After years of development, Obi-Wan Kenobi has finally been released in its entirety, available for all fans to enjoy. Ewan McGregor returned to reprise the total role, turning in perhaps his best performance as the character yet. Representing the dark side was his prequel trilogy co-star Hayden Christensen, who turned in some of the most chilling moments in Star Wars history as Darth Vader.
Warning - This article contains spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi.
For all its faults, the series finale for Obi-Wan Kenobi was an overwhelming success. The series had more than its share of narrative hick-ups, "Part VI" included, but many can be overlooked thanks to the show sticking the landing. It was imperative that Kenobi hit all of the major emotional beats to complete the journeys of the show's characters, and it certainly succeeded in doing so. The discussion between Obi-Wan and a Vader with his face exposed was one of the best moments Star Wars has seen.
When Ewan McGregor described Obi-Wan as a character fans would find broken when the series opened, there were more than their share of people having nightmares of another Luke Skywalker situation in The Last Jedi. But with the show now complete, it's safe to say that Obi-Wan Kenobi perfectly executed the hero who had lost his faith returning to form. Kenobi was able to find faith in the Jedi way again, largely through the hope provided by Anakin Skywalker's children.
Above all else, the ending for the series was satisfying. Star Wars badly needed a win, and it's not a stretch to say that everything was riding on Obi-Wan Kenobi. The project was a great addition to the galaxy far, far away. But could it have been better served in a different format?
By now, most are aware that the series was originally conceived as a theatrical film, originally to be directed by Stephen Daldry. Following Solo's colossal bomb at the box office, Lucasfilm and Disney chose to assign blame to an over-saturation of Star Wars films. It was subsequently announced that The Rise of Skywalker would be the final movie to hit theaters before an extended hiatus, scratching plans for the Jedi Master's return to the silver screen.
Disney+ reached homes in late 2019, and the overwhelming success of The Mandalorian prompted Lucasfilm to go all-in on Star Wars television for the foreseeable future. As such, Obi-Wan Kenobi shifted to a streaming series, and the rest is history.
But what if Lucasfilm had gone through with their initial plan of releasing the project as a movie? The narrative works as a series, affording more screen time for additional plot points and emotional beats to carry out. Yet there's a strong argument to be made for why Obi-Wan Kenobi would have worked as a film, perhaps better than it did as a Disney+ show.
The Ultimate Experience
While Star Wars may have been influenced by serial television, George Lucas' world-changing creation began as a single theatrical film. That continued through the completion of The Maker's six-film saga before The Clone Wars ventured into TV, and the animated and live-action mediums have been explored in both formats since Disney acquired the franchise. All of the Disney+ releases are fun, and the animation has certainly played a huge role in expanding the galaxy, but there's something special about Star Wars in theaters.
There's a fun build-up to the new movies, people get excited to drop unfathomable amounts of cash on merchandise, and there are cheers when "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" appears on silver screens. It's an experience like no other. Not to sound too much like the corny Nicole Kidman ad for AMC, but there's a magic to watching Star Wars in theaters. That feeling has been missed since 2019, and Star Wars Celebration recently provided a small taste of it again.
For those live in attendance for the "Lucasfilm Studio Showcase" panel, an invitation was extended to attend the premiere of Obi-Wan Kenobi's first two episodes. Fans had the opportunity to walk the red carpet, where Lucasfilm costumes for the four Inquisitors and Obi-Wan on display. Free popcorn and drinks were provided as well, turning the viewing party in an arena into a movie-going experience.
There were several huge moments in the opening episodes that were heightened by being part of a crowd. The Order 66 opening was met with immediate shock, setting the tone for the audience and series. Fans cheered when Obi-Wan made his first appearance and reconnected with the Force. Leia's reveal welcomed collective gasps from the room, and her banter with Kenobi made for light moments. The final reveal of Vader in his bacta tank, of course, blew the roof off the building, and the credits earned a round of applause. Imagine experiencing the final duel in a similar environment.
Welcoming the entire cast to the stage was an additional treat. Most trips to the movies don't include appearances from the creators, screen-used outfits displayed in glass, and a handful of free goodies, but the general enthusiasm and excitement at Celebration was something no fan has felt since the minutes leading up to The Rise of Skywalker's opening crawl. Maybe some felt similar joy after the film's credits rolled, but it certainly wasn't unanimous like the reception to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Ultimately, the experience was fun, and that's the biggest takeaway any fan should feel after Star Wars. It's nice to have an episode to look forward to each week and discuss online with others, but tuning in from the couch isn't as exciting as making a trip to the theaters (though it is cheaper). This works for serialized stories like The Mandalorian. But for something as big as Kenobi, a project its creators consider Episode 3.5, the full feature film experience was warranted.
Mickey's Movie Money
Disney+ series are, without question, made on a much tighter budget. The goal for Disney is to pump out as much content for as cheaply as possible, something that both Star Wars and MCU projects have struggled to overcome. Jon Favreau had to think outside the box to make The Mandalorian possible, teaming up with Lucasfilm masterminds to create The Volume stagecraft technology. While revolutionary and effective for The Mandalorian, the massive screens have their shortcomings.
