Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Freedom of Forgiveness (A Series Review of Obi Wan Kenobi)

Jul 8, 2022

Article ID: JAR2207CB | By: Cole Burgett

Obi Won Kenobi

Executive Producers: Deborah Chow, Ewan McGregor, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan, Joby Harold

Disney+ Streaming Service (May-June, 2022)

(Rated TV-14)

**Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi.**

 


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Let me begin by deflating the balloon. The record-breaking Obi-Wan Kenobi series streaming on Disney+ is an overhyped snooze fest that barrels ahead when it should linger and lingers when it should barrel ahead.1 There are strokes of brilliance contained within what was clearly, at one point, the core storyline, even if some of those scenes we have already witnessed played out in other Star Wars media. But there are also a lot of ham-fisted and downright bizarre storytelling decisions that feel tacked onto the central narrative, and perhaps no other Star Wars artifact since The Force Awakens (2015) has felt so worked and reworked and filtered through the hands of too many writers and executives than this one. This should have been a two-hour movie or three-hour miniseries, at most. The story would have been tighter, the characters more consistent, and we would likely never have had to watch Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) and Aunt Beru (Bonnie Piesse) go toe-to-toe with a dark Jedi who had all the personality of a wet paper bag.

But all things being what they are, this six-episode miniseries is what Disney flaunted and delivered. And Christians who happen to be Star Wars fans (and manage to stay awake through the whole affair) might find in the core emotional story beats a worthwhile meditation on the nature of guilt and forgiveness.

From General to Hermit. Ten years after fleeing into exile at the end of Revenge of the Sith (2005), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) lives a quiet and lonely existence on the backwater planet of Tatooine under the simple moniker of “Ben.” When he isn’t hiding out in his cave or doing just enough to scrape by, he keeps tabs on young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely) and spends some time talking to the wind in hopes of hearing a response from his late master, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). The days of the Jedi are over and Imperial agents are out in full force; these are the dark times.

Producer Michelle Rejwan describes the beginning of the series as “a pretty traumatic moment” and that audiences find Kenobi “in a place where he’s quite lost.”2 He is a shell of his former self, a lonely and aging man haunted by memories and a guilty conscience. He knows nothing of Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen and James Earl Jones) and holds himself responsible for the death of his former Padawan and friend, Anakin Skywalker. But a plot from an Imperial Inquisitor — basically a Jedi hunter — named Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram) that involves the kidnapping of Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) draws Kenobi out of hiding and puts him on a yet another collision course with Vader.

Look, Star Wars has always been full of coincidental storytelling, and it’s all been easily explained as “the will of the Force.” But this show stretches that notion to its breaking point. Reva just happens to deduce that Kenobi was friends with Bail Organa (doesn’t Vader already know that?) and gambled that kidnapping Organa’s daughter would draw Kenobi out of hiding (shouldn’t Vader have done that?) and hatches this plan while chasing another Jedi — played by Benny Safdie, no less — who just so happens to end up on the same planet Kenobi is on. And this is all made the more muddied by the fact that Reva is not actually hunting Kenobi but is trying to prove herself to Vader to earn his attention so she could then kill him out of revenge? I mean, the sheer amount of twisting character motivations in a show that paces itself so leisurely is downright comical — but I digress.

Suffice to say, Kenobi is forced to confront not only his own demons over the course of the show’s six episodes, but also the single biggest source of unresolved emotional conflict in the haunting figure of Darth Vader — who truly is cinema’s greatest villain.

The Rematch of the Century? Back in 2020, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy promised that Obi-Wan Kenobi would deliver the “rematch of the century” when the titular hero and Vader come to blows once more.3 Star Wars prequel enthusiasts rejoice because this show most certainly did not deliver on that promise — the fervent and impassioned tussle between the former friends at the climax of Revenge of the Sith remains the defining battle between the two. And there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, a whole new cinematic language of lightsaber combat has been invented for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Gone is long-standing prequel stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, and along with him the bombastic, lightning-quick whirls and twirls that defined Obi-Wan and Anakin’s first major fight. Ever since The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm under Disney has slowly been reducing the once frighteningly powerful lightsaber (remember the first time Ben Kenobi breaks out his weapon in the original film and separates Ponda Baba from his right arm?) to a glorified sword. Obi-Wan Kenobi continues this tradition, with characters being stabbed not once, but twice by a lightsaber and quite literally walking it off. As such, the new choreography accommodates this, leading to what, on paper, probably looked like a powerful Vader moment wherein he does not even draw his blade to battle another lightsaber wielder, but ends up looking like a cringeworthy dance routine complete with stomps and shoulder dips.

