Monday, June 6th, 2022
The new Obi-Wan Kenobi series is half way done, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. I've been pretty vocal with my criticisms of Disney and their handling of the franchise. A few things they've done have been rock solid, while others feel like cash grabs that are intended to ruin the true spirit of what Star Wars is. Is Kenobi a wonderful bridge between episodes 3 and 4, or is it more of that Disney cash grab dumb action-adventure that other projects have been? So far, its sadly leaning more towards the latter for me...
Yes. I'm bitching a bit because this beloved series seems to be losing some of its magic, and I mostly blame Disney. As much as I love Star Wars, having 5+ shows and other movies in development is oversaturation. I was extremely frustrated with the sequel trilogy, The Book of Boba Fett was a disappointing mess, Mandalorian turned into the Luke and baby yoda show. I'm just tired of things being hollow and lacking any kind of organization. One of the reasons I loved the original expanded universe is that it was just a bunch of comics and books written by random people telling fantastical stories. Now Star Wars is a big corporate wannabe Marvel Cinematic Universe trying to build with more material than is available.
The special 1977 independent film saved in editing that blew doors on special effects and almost (should've) won best picture? Now doesn't seem so special or meaningful. The 6 original George Lucas episodes are by no means perfect movies. Everyone and their mother has opinions about Ewoks and the prequels overuse of CGI and green screen. Yet, everyone has agreed that Ewan McGregor flawlessly picked up the mantel Alec Guinness created. Playing a young version of old Ben Kenobi is a daunting task, but Ewan delivered. Therefore, the thought of him reprising the role to tell the story between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope was exciting to even those most critical of Disney's projects. Obi-Wan Kenobi has been a fan favorite character and this was the one project I looked forward to from Disney. But after the abomination that was the sequel trilogy, ripe with poor planning and questionable decision making, in addition other unnecessary projects like Solo and Rogue One, I became quite worried. Yet, I fully welcomed Kenobi gracing my screen.
Here's a quick catch-up:
The Jedi Order suffered a crushing defeat from Emperor Palpatine's Order 66, which forced all Clone Troopers to execute the Jedi and their allies. The brilliant plan to turn the Grand Army of the Republic against the Jedi Generals they fought alongside is as heartbreaking as it is effective. Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader, is gruesomely defeated by his former master, Kenobi, on Mustafar and left for dead. Before going into hiding, Masters Kenobi and Yoda plan to separate and protect the secret children of the now assumed dead Anakin. They knew the children of Skywalker would pose a threat to the Emperor and could be the last hope for the galaxy. Senator Bail Organa agreed to take Leia to Alderann and Obi-Wan agreed to take Luke to his family on Tatooine and watch over him. The new series opens 10 years after these events with Kenobi a shell of himself in the sands of Tatooine watching over a young Luke Skywalker. Understandably full of PTSD, guilt, and sadness, he does what he can to survive and stay hidden all while ensuring the safety of Luke and his family at the Lars Homestead.
I'm going to keep this reaction to the first 3 episodes brief and use this to tee up our upcoming discussion, available on all podcast platforms on June 13th.
The first episode does a great job in establishing where Kenobi is nowadays and how broken he has become from the years of living with having trained the evil sith lord who helped give rise to the Galactic Empire. This is what I wanted from this series. A deep character study of how Obi-Wan becomes old Ben Kenobi in episode 4. How he learns to communicate with his former master Qui-gon Jinn and eventually become more powerful than Vader could possibly imagine in death.
Instead, we get something very different. Something so frustratingly different than what I expected to have watched. Different isn't always bad, and I would never scoff at a director or writer for taking risks. Unless they are dumb, nonsensical risks. So far, this entire series feels like Disney taking advantage of the love fans have for Ewan's portrayal of Obi-Wan and using it to put cool fight scenes on screen just for the sake of it. Sell toys, show Vader in more action, etc.
The problem is that this entirely misunderstands where the fear of Vader comes from. As a kid, I didn't find Vader intimidating because of some fancy Rogue One hallway scene of him mowing down Rebels. I didn't need a rematch between him and Obi-Wan to know he was powerful. His mystery and tragic story told in episodes 1-6 was enough to instill those emotions.
There are a ton of canonical issues that I have questions about that I will reserve for our upcoming podcast, but the general spirit of Star Wars feels lost in this series thus far. Could the next 3 episodes prove me wrong? I sure hope so.
I heard a really compelling take on this series that, while it doesn’t address some of the glaring story issues, makes sense. Disney plus is forcing an episodic release rather than an all at once cover to cover experience. It’s filmed as one whole story, whereas traditional TV shows usually have beginning/middles/ends in each episode. So it’s creating a different digestive experience than what it’s filming intended. Obviously not a solution to its issues but very very noteworthy. Maybe the next 3 episodes will wrap everything up into that perfect bow that is needed to quell my issues - but I am highly skeptical.
Here are few of my biggest gripes (subject to amendment should the series turn for the better):
Reva Knows Anakin is Vader
How? Only a select few knew Vader's true identity. Anakin Skywalker was one of the most popular and powerful Jedi to grace the Order, and many assumed he died during Order 66 as well. Emperor Palpatine wanted to keep the mystique surrounding Vader alive and allow him to carve his own powerful presence rather than any preconceived notions about the young arrogant Jedi Knight he once was. Grand Moff, Tarkin, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Yoda, Kenobi, and Palpatine himself knew Anakin's true fate at this point in the timeline. For Reva to know makes the secret ill-kept. Vader and Palpatine actively worked to ensure that truth wasn't known. Perhaps she figured it out on her own and we'll get more context?
