Less of Ewan McGregor please! The big problem with Obi-Wan Kenobi

No stakes, no danger, nothing of substance: the show has atoned for many of the Star Wars prequels’ sins, but if it’s ever going to be exciting, the action needs to focus less on the ageing Jedi

There is a scene towards the end of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith that encapsulates everything that went wrong with the prequel trilogy.

Anakin Skywalker, Force wunderkind turned emo Jedi slayer, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, his former chum and sensei, are engaged in a lightsaber duel, ostensibly to the death. This encounter is the culmination of three films’ worth of glacial-paced inevitability. A master who must kill his student. A student convinced he’s been betrayed by his mentor. There should be excitement; a crescendo of emotion and tragedy. But there isn’t. Instead, we get unconvincing CG lava sploshing hither and thither; peril-free jumping from one high thing to another high thing; and we get this:

Obi-Wan: “Anakin, chancellor Palpatine is evil!”

Anakin: “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!”

But even guff as bad as that isn’t the biggest problem with the scene, or the prequels as a whole. The biggest problem was how riotously boring this fight was – and, by extension, all three films were – because we already knew the outcome. Fans had known it for decades. Watching it unfold in real time was like listening to an office bore tell you in pitiless detail about the intricacies of their commute.

Trying their best … Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor in Revenge of the Sith.
Trying their best … Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor in Revenge of the Sith. Photograph: Lucasfilm/Allstar

The worst thing was, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan and Hayden Christensen as Anakin were trying their best. The fault never lay with them. Which is why the news that both actors would reprise their roles for a Disney+ Obi-Wan series, set a decade after the events of Episode III, was so welcome. It could be a do-over. Maybe it could even make up for the prequels’ overuse of greasy and weightless CGI, the rhythmless editing, stodgy exposition, or the cast of characters with barely a single definable characteristic besides “that one has a bushier beard”.

Obi-Wan Kenobi the TV show has generally felt like the worthy prequel we never had. The scripts sound as if they were written by people who have, at some point in their lives, said words to other humans. As we’ve come to expect since The Mandalorian, the production design and effects are so sensational as to be barely noticeable. There are no more rubbish green-screen sets or unconvincing CG characters whose explosive deaths would give you a real, worrying thrill that you could only safely admit to a therapist. There is none of the Senate plodding that smothered the prequels beneath a fatberg of stultifying nonsense. It feels like the TV show had a checklist of every flaw the prequels had, and set about addressing them all. Apart from one, that is.

The one it failed to address was, sadly, the biggest; the problem that caused that lightsaber duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith to, somehow, be duller than a Fisher Price butterknife: like the prequels before it, Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t even remotely gripping, exciting or moreish, because we already know exactly what is going to happen. And what is going to happen is this: nothing.

At no point – from their meetings, escapes, duels, captures and preposterous, trenchcoat-dependent rescues – has it felt like Obi-Wan, Leia or even Darth Vader were in any peril, because we know they weren’t. They all survive unscathed until Episode IV. Like the prequels, audiences are going into Obi-Wan Kenobi knowing who lives and who dies, making the whole thing feel like a very expensive, very handsome entry in an appendix. The prequel films were a slog for many reasons, but high on that list is that nothing occurred at any point that was remotely unexpected. Obi-Wan Kenobi, so far at least, is circling that same plughole of ennui. There are no stakes, no danger, nothing of substance for us to sink our teeth into, and a howling vacuum where there should be a mystery to unravel.

Enjoyably despicable … Moses Ingram as Reva Sevander.
Enjoyably despicable … Moses Ingram as Reva Sevander. Photograph: AP

The way around this, obviously, is to introduce secondary characters about whose fates we are unaware. This is what The Clone Wars (the animated series set between Episodes II and III) did, and that succeeded in unspooling a superb, sprawling narrative out of it. This is how Better Call Saul went from Breaking Bad prequel to probably the best TV show ever made. Prequels and high-stakes excitement don’t have to be mutually exclusive, if the prequel in question is aware that it needs to do more than merely tell us how something we already know happened, happened. The Star Wars prequel films failed in that respect. As great as Obi-Wan Kenobi is in many ways, it hasn’t yet managed to do this. Characters exist solely to be in the orbit of the Obi-Wans, Darths and Leias about whose fates we know all too much, with (spoiler alert) figures like Indira Varma’s briefly interesting undercover rebel Tala Durith being introduced and bumped off before she could become a figure of genuine significance.

If, as rumoured, season two is in development, there is still (a new) hope. As counterintuitive as it might sound, a show called Obi-Wan Kenobi needs to barely be about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and lean into new players like Moses Ingram’s morally ambiguous Reva Sevander – now one of only two newly introduced characters of note, alongside O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Roken. The supporting cast desperately needs to grow, and we need to care about those new additions. If it doesn’t and we don’t, the whole show is just another expensive lightsaber duel near some naff CG lava that even the most committed Star Wars nerd (and I’m pointing two thumbs at my own Boba Fett T-shirt here) will find themselves struggling to care about. Come on, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.


Luke Holland

The GuardianTramp

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