Review: Star Wars: Brotherhood tells an epic, emotional, essential Obi-Wan and Anakin story

Star Wars: Brotherhood. Image courtesy
Star Wars: Brotherhood. Image courtesy /

Star Wars: Brotherhood does many things right, but most of all, it gives prequel fans the Obi-Wan and Anakin story they’ve been waiting 20 years for.

Though Brotherhood is not the first novel to chronicle the tumultuous and foreboding Clone Wars era, author Mike Chen’s Star Wars debut is both action-packed and quietly intimate as it explores the earliest days of the conflict that spelled the end for the Jedi Order and the Republic.

Brotherhood is as much about the evolving relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as it is about the changes they’re personally experiencing – with the Order, with the clone troopers, with the government, and within themselves. And being a prequel era novel, Brotherhood is also very much about the wide variety of politics and cultures in the galaxy, and at many times puts the Republic on trial for the decades of wrongs and neglect that feed into the Separatist cause.

Future Sith Lord emperor and current Chancellor Palpatine may have orchestrated this war and the Jedi’s downfall, but the anger, outrage, and distrust of the Jedi felt by the worlds who left the Republic are very, very real.

Brotherhood is set in the earliest days of the Clone Wars, showing Anakin’s promotion to Jedi Knight and Obi-Wan’s to Master and a seat on the Jedi Council. Just as Anakin and Ob-Wan are navigating their new relationships and roles, the Jedi at large are trying to comprehend their place as peacekeepers-turned-generals.

Though fans know this war will rage for years, in these early days, there’s much hope for a quick and peaceful resolution. The combination of reluctance to command troops and a steady mindset of hope for peace drive each main character’s point of view and motivations throughout the novel.

The main plotline of Brotherhood is “that business on Cato Neimoidia” – a horrific terrorist attack on one of the planet’s floating cities that killed many and hit the heart of Neimoidian culture. And many point to the Republic as the culprit.

Obi-Wan is sent to the planet to investigate alongside an emissary of the Separatists – none other than Asajj Ventress, who at this time serves the dark side and Count Dooku as his assassin. Knowing Ventress’s full arc as seen in The Clone Wars and Dark Disciple, Chen’s portrayal is the perfect introduction to the morally gray character.

That’s especially true for Ventress and Obi-Wan, who throughout the animated series had a chaotic, sassy, and often flirtatious relationship as they battled for dominance. Ventress is one of the beloved Star Wars characters who mercilessly and hilariously roasted Obi-Wan on a frequent basis, and we forever thank her for it.

Tensions are already high among the Neimoidians, and Ventress and the Separatists plan to push them to violence by exploiting the beings’ grief, anger, and long-held biases.

In true Obi-Wan fashion, the Jedi Master gets himself in a dangerous pickle, gets shot at many times, and performs a very nice speech that doesn’t really do anything to quell the crowd’s intense emotions. And in Anakin’s true fashion, the new Jedi Knight swoops in to kind of, sort of save the day in the most unorthodox way possible.

Though the two remain apart for much of the novel until the third act, the distance fast-tracks their evolution from master and apprentice to brothers – with a few awkward moments in between.

This book chronicles one of Anakin’s most important “growing up” moments. He’s surely pleased to be out from under Obi-Wan’s thumb, but he also seems to recognize the love and respect he had for his former master as a mentor has evolved into feelings of camaraderie and kinship. Brotherhood shows Anakin slowly beginning to understand and respect their new relationship – one that includes responsibility for his own actions alongside their long-held system of checks and balances on each other.

One of the biggest and most reflective journeys for Anakin in Brotherhood is his new relationship with a Jedi youngling named Mill Alibeth, whom he helps conquer her fears of the Force while showing the importance of self-acceptance and identity beyond their roles at Jedi.

Anakin is also juggling his secret marriage to Senator Padme Amidala, who gets a few brief scenes in Brotherhood. Like in E.K. Johnston’s recent Queen’s Hope, which also shows the early Clone Wars, Brotherhood features some of the best scenes of Anakin and Padme together. Even just for a day or two, they get to disappear from their lives at Jedi and Senator and just be two young newlyweds.

Their moments are brief but powerfully intimate, giving them the space and privacy to continue learning and loving each other. We all know how their story ends, but it’s beautiful to finally see moments of genuine joy between them.

Since Queen’s Hope just came out a month ago, Brotherhood feels so much more impactful. Both books fill in so much of the blank spaces missing from Anakin and Padme’s relationship journey, making it feel authentic rather than one birthed from passion, fear, and chaos.

At the heart of this war story is the lesson of balance – between Anakin and Obi-Wan, between their roles as Jedi and generals, and the heavy scales carried by the governments and peoples of the Republic already exhausted by conflict.

And while the Clone Wars series filled in the years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Brotherhood feels like an essential piece of storytelling I didn’t know I was missing. Like The Clone Wars, Brotherhood is both an epic war story and a touching character study – a riveting page-turner and one that offers some of the best characterizations of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in all of Star Wars.

Brotherhood shows Anakin and Obi-Wan in their prime, adding depth to their arcs in the prequel movies as well as their legacies in the original trilogy films. It’s also just plain fun, perfectly paced, and is superbly written from start to finish.

Brotherhood isn’t just a tie-in or filler story for the Clone Wars, it’s essential reading for the prequel era.

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Star Wars: Brotherhood releases on Tuesday, May 10, from Del Rey. Stay up to date with all things Star Wars books at Dork Side of the Force.