‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’: Will the Star Wars spin-off prove that ‘the Force’ is still strong?
Plus, a rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
agency Sunday 29 May 2022 By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
‘I may accept, if they come up with the proper money. Science fiction – which gives me pause – but it is to be directed by Paul [sic] Lucas who did American Graffiti which makes me feel I should. Big part. Fairy-tale rubbish but could be interesting perhaps.’
So wrote Sir Alec Guinness in his diary in 1975, as he mulled over the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. Eventually Guinness did sign up for the film – and, in so doing, was arguably responsible for elevating a relatively minor sci-fi flick into the basis of a global multi-billion-dollar franchise that is still churning out products to this day. As one of the great and most revered actors of his day, he lent gravitas and authority to Lucas’s crazy project – and piqued the interest of the press and public even before the movie had begun shooting.
Kenobi was the diffident magus of the first film, an exiled Jedi master on the desert planet of Tatooine, overseeing the early training of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and steering him towards the rebel alliance that would take on the wicked Emperor and Darth Vader, before being killed off in a lightsaber duel with Vader barely halfway through the story.
Though this denied Guinness screen time, it elevated his significance in the saga (‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine’). Now an ethereal presence in ‘the Force’, Guinness’s Kenobi returned occasionally as a spectral figure with a distinctive Ready Brek glow to dispense wisdom to Luke. This is Kenobi’s role throughout the saga – its ever-reliable sage.
When Lucas returned with his still-controversial prequel trilogy in 1999, the role passed to Ewan McGregor, a younger Kenobi who trained the Jedi prodigy Anakin (Hayden Christensen) – but could not prevent him from being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force and becoming a Sith Lord. When I interviewed Lucas at the Dorchester in 2005, he was adamant that the third instalment of this backstory – Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith – would be, emphatically, the end of the saga: ‘That story will never appear on the screen again. It’s finished. It’s complete.’
Not so much, as it turned out. Seven years later, he sold the whole franchise to Disney for $4bn, who immediately announced a new movie trilogy, and any number of spin-offs slated for eventual production.
And now – with even more fanfare – here comes Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+, 27 May), a much-anticipated six-episode drama, directed by Deborah Chow, set 10 years after Revenge Of The Sith. McGregor is back as the defeated Jedi general, keeping an eye on young Luke, who is being secretly looked after on Tatooine by Anakin’s step-brother Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Beru (Bonnie Piesse).
There is much else to enjoy in the new Kenobi series, with Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor (a character familiar from the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels) and his fellow Jedi hunter, Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram), a host of dramatic locations (old and new), and the return of Christensen to the role of Darth Vader. Whatever else is said or written about Star Wars, the perfection of Vader as a villain is beyond question.
So welcome back to General Kenobi, at the centre of it all where he belongs. He was absolutely right all those years ago: he has indeed become more powerful than his wicked apprentice could ever have imagined – and now the two are ready to square off once again.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Pistol (Disney+, 31 May)
All the surviving members of the Sex Pistols have written memoirs, apart from the drummer, Paul Cook (you can read of his recollections in this Tortoise piece). Inevitably, perhaps, the most absorbing are the two autobiographies by Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon (Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored). But the first Pistol was guitarist Steve Jones, whose 2016 memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol has now been adapted into a six-part drama by Craig Pearce. With Danny Boyle at the helm – and the oxygen provided last year by Lydon’s failed legal bid to stop the band’s music being used – the mini-series does not lack brio or energy. Ben Wallace is good as Jones, a damaged and needy character, abused in childhood, who masks his vulnerability with the angry swagger of punk. Anson Boon as Rotten is a compelling screen presence, as are Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Maisie Williams as the iconic model and muse Jordan (see Creative Sensemaker, 7 April), and Sydney Chandler as Chrissie Hynde. Boyle is a master storyteller – the pace and vigour of the series cannot be faulted.
Berlin: Life And Loss In The City That Shaped The Century by Sinclair McKay
‘There were those in the earliest days of the Berlin Wall who reached out to touch its cold, rough surface; palms on pitted concrete. Some paced beneath it with agitation and distress. It was largely extemporized, yet the concrete carried a terrible suggestion of permanence.’ It takes an author of Sinclair McKay’s calibre to pull off a task as audacious as the one he sets himself in this remarkable book: to write not just a history but a biography of a city, full of pulsing life, decay, and renewal. ‘Throughout the twentieth century,’ he writes, ‘Berlin stood at the centre of a convulsing world.’ It was traumatised by the First World War, by Nazism and then communism. McKay (best-known for his brilliant Dresden: The Fire And The Darkness) cites the verdict of the architect David Chipperfield that every city ‘has history, but Berlin has too much.’ A majestic work of nonfiction, it entwines mighty geopolitical forces with deeply personal anecdotes of the Berliners who were buffeted by them, while retaining a sense of wit, creativity, and a profound resilience.
irreplaceable by Chad Lawson
It says a lot for Chad Lawson and his restless creative ambition that, 13 years after his first solo album, Set On A Hill, he still takes regular piano lessons. With deep roots in jazz, he has become one of the foremost exponents of eclectic modern classical music – as likely to explore ambient sounds as he is to perform Chopin variations. This beautiful four-track EP seeks, in Lawson’s own words, to evoke in sound ‘that person you could never live without, or that favorite time in your life, or that favorite memory that always brings a smile’ – an objective that could easily lead a lesser composer into mere sentimentality (this is so much more than so-called ‘mindfulness music’). But Lawson is a master of emotional performance, well aware that restraint is as important as passion.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
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