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Why 'Obi-Wan Kenobi' Feels Like the Last Hope for Star Wars Under Disney

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
New Star Wars miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi hits Disney Plus on May 27.
Disney

What's happening

The latest Star Wars saga, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is about to land on Disney Plus, joining the ranks of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Why it matters

Obi-Wan Kenobi feels like a huge gamble for Disney as the Star Wars-verse expands at a dizzying rate, fueled by nostalgia and turning in lackluster results.

In the original Star Wars movie, released back in 1977, Luke Skywalker is cleaning his newly acquired droid R2-D2. He accidentally triggers a secret message sent from Princess Leia aboard the ship Tantive IV, revealing a message that kickstarts the movie's second act and -- in many ways -- the Star Wars franchise as an enterprise:

"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."

It's a classic line. Maybe the defining line in a series packed with them. But as I contemplated this on May the Fourth, of all days, it's a line that hit differently. 

Now, ahead of Obi-Wan Kenobi's premiere on Disney Plus on Friday May 27, it could be me delivering that line. Me: A bruised and battered Star Wars fan, watching aghast as Disney released clunker after clunker into the canon.

As I press play on the new trailer for the series, it could be me in hologram form: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope." 

And from a weird, meta perspective it could be Disney itself. Since taking over Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise 10 years ago, we've had a mixed big-budget trilogy and largely unsuccessful spinoff movies, chased by mediocre shows like The Book of Boba Fett. So Obi-Wan Kenobi feels like a huge gamble for Disney. A do-or-die moment for a series languishing in the doldrums. A last hope.

Page-turners, they were not

Make no mistake: Star Wars, for the last decade at least, has sorta sucked. During that period Star Wars has taken me on a wild journey that began with anger, then acceptance, but that ultimately ended in complete indifference. 

I simply don't care about Star Wars any more, and I don't think I'm alone. I'm not invested in its universe, its characters or its success. Star Wars -- that legendary tale that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away -- has lost its mystique.

reylsaber

The Last Jedi ruled when it was released, and it's only got better with age.

Disney

It stings harder because Disney initially got it right. After a well-made (albeit safe) homage movie in The Force Awakens, Star Wars broke the mold with The Last Jedi; a movie that challenged not only assumptions about Jedi lore and other hokey-pokey bullshit, but notions of nostalgia and fandom itself. In short, it absolutely ruled.

In perhaps the best Star Wars scene ever put on film, Yoda stands in front of a blazing fire he himself started. "The sacred texts," screams Luke, in agony. 

"Page-turners, they were not," replies Yoda.

This was a movie that told us to "let the past die, kill it if you have to." It was everything the Star Wars series needed, and it was amazing.

Of course everyone got mad. Disney panicked. Rise of Skywalker, a cobbled-together spreadsheet of a movie, was the result. It looked, felt and played like a movie written by a toxic Reddit thread gone sentient, and it undid every bold decision made in The Last Jedi. It was the first nail in the coffin of my own Star Wars fandom, but it wouldn't be the last.

In the wake of Rise of Skywalker we've seen Star Wars do little but pander to an audience desperate to bask in nostalgia. To be clear: We all need to take our share of the blame for this. We've devolved into a cursed collective that judges the quality of shows like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett based on the quality of its cameos. Did a grotesquely CGI'd Luke Skywalker turn up? Good. No Ahsoka Tano or Baby Yoda in this episode? Bad.

It's utterly warped.

That's a name I haven't heard in a long time

Given the lackluster quality of Disney's recent Star Wars output, it's unreasonable to expect Obi-Wan Kenobi to signal a sea change, but I retain a small, smoldering ember of hope. For a few reasons.

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We now have a different generation of fans nostalgic for a different type of Star Wars.

Merrick Morton

Reason 1: The stakes feel high. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a central character in the Star Wars universe, and he's played by one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Of all the shows released on Disney Plus, you sense it's important they get this one right. Those stakes could result in Disney playing it safe, but I'm hoping it results in a higher-quality production across the board.

Reason 2: We have a generation of Star Wars fans hankering for a different type of nostalgia. The most recent Star Wars trilogy spent six solid hours playing with or against the original trilogy. In 2022 we have a group of thirtysomethings who grew up alongside the prequel trilogy. 

I'm an enemy of nostalgia-bait in almost all the media I consume, but I suspect it could be fun to return to the prequel aesthetic with a new set of collectively aging eyeballs. Prequel-land feels like a different Star Wars universe that's less rigid and lived in. There's potential for something unique there.

In that regard, Obi-Wan could also act as a bridge of sorts. Not a Rogue One-style bridge -- a dull movie straining to plug gaps that never needed plugging -- but something more expansive and imaginative. Within the tight confines of the Star Wars universe, there's space in the Obi-Wan timeline for something different: new characters, new enemies, new planets. There's also space to create connective tissue between the trilogies that feels less convoluted. Recent movies and shows have made Star Wars feel rickety and small, held together with superglue and sticky tape. Maybe I'm guilty of projecting my own hopes and dreams here, but perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi can make Star Wars feel vast and unknowable again. I dunno. Maybe.

I'll be most disappointed if it continues to paint by numbers. Obi-Wan Kenobi could yet become another bleh Star Wars show, stumbling from one fan service cameo to the next like a decaying zombie in search of brains. That's almost certainly the likeliest outcome here, but we can dare to dream. 

Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope.