Pure Kenobi Chaos: A Review of Kiersten White’s Padawan

The season of Kenobi continues with Kiersten White's new novel, Padawan! What a boon! What a bounty! Truly, the Kenobists of the fandom have been blessed with some excellent new content, and Padawan is no exception.

Following the release of Mike Chen's Brotherhood earlier this year, Padawan is a new novel that puts Obi-Wan at the center of his own story. Set nine years before The Phantom Menace, Padawan tells the story of a sixteen-year-old Obi-Wan's first solo mission as Qui-Gon Jinn's apprentice.

Well, it's not so much a mission as it is an adventure. And it's not so much a solo assignment as it is a tricky bit of teenage rebellion, complete with angst, daddy issues, and accidental ship acquisition. Anakin would be so proud.

The Set Up

Newly apprenticed to the wise and infuriatingly oblique Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi is struggling. Struggling to fit in. Struggling to understand. Struggling for control. And struggling to connect with the Force at all. In the creche, he loved meditation, but now that he's called on to do it as a padawan, he finds the skill beyond his reach.

Worse, Master Jinn seems to know this and, as a result, has him doing the same basic katas while all his agemates go off into the galaxy. Something is wrong. And Obi-Wan fears that something is him.

After he discovers a secret map to a hidden planet left by a long-dead Jedi, Obi-Wan convinces his master that they are the perfect team to follow it. At first, Qui-Gon agrees, but when he fails to show up the morning of their departure, Obi-Wan grows impatient…and maybe a little resentful. So finally, in a fit of pique, he decides to go by himself.

But the planet he ends up on is not what he expected. Lenahra is a place of great beauty but also incredible danger, and the only inhabitants of it are a group of Force-sensitive teenagers. They offer him shelter, friendship, and a place to be himself without the demands and responsibility of the Jedi Order weighing on his shoulders. As Obi-Wan grows closer to them, he also grows closer to the darkness lurking on Lenahra, the mysteries of the Force, and the truth of his heart.

A Celebration of Compassion

The de facto prequel to Claudia Gray's Master & Apprentice, Kiersten White's Padawan, does a beautiful job establishing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's rocky relationship while also giving us a delightful adventure that stands on its own. 

In previous interviews, White spoke of her love for Obi-Wan Kenobi and the depth of his compassion. “He cares so much,” she said. “I think as much as (or more than) any other Jedi we know, Obi-Wan always puts himself second in service of the Jedi Order and, more importantly, the will of the Force.”

That caring nature is out in full force here and drives much of the conflict and the plot. Obi-Wan cares so deeply about his new friends that he feels compelled to help them in any way he can – even though he fears it may overstep the bounds of reason.

He spends much of his time torn between what is right and what is good and how a Jedi discerns between the two. Yet, as much as he may question his own ability, it is clear to the reader just how deeply Obi-Wan holds to the Jedi ways and how integral the Force and the Order are to his very being. This is a book that loves both Obi-Wan and the Jedi deeply.

It is clear that White understands Obi-Wan, and her portrayal of him is as compassionate and loving as Obi-Wan himself. It makes for a very satisfying reading experience as the words leap off the page to wrap you in an embrace as familiar and comforting as Obi-Wan's cloak.

Sir Not Appearing in This Film

That's also probably why Qui-Gon's absence feels so acute. But, of course, White can do nothing to repair a relationship that we know is strained during Master & Apprentice, which takes place about a year later, and must account for how little he appears in this book. If you're a fan of them together, then know this may not be the book you expect. As its title suggests, this book is only about Obi-Wan.

Padawan cover

First Steps Into a Larger World

That said, there are a bunch of lovely nods to other stories in Star Wars, including some nods to the old Legends series Jedi Apprentice by Jude Watson. Fans of that series will be happy to see mention of Siri Tachi and those old padawan dormitories. Likewise, High Republic fans will recognize the names of those ancient Jedi who inspire Obi-Wan on his mission to Lenahra in the first place.

The planet itself seamlessly fits into the larger galaxy, and the nature of Obi-Wan's quest resembles classic Clone Wars episodes. It reminded me of Mercy Mission (4.5) and Mystery of a Thousand Moons (1.18). The whole thing was filled with the joy and excitement of a classic Star Wars romp!

However, White has a deft touch, and despite being a novel geared towards young adults (honestly, to my mind, it felt closer to a middle-grade read), she still manages to weave in some weighty and complex issues for Obi-Wan (and us) to grapple with.

Looking Deeper

Though there is no 1:1 correlation to the real world, you can easily draw lines between Obi-Wan's conflict and things we're dealing with every day, like environmentalism, generational trauma, and personal responsibility. I appreciate that it doesn't explicitly parallel these but encourages the audience to see themselves in Obi-Wan and the children on Lenahra, compelling us to find similarities where we feel most conflicted in ourselves.

The planet itself is practically its own character. Lenahra is a world of both beauty and danger. But perhaps the most dangerous things are the people who seek to strip it of its resources for their own profit. White does not shy away from a strong message of environmental stewardship and the duty we owe to the world we live upon.

The relationship between Lenahra and its inhabitants is profoundly connected. There is a limit to how much abuse the world can take, and Obi-Wan can see they've just about come to the end.

On the Matter of Love

Now, let me first reassure you, nervous readers – there is no romance in this book. Satine, his only canonical love interest, does not appear, though she is given a cheeky little wink. White previously stated in an interview with StarWars.com that “Obi-Wan commits absolutely in everything he does — including first love. I couldn't dilute that!”

However, there is talk about kissing and attraction and teenage fumblings in dimly lit corners. At one point, Obi-Wan seems to express a vague interest in multiple genders before quickly deciding he is probably uninterested in the idea altogether, couching this dismissal in his devotion to the Force.

While it suggests that Obi-Wan may be bi or pan and sit somewhere along the asexuality spectrum, it is not, at any point, explicit. For all he thinks about it, no deeper consideration is given to how he identifies. And so, though I was excited to have this tidbit made canon, I ended up feeling a little disappointed that we didn't get more in a book that is meant to be about self-discovery.

A possible explanation for this tip-toeing around the subject is that White was not permitted to state how Obi-Wan identifies directly. E.K. Johnston had to contend with this issue when writing her Star Wars novel, Ahsoka.

In a Tumblr post, she explained, “Usually when I write, I am all about Making Sexuality Quite Obvious, because I feel like kids deserve at LEAST ‘queer.' But with Ahsoka, it wasn't my decision to make. Instead, I tried to leave as many doors open as possible so that anyone reading her could identify her as ‘the same as them.'”

It's only my speculation, but if Padawan faced similar limitations, we could hardly blame White for the lack of clarity. Including several other queer characters speaks to her intent, which is encouraging and just a delight to read. I've been hoping and pushing for Acespec Obi-Wan for years! And though it is frustrating to rely on coding and implication even in 2022, he definitely reads as queer, and I am thrilled by what White has given us.

The Adventure Continues…

With only a couple of minor quibbles, Padawan was a wonderful experience. Obi-Wan's journey was dynamic, complex, and exciting. Lenahra was a gorgeous setting with fascinating world-building, and White writes with such cinematic prose that I felt as if I were alone in the theatre watching it all unfold on the big screen. Moreover, her love for Obi-Wan transcends the page and leaves her readers basking in the warmth of our favorite Jedi as if he were telling the story to us directly. 

Padawan is a delightful addition to the Star Wars canon, and I am desperate for White to have another crack at the character. Or maybe two more. Let's make it a trilogy! “The Kenobi Saga” has a nice ring to it.

Padawan is available to buy wherever books are sold on July 26th, 2022. Follow us here for the latest on Star Wars.

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Hannah is a fangirl born of fangirls. As a child, she lived vicariously through her favorite stories, but as an adult, she became an actor so she could live them directly. A graduate of the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, Hannah has a deep love of storytelling and analysis. Having gotten her start in writing as a young book critic, she is excited to be expanding into the world of freelancing and fandom content.