In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy noted that the company had learned valuable lessons from their failed live-action Star Wars film Solo. The problem is that the company appears to have learned the wrong lessons. What Kennedy was referring to was the attempt to recast popular character Han Solo, famously played by Harrison Ford, with a new actor. All things considered, that particular choice worked out remarkably well. As Solo, Alden Ehrenreich was unexpectedly great. Recasting was not the issue. Making a feature prequel out of back story and character-based trivia was. I have seen Solo referred to as, somewhat derisively, “How Han Solo Got His Stuff”. Despite the best efforts of an excellent cast and a fast, funny screenplay, it spoils its best assets by presenting them in an origin story. Solo is entertaining, but adds nothing to the character. If anything it weakens it by removing any sense of mystery. It builds walls over horizons. I have no idea what you imagined when you first heard C3PO describe “the spice mines of Kessel” in the original 1977 Star Wars, but I as good as guarantee it was more imaginative than the smoky facility pictured in Solo. The same goes for how Han Solo obtained his iconic starship, the Millennium Falcon, how he met best friend Chewbacca, or who gave him his gun. I am becoming a broken record on this – it’s affecting Star Trek right now as much as Star Wars – but prequels are the enemy of drama. They are the nemesis of imagination.
With Lucasfilm continuing to foster an expansive fictional universe of aliens, planets, starships, civilizations, wars, gangsters, soldiers, and droids, it is obvious what the clear lesson of Solo should be. Always go forward. Give audiences something new.
Anyway, onto Obi-Wan Kenobi, and things that happen in its first episode will be discussed. I am hesitant to call them ‘spoilers’, because frankly anything that happens in the first 20 minutes of the first episode of a six-part serial is clearly just setting up the plot.
Ten years after the fall of the Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) lives in hiding on the isolated planet Tatooine. When an old friend comes begging for help, he must put aside his own concerns and risk discovery by the Empire’s Jedi-hunting inquisitors on an urgent mission.
Not even a prequel, then, but a sequel to a prequel. Regardless of any individual merit in performance, writing, or production, Obi-Wan Kenobi is on a proverbial ‘hiding to nothing’. It does not unnecessarily provide backstory – that redundancy was achieved in the Star Wars prequel trilogy that concluded back in 2005. Instead it is stuck in the unfortunate position of filling in the gap between backstory and story, furthering the development of its title character from the end of Revenge of the Sith without impinging on the character as set out by George Lucas in Star Wars.
This is not an insurmountable problem. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) demonstrated that you can undertake a prequel in at least a vaguely satisfactory fashion by featuring a younger version of the character in a largely self-contained adventure. Sadly Obi-Wan Kenobi fails at the first hurdle. The old friend begging for help? Galactic Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). The help itself? Rescuing the kidnapped 10-year-old Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair). It is unclear how much longer Lucasfilm expects Star Wars fans to continue watching the franchise enthusiastically swallow its own tail; I rather sadly suspect that the answer is ‘until they stop buying it’.