Flicks With Dan – Obi-Wan and the limits of fan serviceDan Whisenhunt, Editor & Publisher of Decaturish.com and TuckerObserver.com speaks to the Decatur Rotary Club on March 4, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
I feel I should preface this by saying I’m not one of those annoying “Star Wars” fans who seemingly hates everything related to “Star Wars.” I understand that you can only expect so much depth from a franchise that’s fundamentally about pew pews and boom booms in space.
When it’s at its best, “Star Wars” is just plain badass. Like that scene in “Revenge of the Sith” where Anakin whoops Count Dooku and chops his head off with two lightsabers? Or that epic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on that lava planet, Mustafar? The Battle of Genosis at the end of “Clone Wars”? Hell, even the pod race in “Phantom Menace”? All three of those prequels were objectively bad movies. But they have their moments. They’re trash, but damned if I won’t watch them if I catch them on TV somewhere.
It’s OK to like trash. Trash can be fun and entertaining. The campier, the better. (In full disclosure, I have a much deeper investment in the Star Wars expanded universe, particularly the Sith novels that are sadly no longer canon because Disney wanted more creative freedom. Not that they’ve always used that freedom responsibly.)
But Star Wars has shown that it can be more than campy nonsense, and it’s within that potential that I find the core of my personal frustration with “Obi-Wan.”
It’s not that I hated the show. It’s not that I will never watch it again. (I get hard up for entertainment after college basketball season ends.) It’s that “Obi-Wan” could’ve been better if the writers didn’t put fan service and protecting canon ahead of telling a good story.
“Obi-Wan” took the worst aspect of the prequels – its heavy emphasis on fan service – and cranked it up to 11.
And from here on out, there will be spoilers for “Obi-Wan,” so find a speeder that you really like and buckle up.
The show’s trailers have been a bait and switch, teasing a storyline involving Luke Skywalker (played by a young Grant Feely). But we soon find out the story is actually about Obi-Wan’s quest to capture a kidnapped Leia Organa, played by Vivien Lyra Blair. Obi-Wan is played by Ewan McGregor who finally has a script of some merit to work with thanks to dialogue that wasn’t written by George Lucas. I think there’s broad consensus McGregor wasn’t the problem with the prequels. Hayden Christensen on the other hand …. whoo boy, I wanted to launch his crybaby Anakin Skywalker into the sun so many times during the prequel movies. He didn’t have the best material to work with, admittedly, but still, even Natalie Portman admirably phoned in a decent performance with that terrible script, so what’s his excuse?
Anyway, the cast is fine and Christensen fares better this go around, though I still think Anakin getting burnt to hell and jumping into a giant respirator suit was a good career move.
There’s a new villain for this adventure, Inquisitor Reva, played by Moses Ingram. It’s a fine performance, but I was often confused about what, exactly, this character’s purpose was. To get revenge on Anakin Skywalker? To get revenge on the Jedi? To get stabbed in the gut and seemingly be fine one episode later? Reva could have been a more interesting character if they didn’t shoehorn her into a silly redemption arc that just wasn’t all that interesting. Genre sci-fi needs a good villain and Anakin / Darth Vader has worn out his welcome. I also have no earthly idea why she was trying to kill a young Luke Skywalker and scaring the crap out of his family on Tatooine. That really came out of nowhere and felt like a contrivance to give Reva a happy ending. I wasn’t that happy with it myself. Reva deserved better.
I also found the banter between Obi-Wan and Leia offensively cute, like a Shirley Temple movie. It got old fast. Sentiment is fine and has its place, but at times their relationship bordered on oozing “Full House” levels of sap. We get it. She’s a cute, plucky kid and he’s a wounded old veteran. They could’ve dialed that waaaay back, and it would not have hurt this show.
And now, for my biggest complaint about this show: all good fiction should have stakes. You should care whether the characters live or die. In “Obi-Wan,” the stakes could not have been lower.
So much of the “Obi-Wan” miniseries was devoted to not wrecking the canon of the original trilogy that it looked like the scriptwriters worked while dodging actual laser beams.
This is glaringly apparent in the last episode where Obi-Wan – given yet a second opportunity to cut the Empire off at the knees – simply walks away from Anakin, much as Anakin basically walked away from Obi-Wan in the third episode of this miniseries when he had the guy on the ropes. At any point, they could’ve shish kabob-skewered each other with their pointy glow sticks, but they always pumped the force breaks at the last minute. Why? Because they each wore a full set of plot armor. They weren’t going to die, and in fact could not die.
That said, the lightsaber battles were dope, and that’s not for nothing.
That wasn’t the only irksome instance of canon getting in the way of logic and reason. Surely, Vader will continue hunting Obi-Wan, right? Well, funny story, but the Emperor shows up at the end of the show to tell Vader that he’s too obsessed with his former master and he should make like Elsa in “Frozen” and let it go. And …. Vader says “okie dokie, you’re the boss” and that’s that. Never mind that the Emperor secretly created a whole damn clone army and started a phony war with the sole purpose of exterminating every last Jedi in existence. He’s just gonna give Obi-Wan a pass, I guess? Because we gotta squeeze another season out of this premise, and having Vater catch and release Obi-Wan like a trout in every episode is gonna stretch this premise to the breaking point.
Also, this is neither here nor there, but why did seemingly every episode involve the bad guys locking down a hangar, so the good guys couldn’t escape, but then the good guys always escaped anyway? You only get one of those a season. It’s the law.
Everything about this show is a missed opportunity. Obi-Wan’s writers would’ve been better served by getting him to a galaxy as far away from Vader and his spawn as possible. Maybe a trip to Dagobah to visit Yoda goes sideways. Maybe Obi-Wan finds out Darth Maul is alive and held together with duct tape. Maybe Qui-Gon leads him on some intense spiritual journey, like Val Kilmer wandering through the desert in “The Doors” movie. Whatever gets him away from anything that would avoid bringing him into conflict with the original trilogy, so these writers would have room to tell a better story.
I’m going to give this one a -C. It’s fine for what it is, but it could’ve been so much more.