Welcome, dear readers, as always.
In Part One of this two-parter, I began by thinking aloud about “both tinkering with something already available and how one might fit it into something more”, to immodestly quote myself.
I was prompted to this by seeing the new Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that what I was really doing was beginning a review of this new series.
I began by going back through what we’ve seen of Obi-Wan up to this point. In Part Two, I want to consider the program itself.
As I did when I wrote a series of posts which covered all of Star Wars from I to IX, (“Three Times Three”, beginning on 8 January, 2020), I intend to react not by attacking what I may not have liked or agreed with, but by trying to understand what it was that the director/writers wanted me to see and understand.
If you visit this blog regularly, you know that I dislike the very negative—sometimes downright vicious—kinds of reactions one can read on the internet and I’ve always tried to avoid writing such criticism myself, which quickly closes down more flexible thinking when it comes to what we see or read. On the whole, I begin with the premise that those who created whatever I’m reviewing were honest artists, devoted to their work, and determined to provide their audience with the best which they could produce.
I also tend to avoid other reviews, good or bad, preferring to have my own reactions to what I see. In the case of Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, after I finished the series, I was puzzled enough as to what I had just seen that I made an exception, reading first a number of positive reviews, then a number of negative ones, as well as watching the series a second time and consulting the very helpful WIKI article, with its summary of the 6 episodes —which you can read, too, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obi-Wan_Kenobi_(TV_series) .
And, as I don’t read reviews, I also avoid the comments of directors/writers as, before a film is created, they tend to be very vague and full of promise, and, afterwards, when responses to their work aren’t all positive, they tend to be very defensive.
In this case, the positive reviews were a mixed lot, from those which suggested that the production had quality, but also might lack something, to others, which were such raves that they sounded like they had been written by the promotional department of the film company, rather than by independent reviewers. Praise was generally accorded to three categories: the story, the acting, and the look of things.
In general, I would agree to the acting—Ewan McGregor, in particular,
who, in the title role, has to bear the most weight, does a wonderful job, from portraying the beaten-down ex-Jedi in the opening scenes to someone once more committed to Jedi ideals by the end of the last episode. The range of his reactions, from a kind of sad tenderness to fierce determination, would, in my opinion, recommend this series in itself.
I would also agree with praise for the settings, something which Star Wars has gotten right all the way back to Star Wars I, in 1977.
(Although those who praised Daiyu without noticing that it owes something to Blade Runner’s depiction of Los Angeles in 2019—the film originally came out in 1982, so 2019 then seemed far in the future—should perhaps reconsider and write a second draft.)
This leaves the story.
The title by itself really tells us nothing other than that the story will presumably be about Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Obi-Wan when? Doing what? With whom? In the previous posting, I suggested that it could be about any point in Obi-Wan’s life, my own preference being either for his days as a padawan before Star Wars I,
or for his later romance with Duchess Satine of Mandalore, a powerful character in her own right, as we see in several seasons of The Clone Wars until her murder by Darth Maul in Season Five (Episode 16 “The Lawless”).
Instead, the opening, although the place is initially not identified, is Tatooine,
Specifically, Anchorhead and its environs (far lower right on this map).
With this choice, I immediately assumed that we were going to be shown something beyond that moment when Obi-Wan has turned the new-born Luke over to Owen Lars and his wife, Beru.
This brought to mind six questions about what we were to be shown:
1. what has happened to Obi-Wan after he’s taken Luke to Tatooine?
2. remembering the trauma of that duel with Anakin, what is Obi-Wan’s mental state?
3. also remembering what Yoda has told him at the end of Star Wars III, how has his training with Qui-Gon gone?
4. what is the state of the world beyond?—we know that, as this is in the years between 3 and 4, the Empire is growing, although the final stroke only comes in Star Wars IV with the announcement that the Senate has been dissolved and that regional governors, like Grand Moff Tarkin,
will now control things, employing the new Death Star as an enforcer.
5. that being the case, what has happened to Darth Vader? As Darth Sidious’ padawan-equivalent, what’s he been doing all of this time?
6. and there is the question of Leia, now in the custody of Senator Bail Organa and his wife, Breha,
on the eventually-doomed planet of Alderaan,
the assumption about her being that, as the adopted child of the Organas, she’s safe—hidden in plain sight like the letter in Edgar Allen Poe’s 1844 short story, “The Purloined Letter”. (If you don’t know this early detective story, here it is: https://poestories.com/read/purloined )
(Before I go on, I’m assuming that SPOILER ALERTS are unnecessary as, by this time, probably all of the devoted, and even the curious, have seen the series, and maybe more than once, as I did.)
The answers to these questions form the basis of the context of the series and provide certain elements of the plot, so let’s tackle them first. This is, in fact, a synthesis, as none of this is laid out in a straightforward fashion, like those crawlers at the beginnings of the 9 films.
