By George Bate
“You owe me one, and not for me saving your skin for the tenth time.”
“Ninth time. That business on Cato Neimoidia doesn’t, doesn’t count.”
A seemingly inconsequential, oft-quoted line from a 17-year-old movie serves as the basis for a new novel. In any other universe, that would make for a questionable decision to say the least. But, this isn’t any other universe – this is Star Wars. And, highlighting the sheer breadth and depth of this galaxy far, far away, is Mike Chen’s new novel Brotherhood, an epic, insightful, and touching Star Wars novel that does so much more than explain “that business on Cato Neimoidia.”
Brotherhood serves as connective tissue between the events of Episode II – Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars animated series, an interesting bridge period that has seldom been the focus in canon to date. The titular brotherhood refers to the bond of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who, following the Battle of Geonosis, find their roles as Jedi have changed in a galaxy now at war. A terrorist attack on Cato Neimodia, the home of the neutral Trade Federation, sends shockwaves through the galaxy and fingers are immediately pointed at the Republic. As Obi-Wan is dispatched to investigate and bring about a diplomatic solution to the crisis, Anakin, now a Jedi Knight, is tasked with looking over a batch of younglings on an aid mission.
Chen’s novel intelligently mirrors the structure of Attack of the Clones. An instigating incident leads to Obi-Wan connecting with a local contact to start an investigation. Meanwhile, Anakin is off on his own mission, but can’t stop himself from crashing the party and coming to help his former Master. This structure adds a cinematic feel to Chen’s writing as it feels as engrossing and high-stakes as the Star Wars prequels it is situated around. There is plenty of suspense and tension to feast on in this novel, which is a testament to Chen’s ability as a writer given that this narrative could have been told in a manner that had little implications to broader storytelling in Star Wars. The novel moves at a perfect pace, shifting perspectives between Obi-Wan, Anakin, a young Jedi named Mill, and a Neimodian guard named Ruug, all while never becoming too action heavy. There are twists and turns and the reader is always reminded of the stakes at play as the events of the novel progress. The conflict on Cato Neimoidia feels so lived and experienced, and its implications, in turn, feel so daunting. In many ways, Brotherhood is a political thriller that highlights how precarious safety and stability are in the galaxy as the peacekeeping role of the Jedi slips away.
Beyond sprawling and high-stakes narratives, one of the best parts about diving into Star Wars novels is the thoughtful character development that can occur in such a medium, something Brotherhood excels with. Brotherhood triumphs in adding depth to the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. This is a unique and transitional time for both Jedi as they must come to grips with their new roles, not only in the Jedi Order, but also in their personal relationship. Obi-Wan is cognizant of subtle changes in his relationship with Anakin now that they find themselves on equal footing. And Obi-Wan begins to sense changes in the Force when seeing interactions between Anakin and Padme, leaving him much to consider. Meanwhile, Anakin is newly married and, despite the recent death of his mother, surrounded by support with Padme, Obi-Wan, and, of course, Palpatine. Although Padme plays a relatively small role in the novel, her relationship with Anakin is given touching attention. A chapter early in the novel, for instance, follows Anakin and Padme on a secret and intimate date night in a neighborhood on Coruscant. Moments shared between the characters like this are beautiful and make the tragedies that occur in Episode III hurt so much more. Whereas the prequel trilogy, in particular Episode II, was criticized for its approach to Anakin and Padme’s relationship, no such criticisms can be launched toward Chen’s novel. All of this makes for an opportunity that enables readers to get inside the minds of these characters like never before.
The substantial character work in Brotherhood is complemented by the neat ways in which it fills in interesting gaps in the broader Star Wars narrative. A brilliantly written chapter focuses on the relationship between Anakin and Palpatine that intricately connects to the events of the films and adds more layers to Anakin’s eventual turn to the dark side. The animosity between Mace and Anakin is explored more overtly than perhaps ever before. Chen’s expert approach to telling a story set between Episode II and The Clone Wars means Star Wars fans will pick up on a number of references and details that inform their understanding of other stories and characters. Earlier, Brotherhood was described as “connective tissue” between Episode II and The Clone Wars and, while this description grossly underplays how outstanding Chen’s novel is as a standalone work, it is incredibly rewarding to see details or events of Star Wars canon that remained unexplained treated with such care and attention. This is a novel that pays deep respect to the stories it is surrounded by. For instance, events and references from E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Hope, Qui-Gon’s relationship with Obi-Wan from The Phantom Menace and Master & Apprentice, and the High Republic are described in Brotherhood in ways that never make readers feel excluded if they are unaware of these connections, but feel so rewarding for those who are aware. Also of note, Chen isn’t afraid to reference somewhat cringe-worthy lines or moments from the prequels, not just fleetingly, but in a manner that is careful, calculated, and contributes significantly to how these moments come across in the movies.
Mike Chen’s Brotherhood more than lives up to its title in showcasing the bond between Obi-Wan and Anakin in emotionally profound, charming, and exciting ways. A high-stakes and well-paced political thriller narrative is accompanied by some of the most nuanced character work in a Star Wars novel to date. Brotherhood will undoubtedly change the way in which the Star Wars films, including the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin, are viewed, and will go down as one of the best Star Wars novels of all time. This is a must read.
Brotherhood is on sale May 10, 2022.