You Can't Win, Darth

the obi-wan show

You Can't Win, Darth

The Fool, Or The Fool Who Follows Him

I watched that Obi-Wan a few months back, and I realised what my problem with all these new Star Wars streaming series is.

What I want from them, I think, is something akin to the first series of the Mandolorian—a series of small, low-stakes adventures focusing on tone and ignoring the Main Plot Of Star Wars as much as possible. If you’d had a series of Obi-Wan Obi-Wandering around Tatooine or just drifting through Outer Rim planets, trying to stay out of the way but invariably getting pulled into small-scale scrapes and having to solve problems by mind tricking his way through, rather than just pulling out his lightsaber, that would’ve been great. Instead… it was not like that.

From A Certain Point Of View

There absolutely was stuff I liked. Ewan McGregor does an absolutely cracking older beaten-down Obi-Wan. In the same way that the first few episodes of the Mandalorian had Mando getting jacked up by all manner of wild animals, dealing with his crappy ship falling apart etc, I really appreciated Obi-Wan being out-of-touch and out-of-practice. As I said, I would have loved a series where he never drew his lightsaber—and to be fair, we had three episodes of that. I liked that we got some historical Anakin/Obi-Wan interaction, even if a little shonkily CGI’d. Hayden Christensen did a decent job in the Vader suit despite being half a foot too small (sorry I’m afraid I’m with Kevin Nash on this one).

Because I grew up on the books and the comics, I liked the Quinlan Vos reference. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. I liked the Inquisitors and their base—even if, between this and the Star Wars Dark Souls game, I’ve only ever seen it getting really easily broken into and smashed up. The First Inquisitor had the funniest line in the whole show.

You’ll Never Find A More Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy

But I guess a lot of the trouble starts with the Inquisitors, specifically the main one, whose name I’ve already, in the intervening few months, forgotten (the xth sister(?)). If you’ve got to introduce another character to give them a spinoff later, fine, but try to avoid them jacking so much of the main character’s role. I really could not care less about the youngling Inquisitor. I’m watching this for Obi-Wan.

And that feeds into the primary problem: when you start doing Bigger World Arc Nonsense, it all turns into the Marvel films: everything’s a trailer for the next thing, everything gets evaluated not on its own merits but on how it lays the groundwork for Big Events. And you kinda have to make everything that isn’t explicitly non-canon or somehow “fringe” (like that anime series they did) some kind of Event in itself, so we got—as we did with Baby Yoda in Mando, Baby Leia. Except unlike Baby Yoda who is cute and doesn’t say anything, Baby Leia is an insufferable junior girlboss who’s only funny when she’s calling people old.

As If A Million Voices Cried Out In Terror

This leads to a frankly bewildering inconsistency—on the one hand, the show bends over backwards to explain certain things from the original films that seem odd in light of the prequels—for instance, the final fight was clearly meant to justify why Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” when they next meet in A New Hope. On the other, there really is no serious attempt made to explain the far bigger plot hole this introduces: why Leia and Obi-Wan act like strangers in ANH. Obi-Wan giving her some “this is our little secret!” speech at the end doesn’t cut it. I was half-expecting her to trip over and smack her head when running back to her parents after bidding Obi-Wan farewell for the first time.

I appreciate this might seem like nerd pedantry, but it’s the question my girlfriend, who has seen the original trilogy once ever, for the purposes of writing an article about doing so, was asking immediately. If you want to get into nerd pedantry, fans have always asked: man, why was Luke so cut up after Obi-Wan (who he doesn’t know that well) dying, when he didn’t really seem that bothered by the death of the aunt and uncle who raised him? This makes it even worse: Leia comforts him, but by rights she should be way more upset!

