Hopes and Fears for “Obi-Wan Kenobi”

Last week, we finally were given our first taste of the new “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Disney Plus show with the release of a teaser trailer. The limited series set to premier on Disney Plus on May 25, 2022, and Ewan McGregor will be reprising his role as the titular Obi-Wan after 17 years since the prequel trilogy came to an end with “Revenge of the Sith”. Obi-Wan is one of the most universally beloved characters in the entire Star Wars franchise, playing the wise old mentor trope in the Original Trilogy and the suave young Jedi in the Prequel Trilogy.

Naturally, Obi-Wan’s return is very exciting, but with that optimism also brings uncertainty. Despite a very compelling teaser tailer and the return of a character and actor that I greatly admire, there are already some flags that are causing me to worry… just a bit. This is only natural, considering the sky-high expectations I have for this show. As the saying goes, “Fear is a path to the Dark Side…”, and the only way to fend off the Dark Side is a healthy dose of hope. So, I want to discuss my fears for the show, but also talk about what I hope for and what makes me so optimistic.

Fears

We last saw Obi-Wan return to Tatooine watch over an infant Luke Skywalker, who he gave to his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen to raise. Obi-Wan had just defeated his fallen apprentice and best friend, and now has to come to grips with Anakin’s betrayal which ushered in the extermination of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Galactic Empire. From there, we have only ever had glimpses into the life of the character, until a much older “Ben” Kenobi helps guide Luke on his path to being a Jedi in “A New Hope”. Those of us who have read the old Expanded Universe novel “Kenobi” might already have an image in their heads about what to expect from Obi-Wan’s time in exile on Tatooine. Well, Disney has rendered that story to Legends continuity and considers it to be non-canonical, so, at best, that will only loosely guide the creative team. I am stricken by the fear that the Disney creative team might misunderstand the character and opt for an action-heavy spectacle, rather than the introspective narrative he deserves. Obi-Wan is supposed to be coming to grips with his own failures, learning the lessons of the Clone Wars, and protecting Luke at all costs. His days of adventure should be behind him.

The fans are not privy to all of the details of the show, as far as plotlines go, however we do know that Hayden Christensen is finally returning as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for the show, which raises some concerns. I am very excited for the prospect of Hayden returning in a sort of victory lap. The fandom was ruthless, and frankly, downright horrendous to him during his run in the Prequels. The fact that he is returning to heartfelt embraces is a redemption arc for the fans. However, the story of Obi-Wan currently contradicts the idea that he would meet Vader again after their duel in “Revenge of the Sith” before they do so again for their final encounter on the Death Star in “A New Hope”. Is it possible for a confrontation between the two characters to not cause a continuity break in the greater story? Absolutely. But it will need to be handled with tact, which is something Disney has not always inspired faith in their fans for.

To a lesser yet much more specific extent, this applies to a potential appearance of Maul. I have seen a few outliers ask for the character to appear in the show, and they were almost unanimously met with disdain from fans. This was even followed up with reports that original drafts for the show had Maul be the primary antagonist but was written out of the show for what I can only hope was because it wouldn’t make any sense. We already saw his story come to a completion and we know exactly how Obi-Wan fits into that story. Do not break continuity and devalue that moment for a chance to cheaply insert the character into a place he does not belong. Thankfully, Maul does not appear to be a part of this show so I would not worry too much about this. Having said all of that, I encourage everyone to watch the very satisfying confrontation and conclusion for those characters we already have.

Recently, Lucasfilm executive, Kathleen Kennedy said that the original scripts for the show were scrapped for being too bleak. While I vehemently disagree with an evaluation that outright equates bleakness to being unfavorable, I can sympathize with her position. Her job is to make sure the product they produce is palatable to as many people as possible. I would argue the most effective way to make sure that result is met is to construct a competently written narrative, and the rest will fall into place from there. But executives fear losing the least common denominator and believe the easiest way to secure that is to add a lot of action, quippy dialogue, and generally make a more lighthearted tone. It is the easy and quick path to commercial success, but often those productions ring hollow compared to their deeper counterparts. There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to make a script more hopeful and optimistic, but they risk making a shallower story if they are too afraid to actually confront the material they are attempting to depict. Characters that endure heavier elements and learn to rise above them are the ones that are the most special.

