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What You Need to Know Before Watching ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

The new ‘Star Wars’ miniseries, which debuts on Friday, picks up the story of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader a decade after the prequels. Before you starting streaming, get up to speed with our comprehensive primer.

Disney+/Ringer illustration

I’m not going to start by saying “Hello there,” because you’re going to be hearing “Hello there” a lot over the next several weeks. A little more than three months after the last Star Wars streaming series named after an original trilogy character and starring an actor from the prequels, The Book of Boba Fett, wrapped up its first season, another is about to begin. This time, Obi-Wan Kenobi is back, perchance to greet someone with his cheeky catchphrase for the third time.

In case you’ve been living on the planet farthest from the bright center to the universe and missed the two trailers, Obi-Wan Kenobi is coming this week. The miniseries is set 10 years after Episode III and nine years before Episode IV and centers on Obi-Wan’s adventures on Tatooine and beyond as he tries to safeguard a 10-year-old Luke Skywalker and evade detection and destruction by the Empire’s Jedi-hunting Inquisitors. Ewan McGregor will reprise his prequel role as the bearded, genteel Jedi first portrayed by Alec Guinness; Hayden Christensen, who played the adolescent Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, will once again don the Darth Vader suit; and a seriously CGI de-aged Mark Hamill will play little Luke. (Kidding, kidding—Luke is played by an actual kid, Grant Feely.) The series is written by Edge of Tomorrow, Underground, and John Wick: Chapter 3 producer Joby-Wan Harold, who also serves as showrunner, while acclaimed director Deborah Chow, who helmed two standout Season 1 episodes of The Mandalorian, will be behind the camera for the duration.

The first two of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s six episodes will premiere on Disney+ on Friday, which will coincide with the first in-person Star Wars Celebration since 2019. The timing holds some additional significance: This month marks the 45th anniversary of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader’s debuts in Episode IV, as well as the 20th anniversary of McGregor and Christensen first sharing the screen in Episode II. Peak Star Wars season is upon us, and the hype is strong with this series, so let’s run through some prompts to prepare for the latest and potentially greatest release in a busy year for Star Wars on the small screen.

What makes this miniseries so exciting?

Ewan. Hayden. Edgerton. Throw in a new theme by John Williams, a blank on-screen slate in the Star Wars timeline—no other movie or show has previously delved into the five-year gap between Solo and Rebels (and the forthcoming Andor)—and the usual speculation about connections and crossovers, and all the pieces are in place for a savory slice of Star Wars.

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s logline holds appeal for fans of all ages: You have a household-name main character, multiple Skywalkers, a conflict between Jedi and Sith and the Empire and soon-to-be rebels, and that old mainstay, Tatooine. (But hopefully not too much Tatooine, as the trailers suggest that Kenobi will mercifully spend plenty of time off planet.) There’s no barrier to entry for fans who may be put off by animation or by being behind on backstory from outside the Skywalker saga. This is Lucasfilm playing to its base.

Which isn’t to say that this series is solely for Star Wars casuals. Not only is it of interest to lore lovers because it covers a fairly lightly documented sliver of the Star Wars timeline, but in the years since Revenge of the Sith, many Star Wars fans (including Christensen!) have gained a greater appreciation for the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin (and for Obi alone) via Dave Filoni’s animated oeuvre. This series may be almost as much of a heart-wrenching gift for the deeper divers who’ve watched and rewatched The Clone Wars (and to a lesser extent, Rebels) as, say, next year’s Ahsoka.

Another reason the appetite for Obi-Wan is bottomless: The base I mentioned earlier has different demographics than it did the last time Star Wars fans got a look at live-action Obi-Wan. Fans who were kids when the prequels came out [raises hand] are now somewhere smack in the middle of the 18-to-49 sweet spot that the makers of culture cater to, and Obi-Wan is both a beneficiary and a source of surging prequel nostalgia, which the “Duel of the Fates” drop in the first trailer capitalized on.

McGregor’s turn as Obi-Wan was one of the high points of the long-maligned trilogy, so the prospect of seeing him wearing the robes and saber brings warm feelings to the hearts of Star Wars fans who may remember the turn of the century as a more civilized age. And while Christensen’s performance was savaged by some at the time, the intervening decades have seen much of the blame for Episode II’s sappiest and most petulant lines shift to George Lucas’s directing and writing, which has primed the fan base for a Christensenssance. The actor has seemingly leaned into the tailormade redemption narrative, by expressing that the embrace of younger fans has “just been really heartwarming … I guess the moral of the story is patience.” As Obi-Wan once said, “Skill is the child of patience,” so Christensen may be able to bring greater depth to Vader than he did when he first started slaughtering younglings, both because of his own age and experience and because Vader, like Obi-Wan, has evolved (or devolved) in the decade since Episode III.