1. After the bleak opening on Tatooine, we’re shown Obi-Wan working at what seems to be a fish-processing plant, cutting up the remains of something which we must presume dates from the days when the planet had oceans. I don’t have an image from the series, so the closest I can come at present is this—
which comes from a fascinating but short-lived site, “Sketchfolio” at: https://trevorsart.blogspot.com/2012/09/prehistoric-fish.html
The proprietor is Trevor Crandall, an extremely talented 3D artist. You can see much more of his work at: https://www.artstation.com/t_crandall In the blog, he says that he was making a kind of combination of Coccosteus and Dunkleosteus. To see more on such creatures, go to: https://www.thoughtco.com/prehistoric-fish-pictures-and-profiles-4043340 I wonder, by the way, if this fish is thousands of years old, why the meat which Obi-Wan slices continues to be as pink as fresh salmon.
Beyond his gritty day job, he lives in a cave which appears to be not far from the farm of Owen Lars, where he keeps his distance, but also keeps watch over the now 10-year-old Luke (we’re not told Luke’s age directly, but it can be inferred from Obi-Wan’s explanation, at one point, that it’s been ten years since he’s seen action and the fact that Leia tells him that she’s ten).
2. Obi-Wan’s mental state is precarious. He is haunted both by dreams and visions of his relationship to Anakin Skywalker, much of the content being based upon their last encounter, when he left Anakin for dead on Mustafar.
As well, he has become convinced that the Jedi cause is lost, refusing to help a young Jedi on the run, telling him to bury his light saber and blend in—which is impossible, as he’s already experienced a run-in with pursuers and will soon appear as a display of what the Empire does to Jedi. This also presents an inconsistency, and inconsistencies are one of the main points of criticism in the more thoughtful negative reviews: although Obi-Wan has become a defeatist, he still insists to Owen Lars that Luke should go through Jedi training. At best, I suppose that we are to assume that old habits die hard and that, as Obi-Wan was entrusted with Luke as a Jedi’s child, part of him still works under his previous promise to Yoda.
3. Obi-Wan appears never to have made contact with Qui-Gon and, at various moments, mostly of desperation, he appeals for help to his old master, receiving no reply.
4. The Empire has been spreading throughout the galaxy and seems to have garrisons everywhere, but, 10 years into its existence, it still doesn’t exert control everywhere, as a woman who should have kept quiet points out to an Imperial—and loses her hand as a consequence in the opening episode of this series.
5. Darth Vader, assisted by the Inquisitors (which sounds a bit like an old backup group)
(Here some of them are in their previous incarnation in Star Wars Rebels.)
looks to have become over-focused on dealing with the last of the Jedi and Obi-Wan in particular, something for which the Emperor surprisingly mildly chides him later in the series.
6.Finally, we see Leia as a somewhat feckless child on Alderaan, intelligent and active, but worried, at some level, that she’s not really what she seems to be.
With all of that background, we have, potentially, two main characters, just as at the end of Star Wars III: a dutiful but tormented Obi-Wan, living a grim life on a grim planet; an equally tormented Anakin/Vader who is obsessed with finding and destroying his old master. The writers’/director’s job, then, will be to bring them together somehow.
And here they have set themselves two problems, both brought about by what we already know from Star Wars IV and that brings us back to my original question about inserting something into what already exists. First, because, in another ten years, these two will face each other again, on the Death Star,
there can be no neat ending to this series. If they do meet now, that meeting can only be inconclusive and somehow Obi-Wan must return to his current anonymity—for another ten years. Secondly, if Obi-Wan has dealings with either Luke or Leia now, this will potentially interfere with what we know of their contact at the end of those ten years. After all, in Star Wars IV, Luke displays no knowledge of Obi-Wan—as Obi-Wan– when talking with his uncle:
“You know, I think that R2 unit we bought
might have been stolen.
What makes you think that?
Well, I stumbled across a recording
while I was cleaning him.
He says he belongs to someone
called Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I thought he might have meant old Ben.
Do you know what he's talking about?
I wonder if he's related to Ben.
That wizard's just a crazy old man.
Tomorrow, I want you to take that R2 unit
to Anchorhead and have its memory erased.
That'll be the end of it.
It belongs to us now.
But what if this Obi-Wan
comes looking for him?
I don't think he exists anymore.
He died about the same time
as your father.
He knew my father?
I told you to forget it.”
Here, Owen is intentionally trying to muddle things, separating Obi-Wan from Ben, then removing Obi-Wan entirely. It’s suggested from the words above that Luke is aware of a Ben Kenobi, and, at their later meeting in the Jundland Wastes , it becomes clear that Luke actually knows him—
Boy, am I glad to see you.”
If Luke had had an adventure with Obi-Wan at ten, he certainly wouldn’t be wondering if Ben and Obi-Wan were related.
The same would be true for Leia. Anything complicated with Obi-Wan now and her rather formal appeal to him via R2D2 ten years later will seem odd:
“General Kenobi, years ago
you served my father in the Clone Wars.
Now he begs you to help him
in his struggle against the Empire.”
