Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, and recent films such as The Rise of Skywalker.
I’ve made no secret through my commentary here on the website that I’m not thrilled by many of the decisions and announcements that have come out of Disney and Lucasfilm lately. The Star Wars franchise as a whole feels stuck; bogged down by nostalgia and led by a team whose creativity is being stifled by a corporate board that is unwilling or unable to move on from successes that are now decades in the past. The divisiveness of the sequel trilogy will eventually abate, but for now the Star Wars franchise is intent on looking backwards.
This is why we have projects like Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first place. The very concept of the series is backwards-looking, and all it really offers, at a fundamental level, are more of the same nostalgia plays that tripped up projects like Solo: A Star Wars Story. As I said last time I took a look at the upcoming series – which is now less than a month away – if I were in charge over at Disney and Lucasfilm, a project like this would’ve never been greenlit!
That isn’t all there is to say, of course. Another recent Star Wars project that I had relatively low expectations for was The Book of Boba Fett. Arbitrarily bringing back from the dead a relatively minor character and dedicating an entire spin-off project to him felt like it should’ve been the epitome of everything I’ve come to dislike about modern Star Wars. But as you’ll know if you read my review of the first season, I actually had a good time with The Book of Boba Fett. It was far from perfect, but it hid its imperfections in a story that was, for the most part anyway, just plain fun.
So as I look ahead to Obi-Wan Kenobi, there are reasons for optimism. Ewan McGregor’s performance as the titular Jedi Knight was one of the prequel trilogy’s highlights, and he did well to bring to life a younger version of the character we’d originally met in 1977. Though I’ve never been wild about the prequels – the first two parts in particular – McGregor inhabited the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and showed us, at least in part through Kenobi’s eyes, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, as well as the hubris that led to the demise of the Jedi Order itself.
My biggest concern when it comes to Obi-Wan Kenobi is how it will find a story to tell that fits into the existing saga of Star Wars. The series has to be very carefully-crafted to be able to slot neatly into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike The Book of Boba Fett, which could’ve gone in all kinds of different directions as an epilogue to Boba’s story, Obi-Wan Kenobi has to show us a chapter of the Jedi Master’s life that falls in between the parts we already know. It has the very difficult task of being interesting, exciting, and dramatic without overwriting anything we already know, nor robbing any of the other stories of their impact.
Between what we saw in the prequels and the original films, we know the story of Obi-Wan’s life. I’d argue that we’ve seen the most interesting parts already: how he rose from being a padawan apprentice to a master in his own right, the role he played in the Clone Wars, and how the Empire rose around him. We’ve seen him take on Luke Skywalker as his apprentice, and then sacrifice his life in a duel with Darth Vader. What can Obi-Wan Kenobi add to this story that we don’t already know or can’t infer from the parts we’ve already seen? How can it give its protagonist an arc that takes him from where we left him at the end of Revenge of the Sith to where we picked up his story in A New Hope? And how can it make that story something worth watching without feeling either incredibly tacked-on or like a bolt from the blue?
Those are just some of the narrative challenges that the new series faces, and they’re by no means small ones! Obi-Wan Kenobi has to thread the needle; it can’t stray too far from what we already know, but it also has to find a way to chart its own path despite that limitation. I guess another of my worries is that the story the new series ultimately tries to tell will ignore some or all of those points and blaze a trail that will take Obi-Wan on an adventure that undermines his arc in either the prequels, original films, or both.
For the show’s writers, it must be sorely tempting to pit Obi-Wan and Darth Vader against one another – but doing so would utterly ruin one of the most powerful sequences in A New Hope. As much fun as it might be for the writers and creative team to stage another duel between the former master and apprentice, these classic characters need to be treated more carefully than that. Star Wars is already in a strange place thanks to things like Palpatine’s survival after Return of the Jedi; to throw Obi-Wan and Vader into a conflict against one another a decade before A New Hope would take away one of the few significant moments that remain unaltered from the original trilogy.
