In what has arguably been the most in-demand piece of Star Wars content aside from the sequel trilogy, Ewan McGregor is finally set to make his triumphant return as franchise icon Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ in just under two months. Though the prequel trilogy wasn’t received particularly well, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith specifically had a noticeably strong reception, with McGregor’s younger take on the character being one of the best things to come out of the trio of films as a whole.
That makes it easy to see why there’d be so much nostalgic fanfare behind this long-sought-after return, but it will also take a lot to sell fans on the stakes of Obi-Wan Kenobi since most are well aware of where the story follows in canon. The highly anticipated trailer from earlier this month looked incredibly promising, as it heavily emphasized this limited series as more than just another TV show in Disney’s rotation. Complete with John Williams’ immaculate score, fans saw enticing glimpses of who would be nipping at Kenobi’s heels, and the context of the series’ place in the timeline will perhaps present the greatest challenge that the revered Jedi Master has ever had to face.
In these Dark Times …
The aforementioned Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was a grand tragedy for the Republic, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and more, leaving the galaxy under the oppressive thumb of the Empire for the next 30-plus years — known as the Dark Times. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s spectacular and gut-wrenching duel on the volcanic planet of Mustafar was a grandiose finish to the trilogy, making the context for episodes IV-VI that much more heartbreaking.
Those three decades Obi-Wan would spend on Tatooine watching over Luke Skywalker were times of painful introspection and loneliness as is, but the state of the galaxy would make things much more difficult once the Emperor’s lapdogs came hunting. Obi-Wan no longer has an organized and politically recognized council covering his back, as the Jedi are now an endangered species. Adding to the complications, it won’t just be poorly trained Stormtroopers scouring for Obi-Wan with misfired blaster shots, as the Emperor will be throwing his Inquisitorius at him as well.
These Dark-side and Force-sensitive villains are some of Emperor Palpatine’s most skilled soldiers, complete with lightsaber training as well. However, under normal circumstances, even the best of the bunch (the Grand Inquisitor) would be cannon fodder for someone as skilled and disciplined in the Force as Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master was arguably the best of the council from a skill and moral perspective, but without the Jedi Council as a support network backing him, the Great Jedi Purge be a grea thindrance as Obi-Wan tryies to survive in its wake.
He’ll have to avoid being seen in public in compromising situations, meaning Obi-Wan will have to operate incognito more often than not. Attracting too much attention would spell certain death, which also means he’ll have to keep his use of the Force and (especially) his lightsaber to a minimum. From a writing perspective, making Obi-Wan take part in a fox hunt — as the fox — with these handicaps is an excellent way of believably raising the stakes for a story most of us know the ending to.
Opening up old wounds
Ever since 2020’s Disney Investor Day presentation, Obi-Wan Kenobi has been billed as the “rematch of the century” between him and his old Jedi apprentice. It’s certainly not enough for it to be a superficial spectacle, so if the series lives up to its promise of various compelling moving pieces in the story, Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Darth Vader could be equal parts jaw-dropping and emotionally resonant.
McGregor and Hayden Christensen’s performances in their final duel on Mustafar conveyed so much pain, as Obi-Wan was forced into a death match against the man who became his best friend and brother — and who he practically raised — while feeling like he failed him. Anakin Skywalker died, and Darth Vader was born in his place, with the iconic pop culture villain spending those next 30 years becoming one of the most feared and mysterious figures across the galaxy. His name was spoken in hushed tones among regular civilians and Imperial officers alike, with Vader’s rare and ominous appearances treated like a horseman of the apocalypse.
The black armor-clad Sith Lord had collected a variety of epithets while in the top tier of the Imperial hierarchy, one of them being the “Emperor’s Wrath.” A fitting name considering the killing spree he was on since the start of the Jedi Purge, and the various restrictions that Obi-Wan has imposed on him will make a rematch a tremendously tall order. The emotional toll this will take on even a veteran like him will surely be just as grueling, if not more so, than the physical. In a way, it’s Obi-Wan’s ghosts coming back to haunt him — even if the compassionate Jedi Master doesn’t deserve the suffering.
But before then, presumably, Obi-Wan will likely have to endure some mind games by the Inquisitors as well. As narrated by Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor in the trailer, that compassion is what they intend to turn into the Jedi Master’s greatest weakness to flush him out of hiding. Given the scenes that we’ve seen glimpses of so far, Kenobi will likely have to do everything he can to bite his tongue as the Empire commits war crimes right in front of him. His moral dilemma might become the most agonizing he’s ever faced: Go loud and strike down the Imperials before any more innocents suffer while potentially outing young Luke, or keep the child — the key to the galaxy’s future — safe from the Emperor at all brutal costs?
Some of the Inquisitorius were former Jedi themselves, which also begs the question of whether PTSD will be explored as a concept and if a moral butting of heads between them and Obi-Wan will challenge them. Overall, the Master in exile’s psychological fortitude will face a greater test than any physical harm the Empire can do to him, and that’s precisely what makes Obi-Wan Kenobi as tantalizing as it is — but the lightsaber fights will certainly help.
Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres on May 25 on Disney+.
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