The details of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Star Wars limited series starring Ewan McGregor on Disney+ this weekend, is currently under more wraps than a Tusken Raider. Sure, you can make a good Gaffi-stick stab at guessing what questions its story will answer, and we have, but good luck getting the showrunners to confirm a single detail on the record.
Still, here’s one thing Obi-Wan Kenobi director Deborah Chow can tell us: what the show isn’t. For one thing, it isn’t Kenobi.
Chow used the 2013 novel Kenobi by author John Jackson Miller, which covers the beginning of the exiled Jedi’s life, as part of her preparation for directing the series. But while the book version of Obi-Wan’s story was useful in establishing the “tone” of the show, none of its plot points made it into the on-screen version.
“I was coming out of The Mandalorian, which is obviously set in a very different time in the galaxy,” Chow says. “I did a pretty deep dive, and looked at a lot of stuff in the Expanded Universe [the name for all the Star Wars books and comics that were taken out of the series’ official canon in 2014 and rebranded as “Legends”]. I read Kenobi and thought [Miller] did a lovely job … I was trying to get a sense of what this feels like for this character at that point in his life.”
That said, “there was nothing that became specific to the actual series,” Chow admits. “There was more influence on tone than story.”
Ben there, done that
Kenobi finds Obi-Wan trying to piece together his new life during his first year on Tatooine. Miller described it as a similar story to the famous western movie Shane: “the mysterious stranger who rides into town with a past nobody knows,” he told Mashable in 2013. “There are no space battles, no lightsaber battles with Sith Lords … [Obi-Wan] would think it a dereliction of his duty to go running off around the galaxy. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s kind of serving a prison sentence. He has to atone.”
Contrast that with Obi-Wan Kenobi. One thing we do know about the show is that it does feature Obi-Wan running off around the galaxy, and a lightsaber battle with one Sith lord in particular: Darth Vader. We’re left to presume that Kenobi was an influence on the tone of the Tatooine scenes, at least — and that Obi-Wan’s discovery that Darth Vader survived their duel in Revenge of the Sith is what sends him off-planet, perhaps in search of a more direct kind of atonement.
The book offered one reason for why Obi-Wan adopted the somewhat useless alias “Ben Kenobi”. He did it by accident, revealing his last name to a local woman he rescued. Grasping for a first name, he chose “Ben” because, Miller said, it was the name of a geographic feature on Tatooine. So Obi-Wan will offer a different naming story entirely; perhaps the nickname was bestowed by Luke’s Uncle Ben, with whom Obi-Wan appears to have a contentious relationship in the trailers.
What you need to watch
Meanwhile, casual fans can rest easy. Obi-Wan Kenobi will not contain confusing references to more obscure parts of the Jedi knight’s on-screen story, such as his appearances in the animated series Clone Wars and Rebels.
“Obviously it will be useful to have seen the prequels,” Chow says, referring to Episodes I through III, which take place ten years before Obi-Wan Kenobi begins. But there was an effort to not get too “into the weeds” of the wider story, she says — so if you can recall the basics of those movies, especially the parts which cover the downfall of Anakin Skywalker and his transition into Darth Vader, you’re good.
“One of the things [writer] Joby [Harold] and I would check is, does this still work if you take the Star Wars out of it? Does it still work on a human level? We’d always talk about Joby’s mom — is she going to get it? You know, she doesn’t remember everything … well, we hope she remembers who Anakin is.”
The last Lucasfilm offering on Disney+, Book of Boba Fett, was widely criticized for a story that zig-zagged away from its main focus, seeming at times like an extra season of The Mandalorian. But Chow assures us that Obi-Wan Kenobi will feel like a much more coherent tale.
“We absolutely approached this as one big story,” Chow says — which makes sense, given that the show was originally a spin-off movie. The transition to Disney+ limited series took place before she joined the project; still, Chow’s involvement appears to have made it more of a character-driven tale, rather than fan service for hardcore Star Wars nerds.
“If it added to the fabric of the world or if it felt like it was organic, certainly we would” include answers to questions that fans have been wondering about, Chow says. “But we tried never to do it if there wasn’t a purpose to the story.”
We’re about to find out if the Force was with her in that effort. Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres on Disney+ on May 27.