Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been a movie
The latest Star Wars Disney Plus series was a slightly underwhelming coda to Ewan McGregor’s character.
After six episodes, a few fan-baiting flashbacks and a lot of waiting before Ewan McGregor said "Hello there!", Disney Plus's Star Wars spin-off Obi-Wan Kenobi has finally come to its conclusion – and for me, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s been plenty to like about the series. For a start, it actually felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi had a story to tell with some emotional resonance, bridging the gap between the horrors the character faced in the prequel trilogy (and we don’t just mean Jar Jar) and the serene, wise teacher Alec Guinness played him as in the original trilogy.
Reuniting McGregor and Christensen was a good move, the flashbacks were well done and generally speaking the story was a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable ride. The issue was… well, the entire way the show was made.
Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been a movie. At one point, it was supposed to be, with Stephen Daldry on the books to direct a feature-length version of the story with McGregor. Unfortunately, Disney got cold feet after the underperformance of Solo in 2018, and basically nixed all their film plans before shifting Kenobi to Disney Plus.
I really wish they’d stuck to their (uncivilised) guns. Despite its TV-high price tag, you could see the limitations in Kenobi from early on, with the vast scale and richness of the feature films traded in for dull, empty locations and planets with little visual flair.
After their last clash on an exploding lava planet, stretching over miles of falling buildings and failing equipment, Obi-Wan and Vader’s big rematch… was in a dimly-lit, dusty quarry. A few episodes later, in the finale, this was upgraded to a dimly-lit, misty area full of loose stones.
Flashbacks to the larger scale of the prequels only highlighted the contrast, and the Disney Plus version of Obi-Wan Kenobi started to feel small and grubby by comparison. There are so many half-sized ships, bases and small rooms, after we’d previously seen the character in huge pitched battles and vast spaces. At various points throughout the series, you could see the strain of trying to tell a movie story under these constraints.
Before the series came out, much was made of how the show was shot in 'The Volume', Disney’s huge 360-degree stage with reactive screens where shows like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett were made. Any planet or setting could be conjured up on this stage, allowing the actors to feel more immersed (and have decent lighting) while still allowing for the real backgrounds to be added in digitally later.
Clearly, this technology allowed for Disney to make these shows quickly and (relatively) cheaply, without the need for loads of arduous location shoots and set builds (though I’m sure there’s still a lot of that). But I also think it unconsciously limited the scale of Obi-Wan Kenobi, losing the sense of spectacular that has characterised Star Wars before.
Star Wars is supposed to be huge, wild and weird, often illogical and potentially disastrous. Half the films are a mess, all had major behind-the-scenes production problems of one kind or another and you’ll find someone who hates just about every part of one adventure or another if you look hard enough.
Star Wars is not Marvel, though both are owned by Disney. Marvel can play it safe, slick and grounded, relying on witty scripts and a vast array of colourful characters to pull fans through occasionally-uninspired visuals. But if we’re being brutally honest, not many people are watching Star Wars for the jokes. Star Wars needs to push boundaries, aim high and fall short. The Rise of Skywalker was a bad movie, sure – but at least it looked interesting. Obi-Wan Kenobi can’t really say the same.
Overall, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels like Disney and LucasFilm bringing Star Wars back down to earth when it should be shooting for the heavens. What worked for The Mandalorian – a more street-level series in general – won’t necessarily work for everything, and sometimes they need to take a bit of a punt on a more risky storytelling strategy.
And perhaps they already are. Supposedly, upcoming prequel series Andor relies much more on physical sets and locations than Obi-Wan Kenobi did, following in the footsteps of the (great) 2016 prequel Rogue One. Imagine if we’d had an Obi-Wan Kenobi film with the budget of Rogue One – who wouldn’t want to see that?
Instead, we had something that would just about do. I enjoyed Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I have high hopes for Andor, but more generally I hope LucasFilm return to making Star Wars films soon.
It’s time to stop playing it safe and take another risk – and if we’re honest, hoping a Star Wars film will make some money isn’t even that risky.
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