There are many moments when the visuals fall apart for Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Volume forces things to be scaled down, taking away from the scope of what's happening in the story. Establishing shots of Mustafar, for instance, are created with sensational CG - and then followed up with the brutal Volume set for Vader's throne room. Fans have picked apart all six of the episodes for moments with poor visuals, and it's difficult to miss some.
The base on Jabiim looks like "Star Tours" without the 3D glasses. Any sequence that required an actor to run was limited by the tech as well; Reva appears to be sprinting to catch Kenobi, Leia, and Tala at Fortress Inquisitorious, but the confines of the set make Moses Ingram run with a piano on her back. The first encounter between Obi-Wan and Vader seemed to be shot in someone's backyard in LA.
Makeup was oddly poor for the series, perhaps a testament to the thin budget. The Emperor wasn't looking too great during his cameo. Rupert Friend did excellent work as the Grand Inquisitor, but his appearance has been roasted six ways to Sunday. Would it have required movie money to recreate the Pau'an appearance for Revenge of the Sith? The live-action reference point exists, yet the character just looks like a guy with gray face paint. His final appearance in the show isn't as bad as the trailers indicated but still makes for a baffling look that a film would presumably never allow.
For the endless amount of money Disney has, surely Obi-Wan Kenobi is a project deserving of more than the $100 million budget it received. Strangely enough, Andor has been given the funding needed to create real sets and practical effects, and the brief footage available looks phenomenal. If Kenobi couldn't be given that kind of money as a series, then $200 million for a film production would have been more than sufficient.
The Maestro's Swansong
John Williams is the heartbeat of Star Wars. As George Lucas himself has said, without The Maestro's music, the movies never would have worked. When the composer caught wind of the Kenobi series in development earlier this year, he personally asked Kathleen Kennedy for the opportunity to write a theme for Obi-Wan. Done in just two weeks, the piece is as beautiful as any he's written, perfectly encapsulating where the Jedi Master is emotionally while including hints of the main theme to signify the hope Luke gives him.
Unfortunately, no similar praise can be shared for the rest of the show's music. William Ross adapted the Obi-Wan theme, finding countless ways to incorporate it in big moments. The rest of the work was handed to Natalie Holt, known for her memorable score for Loki. Fans expecting the epic return of familiar themes instead received the most generic action pieces imaginable. At her best points, Holt crafted some moderately engaging cues. At worst, the music was downright atrocious.
Most of the flaws the show has can be overlooked. The janky visual effects are a staple of modern television, for better or worse. Compelling story moments make bad things in the surroundings more palatable, however frustrating they may be. The music, though, can't be ignored, and turned out to be the most disappointing element of the series by a country mile. Fans teased by "Duel of the Fates" in the marketing will have to settle for "Action Song C."
The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be the last of John Williams' work for Star Wars. But if Obi-Wan Kenobi were a movie, there's no better composer to turn to for a full score than Williams himself. He had enough interest to write a main theme for the project; with the proper time and a film's budget, why not give him a crack at the whole thing? Holt's score would never be deemed acceptable for a movie. However, a film full of the "Imperial March," "Leia's Theme," "The Force Theme," and the return of the iconic "Battle of the Heroes" would have left audience members in tears.
Kenobi was the last chance for fans to ever hear many of Williams' pieces attached to a live-action Star Wars project. Sadly, Holt overthought the process, believing the above themes were in their "genesis" in the series... despite being heard throughout the prequel trilogy. Musical continuity is as important as what's being seen, and a project of Kenobi's stature warrants the best of efforts. One last go at Star Wars for The Maestro could have made for one of the best scores ever created.
For as many points presented in favor of Obi-Wan Kenobi being a theatrical film, there are just as many, if not more, that justify it being a limited series. Even a longer film hovering around the three-hour mark would require the creators to cut significant amounts of story. Granted, many parts easily could have been removed to tighten up the plot, but it would come at the expense of other characters. If the story centered only on Obi-Wan and Vader's struggles, this would have been doable.
Visuals certainly would have been improved under a higher budget. With real sets, there are fewer oddities to distract the audience while action is taking place. Grand Inquisitor memes likely wouldn't exist, either. Perhaps going the cinematic route would have prompted the filmmakers to avoid using the shaky cam during lightsaber duels, which reached points where it was so overwhelming the choreography couldn't be appreciated. John Williams' theme for Obi-Wan is wonderful; who wouldn't want an entire movie of his work?
The point is, telling the story as a film instead of a series would force the executives and production team to think differently about the project. Nobody would be talking about goofy appearances or musical missteps when enough money is devoted to allowing for better efforts. All attention would be on the quality of the narrative and the actors' performances, the former of which has earned its place in Star Wars lore, the latter being exceptional from top to bottom.
It's a moot point, seeing as the show is the decision Lucasfilm and Disney made and is now complete. But it's worth discussing. Perhaps the studios will be more careful going forward as various Star Wars projects are considered for series and films. Watching Star Wars is (mostly) fun. One day, fans will be back in theaters for the proper cinematic experience. The lights will dim, and everyone will be transported to a galaxy far, far away.
All six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are available to stream on Disney+.