The long-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi series will premiere on Disney+ on May 25, finally bringing to life a long dreamed and long awaited project.
By now the history of the project is fairly well-known, with a return for star Ewan McGregor having been in the works for years. The original idea was for it to be a movie, but then Lucasfilm re-evaluated their approach following the disappointing box office performance for Solo: A Star Wars Story. With the advent of Disney+, however, the company was able to focus on more episodic storytelling routes, which was ultimately what was needed for Obi-Wan Kenobi to get off the ground.
The production wasn’t exactly smooth either, however. Deborah Chow was hired to direct the series after her fantastic work on The Mandalorian, and Hossein Amini was hired to write it. But early in production, Lucasfilm President Kathy Kennedy put a pause on production due to script issues, which led to Joby Harold coming in to replace Amini to re-write the six-episode series. Production was originally slated to begin in 2020, but in January of that year Kennedy pushed the filming date back from August 2020 to January 2021. Very little was known about the reasons behind this change, but in recent days we’ve heard more about what changed.
What we know for sure comes from a quote Kennedy gave to Entertainment Weekly for their recent feature on the series. “We’re looking, ultimately, to make a hopeful, uplifting story,” Kennedy said. “And it’s tricky when you’re starting with a character in the state that Obi-Wan would be in coming off of Revenge of the Sith. That’s a pretty bleak period of time. You can’t just wave the magic wand with any writer and arrive at a story that necessarily reflects what you want to feel.”
So what we know for sure is that the reason Kennedy wanted to make changes to the script is because, per her implication, it wasn’t very hopeful. She understands the difficulty of telling a hopeful story in this time period, but it’s possible! And it sounds like the story they’ve landed on is a broken Jedi Master who has lost hope recovering his destiny and faith through this story. I think that’s a fantastic choice.
But though that’s the big picture view, was there more that factored into this decision on a detail level? It sounds like it. The Hollywood Reporter recently ran an article in which they report on what some of the original story beats may have been and how it changed along the way, and the most notable is that they say Maul was originally supposed to star, played once again by Ray Park. But that tidbit is disputed, with a Lucasfilm source telling THR that Maul was never supposed to appear and that Park was never on set. I’m sure that at some point there was some discussion about whether to bring Maul back – for a series like this to discuss bringing back Kenobi’s old rival wouldn’t be surprising or even newsworthy – but consider me extremely skeptical on whether he was originally supposed to appear in this way. Part of the reason for that skepticism is the fact that it would almost certainly contradict Rebels, which is the opposite of the direction Star Wars has been going recently. I’m not buying this one yet.
Anyway, the THR article goes on to give further details about how things went down. They report that Deborah Chow at one point showed the scripts to Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, the creative geniuses behind The Mandalorian and its expanded stories, and they had concerns because of a different story beat. As the report goes, the original plan was for Obi-Wan to come out of hiding to protect young Luke Skywalker (and Maul would be one of the ones hunting them), and Favreau and Filoni worried that it would be too similar to the story of The Mandalorian, of a wise mentor protecting a young Force-sensitive child. Even if it was intended to be similar, the concerns wouldn’t stop there, as I really don’t think that story would have worked well for myriad reasons, and these details (if true) make me TONS more thankful of the story that it seems like we’re getting instead. In many ways, it seems like a bullet dodged.
The article gives one other tidbit, and it’s that Dave Filoni was apparently the one who came up with the idea about how to make Darth Vader work in this series and how to bring in the Grand Inquisitor. This isn’t really surprising, since Filoni is super familiar with both characters from his work on Star Wars animation, since he worked with Chow on The Mandalorian, and since he’s Lucasfilm’s Executive Creative Director and therefore would reasonably have input on overall story directions like this.
It’s impossible to know for sure how this all went down, as it seems there’s at least credible reason for suspicion with some things in this report. But assuming that most of the overall beats of this report are true, I think this should make Star Wars fans all the more thankful for the direction it appears the series is heading. The current story direction (what we know of it) seems miles better than the reported initial draft (what we know of it), and so I think that this would serve as an example of the creative process done well. There’s a (misguided) perception among some (bad) corners of Star Wars fandom about how Kathy Kennedy meddles and ruins things because of some of the troubled productions that the franchise has had in recent years, but the whole idea is making the best story possible. If these reports are to be believed, Kennedy did her job, and others gave good input and feedback on how to make it better.