The character’s evolution can be traced throughout the long franchise, leaving him unrecognizable several decades after his initial appearance. As the role of a beloved character changes, the tone, presentation, and place of the entire franchise in a broader cultural dialogue changes.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is almost entirely based on re-imagining the props introduced in the film franchise almost fifty years ago and portraying them in new situations. The eponymous Jedi Master finds himself retired due to circumstances and is haunted by his past mistakes, insisting that anyone who asks that he is no longer the same person. However, when the time comes to act, he unexpectedly proves his point.
In the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the former mentor hides on Tatooine and watches Luke Skywalker evade the watchful eyes of the Inquisitors. He vowed not to engage in Jedi activities, such as maintaining peace or seeking justice, out of concern for his own safety. Unfortunately for him, the new powerful villain Third Sister is looking for him with a vengeance. Obi-Wan returns to business at the request of his friend Senator Bail Organa, who demands his attention and ensures that no one else can do the job. The young Princess Leia was abducted with the clear intention of luring Kenobi into a trap. As is often the case, Obi-Wan rejects the call for adventure, then gives in, boards a ship and goes to rescue the princess. It’s not surprising, but his methods are a bit unorthodox for Obi-Wan fans who know and love.
Obi-Wan digs up his old lightsaber, and fans will be forgiven if they arrange a prequel-style lightsaber fight. Surprisingly, however, the resulting conflict is more reminiscent of “Blade Runner” than any previous “Star Wars” content. Obi-Wan relies almost entirely on a blaster pistol, uses stealth and dirty tactics against his enemies, and even kills a criminal with a single uppercut. It’s strangely reminiscent of the action classics of the 70s and 80s. In fact, rolling back the level of technology a few thousand years ago would have turned the exchanges into a pretty solid Indiana Jones adventure. Obi-Wan’s aversion to blasters in later films is not the main reason why this seems a bit strange. The Jedi Master and his colleagues have always drawn inspiration from earlier works, it’s just that they used to take from a completely different scenario.
Every fan has heard about many factors that influenced the original Star Wars trilogy. Classic Flash Gordon adventure series and decades of groundbreaking sci-fi comics and novels provide the foundation for most fantasy elements. However, cinematically, George Lucas was greatly influenced by the proud story of Akira Kurosawa, dedicated to films about samurai Jidaigeki. The images of samurai, along with the images of Arthur’s knights, make up the basic DNA of the image of the Jedi in the franchise. Over the years, most of the “Star Wars” has followed the path of these films about Jidaigeki, gradually turning into westerns. This is a natural transition, since many images of classic westerns were inspired by samurai films, and they are conveniently displayed in a sci-fi setting. Both jidaigeki and westerns reached their cinematic heyday in the 1960s. The new presentation of Obi-Wan represents not only the evolution of the character, but also the evolution of the action of “Star Wars” as a whole.
From the very beginning, Star Wars adapted the cinema of the early and mid-20th century to the format of modern and postmodern science fantasy. Lucas and those who took over the baton from him added new elements to the classical iconography to create something new. Now most of the modern “Star Wars” franchise consists of adding the specific aesthetics and mythology of the series to other genres of fiction. “The Mandalorian” and “Boba Fett’s Book” represent a franchise that shifts more towards a space western, taking the same sources of inspiration and distorting proportions. Turning a wizened mentor into a stubborn action hero, Obi-Wan Kenobi introduces new ingredients to the recipe.
“Star Wars” has always been and always will be a hodgepodge of inspiration from millions of other sources that work together to become a genre tapestry. Fans like to feel the long history and traditions that underlie many aesthetic solutions. It’s also part of what makes a random extremely odd choice stand out and attract attention. Obi-Wan’s transformation from a magical fencing teacher into a sci-fi shooter is unique and interesting on a large scale. It even seems uniquely modern, borrowing the image of a serious hairy dad from something like The Last of Us and giving him a precocious young girl to protect. If the character was written in the 70s as he is today, one might wonder if Harrison Ford could have played him.
Introducing new elements to any franchise is key to its long-term survival, and this show does well.