MARVEL’S obi-wan & anakin #1-5 IS PART OF THE CURRENT STAR WARS CANON. CHECK OUT THE TIMELINE.
In a relatively bold move, writer Charles Soule elected to set the story of Obi-Wan & Anakin a mere three years after Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Which is bold for a couple of reasons. The first is that the time period is relatively unexplored in the current canon. Anything in the general proximity of The Phantom Menace runs the risk of contracting Prequel Cooties, after all. The other thing is that Checchetto was thusly tasked with drawing an Anakin who was halfway between Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen. This is dangerous, as Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen are the two most evil men in the universe. To combine them is to run the risk of creating a terrible quantum singularity from which no decent acting can possibly escape.
As far as the plot of Obi-Wan & Anakin is concerned, the titular Jedi are summoned to a supposedly dead planet by an ancient distress call. It should come as no surprise that this planet, Carnelion IV, isn’t quite as dead as they were led to believe.
On the planet is a noxious gas that keeps the surface unlivable and two warring factions who call themselves the “Open” and the “Closed”. Imaginative, I know. These creatively-titled folks are vaguely Steampunk-inspired cliques who naturally blame each other for the planet’s destruction. They’ve been isolated from the rest of the galaxy for generations and have never heard of the Jedi. So, when Obi-Wan and Anakin turn up with their robes and laser swords and magic powers, both groups take a fancy to them. Antics ensue and Anakin, true to form, fixes lots of stuff.
And he sulks, of course. But what’s interesting about Anakin in this story is that we see a version of him here that we haven’t seen anywhere else. He isn’t lusting after Padme, as he was in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He isn’t the confident, assured hero we saw in The Clone Wars. He’s still a petulant little kid, but he’s starting to recognize that the systems to which he has pledged his life – the doctrine of the Jedi Order; the democracy of the Republic – are at best inadequate and at worst openly corrupt and self-serving.
We learn early in Obi-Wan & Anakin that Anakin is considering leaving the Order. It’s too dogmatic and reactive; his desire is to fix the galaxy’s ills in the same way that he reassembles droids and racing pods. When he and Obi-Wan arrive on Carnelion IV, he criticises that the Republic didn’t aid the planet simply because it lacked any necessary resources. He’s an idealist.
His idealism is, I guess, naive, but I’ve always considered naivety to be central to his character – the prequels were simply written by colossal idiots, and so focused instead on his creepy obsession with Padme and his dislike of sand. But frustration with the systems that govern action and thought is a more compelling, relatable grievance. And it’s just the kind of thing a young man forced to grow rapidly within those systems might feel. This is why Anakin is so respectful and admiring of Obi-Wan – he’s a good man even within those stifling systems – but also why he’s attracted on some level to Palpatine, who he sees as being capable of affecting real change more thoroughly and expediently than the Order.
Palpatine is in the story, too. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s adventures on Carnelion IV are juxtaposed with flashbacks to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where Anakin is shown to be a less-than-ideal Padawan (fancy that), but a surprisingly keen student under the Chancellor. I have issues with these sections, but then I always do. What they show us, though, is an important aspect of Anakin’s relationship with his eventual master. They show what he found compelling about the man in the first place.
Anakin establishing a relationship with Palpatine does, admittedly, require certain characters – Mace Windu in particular – to act somewhat meekly; to be accommodating of Palpatine despite him taking an obviously unhealthy interest in the young Jedi. It makes respected members of the Council seem dopey and disinterested. This actually relates to another problem, which is that now we’re aware of Palpatine’s true identity as Darth Sidious, writers have a tendency to make him behave sinisterly without any real attempts to hide his true intentions. Obi-Wan & Anakin is set, remember, only a few years after The Phantom Menace. As far as the Republic is concerned, Palpatine is most certainly not a Sith Lord. So it’s odd to see him behave like one and not be called out on it.
Elsewhere, the conflict between the Open and Closed is far from inspired, but it works as a backdrop for the events occurring and the themes that are being explored, and is a decent way to showcase the lessons Obi-Wan wants Anakin to learn. The philosophising isn’t particularly deep, but it’s relevant. Of importance is the pointlessness of the ages-old feud; how the line between right and wrong, and even the reason for the fighting, has been so obscured by time that nobody even knows why they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing anymore. It reads as a condemnation of picking teams without thoroughly understanding the terrain of whichever hill you’re planting a flag on. Which, needless to say, is something that Anakin himself is struggling with in his own way.
The art is gorgeous. There’s a nice contrast between smaller, intimate moments that are vivid and atmospheric, and more grandiose set-pieces that pull back and allow you to take in the scale of Carnelion IV and its slightly atypical, almost dystopian style. A ruined world. Battling, zeppelin-style gunships. Horrific creatures rambling on the planet’s poisoned surface. It all gives Carnelion IV a distinct feel that is still Star Wars, but slightly off-kilter. It’s like the whole planet had one too many cups of Juma Juice.
Anyway, I dug it, and you might too. Anakin & Obi-Wan doesn’t do much for the lore or massively recontextualise the events we’re already familiar with. But it’s an impressive blend of art and storytelling with some insightful character moments and a strong thematic underpinning. And there’s no sand in sight.