The Success of Star Wars: Kenobi

Jennifer Heddle | September 20, 2013

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It’s been gratifying to see Star Wars: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller succeed on a critical and commercial level, especially since this book is a perfect example of how it sometimes takes a village to deliver a successful Expanded Universe novel. I thought I’d give you a little peek into how Kenobi arrived at its final form.

First of all, the credit for the original idea for this book goes to John Jackson Miller, who had been wanting to write a story like this one about Obi-Wan for a while. He pitched the idea to Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey, who loved it and brought it to me. I have to admit I was hesitant when I first heard about it. This was a part of Star Wars history that had been only briefly touched upon in the past. Did we really want to reveal details about Obi-Wan’s years on Tatooine?

That was where the brilliance of John’s suggested structure for the novel came in. As I read the outline, and realized the story would be told entirely through the points of view of other characters, I got excited. Here was a way to delve into some of Obi-Wan’s time on Tatooine without removing all sense of mystery. It helped that I’m generally a fan of stories in which we view our familiar heroes through newcomers’ eyes, anyway. I brought the idea to the Lucasfilm editorial meeting confident that this angle — the movie Shane, but with “Ben” in the Shane role — was the right way to go for this project. Luckily, the rest of the publishing department agreed.

There was one thing that nagged at me, though — I had seen this sort of conceit work well in the past in comic books, but how would it play out in a full-length novel? Would readers be frustrated at not getting any insight into Obi-Wan’s head at all? So when I responded to Shelly with an approval for the book concept, I suggested John add some brief interior monologues throughout so that we could know what Obi-Wan was going through, at least a little bit. John countered with the idea of addressing those thoughts to Qui-Gon, and the “meditations” sections were born.

The revisions for the book, done by me and Shelly, were fairly standard; tightening things here, adding things there. We felt the book was in good shape. And then Shelly gave the book to Del Rey editors Frank Parisi and Erich Schoenweiss to read. Frank and Erich are not only skilled editors, they bring a male fan perspective that Shelly and I inherently lack (obviously), so it’s always good to get their input. And they came back to us with strong pleas to have Obi-Wan tangle with a krayt dragon in the book. In the version of the novel they read, the krayt dragons had only been referred to by the characters, not actually “seen” on the page.

When Shelly and I heard this, we immediately realized that of course, such an encounter had to be included, and we were shocked we hadn’t seen it ourselves (which just goes to show that everyone can be edited, even editors). Meanwhile, John had been working hard on the ending and feeling that it lacked a certain extra something as well, so when Shelly suggested the krayt dragon showdown, everything clicked into place.

And that’s how you ended up with the final version of the book as you know it. Together with gorgeous cover art courtesy of artist Chris McGrath and some really ingenious marketing ideas from the Del Rey team (I loved the krayt dragon call key chains handed out at San Diego Comic Con), it all came together perfectly, in my opinion, and ultimately it couldn’t have been done by any one person. I’m glad so many of you are enjoying the result.

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