Not As Clumsy And Random As A Blaster

Speaking of Leia: I went digging around in my documents folder to find what I wrote about Rogue One when I first watched that, as this show gave me some of the same vibes. They share a problem: if you watch any of the lightsaber fights in this (or the Vader scene at the ending of Rogue One), then go into the Obi-Wan/Vader fight from A New Hope, you’d feel like you’d gone from eating a bowlful of Haribo to eating an apple. The latter is probably a better, more nutritionally beneficial thing to eat, but your taste buds are going to be so blown out by the former you wouldn’t be able to get as much out of it. I said at the time that I like the idea of treating Vader like a monster in a horror film, an implacable advancing presence that can’t be stopped—and they do a lot of good stuff with that here; the stuff in the quarry (some very ‘70s BBC sci-fi location stuff going on there) was a lot better, for me, but by the end it’s some prequel Yoda-pinballing-around-the-place-like-Sonic nonsense.

There’s No Such Thing As Luck

While it heightens the combat, it absolutely soaks the between-moments. You might remember that a lot of The Last Jedi (a film that improved tremendously on a second watch but I still feel was tonally all-over-the-place) is spent with ships chasing each other very slowly, and characters sitting on those ships, arguing over what to do, where to go etc, popping out to do stuff on other ships, coming back. This has the same thing in its back half: static indefinite peril. People on ships that are in a very slow chase, people arguing over what’s going on, but no really sense of when or how or why things might actually move toward a resolution.

In e.g. The Empire Strikes Back, there are bits where they’re waiting for things to happen—for the walkers to show up in the Hoth assault—but that’s tension being built to a known outcome, and once things go loud they go loud. Later in the film, when the gang walk into the dining room on Cloud City and Darth Vader is there, Han immediately tries to shoot him. There’s no fucking around, no attempts to be epic—he just goes for it. In this series, you have the Rebels hiding in a cavern, knowing that Darth Vader’s about to march in any minute. Baby Leia’s messing around in the vents so they can get the sunroof open to fly the ship out, but it’s up on the wall so she has to get down via a ladder being held by some rebel lads. When she gets down the ladder, the guys holding it walk away carefully carrying the ladder. Are they going to put it on the ship? Is it that essential a piece of kit that they can’t just leave it here and get a new one wherever they’re going? It was all either too much or not enough, which describes pretty much the whole thing for me.

An Elegant Weapon…

For all that: you know what? The theme banged. John Williams is the true MVP of Star Wars; the man has never put a foot wrong. Ludwig Goransson (who is still The Guy Who Did The Music For Community for me, sorry) has been killing it over on the Mando/BOBF stuff, Natalie Holt (from Worthing! shouts to the big local talent) did a bang-up job on the main soundtrack for this, but Big Score John’s the real king. Did you know he’s been nominated for 52 Oscars? He’s 90, that’s more than one every two years. He’s the most nominated Oscar-nominated living individual for anything.

(Sidebar: I’m always susprised when I remember Star Wars got nominated for 11 Oscars, and won 7. Sure, the wins weren’t in the big categories (though it was nominated for Best Picture, Lucas for Best Director and Screenplay and Alec Guinness for Best Supporting Actor) but it won for costume design, art direction, sound… you know, all the things that are genuinely excellent and what make Star Wars still sing today. Not all blockbusters are alike! When was the last Marvel film to win one of those? (I looked this up: it was Black Panther, the designated Good One, which won three—and one of those was Ludwig Goransson for the score.)

…For A More Civilised Age

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Star Wars got me young enough that it’s going to take a lot more garbage for me to let it go. It took years of mediocre-to-dreadful Star Trek and Doctor Who for them to finally throw me off; Star Wars has been a once-every-two-years affair for me the last couple of decades, and some of the streaming series have actually been good, so I reckon it’s going to be a while before I give up entirely. This was pretty much bang in the middle of the pack for me: it wasn’t as good as series 1 of Mando or as bad as the Boba Fett show. It wasn’t even really mediocre: it was an assemblage of parts that were great and parts that were bad. I understand it was originally meant to be a film and got turned into a show: I think had it stayed a film it would’ve made a lot more sense.

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