Speaking of which: Obi-Wan presumably doesn’t know that his former apprentice is still running around in the scary suit. Although he saw security footage of Palpatine calling Anakin “Lord Vader,” he left that Vader looking crispy on the shore of a lava lake, and he’s been in seclusion ever since. If Obi-Wan knows a Vader is out there, he might assume someone else is inside the suit—and he may not know at all. The Emperor’s right-hand more-machine-than-man isn’t necessarily a galactic celebrity, and even if he were, Obi-Wan probably doesn’t get great HoloNet News reception in his hut. At some point in this series, Obi-Wan will discover to his horror that the Sith lord f.k.a. Anakin lives, and that the brother he loved is still carrying out the extermination job he started with Mace Windu. Not only will he have to relive the anguish of Anakin’s fall, but he’ll have to reckon with his dubious decision to merely leave Vader for dead—or, as the Revenge of the Sith novelization says, “leave it to the will of the Force”—instead of finishing him off. I don’t care if they fight; there’s no topping their epic clash on Mustafar. But that terrible epiphany—how can you not want to watch?

What took so long?

If the stars are so aligned for Obi-Wan to satisfy fans, why wasn’t it made before now? Not for Lucasfilm’s lack of trying: An Obi-Wan project has been in the pipeline for years, first as a film and then as a previous version of the series it turned out to be. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger announced plans for Star Wars spinoff films in early 2013, and though Han Solo and Boba Fett were the first characters mentioned in connection with the new initiative, Obi-Wan was next. Obi-Wan was the “overwhelming winner” of a 2016 Hollywood Reporter fan poll about which character deserved a spinoff, and after McGregor expressed interest in returning to the character in various interviews, Lucasfilm approached him to see whether he was serious. He was, and so by 2017 a film was in the works, with Stephen Daldry attached to direct and writer Hossein Amini soon brought on board to produce the screenplay.

When Solo flopped (by Star Wars standards) in 2018, plans for future spinoffs were scuttled or converted into TV projects. The prospective Boba Fett film morphed into Book of Boba, and Obi-Wan: A Star Wars Story became Obi-Wan Kenobi—but not overnight. McGregor has been slated to star in the series since mid-2019, and Chow was tapped to direct by that September, with filming scheduled to start the following summer. Even before COVID could derail the production, though, the series was put on hold and the crew was sent home because of Kathleen Kennedy’s dissatisfaction with Amini’s scripts.

If there’s one constant in the Disney Star Wars era, it’s difficult births, a subject Obi-Wan has some experience with. Few live-action Star Wars projects since The Force Awakens have reached completion without significant creative differences, rewrites and/or reshoots, or directors or writers being replaced. Obi-Wan is no exception; it didn’t quite go through development hell (or development Mustafar), but its great leaps forward often required taking two steps back. Amini’s episode scripts, adopted from his film script, were discarded or drastically reworked, seemingly because of concerns expressed by Filoni and Jon Favreau about similarities to The Mandalorian (whose Lone Wolf and Club–style story was echoed in Obi-Wan’s protection of Young Luke). Favreau and Filoni also suggested that the series “go bigger.” The original scripts may also have underdelivered when it came to Kennedy’s desire to tell a “hopeful, uplifting story” despite the tragic circumstances that placed Obi-Wan on Tatooine.

Amini was out and Harold was in, with support from multiple cowriters. Some reports suggested that Darth Maul—who had appeared at the end of Solo—had been jettisoned too, though Chow denied that he’d ever been in. (A Maul appearance could have clashed with the fatal-for-realsies duel he has with Obi-Wan in Rebels Season 3, which takes place on Tatooine seven years after Obi-Wan Kenobi.) Regardless, Vader was the new big bad, backed up by the Inquisitors, an Imperial band of dark-side-using Jedi hunters under Vader’s command who were first introduced to the Disney Star Wars timeline by Filoni’s Rebels (though they’d existed in the old Expanded Universe long before then) and later appeared in Marvel’s 2017 Darth Vader comics and 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order. With refashioned scripts in hand, production on Obi-Wan began in April 2021. Thirteen months later, it’s finally here—a “full story” with “a beginning, middle, and end,” according to Chow. Of course, Kennedy hasn’t closed the door on a second season, because franchises are gonna franchise.

