Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
I really loved the first two episodes of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi for a number of reasons beyond (but including) my usual fanboyish fan-wanking. I’m outspoken in my love for the prequels even though they’re admittedly not great. Their greatest assets are raw materials that George Lucas never quite figured out how to manipulate into a great trilogy but plenty of other creatives have since used to tell wonderful stories. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, even elements of Star Wars: The Last Jedi owe to the better elements of the Prequel Trilogy.
Obi-Wan Kenobi opens with a long “previously on” that acts as a summation of Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and his role in those movies. You’d be forgiven, after watching that reel, for coming away with the impression that Lucas nailed the entire thing. That’s because, controversies aside, one part of the prequels fans have generally always agreed on is that McGregor played a great Obi-Wan Kenobi. Of all the characters in those films, he’s the best and the one who somehow felt the most short-changed by the messy storytelling. Could we ever see more of him? Even before the mass reappraisal of the prequels about five years ago, it always seemed like an idea with more traction than most other spinoff ideas.
Then again, what story is there to be told about Obi-Wan during the Dark Times (the period of time between Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope where the Empire ruled)? As far as Lucas was concerned, Obi-Wan did very little in those 20 years besides commune with the Force and protect little Luke Skywalker from common Tatooine threats like the occasional Tusken Raider. The Expanded Universe gave us a little more to work with, both before and after Lucasfilm changed what counted as canon in 2015. There are plenty of stories about Obi-Wan fighting raiders and random Dark Jedi or, in the case of Rebels, finally vanquishing his old rival, Darth Maul. Some of these are canon, some of them aren’t, but the consensus for decades has been that taking Obi-Wan off Tatooine would be sacrilegious.
I’m really happy Lucasfilm took so long and gave director Deborah Chow and her writing team a chance to figure out an elegant reason for this story to exist in the broader story of the Skywalker saga. Their solution? To break even more eggs in the “untouchable characters” basket. Not only is Obi-Wan going to face down Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) between movies, he’s also tasked with leaving Luke to rescue Leia 10 years before her famous hologram calls the old Jedi back into action. It all sounds like fan service, which it is, but within the show itself, it makes sense to me. Two episodes in, Obi-Wan feels like an organic addition to the overarching saga.
It helps that Lucasfilm settled on a coherent emotional journey for Obi-Wan. We’ve always known he and Yoda went into hiding until the Skywalker twins were old enough to be trained. Most stories told in the interim have skirted around any character development for the Jedi himself. He’s generally depicted as self-assured and single-minded about his mission to protect and eventually gaslight Luke into killing Vader; hey, I’m just describing the story Lucas tells in his Original Trilogy, OK? There’s nothing wrong with that interpretation, but I’m really fond of the version shown here, where the emotional pleas he makes to Anakin in Episode III on Mustafar — “I loved you, Anakin!” — are unpacked. He’s still fully committed to Luke, but his connection to the Force is disrupted by dreams and guilt … and failure.
One point many fans of The Last Jedi have made time and time again is that Luke’s decision to become a recluse after Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren is in keeping with his two mentors’ decisions to also go into hiding after they failed to stop the rise of Emperor Palpatine. So far, Obi-Wan Kenobi strengthens that connection, with the clear difference being that we’re actually going to get a payoff to the main character’s return to the Light, which J.J. Abrams completely bungled in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I like precocious Leia. It’s nice to see her loving adopted family, particularly Breha Organa (Simone Kessell). I’m all for making Alderaan feel like a real place; it only enhances its moment of destruction in A New Hope. It’s fun to contrast Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) with Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), the men who Yoda and Obi-Wan chose to raise Anakin and Padmé’s children. I’m happy for the moment where Bail reminds Obi-Wan that Leia is important, too. I mentioned earlier in this essay that the way Lucas wrote the Anakin retcon into the Original Trilogy made Obi-wan and Yoda seem scheming and evil, but the first two episodes of this show give the former such a level of genuine, human directionlessness that it improves that element of Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, too. It’s not that Obi-Wan was manipulating Luke. He was lost amidst everything, too, broken-hearted and struggling to find a hopeful pathway forward after losing everything. At the start of this story, he’s so focused on Luke that he doesn’t even consider how important Leia is, and it’s through rescuing her he starts to feel purposeful again.
For fans of the Original Trilogy and nothing further, one of the more head-scratching moments of Obi-Wan probably occurs early on when the Sith Inquisitors are introduced in live-action. A New Hope heavily implies that the Sith (and the Jedi) are more or less extinct by that point in galactic history and that Darth Vader is the only visible expression of the Dark Side of the Force for most Imperials. So why are there all these dorks with dual-bladed lightsabers running around?
The short answer is: The animated cartoon Rebels introduced the Grand Inquisitor, leader of the Inquisitorius, a band of former Jedi who hunt Jedi on behalf of the Empire. (He’s played here by Rupert Friend, whose physicality is right but whose voice sadly pales in comparison to Jason Isaacs, who voiced the character on Rebels.) This faction proved popular enough that they also feature heavily in video games like Jedi: Fallen Order and comics like Charles Soule’s Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith. The Grand Inquisitor is accompanied by an unspecified number of ambitious underlings, named in a numerical brother / sister scheme. In Obi-Wan, we also meet Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) and Third Sister (Moses Ingram), aka Reva. Why are there no Inquisitors around in A New Hope? Well, most of them die by then, particularly in Rebels, where the Grand Inquisitor himself is killed. In the fiction, the Empire phased them out because, by that time, most of the Jedi were extinct. In fact, by the events of Obi-Wan, the Inquisitors themselves feel like they’re just hunting scraps. Few big fish remain. One of the biggest, of course, is Obi-Wan himself.
I guess that wasn’t a very short answer. Whatever.
Those new to the Inquisitorious might think they seem like real goobers. That’s pretty much correct. Although they all have designs on great power, they all pale in comparison to Vader himself. They’re good in a lightsaber battle and at killing other Jedi, but most of them are too ambitious, cocky or internally conflicted to ever move beyond their station. There’s inherent pettiness to their existence. These are traitors who took the easy way out when Order 66 dropped. They’ll never be anything more than middle-managers, at best.
It’s very exciting to see them in live-action, though. They’re a great addition to this era in the canon, and their inclusion here is as legitimizing as meeting up with Bo-Katan and Ahsoka again in the second season of The Mandalorian.
I have a lot more thoughts about this first episode of Obi-Wan, but my essay is already running long, so I guess it’s time for a big list of bullet points.
- The “previously on” is such a glorious look at how the prequels feel to those of us who love them.
- Opening with Order 66 feels horrifying and timely.
- Love seeing live-action 501st Trooper armor.
- The Inquisitor’s starship is a great design.
- Benny Safdie as a Jedi is pretty funny.
- Obi-Wan works at a meat processing station where he and other vagabonds seem to be cutting away the flesh of a giant sand beast. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen this kind of creature before on Tatooine. Between this, the Krayt Dragon in The Mandalorian and the bizarre multi-armed Sand Monster in The Book of Boba Fett, I’m really enjoying the way Lucasfilm is expanding the ecology of fiction’s most famous desert wasteland — and I love the fact that pretty much every natural creature is a terrifying monster.
- I can see some viewers complaining about the fact that Obi-Wan has given us an origin story for the T-16 Skyhopper toy Luke plays with in A New Hope, but I think it’s an additive inclusion.
- I can’t look at Jawas the same way again after The Return of the Mandalorian.
- Pretty funny to see Flea in Star Wars.
- Is Tatooine littered with buried lightsabers? It’s kind of silly that Anakin’s saber ends up constantly buried in those sand dunes.
- I keep thinking of Bail’s line: “She’s as important as he is.” Again, I wish The Rise of Skywalker had been able to do what was clearly being set up with Leia, but then again, Carrie Fisher’s death had more of an impact on that than anything else. They tried their best.
- Qui-Gon Jinn is referenced so frequently that I will probably start a riot if he doesn’t appear as a Force Ghost by the end of this series. If he does, can we please, please get a decent and affordable replica hilt from either Hasbro or Galaxy’s Edge? It’s truly the last lightsaber I feel like I need; wanting is a different story, of course.
This is the first new Star Wars Serial Consumer in almost two months, and quite a lot of consuming has occurred. On the book front, I finally got a copy of the Star Wars Legends: The Empire omnibus, which mostly collects material published by Dark Horse set during the immediate post-Revenge of the Sith era. Shockingly grim. I mostly enjoyed the stories, but sometimes diving into these older, 2000s-era Star Wars stories reminds me of when the franchise wasn’t mandated to appeal to as wide an audience as possible … and how much better the stories are now that creatives are required to think about more than just teenage boys. The Omnibus is far from bad, but it’s very one-note, and there are too many old Star Wars comics about cool, long-haired Jedi men becoming antiheroes with hot criminal girlfriends.
On the Black Series front, a whole lot of old pre-orders and new waves arrived in the span of the last two months. I picked up (all 6” scale): Nomad Boba, Omega, Bad Batch Echo, Ahsoka (The Mandalorian), two Death Watch Mandalorians, Kuill, Han Solo (Hoth), a Clone Shock Trooper, Clone Captain Rex (The Bad Batch), a deluxe Boba Fett (Throne Room) and three 212th Clone Troopers.
Yeah, it was a lot. I own around 275 figures at this point and am currently finding myself running out of display space — which is a problem because Obi-Wan Kenobi is once again expanding my “want” list.
I’ve already pre-ordered the 6” Obi-Wan Kenobi (Wandering Jedi) and Reva (Third Sister) figures, so I won’t include them in this section.
- 6” Obi-Wan (Blue Worker Outfit)
- 6” Leia and Lola Droid
- Grand Inquisitor
- 6” Fifth Brother
- 6” Alderaanian Guards
- 6” Nari
- 6” Lego Inquisitor Starship
- Force FX Elite Obi-Wan Kenobi Lightsaber
- Force FX Elite Inquisitor Lightsaber