The Return of Kenobi Review, Part I

This article contains spoilers for the first episode of the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The anticipation for this series has been electric. The excitement has grown exponentially as the weekend of the premiere has finally arrived. The recent Vanity Fair article features four of the main characters from upcoming Star Wars projects to whet our appetite for all the exciting projects ahead. Leading up to the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim California, there have been numerous video clips of brief commentary on what a historic time it is for Star Wars. Star Wars Celebration was perfectly scheduled the same weekend as the Obi-Wan Kenobi series premiere. Fans have worked themselves into a frenzied fervor over Kenobi excited to see Obi-Wan once again.

The fervor is contagious. Hayden Christensen's simple line of "This is where the fun begins" awoke twelve-year-old me’s nostalgia for Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and the beginning of the Prequels. Boy, nostalgia is one heck of a drug. 

I was curious as to how they were going to approach Kenobi in terms of the story. The Prequels, the Original Trilogy, and the Sequels all have their unique tone as they tell the ongoing dramatic story of the Skywalkers. Where was Kenobi going to fit in bridging the gap in tone between the Prequels and the Original Trilogy? 

Prior to the episode, there was a four-minute recap of what had transpired in the prequels. No other live-action Star Wars series has done this. This was a unique choice because we all know why we are here. We don’t need this reminder. It left me wondering if this exposition was going to be a continuous theme throughout Kenobi’s story. 

Meet the Inquisitors. They are high-ranking members of the Empire under the command of Darth Vader tasked with hunting any remaining Jedi in the galaxy and eliminating any potential threats to the Empire. When the Inquisitors find you, you have two choices: submit or die. 

The initial scene of their introduction seemed to over-explain this. The storytellers want us to know exactly who they are without any creative interpretation from us. The scene reminded me of the exchanges between Anakin and Obi-Wan in the Prequels: over-explaining, talking too much for the audience's sake, quick quips, and scoldingly reproaching a comrade for their differing tactical approach to a situation. It ends up leaving the scene with an apparent stalemate of opinions with lingering dissent under the surface of the interpersonal dynamics.

Kenobi's storytelling tone leans heavily into Prequel territory. Now that we know where we are on the spectrum, and what kind of Star Wars fans they are pandering to, let’s settle in for the ride.

Man... It is good to see Ewan McGregor again as Obi-Wan, or his new alias, Ben. Ten years have passed since the events of Episode III, and Obi-Wan still bears the weight of the war that was lost. He is depressed and seems to be content with a stagnant quiet life in hiding. However, he suffers from nightmares from losing his friend, his brother, Anakin.

Obi-Wan is still seeking guidance from Qui-Gon Jinn from beyond the grave. Will we get to see the legendary Jedi Master in his spectral form? It seems he has not yet mastered the technique to communicate with Qui-Gon, but maybe it’s because he is lacking faith in the Force. Obi-Wan is haunted by his past mistakes.

Watchfully keeping an eye from afar on Luke growing up a farm boy in the Tatooine desert, we get to see a softer side of Obi-Wan as he purchases a T-16 Skyhopper toy from a Jawa as a present for the boy.
This is the same ship Luke plays with when he meets C-3PO and R2-D2 in Episode IV: A New Hope. He wants to subtly let Luke know there's more to life than the Lars family farm. There’s a whole galaxy out there and he wants to help the boy aspire to more.

Enter Owen Lars. Owen confronts Obi-Wan about the gift. Obi-Wan’s presence in Luke’s life is not welcomed, even from a distance. Joel Edgerton does a phenomenal job at capturing the original actor Phill Brown's presence, perfectly mimicking his speech patterns, inflections, stance, and facial expressions. Joel even nails yelling for Luke around the farm. Edgerton must have watched those scenes with Uncle Owen in A New Hope over and over to achieve this performance.

I wasn't sure where the story was going to lead us, but I was not expecting to revisit a planet we briefly got to see in Episode III. Alderaan with her majestic mountainous peaks, pristine seas, and lush greenery, she is a sleek sophisticated utopia of peace. Alderaan is beautiful and the weight of her destruction seems to take on a heavier meaning even after all of these years being immersed in the Star Wars universe.

Little Leia steals the show. Her wardrobe is perfect for a young princess, (the booties!) with her biological mother's fiery sense of justice and being wise beyond her years we see a glimpse of the woman she will grow up to be. She's not the quintessential princess yet, but she is learning. There were tender moments between her and her adoptive parents. I loved seeing Little Leia and Bail together. It's clear the Organas view Leia as their own.

