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'Obi-Wan Kenobi' head writer discusses pandemic influence and Quinlan Vos name-drop
If you think about it, Kenobi was social distancing long before it was cool.
Following the events of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan Kenobi — now going under the moniker of "Ben" — retired to a remote cave on Tatooine and refused to be in contact with anyone for extended periods of time. If you think about it, the disgraced Jedi Master was social distancing and quarantining long before it was fashionable to do so over in our galaxy. In fact, the onset of the COVID-19 health crisis a little over two years ago may have had a subtle and unconscious narrative impact on Lucasfilm's Obi-Wan Kenobi television series, whose scripts were written during the global lockdown that spanned the latter half of 2020.
"Somebody who's very isolated, sitting in a cave — while I was very isolated sitting in my office — there was probably some sort of thematic parallels that may have infused some part of the journey," Joby Harold (Army of the Dead), who boarded the show as head writer and executive producer in April 2020, tells SYFY WIRE. "But you know, not literally. It's not like we had Obi-Wan come out of his cave wearing a mask. It was maybe informed a little bit thematically by what was going on the world, but to a great degree, it's just its own story within the greater Star Wars universe. And hopefully, in that way, it'll exist comfortably within the stories as we know them."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle of the process was crafting a yarn worth telling between the events of Episode III and Episode IV that had the power to surprise viewers who already know where the titular character ends up at the start of the original trilogy.
"I was thinking about stories where you know the outcome and how you can lead the audience to that finish line without [them] really knowing what's going to happen along the way," Harold explains. "It's hard, but it has been done well. The trick to it seems to be reversals that don't feel like reversals [for reversals] sake, and leaning into character. That's where you have Ewan McGregor playing Obi-Wan Kenobi. You know that that in and of itself is going to be really compelling and interesting, and that he'll be able to carry the weight of everything he's built before and everything Alec Guiness built later. So it was trusting the actors to a great degree."
The writer/producer goes on to say that the role of Obi-Wan belongs to McGregor "just as Anakin belongs to Hayden [Christensen] in such a profound way because they lived with it for so long. It's part of their DNA. We on the creative team can all try to carry the ball as best as we can forward, but at the end of the day, that's up on a soundstage with Ewan bringing that character to life and trusting that he knows the character better than anyone, which he does."
There are a number of strong parallels drawn between Kenobi and Darth Vader in the show's third chapter where the imposing Sith Lord subjects his old teacher to a small taste of the fiery anguish he suffered on Mustafar a decade prior. The following episode immediately picks up with the visual of both men floating in Bacta Tanks, a harsh reminder of how scarred they have become since the execution of Order 66. "I saw them as halfway through their journeys from where we left them to where they're going," Harold adds. "So when you're halfway through, you have unfinished business, you're not the finished article. [I wanted to] meet them in that place and ask the question, 'Well, how did you become the person that we know you will be?’ That's that's the journey of the show."
Of course, the task of writing for two of the most beloved screen icons in pop culture history would be daunting for even the most learned acolyte of the Star Wars franchise. Luckily, Harold had an entire team at Lucasfilm to back him up with their accumulated wisdom of the galaxy far, far away. "We all sit together and sort of circle the wagons and really share a collective point-of-view," he says. The goal was to have Kenobi transform into "the Zen warrior" we know him to be in A New Hope, and questions like, "Is Leia the right thing to call him out of hiding?" were undefined variables in solving that particular equation.
More importantly, established canon could not be broken. Things became a lot simpler when Disney excommunicated the Expanded Universe to the Unknown Regions, but even without those materials in play, one major conundrum still remained: how to bring Obi-Wan and Vader together without shattering the magic of their fateful duel aboard the Death Star in Episode IV.
"You want to tell a complete story and there are opportunities in the storytelling that come up [where] you have to stress test them in regards to the canon that surrounds," Harold admits. "There's a huge creative team at Lucasfilm very invested in protecting canon. We all debate whether or not choices should or could be made, and then very much share the responsibility of making the right choices so that when the story is complete, we feel like we fit within canon. It's important to all of us."
When we first meet Ben in the season opener, he's a profoundly broken individual with no faith left in the Jedi Order...or anything for that matter. All he wants to be do is watch over a young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely) and be left alone. He can't even be bothered to help a fellow Force-user (Benny Safdie) when the beleaguered Jedi wanders out of the desert, begging for support. In some aspects, Kenobi has become just as callous, unfeeling, and selfish as his former Padawan.
All of that changes with the arrival of Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smitts), who convinces Obi-Wan to leave his lonely exile and rescue Princess Leia from a band of kidnappers. The ensuing mission shatters Ben's myopic worldview, especially when he meets Tala (Indira Varma), an operator of The Path, an interconnected escape route for hunted Jedi and other dissidents of the Empire. Perusing the names etched into the wall of the safe-house on Mapuzo, Obi-Wan recognizes one of them, Quinlan Vos: the maverick and fan favorite member Jedi introduced in the animated Clone Wars show. According to Tala, Vos helps out with the cause "now and again."
"I wanted Obi-Wan to see that the world was bigger than he knew it to be," Harold concludes. "Realizing there was The Path and and realizing that other people have been helping and that there have been Jedi helping. Realizing that, ‘I've been in a cave, while other people have been doing that,’ is a part of his awareness and the expansion of his consciousness. So finding the right person to be the personification of that fight that had been occurring was very, very important. And then it was just about talking to [Lucasfilm advisor] Pablo [Hidalgo] and and all of us putting our heads together and saying, ‘Who would that right person be?'"
Episodes 1-5 of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now streaming on Disney+. The final chapter premieres this Wednesday, June 22.