In their rush to recapture the magic of Star Wars, the franchise’s current executives and producers have actually erased a good deal of what made the original films as meaningful as they were. The story of Anakin’s redemption and return to the light in Return of the Jedi, for example, is hideously twisted and undermined by the subsequent revelations that Palpatine was able to survive, live for another thirty years, start a new Sith Empire, and even corrupt Anakin’s own grandson. Obi-Wan Kenobi simply can’t repeat this kind of mistake. If it does, Star Wars will have very little left.
Part of what made the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader aboard the Death Star so powerful is that it was their first meeting in many years. Even when watching the original film years before the prequels came out, it was obvious that the hate Vader had for Obi-Wan had been building for a long time. Add into the mix the backstory that the prequels gave us and the moment takes on a different and even greater significance. For Vader, this was his opportunity to get revenge on the man who left him badly injured and dependent on his hated suit. It became one of the most powerful sequences in the film – and in the entire saga.
A few months ago I took a look at a similar project over in the Star Trek franchise: Ceti Alpha V is a proposed miniseries that would revisit iconic villain Khan. Having already seen the two most interesting parts of Khan’s story – his awakening in the 23rd Century and his battle against Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, I argued that such a project is ultimately not necessary. What would we learn about Khan from that miniseries that hasn’t already been explored either by Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan? It’s almost certainly the least-interesting part of his story, one that would not only be kind of a waste of time, but if given too much leeway, one that could undermine one of the high points of the entire Star Trek franchise.
And it’s hard not to look at Obi-Wan Kenobi with a similar degree of scepticism. Since we clearly aren’t just going to watch Obi-Wan sit around in his desert hut for six episodes, the question of what exactly he’s going to do comes to the fore. What makes this chapter of his life worthy of a six-episode miniseries, and how will it balance the need to be exciting and entertaining with the constraints of a very definite beginning and end point?
All that being said, Disney+ has a pretty good track record with its original productions. Obi-Wan Kenobi will likely have a per-episode budget that fans of other franchises could only dream of, so on the technical side of things we can almost certainly look forward to a polished production that looks great and makes creative use of CGI and other visual effects. Recent Star Wars projects have brought back more of the puppets and practical effects that defined the franchise’s look in its original incarnation, and that’s something I’ve enjoyed seeing. And in terms of special effects, things like the de-ageing and digital character creation that we’ve seen employed in The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian are nothing short of technological marvels.
Famed composer John Williams is returning to the Star Wars franchise yet again to compose the show’s theme, which is another neat inclusion. Just like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi will make use of an AR wall (similar to the one used in recent Star Trek productions), which should also look fantastic. In addition to Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as Darth Vader, and the inclusion of actors like Rupert Friend rounds out what seems to be an excellent cast. Director Deborah Chow has a good track record, too, with directing credits in series as diverse as Turn: Washington’s Spies, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Man in the High Castle. She also directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, so she’s not a newcomer to the franchise.
All of those things give me hope! There’s potential in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and there’s no denying that Disney and Lucasfilm have put together a great team, backed them up with a significant budget, and given the project a shot at success. For me, the biggest potential pitfall remains the premise of the series itself, and the limited storytelling directions it could reasonably take.
I’m trying to rein in both my scepticism and excitement on different sides of the project, and I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying I’m cautiously optimistic. The success of The Book of Boba Fett earlier in the year, which was similarly a series I had reservations about, has perhaps led me to feel a little more hopeful than I otherwise might about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s prospects.
One final note: it’s worth saying that Obi-Wan Kenobi exists, like several other recent and upcoming sci-fi and fantasy projects, largely because fans were asking for it. Fans who grew up with the prequel trilogy, viewing those films as “their” Star Wars, have generally reacted very positively to news about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I’m happy for them that Disney and Lucasfilm have been listening. I hope they get the series they’ve been looking for – and with any luck it’ll be something that I can enjoy too!
Obi-Wan Kenobi is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ on the 27th of May 2022. The Star Wars franchise – including Obi-Wan Kenobi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.