Later in the episode, the princess gets kidnapped. The kidnappers, the leader being none other than the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, are hired by one of the Inquisitors: Reva, the Third Sister. Reva is focused on bringing Obi-Wan in.

Her personal vendetta against Kenobi has not been expounded upon or explained yet. Somehow she knows kidnapping the princess will lure Kenobi out of hiding. That's a pretty large assumption about someone whose trail has gone cold over ten years ago.

Bail Organa reached out to Obi-Wan for help. He doesn't want to trust Leia's safety to anyone else and does not want the news to go public. The Star Wars universe sure does love its secrets. Bail has to resort to paying Obi-Wan a visit in person to move him to action. 

Obi-Wan is hesitant and reluctant to take on this mission because he realizes his limitations and has started to doubt his abilities to succeed. Seeing Obi-Wan reluctant to take on a difficult mission was hard. What had happened in the Clone Wars had definitely changed him, and all these years later he is crippled by the fear of failing once again.

Obi-Wan's hesitation to get involved reminded me of Luke's reservation of jumping into the fight once again in the Sequels. Would it be so far-fetched that someone would want to live out the rest of their life quietly in hiding after so much betrayal and defeat? 

Obi-Wan journeys out to the desert to a seemingly random location and exhumes a box that contains his lightsaber and Anakin's. It's a heavy moment for him, but he takes up his saber once again.

Dressed in the brown robes similar to a Jedi, with the lightsaber on his belt, and after a significant hesitation, he boards a shuttle off-world leaving the sands of Tatooine behind.

I have a major gripe with how two significant scenes were filmed within Part I. The initial scene shows a group of younglings escaping the Jedi Temple during Order 66. The shaky-cam effect was used during this first scene and its unstable camera work rivaled Cloverfield.

Going for a documentary-style, realistic portrayal of Star Wars history felt… off. Any footage we've seen of Order 66 was not filmed in this style before. This technique can be used to help with immersion, but it took me out of the scene because I was trying to not get nauseous.

The second scene was where a Jedi tried to confront Obi-Wan in the desert. The scene was filmed in a way that was reminiscent of when R2-D2 got jumped by the Jawas in A New Hope. The slanted peering through the rocks and hiding techniques remained in effect during parts of the scene that should have been static. Not a fan of the cinematography choice of these scenes and I hope they don't resort back to it frequently. 
Kenobi does heavy fan service for those who grew up on the Prequels, yet sprinkles many Original Trilogy references to try to bridge the timelines. I am intrigued about where Obi-Wan’s story will lead us and, I will admit, I was not expecting his fate to be intertwined with Leia's during his exile. What were some of your favorite or least favorite moments from Part I?

SPOILERS and YOU: A Guide to "Twists"

Vader is Luke’s bad guy. Rosebud was the name of a 2-hour long question. From the beginning, Bruce Willis was in the movie the WHOLE time. 

We live in a time of SPOILERS everywhere. One of the big questions about it, if you haven’t heard, is "Does knowing the twist of a movie or video game actually ruin the whole story for you? Or was the whole thing only hanging on the twist alone, making the story weak by comparison.”  Well, much like buttholes, everyone has an opinion. And I have a butthole because I’m one of those "everyones." So, let’s explore my… "opinion" in this article, which I’m certain no one asked for.

Here’s a short story for you to set up the discussion:

A woman walks into a room with a glass of wine, sits next to her husband, and says, “I love you so much. I just want you to know that I couldn’t make it without you.” The husband says, “Is that you talking, or the wine?” The woman says, “Neither. It's me talking to the wine.” (pause for laughter)

This is an example of subverting expectations, otherwise called "the twist." This twist is what can be "spoiled" for an audience if they know about it before experiencing it. 

Let's science this bitch.

Expectation subversion a commonly-used tool in telling jokes. You set up the story and tell it in a way that forces the audience to logically think of how it's going to end. By the end of it, you have presented a "twist," forcing the audience to rethink the story and see it in a new way with new information. In joke-telling, you have to make this new information work without the need to think too long about it. It needs to hit quickly, register fast, and invite the audience to laugh at the jab. The audience laughs not because they were tricked but because they feel rewarded for deciphering the information correctly. 

And that's the word I want you to focus on when it comes to the twist: the REWARD

Ok, lesson over. 

Now my big question: Is giving key information about a story actually spoiling that rewarding experience?

Let’s take that concept of reward and try to contextualize it to a shared experience. Given the subject matter, I believe many people familiar with this website and its contents have completed a little unknown Indie video game called Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If not, get the hell off the internet and go play this masterpiece of a game and have your life changed forever. NOW! If you prefer to trudge on, please be forewarned: MAJOR ACTUAL SPOILERS AHEAD! Let's do this.

