Friday, November 10, 2023

Star Wars Subjectivities: Hello There, General Kenobi

Obi-Wan fanboying INCOMING

Despite being at the very center of the Star Wars universe, first training (in-universe chronology) training Anakin Skywalker's whiny ass, and then beginning to train Anakin's whiny progeny (there's a pattern with Skywalkers) before following in his own master's footsteps and being bisected by a Lord of the Sith, Obi-Wan never got to be the star of the show. That may not be a bad thing - some characters should just stay out of the spotlight, or stick to being supporting characters. There's no shame in that. While being fairly center stage in the prequels (and being damn near the only good part of them) and The Clone Wars, those feature the likes of Anakin, Ahsoka, and a host of clones and other Jedi sharing the stage. 

Kenobi takes all that away and asks him to stand on his own, in exile, watching the kid who he hid in literally the most obvious spot in the galaxy from his father who has infinite resources at his disposal. The good news is, we have heard Luke's story, we know where it starts and where it ends, and that is the first thing Kenobi gets right is by not trying to shoehorn Luke into this story. 

The second thing it gets right is by recognizing that we are no longer bound by the conventions of television, with set run times and commercial breaks. Every episode is as long as it needs to be, tells the story it needs to tell, and then we move on. More series do this please

I'll be honest - there's not much that Kenobi gets wrong, which is what you're going to get when you hand Deborah Chow the reigns. The story construction, alongside the variable runtimes, means this is a tight, well-executed Star Wars story. As I've said in several of these pieces, I think Star Wars exists best in the margins, and Kenobi is true to that. There are no earth-shattering revelations, not anything that pretends to change the complexion of the galaxy in the middle space between Order 66 and A New Hope, but what we get adds to both of those, in the same way that the final season of The Clone Wars did.

For all the margins that get filled in by the likes of Andor, The Madalorian, etc., Kenobi may be the most important. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is the central figure for pretty much all of Star Wars, and directly responsible for most of the events and storylines in that universe. Arguably, the two most important people in his life are Ahsoka and Obi-Wan - even more so than Padme and his children. The Clone Wars' final season brought his relationship with Ahsoka (mostly) full circle, and what Kenobi gives us is a brilliant finality to their relationship, while adding to what we have already seen from it.

Kenobi also makes the very wise choice to add some color to a couple underserved characters - Lars shows a little spine, and we get a bit of an understanding about why he's so grumpy in ANH (besides, you know, being a moisture farmer on a backwater world). The Inquisitors get some live-action screen time, and are predictably badass.

I hesitate to call Leia underserved, but at the same time... she kind of is. Again, steering clear of Luke is a great choice, but Kenobi succeeds where the sequels fail - her reluctance to train in the force is sort of shoehorned into a trilogy where literally everything feels shoehorned. Here we get Young Leia, excellently portrayed by Vivien Lyra Blair, who is wise beyond her years, but stubborn and headstrong - qualities we see honed in Carrie Fisher's Leia, and serve her well as a senator and Rebel leader. They are not, however, qualities befitting a Jedi - and this is where I think Kenobi excels in its storytelling - simply showing her being like Anakin does more to draw a line between them then saying She's Luke's sister - she stands more on her own, as a character, as Anakin's daughter, and her choices, both in the show proper and the entire arc of her character have more fidelity. 

Star Wars - the franchise is still finding out what it is. There is some good, and some bad, and a lot of fans are inclined to be on one side of that line. The OT, for all that it revolutionized, is a fairly paint-by-numbers heroes journey about Good vs Evil. But that's not a world that we or anyone else lives in, and as that universe grows, we start to, by necessity, ask questions about the reality of it. Are the Jedi pure bastions of good? Clearly not, but I think Kenobi - the person - always tried to do good, regardless of any code, order or structure, and this is driven home nowhere better than in his penultimate duel with his former pupil - defeated, literally buried by Anakin's overwhelming hatred, anger and lust for power. Ready to accept fate in lieu of continuing a life in exile, watching over a new generation that might fail him just as the last did, as the Order he dedicated his life to did - instead he finds resolve in those new charges, and wills himself back into the fight - that, and love and the vague home that Anakin can be redeemed. The fight concludes, not with either of them victorious or defeated, but with Obi-Wan tearfully apologizing to Anakin, and then being forced to confront the fact that Anakin no longer exists.

Because that, lately, as much as anything defines Star Wars - the franchise - lately: missed opportunities. Kenobi could have just been another one, another paint-by-numbers affair, where the titular character set off on adventure, challenges ensued, were overcome, fade to black. Instead, we get a brilliant exploration into the heart of a character that is, himself, at the heart of the franchise. 

Dean Smith-Richard is the author of 3204AD, loves to cook, play baseball, and is way too much of a craft beer nerd. He lives in the Pacific Northwest, and likes the rain, thank you very much