I don’t think these themes and issues will be completely ignored or neglected, but I worry that they won’t be given the proper amount of exploration they deserve. Disney’s most recent attempt at a character-driven limited series was “The Book of Boba Fett”, and that series lacked direction, focus, and depth: everything that is required for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” to be successful. Style without substance is easy, but it will be tremendous disservice to a character, cheapening a well-earned moment of reflective sobriety. I personally believe that showrunner Robert Rodriguez is at fault for many of the inexcusable issues of that show. However, Disney bears a large portion of responsibility as well. They approved a detrimentally disjointed and shallow production, and this shows me that they continue to not have a complete grasp on what makes a good Star Wars story. It showed me that Disney still clambers onto “spectacle over substance” and has not learned the real lessons of the Sequel Trilogy yet.

Besides the themes and continuity, some concerns I have are aesthetic. Regardless of what the final product looks like, these will not make or break the show for me. First off, Ewan has aged too damn well! It’s not his fault but in the last 17 years, he hardly looks a day older. Good for him. Unfortunately, he’s supposed to look like Alec Guiness in only 9 years of in-universe time, so he better get aging REAL quick. This in no way ruins anything for me, but it is something that is worth mentioning.

The worst offenders for the visual problems are the costume and makeup for some of the characters we see in the trailer. The Grand Inquisitor and the 5th Brother are two characters that we were introduced to in “Star Wars: Rebels”, which is an animated medium as opposed to live action. Something went terribly wrong in the translation! These two characters are supposed to be aliens, but the result we have been given looks like adults in face paint. For a franchise that has always been leading the way for visual effects, this is simply a stunning display of apathy. The part that makes the least sense to me is that any of these alien species have already been portrayed in the films before, and the product was significantly better.

The Grand Inquisitor from “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (left) compared to the same character from “Star Wars: Rebels” (Right).

The live action version looks cheap and lazy. The head shape is off, but I can live with that. What I can’t understand is why he is not wearing dental prosthetics to sharpen his teeth or why his eyes aren’t digitally changed to be black with piercing yellow irises. These aren’t even complicated solutions, and yet there is zero effort to rectify them. I’ve heard the argument that prosthetics are uncomfortable and difficult to maneuver in for action scenes, but I find that argument to be insincere. Neither of those two characters are required for this story and if they are unable to be adequately portrayed in the show, then they don’t need to be at all. We already know the fates of those two characters in other stories so their presence in this show adds nothing to the stakes. Why not just replace them with Inquisitors we haven’t met yet and start from scratch? It seems like a simple and inoffensive solution, and I can’t understand why it wasn’t considered.

Lastly, I am afraid that the creative team will resort to pandering with fan-service. I know it is ridiculous to say that having Star Wars characters appear in a Star Wars story would be pandering but hear me out. I have this lingering and very specific idea that Obi-Wan will eventually cross paths with Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson, because many fans want the characters to have a reunion after The Clone Wars. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but moments like that will draw focus away from the importance of the main story. If the story isn’t interesting enough to tell without lowering itself to introducing new shiny objects to distract you, then maybe the script should be written better. This is simply a tactic used by writers and directors who truly don’t understand the material in the stories they are telling, which is a symptom of the fact that Star Wars was not their creation, they simply borrowed (bought) it. Hopefully, this is just a personal anxiety and nothing we will be given in the series.

Hopes

Despite all that doom and gloom, I am more excited for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” than I have been for any Star Wars release since “The Last Jedi”. I am only critical of it because I feel protective of a character and stories that I hold on such a high pedestal. Perhaps naively, I am fully embracing my optimism and hoping for an incredible story that does the character justice. I do think they will deliver on this.

I personally hope that they give Obi-Wan multiple moments of quiet reflection throughout the show. There are 6 episodes planned, which is more than enough time to give the exiled war general time to come to grips with his failures and learn to overcome them. There are so many lessons for him to learn, and I hope he dives into the folly of the Jedi, and his failure as Anakin’s teacher and friend. As much as Obi-Wan was the shining paragon of what the Jedi are, he bears a considerable amount of responsibility for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. It would be very satisfying to watch him have to reconcile his failures with his responsibilities to preserve hope by protecting Luke.