Second, and more important, the battle between Kenobi and Vader does not live up to the hype surrounding it because, it turns out, that level of conflict is simply not where the show’s heart lies. The best moments of Obi-Wan Kenobi are the quiet moments, the scenes in which this haunted old Jedi wrestles with his doubts about the power of goodness to prevail over evil or struggles to finally let go of the guilt that has defined his life for the past decade. The final battle in the miniseries does not have anywhere near the stakes of Revenge of the Sith, because the truth is there’s no conflict between them at all — the conflict lies singularly within Obi-Wan. And that is why, even though Kenobi bests Vader yet again, he simply chooses to walk away in the end.

The Freedom of Forgiveness. In one of the more interesting takes on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Travis Langley, a professor of psychology, argues that the “traumatic moment” in which viewers find the titular character is one in which Kenobi suffers from “major depressive disorder.” He characterizes this as stemming primarily from a kind of survivor’s guilt, with Kenobi blaming himself not only for the death of Anakin, but also for failing to prevent the rise of the Empire and for being one of the few Jedi to escape the Purge.4

Langley’s comments highlight the more mature thematic elements present in the miniseries, elements that contribute to the show’s uneven tone. Original creator George Lucas has famously stated and reiterated that Star Wars was meant to appeal to twelve-year-olds, a perspective that even the sequel trilogy largely managed to maintain.5 But with Obi-Wan Kenobi, audiences are given what might be considered the first truly “adult” onscreen Star Wars series, and the final product leaves one wishing that the creators had simply focused on creating a show as mature as the story it seemingly wants to tell.

And that story is undoubtedly worthwhile. It takes up only about two or three hours of what is actually shown and seems to have been the storyline of the screenplay that was originally written by Stuart Beattie, according to an interview Beattie gave to The Direct, before that script was reworked and expanded into a series.6 That story charts Obi-Wan’s internal struggle and emotional journey from guilt-riddled hermit to wizened elder, closing the circle on this character’s history by bringing McGregor’s version of the character more into line with the one originally portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness back in 1977. This emotional journey is charted over the course of the miniseries, to be sure, but it is made unfocused by all the nonsense tacked on to stretch this story into six-episodes when a shorter film or miniseries would have sufficed.

In the original film, Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) that his Jedi father was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader. In terms of continuity, it always seemed that Kenobi was being slightly coy here, as the truth is much more complicated. After learning that Vader is actually his father, Luke confronts Kenobi’s ghost in Return of the Jedi (1983), and Kenobi’s response is, “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”7 What Obi-Wan Kenobi does extremely well is lend background to why Kenobi frames the story of Anakin Skywalker in this way to Anakin’s son. By the time the credits roll on the sixth and final episode, Kenobi’s words are less demure and far more sincere.

The most stirring moment in the miniseries (despite being a retread of the confrontation between Vader and Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Rebels 8) finds Kenobi having bested Vader for a second time and apologizing for failing him, only for Vader to find something like demonic satisfaction in gloating that it was Vader who murdered Anakin Skywalker, not Kenobi.9 It is an undeniably powerful moment, with Vader’s lidless, searing eye peering out from beneath his cracked masked, and his voice wavering between Christensen and Jones. Yet, in an ironic twist, his words inadvertently free Kenobi of the guilt he has shouldered for a decade. Finally able to forgive himself, Kenobi simply turns and walks away, leaving Vader to his emotional cannibalism — this time, the fight is over, and there is nothing left to say. How much more interesting might this series have been if this caliber of storytelling were prioritized over endless kidnappings and rescues and near escapes.

Facing the Giant. In a horrendous misapplication of the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, we Christians are often told that we are supposed to “face our giants.” Rarely is there any talk of David being God’s anointed, chosen in that specific moment for a specific task at a specific time in Israel’s history, ultimately paving the way for the true hero of the story; again, I digress.10 But the point of that interpretation is usually that Christians should face and defeat the “giants” of their life — but of course there is nothing specific or concrete here, since everybody’s “giant” is different. It could be alcohol for one, drug addiction for another, sex addiction for someone else, on and on it goes until the hermeneutic breaks down.

Yet I could not help but think of David and Goliath and this particular interpretation when watching Kenobi confront Vader in this miniseries, nor could I help wondering how some Christians might crinkle their brows in confusion as Kenobi walks away from Vader, refusing to strike him down for good. After all, isn’t the point of every heroic story that good vanquishes evil? Hence one of the most mature narrative decisions in Star Wars, similar to Rian Johnson’s development of Luke Skywalker’s character in The Last Jedi (2017).

