesn’t blame Qui-Gon and doesn’t resent other Jedi for the shortcomings he feels plague him–he blames himself. Obi-Wan internalizes his insecurities.
When Obi-Wan discovers an carving in a corner of the Jedi Library, he’s intrigued. White lays some nice connective tissue to High Republic Wayseeker Orla Jareni and Cohmac Vitus. Obi-Wan investigates the message and finds a planet Orla Jareni catalogued during her travels, but remains unexplored by the Jedi. Eager to get out into the stars, Obi-Wan proposes to Qui-Gon they depart Coruscant and go explore the mysterious planet. Because he knows Qui-Gon is a sucker for the will of the Force, Obi-Wan suggests the Force brought this planet to his attention and not Jareni’s databank entry. Qui-Gonn agrees and Obi-Wan is thrilled.
However, the next morning, Qui-Gon is nowhere to be found. Rumors circulate he had it out with the Jedi Council and with the recent presence of Count Dooku, Obi-Wan believes Qui-Gon may have decided to join his former master and depart the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan also blames himself, considering whether Qui-Gon didn’t find him a worthy Padawan. As uncertainty about his future sets in, Obi-Wan decides not to wait around for Qui-Gon or reassignment to another master. With a shuttle and droid A6-G2 ready to go, Obi-Wan hastily leaves Coruscant for this distant, uncharted planet.
After making his way through a perilous asteroid field, Obi-Wan arrives on the strange planet, Lenahra. When he encounters the local population, he marvels at their apparent connection to what he assumes is the Force. The group of children, many of whom are about the same age as him, can leap into high trees and move at incredible speeds. They channel what they call the Power and Obi-Wan quickly learns they need it to survive. The planet and all its indigenous life are hostile toward the children, who were left to live in a derelict spaceship by their parents long ago. None of them are exactly sure why they’re on Lenahra, but they know they need this power to survive.
White’s writing shines in so many of the moments between Obi-Wan and this group of kids trying to survive. Obi-Wan’s a scared kid himself, but he understands he can anchor that fear in the foundational tenets of the Jedi. No, Obi-Wan doesn’t start preaching the Force, Jedi superiority, or become wary of this Power. Obi-Wan listens and puts his own beliefs and prejudices aside, only hoping to help and understand why he’s been brought here. He can sense there is a great deal of trauma and this group confronts it everyday in their daily existence. The seeds of Obi-Wan’s altruism, my favorite of his qualities, grow substantially in Padawan. Any notion of a Jedi assignment is out the window, Obi-Wan quickly focuses on working with this group to try and understand why this planet is against them. This task puts Obi-Wan outside of his ego and insecurities, looking for something bigger than himself or a title in a monastic order.
As Obi-Wan investigates further, he finds a tomb detailing what happened to the first inhabitants of Lenahra. It’s an ominous depiction this Power will ultimately turn on it’s users and Obi-Wan shortly learns it’s nothing like the Force. While the Force is symbiosis, the Power is an insular force, contained only for the planet. It’s not to be harnessed, it sustains the life on Lenahra. When Obi-Wan joins an expedition of the new group to harvest pods containing the Power, he realizes this is why the planet sends predators and nature after the children. They are consuming it from the inside out. Their parents didn’t leave the planet, it destroyed them.
When a group of miners arrive on the planet, led by two of the children’s uncle, Loegrib, Obi-Wan is skeptical. Especially after making the acquaintance of a crew member, Dex, who shares Loegrib’s aloofness when other ships in their convoy were killed in the asteroid field surrounding the planet. While Dex and Obi-Wan don’t immediately hit it off, the Padawan feels he can trust him. I won’t spoil how they come together as friend but I think Dex fans will be very pleased with his inclusion. White introduces the character without going overboard on fan service and Dex feels like an essential part of the story.
Loegrib makes a great villain. We learn his thoughts are what fill the interludes White sprinkles throughout Padawan. He’s obsessed with the power contained in Lenahra. The rapid descent from his dubious obsession to sinister plunder puts Obi-Wan in a difficult position. Most of his new friends want to believe Loegrib is right because they’d have to confront their own transgressions against the planet. Loegrib does the work of making himself the villain, though. In the end, Obi-Wan and this cohort of survivors must stop him to protect themselves and the delicate harmony of Lenahra. White pacing with the action is excellent and you’ll have blisters from turning the pages so fast.
And here’s something I didn’t notice until almost the end of the story: Obi-Wan barely touches his lightsaber. Obi-Wan uses his knowledge, his compassion, his empathy, and his goodness to solve problems. White demonstrates the best qualities of his character and the Force with her restraint. There are so many scenes in Padawan it would’ve been easy to have him break out the laser sword or solve through gratuitous action. It probably would’ve been much easier to write, but White lets Obi-Wan figure out the more difficult way. Her writing stays true the best values of the Jedi. They don’t use the Force for attack, it’s for knowledge and understanding. His actions track very well with his description of the Force to a young Leia–a light in the dark.
One of my favorite passages in Padawan comes when Obi-Wan realizes the Force isn’t his. Like many Jedi before and after, Obi-Wan finds the light in the darkness. Something no one can contain, only something to behold and to be shared.
That had been Obi-Wan’s problem, hadn’t it? he had been reaching for the Force to grab hold of it, to cling to it, to try to wring his own destiny from it. Not unlike the way the Lenahrans used the Power. In their minds, it was a tool to be wielded, not a cycle to join. Obi-Wan had been treating the Force in a similar way. He wanted things from it, wanted it to do things for him. Centering himself, always. He was so focused on his own desires and, most destructively, his desperate fear of failure.
Make no mistake, Obi-Wan goes on a transformational journey in Padawan. This story offers so much more than Force-acrobatics and lightsaber fights. We see a young Padawan find himself and his strength through self-reliance. Not through battles, Jedi dogma, or even the Force. Obi-Wan looks within and finds his own strength–a strength we will see help many others across the galaxy and time. By the time he returns to Coruscant, we learn Qui-Gon’s disappearing act was intentional and he trusted Obi-Wan to set out on this journey alone. I won’t spoil the fate of Lenahra and Obi-Wan’s new friends, but by now you should realize Kiersten White writes with hope and optimism, so don’t worry about any transactional deaths for the sake of redemption. Obi-Wan returns to the Jedi Order, embracing his future and himself.
Kiersten White sets up so many wonderful possibilities in this book. We come to Star Wars looking for hope and hope is exactly what she’s given us in Padawan. She reminds us so many times we are often our own best teachers when we stop to listen, look around, and see how are actions affect the world and those around us. Padawan is one of the most thoughtful and optimistic stories in Star Wars. Obi-Wan is a character I’ve loved since childhood and White taught me more about him in a few hundred pages than I ever hoped to know. If there are more stories of Obi-Wan’s Padawan days (or any days!) ahead, let us hope Kiersten White has a hand in them. Her writing is a gift to Star Wars.
Padawan is a story to get lost in. It’s an absolute escape and you’ll likely learn some things about yourself during your read. Everything you love about Obi-Wan is here, only you get to see it at the beginning. You understand why a sad, defeated Jedi eventually found himself again. Why he sacrificed so much to pass on hope to a princess and a farm boy who could give it back to the galaxy. Obi-Wan knew when to be the hero and he learned when to get out of the way. In Padawan, both a hero and a steward of hope are born.
Padawan by Kiersten White is available wherever books are sold. Special thanks to Crystal McCoy at Disney Publishing for the advanced copy used in this review.