Many of Disney’s Star Wars projects should probably just be called: “Your Childhood: How does it make you feel?” I am convinced all this content is being rolled out by Disney as a form of hypnotic regression therapy and some day they’re going to tell us all to kill the president and we’ll just do it, even if the president is someone cool like R2D2.
Everyone brings with them their own prejudices based on their childhood experience of playing with Star Wars toys. When I watch the Ewan McGregor-starring Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+), I can’t help feel that more of the characters’ accessories should be missing, the legs should be affixed with superglue and the heads should look sort of chewed up. I also think the lasers should sound more like someone saying “pew! pew!” in a high-pitched voice.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is set 10 years after Revenge of the Sith, in which the Empire took over the galaxy thanks to its ambitious Keynesian infrastructural projects (Death Stars, clone armies and such) and its charismatic leader, Emperor Palpatine, a man who, like Bill Clinton, makes you feel like the only person in the room when he fixes his glowing red eyes upon you.
Obi-Wan’s side lost the war and now he spends his time in a cave on Tatooine, a planet that’s all desert (most Star Wars planets have just one geographical feature) staring into the distance and reminiscing about how he left his friend and mentee Anakin Skywalker on fire by a lava river. From time to time he prays to his dead master. “Can you hear me Clem Fandango?” he says, or something like that (I might have the name wrong).
Obi-Wan is hiding from everyone but nonetheless everyone knows where he is. Owen, the guardian of infant Luke Skywalker, knows he’s spying on them. A rogue Jedi finds him with ease. The adopted father of Princess Leia goes straight to his secret hiding place. Frankly, the fact the Galactic Empire cannot find Obi-Wan makes me regret voting for them.
A bunch of baddies arrive on Tatooine looking for Jedis. They’re led by an officious alien named The Grand Inquisitor. He’s “grand” in the UK sense, not the Irish sense (ie, “How’s his inquisiting?” “It’s grand.”). He’s accompanied by two other inquisitors, a guy with a satellite dish on his head and an impatient underling called Third Sister who is the real antagonist of the series. This trio are asking citizens of the Empire if they’ve seen a Jedi one citizen at a time, which feels like a very time-consuming way to search for Jedis. Also, you can tell the Jedis in the Star Wars franchise because they all have hoods on their coats but the Empire hasn’t worked that out yet. There’s no directive that says: “Pay special attention to drifters with hoods.”
Meanwhile on Alderaan, Li’l Princess Leia, a mini version of the character played by the great Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy, is living the life of Riley. Her main personality trait is that she is very sassy. If there was a film poster for this show, she would be leaning back-to-back with Obi-Wan and they’d both have their arms folded and be looking at the camera over the top of their sunglasses. Yes, this is set in whatever constitutes the Galactic Empire’s early 1990s. When we meet Leia, she has loads of precocious things to say to strangers, much like Princess Margaret, maybe because she was homeschooled. In Space Ireland they’d say: “She’ll have the corners knocked off her yet.” The only thing Li’l Leia is silent about is whether a hereditary monarchy is truly the best way to govern a space civilisation.
Before long the terrible security at her palace means Li’l Leia is kidnapped by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers (playing himself) following a forest chase scene that looks like it was made in one take by people for whom making money has just got too easy. At one point a baddie literally runs into a tree branch he’s looking right at.
Now, the Mandalorian is my favourite Star Wars miniseries. It was the story of a single father trying to balance mercenary work and family. Obi-Wan Kenobi uses the same template, except without Baby Yoda, the pre-eminent actor of his generation, and with Li’l Leia. I imagine Baby Yoda isn’t too happy with this other infant interloper and is probably revving up a car in a threatening manner as we speak. I would like to see a film about both these actors when they are older, living resentfully together in a big old house. They could call it Whatever Happened to Baby Yoda? and it would be a smash hit.
Li’l Leia is kidnapped at the behest of Third Sister who figures that because Obi-Wan knew Leia’s father, he’ll break cover and go save her. It’s a bit of a stretch. Obi-Wan knows lots of people and he’s a bit flaky. Third Sister doesn’t realise that Li’l Leia is the secret daughter of her boss Darth Vader or that in the same episode she randomly threatened Owen, the guardian of Darth Vader’s other secret child, Luke. She’s one degree of separation away from winning the whole damn Star War. As inquisiting goes, it’s grand. But I’ve seen better.
In this week’s episode our heroes find themselves looking for a pilot on a planet filled with scrubby bushes, probably called the Scrubby Bush Planet. Obi-Wan isn’t really on his game. He’s hallucinating stuff from his past, he leaves their planned rendezvous point early for no good reason, and then he makes the mistake of using Leia’s real name in front of a bunch of Stormtroopers. He has to murder them. Eventually Anakin/Darth Vader turns up all asthmatic and grumpy, choking people telekinetically and waving his space sword. Obi-Wan is surprised to see him in his leather duds and bucket helmet. “What have you become?” he says, which is a pretty rude thing to say to someone who’s dressed like that because you chopped their legs off and knocked them into a lava river.
“I was hoping people hadn’t noticed!” cries Darth, or words to that effect, before trying to chop Obi-Wan up, choke him and set him on fire. His management style is thorough. Obi-Wan is saved at the last minute, but you knew that because you’ve seen the subsequent films. Meanwhile Leia gets kidnapped again for that is her role throughout much of the franchise, but she eventually gets unkidnapped, as you’ll also know because you’ve seen the subsequent films. It’s hard to worry about them, really. I think the thing about this project I can relate to most is the Disney corporation’s love of money.
Speaking of long franchises:–– Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen (Sunday, BBC1) is a supercut of the queen’s own home movies narrated by the woman herself. It’s like the Johnny Cash video for Hurt only it lasts an hour and a quarter and is filled with bunting and truisms. Towards the end she says: “It’s inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you, a successor to the kings and queens of history…” and for a moment I hope she’s going to add, “However, for decades, I have been breaking into your homes and filming you while you sleep and I’m going to show you this footage now.” Sadly, she does not.