So, what has Obi been up to since Episode III?

Honestly, not a ton, as far as current canon indicates. Even if you’re not a Star Wars obsessive, you shouldn’t have a hard time following the events of Obi-Wan Kenobi; if you’ve seen the first two trilogies, you’re probably good to go. Put it this way: Obi-Wan’s novella-length Wookieepedia page runs about 34,000 words. Fewer than 2,000 of those concern the 17 years between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the final rematch with Maul. That sparse section is about to get a lot longer.

As noted on this week’s Ringer-Verse preview podcast, the existing, post-prequel material most useful as setup for this series are the three issues of Marvel’s 2015 Star Wars comic book line (nos. 7, 15, and 20) that depict events on Tatooine in the two years leading up to the series, as described in a journal that Obi bequeaths to Luke.

“As hard as it was to become a Jedi, it was even harder to stop being one,” Obi-Wan narrates. “But I did. … Instead of Sith Lords and bounty hunters, my days were spent battling monotony and inactivity. I should have been training the boy, but his uncle never allowed it. And I suppose there was a part of me that couldn’t blame him. The last Skywalker I tried to train was gone. They were all gone. All the Jedi. And sometimes I wondered if I should have gone with them.”

Understandably, Obi-Wan isn’t in the best headspace here. Nor is he leading a glamorous life. He’s moping, meditating, sweating, spying, naming and talking to banthas, developing his Krayt dragon impression, and drinking black melon milk and cooking snakes to survive. Mostly he’s struggling with how he ended up alone in an Outer-Rim hovel in the Jundland Wastes. The Order he devoted his life to is gone—destroyed by a Sith, just like his old Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. And the blade that sealed its fate belonged to Anakin, his former Padawan, whom he’d trained in deference to Qui-Gon’s dying wish, despite Obi-Wan being too young to take on a Padawan and Anakin being too old to become one.

A decade on, Obi-Wan is alone, heartbroken, and probably bitter, both about being given the great responsibility of training a ticking time bomb and about letting him explode. All he has is the hope that Luke will go on—and, from a certain point of view, make Qui-Gon’s “chosen one” prophecy pay off. Yet he can’t even mentor Luke, except from afar, because he’s chosen to respect Owen Lars’s restraining order. “You never trained me for this, Master Qui-Gon,” he says, talking to his older teacher, or perhaps to himself. “You never taught me how to fade away.”

That tracks with how Harold describes the not-yet-that-old Ben of Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Everything that happened with Anakin cannot help but define him. And we meet a man who’s very much defined by that history, whether he wants to be or not. … Part of the journey of what he goes through is reconciling that past and coming to understand it and coming to understand his place in it.” In Charles Soule’s 2016 Marvel miniseries Obi-Wan and Anakin, Obi-Wan instructs his wayward student, “Being a Jedi is not just about power, or lightsabers, or even skill with the Force. It is about connection. Being a part of something bigger. I am stronger as part of the Jedi Order than I could ever be alone.” In Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’ll have to unlearn what he’s learned and rediscover the strength that’s still inside him when he’s cut off from that connection and restricting his use of the Force.

Of course, Obi-Wan’s Jedi instincts are so hard-wired that he can’t resist the odd good deed or mind trick. He hires himself out as a Jawa bodyguard to get some parts for Luke’s Skyhopper, and he later rescues Luke from Jabba the Hutt’s thugs, which gets him in trouble with Jabba and his hired hunter, Black Krrsantan (of Book of Boba Fett fame). They scrap, and Obi-Wan temporarily blinds the big Wookiee, which allows him to use his lightsaber without giving himself away. The Wookiee flees, and Luke swoops in to save Owen, propelling him toward his hero’s journey.

Meanwhile, in Soule’s 2017-18 Darth Vader run, the nascent Sith Lord first dreams about renouncing the dark side, killing the Emperor, revealing himself to Obi-Wan, and gaining his forgiveness—and then, eight issues later, fantasizes about a Mustafar mulligan in which having the high ground doesn’t help his old master.

