Should Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi land his own Star Wars spin-off?

McGregor remains keen to pick up the lightsaber again, but is a standalone adventure set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars really a good idea?

From re-educating Coruscanti drug dealers via Jedi mind control in Attack of the Clones to avenging Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace and that final, anguished cri de coeur towards a half-dead Anakin Skywalker at the denouement of Revenge of the Sith, it’s easy to forget that Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi had some fabulous moments in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. McGregor’s performances, which are especially impressive in the final two films given the horrors he faced acting against a green screen and opposite the horribly wooden Hayden Christensen, are never quite enough to save the movies they take place in. Nevertheless, such masterful efforts in the face of adversity continue to encourage Star Wars fans to prick up their ears whenever the actor talks about his desire to reprise the role in a forthcoming spin-off.

“It would be fun to film that story now I’m older,” McGregor tells the new issue of Empire. “I’d be the right age. I’m 45, Alec Guinness was what, 60? I could do two of them.”

McGregor gave us a slightly more cavalier take on Kenobi than the version essayed by the venerable Guinness, a vision of the Jedi knight before he became chastened and humbled by the experience of seeing his best friend turn to the dark side. We know that Disney and Lucasfilm are keen on rolling out spin-off standalone “Star Wars Story” movies in between the main instalments – with rumours the studios are already planning a trilogy of Han Solo films starring Alden Ehrenreich – so why not a return for Luke Skywalker’s one-time mentor?

Some might caution against bringing back an actor known for his role in the hated prequels. But Lucasfilm has already shown that it is not entirely allergic to George Lucas’s later movies, even though the Star Wars creator’s ideas for future instalments were left firmly on the shelf when he sold his beloved space opera saga to Disney in October 2012. Upcoming spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will feature Genevieve O’Reilly, last seen in Revenge of the Sith, as Mon Mothma, and there are even rumours that Jimmy Smits is coming back as galactic senator Bail Organa.

So how would Disney pitch an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie? The logical path, at least for a film with McGregor in the hot seat, would be to set the new movies between the end of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith and 1977’s Star Wars, a period in which Kenobi is ostensibly in exile on Tatooine, waiting to see if Luke Skywalker exhibits Jedi tendencies.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – video trailer

The problem here is that the 19-year gap between the two trilogies – as Rogue One has been discovering – is a tough period within which to set a Star Wars film. The Jedi are pretty much extinct, having been killed off by Darth Vader and others in an extended purge, and the Galactic Empire is at the height of its strength. Since it remains all-powerful by the time the events of Star Wars take place, any stories surrounding Kenobi would almost certainly need to spin-off into far corners of the galaxy where the actions of the exiled Jedi knight are in no danger of knocking the main narrative off its course.

The new movies might reimagine our hero as a Kung Fu-style wandering exile, travelling through the outer-rim planets and occasionally using his powers to help the local populace, though always with an awareness of the need to avoid attracting any unwanted Imperial attention. There are numerous examples in pop culture of iconic protagonists who have been successfully wrenched from familiar environments and thrown headlong into exotic landscapes, from the Marvel comic Planet Hulk (currently being half-inched for the movie Thor: Ragnarok) to the 2013 X-Men spin-off The Wolverine, in which the adamantium-clawed mutant visits Japan.

Alternately, Disney might borrow ideas from the Star Wars Expanded Universe – even though the studio declared pretty much all of it non-canonical in 2014. In the novel series Star Wars: The Last of the Jedi, Kenobi goes in search of a former Jedi apprentice, Ferus Olin, who survived the purge. He leaves Tatooine and travels to the troubled planet of Bellassa, where Olin is rumoured to be living. In the series of 10 novels, Olin eventually becomes an agent for Emperor Palpatine, though it emerges he is in fact a double agent, hoping for the chance to kill Darth Vader. The problem here, once again, is we already know the evil shiny-carapaced Sith Lord makes it through to the events of the original trilogy.

The other issue might be Kenobi’s suitability to lead his own movies. While the prequels presented a rather more swashbuckling take on the Jedi knight, there’s a sense that he fits the role of a supporting character better, at least on the big screen. Rumour has it that Lucas based Qui-Gon Jinn’s one-time apprentice on Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, who was himself inspired by Merlin. Neither of those hairy old sorcerers have ever seemed prime candidates to lead their own blockbuster adventures, though the BBC did, of course, give us the early years of the mythical British wizard on the small screen a few years back.

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope. Photograph: Allstar/LUCASFILM

McGregor’s Kenobi would be a few years younger than his aged sorcerous forebears, most likely in his mid-40s: a Jedi knight in his prime, yet currently wasted living in a cave on Tatooine. Is that where he’s best left, fending off sand people and occasionally venturing out to bother Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru with old stories of that one time he and Jinn scared the living daylights out of the guys from the Trade Federation? Or do you yearn to see the master of the old Jedi mind trick getting one more chance to do his thing?


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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