Young Leia Organa
Leia's presence undermines her clear lack of relationship with Obi-Wan implied in A New Hope. "Years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars...", yet here she is 10 and on an adventure with Kenobi. They get to know each other fairly well and Kenobi routinely says he sees Padme in her. This doesn't add anything to their characters in A New Hope and if anything makes A New Hope feel grossly disconnected from events that only transpired 9 years prior. Her insertion in this show feels forced and fan servicey as just an excuse to show more of Alderann and Leia. My understanding of Kenobi was that he never left Luke and always provided a watchful eye - regardless of Owen Lars' feelings about it. For them to make young Leia and Kenobi cross paths at this point in the timeline? It feels a bit schlocky.
The Empire on Tatooine
The ENTIRE purpose of putting Luke on this planet was that it is in the Outer Rim, out of the Empire's reach. They don't even have one Storm Troopers there until the Droids crash land in A New Hope, spurring a planet wide search for the Death Star plans. By the mysterious ways of the force, this gets Luke to join the fight and come under the tutelage of Ben Kenobi. Yet in this series, Vader's Jedi hunting inquisitors are on the planet with imperial personnel searching for Jedi. This retcons the Empire's presence on Tatooine and makes the decision to put Luke there silly.
Had this show decided to go the route of deep character study, explaining Kenobi's eventual acceptance of and peace with the past, I would have fully accepted his weak broken portrayal. However, he is shown more so as someone who is just simply done with the fight. Perhaps Owen telling him off repeatedly about training Luke has gotten to him, and perhaps he's reserving his force powers to hide better? But when he saves Leia from falling by using the force, he's shown as having to strain himself. And when he and Vader meet for the first time in 10 years? He's barely able to hold his lightsaber. His solitude on Tatooine while watching over Luke was meant to be meditative and yet he seems to have become almost as disillusioned with the Jedi and the force as Luke is in episode 8. This gripe is minor compared to other glaring issues I have, but if this isn't resolved well by the end of the series, it is a massive misstep and will have failed to create the Zen, powerful, Jedi Master that Ben Kenobi is in A New Hope.
Darth Vader confronts Obi-Wan
This felt like the most forced confrontation ever. Was it cool to watch Vader do Vader things? Sure. But none of that was what made him one of the best baddies on the silver screen. There are a billion fan theories out there as to why Vader seemed to just be toying with Obi-Wan, and while its fun to get together with fellow nerds and speculate, some things need to be played out realistically. This is their first meeting in 10 years and it feels less than what it should be. Aside from the fact that it doesn't really make sense for them to meet again at all before A New Hope, this fight sequence feels like Disney using Vader and saying "hey, lets put in a cool flashy fight scene because it will look cool" rather than spending more time on the story. Maybe I'll be wrong and this will have just been a nightmare Kenobi had, but it didn't have the emotional weight it should have had.
Also how does Kenobi have zero idea that Darth Vader is alive and active? He knew in episode 3 that Anakin was dubbed Darth Vader, so he knows they are one and the same. Even if he had thought Anakin died on Mustafar, he would've found out about Vader's antics in the past 10 years right? I suppose being in the outskirts of Tatooine is enough explanation to never have heard of Vader or the inquisitors. It’s wildly improbable, but if he’s been doing the same thing over and over for the past 10 years, and Owen hates him, maybe he would just be completely aloof.
But I know what this fight is leading to...
Liam Neeson will show up as Qui-Gon's force ghost and say to Ben “you’re failure is now complete. When I left you I was but the master, but now I am a force ghost… way to screw up Anakin” or something dumb, attempting to be poetic and foreshadowy. Qui-Gon will act as the Mickey to Kenobi's Rocky and give him an awesome pep talk helping him to accept that Anakin Skywalker is truly dead, and its time to suit up. Maybe there will be a Jedi training montage with young Leia cheering in the background. Vader and Kenobi will cross sabers one more time only to end in some unsatisfying way to allow them to face each other again in A New Hope.
I want to love this series. I really do. Maybe my bias towards Disney after an abysmal sequel trilogy is ruining it for me but I went into this show with genuine excitement. Frankly I'm still excited for the next episode because I want them to redeem this frustrating storyline. I'm going to reserve final judgement until all episodes are out, but it certainly doesn't help that a second season was just greenlit. Indicating this was never meant to be a special 6 part series with a bridge between 3 and 4. It is just another cash cow for Disney to milk Obi-Wan for all they can while Ewan is willing to still play him. I have no problem with Disney making money, but I do have a problem when profits take precedent over good story telling.
My Star Wars fandom will never cease, hence why I get so passionate about things Disney has been attempting to get right. Episodes 1-6 and the animated Clone Wars TV show are phenomenal pieces of original George Lucas content. Disney has a couple gems like the animated series Rebels and the first season of The Mandalorian, but for the most part seems to misunderstand what Star Wars is all about. Could Kenobi's show end perfectly and make everything make sense? Could a second season make things work?
Anything is possible, and I guess all I can do is trust in the force.
Tune in on June 13th for our reaction to the first 4 episodes of the Disney+ exclusive series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
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