As Vader proceeds down the dark path, he becomes a more formidable foe. But Obi-Wan may get guidance from Qui-Gon, whom Yoda promised to help him commune with, and whom he does successfully speak to in the books.

Will the retcons get aggressive?

Because George Lucas didn’t have his whole saga nailed down when he made the first Star Wars movie, he had to fix a few minor omissions and miscommunications as the series went on—you know, little things like Luke and Leia being siblings, not love interests, or Vader being Luke’s dad. As a result, Obi-Wan’s words and history have been retconned for decades to explain why he said Luke’s dad was dead, why he said Luke’s dad wanted him to have his lightsaber, why he said he was instructed by Yoda, whether he was related to Owen, and so on.

Some mysteries still remain. For example: Why, while in hiding from the Empire, would Obi-Wan change his first name to “Ben” but keep the name “Kenobi”? Why let Luke keep the surname “Skywalker”? And why “hide” him on Anakin’s home planet, with Anakin’s stepbrother? (To be fair, that last one was Yoda’s idea.)

We can come up with answers for all of these unknowns. As I wrote elsewhere, maybe “‘Kenobi’ is the ‘Smith’ or ‘Johnson’ of the Star Wars universe? He’s living off the grid, so almost nobody knows his surname anyway? It’s a big galaxy and he’s hiding on the planet that’s farthest from its bright center, so he figured it would probably be fine?” Maybe Skywalker is a common name too. Maybe it doesn’t matter what Luke’s last name is, given that Vader doesn’t know he exists. And maybe Tatooine is the last place Vader would visit, in light of his enslavement, his mother’s death, his mass murder of Tuskens, and his hatred of sand. All of which are flimsy covers for the fact that it couldn’t have hurt to choose some other generic names or hide Luke in some other out-of-the-way planet. It’s not as if Vader refuses to set foot on Tatooine when the Emperor orders him to.

So, will Obi-Wan Kenobi ignore Lucas’s lapses in being mindful of the future, poke fun at them, or attempt to justify them? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter that much, but this is the first time that Disney’s on-screen storytellers have had to confront this age-old Star Wars conundrum directly.

At least the dialogue between Obi-Wan and Vader on the Death Star won’t be as hard to handle. If Vader had said, “I sense something; a presence I’ve not felt since … my last run-in with Obi-Wan on Mustafar 19 years ago,” that would have been tough to write around. Fortunately, he trailed off after “since,” allowing the writers of Obi-Wan Kenobi to fill in a new answer. Similarly, Vader’s declaration that “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master” can be interpreted to mean that he was still completing his MA in Sith studies when he and Obi-Wan tangled in the series; as Chow put it, TV Vader “isn’t quite as fully formed as A New Hope.”

Other than Obi, the Skywalkers, the Larses, and the Inquisitors, which existing characters could appear?

Obi-Wan Kenobi begins roughly halfway between the end of the prequels and the start of the original trilogy, so in theory, almost anyone who survives the former and/or appears in the latter is potentially in play. Yoda is still in hiding on Dagobah, and a number of Jedi or ex-Padawans who’ve eluded Vader are roaming the galaxy, including Ahsoka, Quinlan Vos, Kanan Jarrus, and Cal Kestis. The Emperor is tugging Vader’s leash; Krrsantan has a score to settle with Obi-Wan; and while we know that Obi-Wan doesn’t meet Han Solo or Chewbacca before Episode IV, the likes of Lando, Hondo Ohnaka, Cad Bane, Boba, Jabba, Greedo, Doctor Aphra, Qi’ra, Cassian Andor, Hera Syndulla, and Sabine Wren are alive and kicking. Hell, Grogu and foundling Din Djarin are out there somewhere, if the creators of Obi-Wan want to take a page out of the Book of Boba Fett playbook. Some of these characters could conceivably be played by cast members whose roles haven’t been officially revealed, such as Maya Erskine, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Benny Safdie, and Simone Kessell. (Kumail Nanjiani and Indira Varma will play a “street-level conman” and an Imperial officer, respectively.)