Here is what the kids won’t be able to grasp: sometimes it is enough to walk away with what little humanity has been salvaged and remains intact. Obi-Wan has an arguably moral duty to every lifeform in the galaxy to finally kill this Dark Lord of the Sith whom he has beaten once again, but in that critical moment, the old Jedi can finally face himself and leave his trauma on that desolate moon. A guilt he has carried with him for ten years is shed, and to destroy Vader in that moment is to throw away the internal peace he has finally found.

If we’re keeping with the ridiculous metaphor, Kenobi’s response to facing his “giant” is to walk away, which is the advice Christians should more readily hand out to many who are caught in the throes of sin. You do not stand and try to fight personal sexual immorality, for example — even the apostle Paul understood that when he implored the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality” because he comprehended that some battles you just do not win, and the fight itself will compromise you — “Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18 NASB).

Sometimes, Christians, the correct response to sin and evil is to run from it. To leave it and its broken, sick visage alone and raging in the darkness, and to walk back into the light with what dignity and hope you have left. This is exactly what Kenobi does, mourning the death of Anakin Skywalker, but finding comfort in the realization that hope springs eternal in the faces of Luke and Leia, the Skywalker children — one of whom Vader had right under his nose and never even realized it.

In the original film, Kenobi and Vader meet one final time. Vader, empowered by his cybernetics, remains every bit the formidable opponent. Kenobi, on the other hand, is older and still very much human. This time, physical prowess will not save him. “You can’t win, Darth,” Kenobi warns his former apprentice. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”11 In his final moments, Kenobi sees Luke, together with Leia, making their escape. And he gives Vader the smallest of smiles as the villain prepares to deliver the death blow. That smile, delivered with sly, quiet confidence by Guinness, signifying a coolness in the face of certain death, is perhaps the character’s most iconic moment — a moment earned by the best narrative beats of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

By story’s end, Kenobi has gone from a man shattered by grief and guilt to a man defined singularly by hope in a future that he himself is destined to never see — at least, not while among the living. He has gone through the hard work of forgiving himself, of allowing himself to walk away from his greatest failure without trying to undo that mistake, a posture that had previously stunted him psychologically and kept him emotionally crippled. This position should sound quite familiar to Christians, who recognize that, by faith, they have divine permission to experience something similar, as the apostle Paul reminded the Judaizers in the church at Rome: “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1–2 NASB). However unfortunate that this strong and mature narrative was muddled by a plethora of added story beats amounting to very little in the way of consequence, Kenobi’s tale is nevertheless one worth considering. —Cole Burgett

Cole Burgett is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. He teaches classes in theology and Bible exposition and writes extensively about theology and popular culture.

Notes: ​

  1. Lauren Milici, “Obi-Wan Kenobi Breaks Disney Plus Streaming Record,” GamesRadar+, May 31, 2022, https://www.gamesradar.com/obi-wan-kenobi-breaks-disney-plus-streaming-record/.
  2. Michelle Rejwan, quoted in Richard Edwards, “Back Once Again for the Renegade Master,” SFX Magazine, no. 352 (April 2022), 54.
  3. Jack Shepherd, “Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi Will ‘Rematch’ in the Disney Plus Series,” GamesRadar+, December 11, 2020, https://www.gamesradar.com/darth-vader-and-obi-wan-kenobi-will-rematch-in-the-disney-plus-series/.
  4. Travis Langley, “Obi-Wan Kenobi Fights the Phantom Depression,” Psychology Today, June 25, 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/202206/obi-wan-kenobi-fights-the-phantom-depression.
  5. Julie Alexander, “George Lucas Reiterates Star Wars Is for ’12-Year-Olds,’ Calls Out ‘Mean’ Critics,” Polygon, April 13, 2017, https://www.polygon.com/2017/4/13/15288998/george-lucas-star-wars-celebration.
  6. Nathan Johnson, “Obi-Wan Kenobi Movie Trilogy Was Planned Before Disney+,” The Direct, June 27, 2022, https://thedirect.com/article/obi-wan-kenobi-movie-trilogy-before-disney-exclusive.
  7. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, directed by Richard Marquand, screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas (San Francisco: Lucasfilm Ltd., 1983, 2011), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086190/.
  8. See the end of season two of Star Wars: Rebels (2014–2018).
  9. Obi Wan Kenobi, “Part VI,” directed by Deborah Chow (Disney+, aired June 22, 2022).
  10. Greg Gilbert, “David and Goliath Is about More Than Having Courage,” Crossway, September, 28, 2018, https://www.crossway.org/articles/david-and-goliath-is-about-more-than-having-courage/.
  11. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, written and directed by George Lucas (San Francisco: Lucasfilm, Ltd., 1977, 2011), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/.
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