(And it is odd, of course, after their time spent together in this series, which has led some critics to suggest that he’s used an old Jedi mind trick to erase her memory.)
The bringing together happens through a third party, a newish Inquisitor named Reva,
who has a secret: she is the sole survivor of the Younglings massacred by Anakin and his troops at the Jedi Temple late in Star Wars III,
who has now spent years working her way up through the Imperial ranks just so that she can take revenge upon Anakin in his incarnation as Darth Vader. To do this:
1. she discovers a connection between Obi-Wan and Bail Organa “through the archives”
2. and then decides to kidnap Leia under the supposition that Organa will call Obi-Wan for help
3. when he responds, she will capture him, informing Vader
4. Vader will then come to pick up Obi-Wan, which will give her the chance to kill Vader
And here I think that the story line falters a bit.
To begin with, we might ask:
1. why Vader, who, as Anakin, would have fought through those same wars with Obi-Wan, wouldn’t already know about that connection?
2. if the archives mention such a connection, surely there should also be archives on the Jedi , including detailed information about Younglings? That being the case, how has Reva so concealed herself—she clearly has Jedi-like powers—that Vader wouldn’t at least wonder about her? (She is, after all, a member of a tiny organization run by Vader himself.) And, in fact, Vader later reveals that he’s known what she’s been up to all along and that he’s used her to get to Obi-Wan.
Once Leia is kidnapped, however, the moment when Obi-Wan and Vader are to meet is set in motion.
In fact, there are two such meetings. In the first, Obi-Wan is quickly defeated by Vader’s superior strength and, in fact, is briefly tortured by Vader by being plunged into fire, as Anakin had been, 10 years before.
In the second, Obi-Wan, now revived, defeats Vader, even after being buried alive by his opponent. This leads to a scene which Anakin has been longing for and Obi-Wan dreading, in which, rather than simply slugging it out once more—and inconclusively, at that—they talk. The result is that Anakin admits that, in becoming Vader, he has destroyed his former self and, Obi-Wan, admitting—not for the first time—that he has failed Anakin, but seeming to understand that there’s nothing he could do, at least at the moment, then exits—but the series isn’t quite over.
Reva has failed in her plan—as I wrote above, Vader had known her intent all along and has simply allowed her to carry it out in order that he might lay hands on his old master. She has clearly overestimated her powers and, in a brief combat, has easily been bested and run through by her opponent.
Being run through by a light saber has been the end of Qui-Gon,
but doesn’t seem to have the same effect here. (Earlier, Reva had apparently run her boss, the Grand Inquisitor, through with her light saber, but he makes a cheerful reappearance after her defeat.) Reva seems to survive this and makes for Tatooine.
And here we see a definite problem with the story, something I call “plot by fiat”.
Fiat (not to be confused with the legendarily undependable Italian car) is Latin for “let it come into being” as in Jerome’s translation of Genesis 1,3: “dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux”—“and God said, Let light come into being and light was made”. It is a danger for script writers—you want something to happen in order that something else may happen and, if you can’t find a way to create this, you simply have that something else occur without the necessary link.
This has happened before in the series. After Darth Vader has plunged Obi-Wan into flames at the end of their first combat, Obi-Wan is easily rescued and Vader, rather than stop the rescue or even pursue, simply stands, gazing into the fire, as if his battery has run down. The writers wanted Obi-Wan to escape and so simply made a fiat.
And this happens again here. Why does Reva, who, if the death of Qui-Gon is anything to go by, should already have perished anyway, go to Tatooine?
If she thinks of Leia as the (adopted) daughter of Bail Organa, why would she then assume that there is a Luke and how would she know where he might be? And,, if she was traumatized by her experience at the massacre of the Younglings, as we’ve been shown, why would she possibly want to kill children herself?
But it seems that Reva must be redeemed (more than one very cynical critic has already suggested that there is a Reva Sevander spin-off series tentatively planned but, if it’s an account of how she got to her recent position, I would certainly want to watch it) and another fiat—two, in fact, make it so:
1. she isn’t killed
2. she plans to kill Luke, but then relents and rescues him, instead, from a convenient tumble
And the series ends with Leia restored to her family, a visit by Obi-Wan, now looking younger and refreshed, and another visit, to the Lars farm, where Owen allows him to greet Luke before Obi-Wan trots off into the Wastes, where Qui-Gon greets him, asking “What took you so long?”
An impatient critic might perhaps ask the same of the series, but, it seems to me that, although the plot suffers here and there (there are more questionable details which I haven’t mentioned), what we have been given, especially through the fine acting, is a convincing portrayal of Obi-Wan as a man who begins the story a ruin, believing himself a failure in a cause which is lost, but who gradually gains strength and a confidence in himself, while being brought to the bitter truth that the Anakin he believes he has failed has, in fact, failed himself.
Thanks, as always, for reading,
Believe in the Force—but only if you remain active in it,
And know that, as ever, there’s
For a comic but very cynical review, see: the “Honest Trailer” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DblSA-T_C-I