What we want from the Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone
On Tuesday evening, Borys Kit for The Hollywood Reporter delivered an exclusive report claiming that Disney/Lucasfilm were indeed (as many had suspected) working on a standalone film centred upon saga heavyweight, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) is allegedly in early talks to helm the project, but a script has not yet been penned and no actors are attached. This immediately kicked social media into a frenzy, with most caught between exasperation (that a new Star Wars film is returning to a pre-established character) and delight (that a story many fans have been hoping to see since the earliest days of the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney might finally come to fruition). Falling heavily on the side of excitement – with some reservations – we thought we’d elaborate on what we want to see from a spin-off featuring everyone’s favourite bearded Jedi Master.
With the story still unwritten and not so much as a peep from the official Star Wars site at time of writing, we know absolutely nothing about when or where the film will be set, but we can make an educated guess or two. Going back to Obi-Wan’s days as a Jedi apprentice (a story told in a series of now non-canon books following the release of The Phantom Menace) or detailing his relationship with Satine Kryze of Mandalore perhaps stray too close to the Prequel era, a setting that Lucasfilm have been largely avoiding since the franchise relaunched. Plus, given Obi-Wan’s reputation for strict adherence to the Jedi code and an aversion to swashbuckling adventure, his tutelage under Qui-Gon Jinn would likely be a bit of a dull watch.
The most likely direction is to focus on Kenobi’s exile among the dunes of the planet Tatooine between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, where he keeps a watchful eye over the young Luke Skywalker. As learned fans will be aware, this story has already been partially told in (again, non-canon) novel form by John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi. It picks up with the lonely Jedi’s arrival on the desert world and explores his desire for isolation (to avoid those who might befriend him coming to harm), his attempts to communicate through The Force with the long-dead Qui-Gon, and his encounters with the indigenous tribes of Tusken Raiders, explaining why they flee at the merest sight of him in A New Hope.
The bare bones of the novel are cinematic enough to form the basis of a standalone film: the ideal situation would be a story with a small scale and stakes, a gritty Western focused on Kenobi’s initial trials in the desert, his wrestling with regret and doubt over his failure to keep Anakin from falling to the dark side and his need for re-assurance from his old master. There’d be no destructive finale, no planet-swatting superweapons or graceful lightsabre duels, but a climax that finally grounds Kenobi and snatches him away from his defeated state, that teaches him to focus on “the here and now”, as Qui-Gon taught him all those years ago. Through a daring rescue of a family of moisture farmers from the vicious Tuskens, he’ll learn that while he can’t save the galaxy, he can still protect the innocent even on the fringes of civilisation.
As much as we’d all like to see that film in the style of The Revenant or Logan, compromises will probably be made so as not to alienate the saga’s key family audience, and the choice of Stephen Daldry (more on that later) points to a safer approach that echoes the hiring of Ron Howard to pick up the (still untitled!) Han Solo movie. Obi-Wan might interact with fellow denizens of the Dune Sea, or learn to appreciate the customs of what he may once have branded “Pathetic life-forms”, as he did with the hapless Jar Jar Binks. Any action sequences will undoubtedly be ramped up, perhaps featuring a fleet of speeder bike-riding swoop gangs hoping to kill the “Wizard of the Desert” for themselves (think Fury Road with blasters). The final battle could still be between Obi-Wan and the Tuskens, but those in need of saving are Owen and Beru Lars and their young charge, Luke Skywalker. Though Kenobi will save the day, Owen will brand him dangerous to them and demand he stays away, cementing his grouchy appraisal of the hermit in A New Hope as “A crazy old man”.
That still sounds fairly amiable, but, like a Sarlacc’s tentacles writhing beneath the dunes, we’ve got a few concerns. If The Force Awakens and Rogue One are any indication, Lucasfilm are leaning heavily on the marketable nostalgia factor of “I recognise that!”, filling both films with characters, locations and plot machinations either already seen in previous films or heavily suggestive of those elements. How could this possibly manifest in the Obi-Wan spin-off? If the story does indeed take place on Tatooine during the reign of the Empire, you can bet your mint-on-card Greedo that we’ll be treated to heavy doses of Stormtroopers, cameos by every Cantina alien under the twin suns and vague, wink-to-the-audience references to Darth Vader or the construction of the Death Star.
The choice of Stephen Daldry, a director with Oscar acclaim and experience adapting pre-existing material for the screen means he’s certainly capable, if a little uninspiring. What we’d give for the studio to take a chance on a younger, fresher talent, maybe even someone who grew up watching the prequels as opposed to the string of original trilogy purists (J.J. Abrams, Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson, Ron Howard, Lord & Miller), who’ve populated the roster thus far. As mentioned previously, Daldry is still in ‘early talks’, so it’s entirely possible that Disney/Lucasfilm will ultimately hire a pluckier helmsman. We’d still like them to hire the franchise’s first female director, but, given comments made by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, that seems sadly unlikely.
We’re going to finish up on the biggest question of all: will Ewan McGregor dust off the robe? His vocal enthusiasm for returning to the role (brought back into the spotlight by his small voice cameo during Rey’s vision in The Force Awakens) gives us every indication he’d reprise it in a heartbeat, but for Disney/Lucasfilm, it’s still a conflict between two factors: does general fan appreciation of McGregor’s turn as Obi-Wan outweigh the perceived (and hugely exaggerated) hatred of the trilogy in which he starred? We’re betting heavily on the affirmative, but, until any official announcement is made, it’s all ripe for speculation. For, as Yoda says, “Always in motion is the future”.