In these instances of reflection, I would not be opposed to giving Obi-Wan flashbacks to before the Dark Times, or even new footage of moments we saw in the films. “Book of Boba Fett” showed that this technique is not without it risks, if executed with care and with a good idea of the big picture, flashbacks could provide even more depth to the characters in the story. Disney definitely has the technology to de-age the actors and make them look as they did during the Prequel Trilogy. And, if they really wanted to add Ahsoka into the show, I feel this avenue would be a far more appropriate path to do so.

This would also be a great opportunity to bring in the Force Ghost of Qui-Gon Jin. At the end of “Revenge of the Sith”, Yoda reveals to Obi-Wan that there is a way he can communicate with his late master, and that he will have to learn this technique while in exile. Qui-Gon, portrayed by Liam Neeson in “The Phantom Menace” and a few episodes of the Clone Wars, would be a specter whom Obi-Wan could confide in, seek guidance from, and ask for answers that he cannot see clearly for himself. This would be much like the role Obi-Wan played in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in relation to Luke’s journey. It would be poetic, which is something we know George Lucas loved to emphasize in Star Wars.

Likewise, I think this show presents an incredible opportunity to explore the character of Uncle Owen. Lucasfilm quietly had themselves a gem of casting during the Prequel Trilogy when they cast Joel Edgerton as a young Owen. At the time, he was relatively obscure and since then, has grown to really establish himself as a very capable actor. And with his talents, he has the potential to really flesh out one of the most underappreciated characters in the entire franchise. Owen is not a flashy Jedi or a cool bounty hunter. He is a moisture farmer on a backwater world in the middle of nowhere living a life beneath the notice of anyone of relative importance. In “A New Hope”, Luke’s only goal was to get as far away from the boring life his uncle was forcing him into. But it is not often discussed how Owen and his wife Beru raised the savior of the galaxy. They gave Luke the values that guided him into being a good person. These values laid the bedrock for the will required for Luke to eventually resist the temptations of the Dark Side and save Anakin from being consumed by the Dark Side. It can’t be understated just how important that role is for the development of Luke. Let us see the lengths at which he goes to keep Luke safe and to what extent he fears (and possibly resents) Obi-Wan for his role in his-step brother’s presumed demise.

This will also be the third consecutive Star Wars Disney Plus show that will spend significant time on Tatooine. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I am getting real sick of seeing the planet that was once so boring, its youths were actively begging to join the military as an alternative, somehow become this massive hub for all of the important events of the franchise. Thankfully, the show does not appear to be destined to linger on the desert world for too long. In the trailer, we see at least two other locations besides Tatooine, both of which seem to have been given high production values to create. Exploring the vast galaxy has always been one of the most alluring aspects of Star Wars and it is tremendously encouraging to see that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” will not continue to pigeonhole the narrative onto the same location we have seen dozens, if not hundreds of times prior.

I would also be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t even a little curious and excited to see Obi-Wan and Vader duel one more time, especially if they are both in their physical primes. I mentioned that their confrontation needs to be handled delicately to not break continuity, but if it is done well, this could be one of the franchise’s most climactic moments. Anakin, now fully submerged into the dark entity that is Darth Vader, seeing the person who maimed him and who he personally blames for all of the tragedy he has suffered. Obi-Wan, a man having to live with his failures, seeing his former best friend, whom he left to burn alive, standing before him as a hardly a living being, encased in a mechanical shell. This moment has limitless potential and I hope it can deliver.

But what would a lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Vader be without John Williams. The fact that they brought in the big guns to score parts of this series is so encouraging to me. Whether it be “Duel of the Fates”, “Anakin’s Betrayal”, “Battle of the Heroes”, or even a completely new composition, I have complete faith that John Williams will set the tone perfectly for the confrontation too come.


Honestly, I don’t need any or all of those hopes to be answered for me to love the show. My greatest hope of all is that the show is well-written, and that Deborah Chow’s direction is solid. So long as the story makes sense and the character is fundamentally understood, I sincerely believe that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” will deliver what the character deserves. There is a lingering fear of uncertainty, which is definitely warranted, but it should by no means overshadow the joy and anticipation we are feel. We are getting a f***ing Obi-Wan Kenobi show starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen! The very notion still seems like a dream that never come true. But it is true. And if I have to eat my words because I chose to be excited, I would rather that 10 times out of 10 if it means I can enjoy the ride for all it has to offer.

Published by Zach Vecker

Follow my film blog ShutUpZach.com

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