“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” A Forgettable Footnote in the Legacy of Star Wars

The Lantern
Hayden Christensen returns as Darth Vader in “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Credit: Courtesy of Lucasfilm via TNS

In its over 40 years of existence — including 10 with Disney— Star Wars has become a symphony of stories across a mélange of mediums. TV shows, books, comics, graphic novels and video games pick up where the movies left off, developing and expanding upon characters, planets, plots and subplots to fill in the blanks created by the Skywalker Saga and its two spinoff films.

And yet, for all the stories that populate this ever expanding timeline, Star Wars has never explored —in canon— what Obi-Wan did during his time on Tatooine between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” That is, until the Obi-Wan TV show launched on Disney+ May 27.

Before the first trailer released March 9, I believed the show should be exclusively set on the sand blown dunes of Tatooine with a slow-burn character study of Obi-Wan as he struggles with the regret and trauma he suffered during the events of “Revenge of the Sith.” The plot would include a mythological journey of self-realization through the act and overcoming of suffering.

However,  there is no Herculean myth of Obi-Wan Kenobi, no critique on the repercussions of the Jedi Code. Instead It maintains the same formulaic, lightspeed-paced, quest-of-the-week structure found in every other Disney+ Star Wars show. Viewers follow Obi-Wan as he tries to return a kidnapped Leia back to her adoptive parents on Alderaan. Through this, the show tumbles, trips and falls, too distracted by Leia’s obstacles than concern for Obi-Wan’s individual journey.

The show becomes too afraid to let its audience look upon its hero with contempt, or to let them analyze his failures and criticize the consequences of his actions. Unfortunately, in those moments when it looks like the show will provide a layered perspective of Obi-Wan’s psyche, it hesitates to step over the line.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy ”Kenobi.” I did. I was excited after the first episode, in which tension between Owen Lars and Obi-Wan Kenobi rose and patience as Obi-Wan went about his daily life. If there is one thing the show excels in, despite its hesitancy to reach it until the third episode, is the raw, refined power of Darth Vader. He is an immovable object and an unstoppable force, becoming the glue that holds the show’s crumbling pieces together. And, yes, there are a few scenes in the final half of the final episode that become a microcosm of what the show could have been … if only it had.

Some audiences claim the script has a thematic saving grace—that each episode of the show parallels its corresponding episode from the original six movies. And it does make sense, but I’d argue it’s nothing more than a superficial reenactment of what once was, a flimsy structure that isn’t nearly as complex and revolutionary as the writers probably thought it was — with the exception being the ultimate ending of the final duel in episode six, which becomes a poetic continuation of what it means to remove Vader’s mask.

By trying so hard to uphold this “thematic” structure, the writers forced characters into situations rather than creating situations around characters. These forced situations created forced tension which created forced climaxes that culminated in a forced story, void of purpose.

Story and script aside, the show’s execution misses the mark more often than the legions of Imperial Stormtroopers. The shaky camera was dizzying and amateurish; the overbearing, over-illuminated lightsabers would have felt more at home in a Disney gift shop; and the score lacked even a hint of the legacy themes from the Original Trilogy. Where were the bombastic baritones of the “Imperial March,” the monastic vocalizations of “Battle of Heroes?” Not here,until they squeeze a few in during the last episode in an attempt to strike one more nostalgic chord.

Ewan McGregor delivers a near-masterclass performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, balancing the character between his younger self and Alec Guiness’s iteration of the character; Joel Edgerton is severely underused and is still unsurprisingly sublime; Moses Ingram hits every note for her role; Vivian Lyra Blair is transformative as a younger Leia, channeling her inner Carrie Fisher to create a blissfully nuanced performance—even if she always has the answers to everything as a 10year old (the Force again, I guess); and Hayden Christensen has settled back into his role as Anakin Skywalker while simultaneously hitting every precise mannerism of David Prowse’s Darth Vader.

“Kenobi” is too distracted by the appeal of the past and too afraid of audience division to take advantage of the potential placed before it. Lucasfilm is following in the path of other Disney subsidiaries, producing quantity over quality, creating a pattern of redundancy and repetition.

But Star Wars isn’t redundancy and repetition. It’s a shot in the dark; a fantastical swashbuckling space opera released when Hollywood preferred merciless antiheroes; a supposed pre-destined failure that became an international phenomenon; a saga that redefined Hollywood, not one that copied it.

Unfortunately, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” copied it, created more as a nostalgia-bait spectacle than as an independent and courageous effort to go against the current trend of superficial sequels that rely on shallow satisfaction to, well, satisfy. By the credits of the sixth and final episode, the show has become little more than a forgettable footnote in the history of Star Wars. But I’ll hold out hope for “Andor.” After all, rebellions are built on hope, even cinematic ones.

Rating: 5.75/10

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