So after Nathan Drake dies… ok, just kidding (always wanted to do that). 

Zoran Lazarević: A mug only a mother can love... after a whole bottle.

The entirety of Uncharted 2 tells you the story of Nathan Drake and company trying to blah blah blah. If you made it to this part, you know the story. The point is that the focus of the story always sustained itself to one primary objective: finding the Cintamani stone. The only character that actually knew what was going on was the antagonist, Zoran Lazarebitch (great joke, and I don’t know how to do the accented c on my keyboard). When you finally realize what all the cryptic information about the stone actually meant and what it did, it was a proverbial "kick to the nuts."

I’ll never forget what I felt when Drake said, "You gotta be shittin' me," after realizing the stone's true purpose. When he knew something was up, I knew something was up. When he received the new info, I figured it out with him. Granted, he was quicker than me to grasp the concept, and then he told me, but I was there for the ride every step of the way. WE earned this together. And everything in my soul felt that reward. This is subversion done correctly.

So, for Uncharted 2, is knowing this key information spoiling the rewarding experience?

Well... EVERYTHING about the information gained in your first playthrough affects how you experience the story on the second playthrough. Noticing the twist being foreshadowed throughout the game and putting the information together actually AMPLIFIES the reward felt each time you play it. That’s why so many people play the game multiple times a year even to this day.

That's why I'd refer to this as "good" subversion.

Now for an example of bad subversion (dun dun duuuuuun). For this one, I'm going to exploit my headache-inducing memory at the expense of making my article work: Game of Thrones' series ending. (Sorry, Michelle!) Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Honestly, this would have been an improvement.

Unlike Uncharted 2, the Game of Thrones series is all over the place. There are characters making decisions on things everywhere for different reasons all the time. When they eventually act on those decisions, their actions are arbitrary at best. If you think about their actions for more than half a nanosecond, you'll notice toward the end of the series that all the characters started acting in different ways (like complete dumbasses) than we recognize because they needed to get to the predetermined (bad) ending the show-runners created. The result was that every character's decision was forced to trigger that "twist effect.

When the subversion itself is done well, as in Uncharted 2, the media in question gets noticed and elevated to artistic ranks. It’s no wonder why everyone is trying to capitalize on this "expectation subversion" mechanic. But when you continue to do the "expectations" part for years and then "subvert" only in the final minutes, it has an opposite effect on the people taking in the information: they feel no reward and, instead, feel cheated.

So how does knowing Game of Thrones' key information affecting that rewarding experience?

The setups were cheap thrills that kept me watching through the end of the series but then left me feeling punished for retaining all that info by the end, making me a sad, sad boy. Many current shows are actually guilty of this same tactic. And that’s by design. Not the sucking part, but trying to keep people guessing and then forcing the twist at the end. Bad subversion.

By the way, if you're loving this topic, dive into it more in this video from Overly Sarcastic Productions, which inspired my article: Trope Talk: Plot Twists.

So, knowing the twist in a story will absolutely change the experience. That said, it can either hurt or enhance your experience. If I spoiled the punch line of the joke at the beginning for you, it wouldn't have had the same impact. It would have weakened your experience and cheated you out of a laugh. Knowing the end of Uncharted 2 won't lessen the impact of such an incredible story because you need the whole story for the impact to matter. In contrast, knowing the end to Game of Thrones does spoil the ending because you know that the cheap thrills they give you aren't leading to a rewarding payoff.

People will experience things differently, that much is known. People also want to have control over how they consume those experiences. When someone changes that organic experience for someone else by forcing information on them about a story, it can rob them of the intended emotions created by the storyteller. Everyone has the right to choose what information they want going into a story, and that’s always fine. But please keep in mind not everyone thinks like you.

As a writer, I create stories that I hope will "wow" the audience. I want the reader to enjoy the journey, and I hope they'll want to return to that journey and experience a new kind of joy each time. Even if knowing the big "twist" doesn’t ruin their reward, it would deny them that FULL experience I initially intended. It robs them of that gut punch from the reveal, something that storytellers usually work very diligently to create. So, to all the people that get a rise out of spoiling things for others, I say this:  

Don't be asshats… um... please

You made it to the end! This is for those of you that didn’t TLDR.

 

What stories have you had spoiled for you? Or what are some great, or terrible, twists that you'd like to praise or vent about? Let's chat in the comments, but let’s try to keep things spoiler-free. (You know, like I didn’t.)