I am currently enjoying some vacation, so I’ve been watching stuff on TV. There have been a couple of reasonably hype-laden series on this summer, so I have checked them out. Kenobi has been interesting, and I have some thoughts on it this week. Next week I’ll get into Stranger Things. (Originally I was going to do them both in one entry, but that’d be a long ‘un.) Spoilers ahoy, of course.
As I said, Kenobi has been interesting; it is another beautifully made and very well acted piece of Star Wars entertainment. I liked the new villain, and a character who feels so let down by the Jedi that she becomes a Jedi hunter packs some punch. In fact, it’s really the new characters that have most of the appeal of this show.
Despite my usual antipathy for ‘the spunky kid’ characters, Tiny Incorrigible Leia is a delight and to me, what we’re seeing with her is far more interesting than a bunch of Kenobi/Vader stuff that can’t possibly go anywhere. Leia finding her cause, though, and becoming who she’s going to be: that’s something. At the same time, though, that gets to the root of Kenobi’s biggest flaw.
The biggest problem with it is that as a story being wedged in between some other stories whose outcome we know, it’s harder than usual to suspend our expectations and buy into the drama the show is selling. More than usual, we know Leia isn’t going to die. We know Obi-Wan isn’t going to get killed, and we know that Luke Skywalker will remain a sulky kid on his uncle’s farm and not be put up against the wall by stormtroopers or hauled off to an Imperial gulag. The final episode has this huge swirling lightsaber duel/Force battle between Kenobi and Vader and despite the action and the visuals it is absolutely DOA because there are no stakes. We know neither character can have any lasting consequences, so on some level it feels like wasting time, time that could have gone to a story they could actually tell.*
Even the ‘climax’ of Reva arriving on the Skywalker ranch with a heart full of pain doesn’t really work because we know where we have to get to: Owen and Beru looking after Luke in that same place, Obi-Wan off in the desert. It’s somewhat like watching a hockey or baseball game where you already know the final score. Things that happen along the way to that destination can still be interesting, but ultimately you know it ends up Habs 3, Bruins 2.
So overall I had fun watching Kenobi, but didn’t feel like it had a lot of impact, until this one line from late in that last episode. Obi-Wan has come to see Leia on Alderaan, back safe with her family, and he says: ‘I fear for her future. The Empire grows stronger, and bolder.’ They couldn’t have known it when they wrote that scene, but man there could scarcely have been a more appropriate sentiment for late June/early July of 2022, when we can so clearly see forces at work, growing stronger and bolder, that make it hard not to fear for the future.
I was saying to a friend on Twitter today that I don’t think I had realized, growing up, how much I internalized the idea of progress, that society was improving, things were getting consistently better, and that such problems that weren’t currently fixed would get fixed later. I watched (without really understanding what was going on, at the time) the Morgentaler cases in Canada, I have seen gay couples win the right to marry, during the time I have taught there, the college where I work has added gender-neutral bathrooms. Lots has changed – not enough, but lots – and I had never really questioned the assumption that society would continue, at whatever rate, to move in that direction.
The last few years, and the last months in particular, have upended that, and it hurts. In Star Wars terms, I think I grew up assuming I was living at the end of Return of the Jedi, but perhaps we’re really in that awkward space where Disney is still trying to make more content: after the prequels, but before A New Hope.
It’s sobering to think that way, but I think it’s important to look at where we are, assess it honestly, and confront it. There are people in society who want to push things backwards, take away things that were fought for and hard-won. Womens’ rights. LGBTQ rights. Progress towards racial justice and religious freedom. It’s tempting to go live in the desert, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, but unfortunately I don’t think that’s what the moment requires.
There’s another nice moment from that last episode, with another of those new characters, where Kenobi tells insurgent leader Roken not to give up and stop what he’s doing. ‘I’m just getting started,’ Roken replies.
That’s where we need to be, too. Our fight is just getting started.