In all likelihood, though, Obi-Wan won’t go wild with crossovers for crossovers’ sake. When you have a series several years in the making, fronted by major characters who have an alternately heartwarming and harrowing history with each other and the audience, it would be a waste to focus on anything else. Fortunately, the architects of the series seem to understand this. Although Rupert Friend teased “wonderful cameos” and “Easter eggs galore,” Chow mentioned a desire to draw in characters who are “important in Obi-Wan’s life.” Kennedy seemed to draw a distinction between “the Mandalorian timeline” and Obi-Wan’s, while Chow added that “the strongest connective tissue for us is to the prequels, because that’s where our characters are coming from and that’s where their stories started. So, really, the prequels are the most connected to our series.”

Ahsoka would certainly qualify as someone who’s important in Obi-Wan’s life, as would Rex and Obi’s late love interest, Mandalorian Duchess Satine Kryze (who, like Padmé, could only appear via flashback, and whose presence would be pretty confusing for non–Clone Wars watchers). If we’re strictly sticking to the prequel trilogy, though, then in addition to Owen and Beru (Bonnie Piesse), Commander Cody may resurface, and Jimmy Smits could be back as Bail Organa, perhaps with young Leia in tow.

And then there’s Qui-Gon. It makes plenty of sense for Obi-Wan’s old master to drop in via vision, voice-over, or full Force Ghost, but Liam Neeson said last June that he hadn’t been approached to appear in the project, and last month he intimated that he’d come back only for a film. (“I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to TV,” he said, though his snobbery doesn’t extend to critically panned, cookie-cutter action movies.) However, Neeson has already broken that rule to provide the voice of Qui-Gon in The Clone Wars, just as he later did in The Rise of Skywalker. So perhaps he’s just being cagey or drawing a line between voice acting and getting his ghost on.

What could go wrong?

For Obi-Wan? In the short term, almost anything. For Obi-Wan Kenobi? Well, that’s a long list too. For one thing, Harold’s history as a writer doesn’t make this look like a lock: His other writing credits include the 2007 movie Awake (which costarred Christensen), 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, 2021’s Army of the Dead, and next year’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. He has experience working with and within existing IP, but the previous projects he’s put his pen to aren’t exactly classics. Even if he had a perfect record, there’d be cause for concern considering the situation he walked into: This story has been stretched and twisted to suit the desires of several cooks, first from a movie into a TV show, and then from one TV show into another one. Enough fragments of the original remain that Amini gets story or screenplay credits on four of the six episodes, and it’s possible that the old elements won’t be integrated cleanly with the new. The Book of Boba Fett followed the same movie-to-miniseries path, and the problems with its plotting, pacing, and structure could be indicative of similar pitfalls for Obi-Wan.

Granted, what we know about Obi-Wan makes him a much richer and more relatable character than Boba Fett was, and a faceoff between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, or Owen and the Inquisitors, has inherently higher stakes than Boba Fett fighting, um … I forget whom Boba Fett fought. (Sike! The Pykes. But if you forgot, I don’t blame you.) At the very least, Obi-Wan’s motivations should be much more clear than post-sarlacc Fett’s were. On the other hand, because this series transpires between trilogies, we know what will happen, or rather, what won’t: The preexisting characters here have a predetermined date on the Death Star to keep in nine years, so there’s not a lot of suspense about what will happen to Luke, the Larses, Obi-Wan, or the future master of evil. Even some of the Inquisitors may be wearing impenetrable plot armor: Friend’s Grand Inquisitor and Sung Kang’s Fifth Brother will both survive the series if Rebels is to be believed, making Moses Ingram’s Third Sister (a.k.a. Reva) the only already-revealed baddie whose fate isn’t sealed. With strong enough writing, directing, acting, and original character creation, Obi-Wan could clear those hurdles, but it’s probably not going to be Better Call Saul.

Along with the risks that any Star Wars series encounters—excessive fan service, continuity contradictions, oversupplying backstory, sidelining the lead to set up spinoffs, overreliance on legacy characters—Obi-Wan may also suffer from sequencing issues because of its proximity to Book of Boba. If Obi-Wan doesn’t depart for the series’ new, neon-looking, cyberpunk planet Daiyu early on, it won’t take long for Tatooine fatigue to set in, especially because Chow’s list of thematic and stylistic influences on the series includes Kurosawa and Westerns, just like Filoni and Favreau’s Star Wars work. Her goal of telling “a character-driven story” (à la Logan or Joker) that would “take one character out of a big franchise” and “go a lot deeper” sounds a lot like what The Book of Boba Fett was supposed to be before Mando grabbed the reins. But Obi-Wan won’t relinquish his hold on his series as easily—or, for that matter, his hold on us.