What even is a “diehard” Star Wars fan? Back in the early days of the franchise, when it wasn’t a franchise, a “hardcore” fan would be the ones camping out at their local theater the night before — a tent and sleeping bag to fight back the cold. All was worth it to be among the first to see Luke’s adventure come to a triumphant conclusion (for now).
Fast forward to the better half of two decades and history repeats itself. Fans rush to theaters in droves on opening night, returning over and over to support the return of a franchise that just a little over twenty years ago engaged their childlike wonder. Some of them even bring their children, planting the seed for the next generation of easy Christmas gifters.
But yikes, here come the “real” fans. A similar childhood vacationing in the galaxy far, far away, but a vocal distaste for the mediocre return to that galaxy and anyone who enjoyed the ride. As the dream grew into a franchise, the fan base grew with it — every part of it. That vocal distaste became louder and louder, shouting back at the voices of any corner of the community. It ranges from arguments over trilogy preference, spin-off necessity, and Star Wars scripture.
The prequels, once the disdain of most, has now become the cult favorite of many — particularly the third and final film, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. An epic, tragic conclusion with a title that serves as a dark reflection of the original trilogy’s final chapter. Epic, it was, both in scale and in box office return. Revenge of the Sith was a hit among most moviegoers, seen as an improvement over Episodes I & II, and a perfect setup for the trilogy that came before it. A lot of people wouldn’t see it that way, which is okay, but again the vocal minority roars, insisting the prequels aren’t true to the original trilogy set in the space wizard political opera. But that’s simply not true, because without the prequel trilogy, we probably wouldn’t have Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Focusing on the titular Jedi Master turned cloak-bearing sand hermit, Obi-Wan Kenobi just recently had its two-episode premiere this past weekend. After years of speculation turned to confirmation, fans couldn’t wait to see the return of the powerful force-wielder. But while “Ben” Kenobi was a prominent character in the original films, it was the prequel trilogy that introduced us to a Kenobi in his prime. The Phantom Menace showed us skilled Padawan Kenobi, Attack of the Clones saw Kenobi take more command at the height of war, and Revenge of the Sith crushed his world to pieces, forcing him and any surviving Jedi into hiding — the next time we see him, he’s old and lying to children about their bloodlines.
The prequel trilogy strengthened Kenobi’s presence in the franchise. Suddenly a mentor-type character has evolved into a lead, and one of the most beloved figures in Star Wars history. The return of Ewan McGregor as Kenobi shows that Obi-Wan Kenobi acknowledges its legacy from the jump. If that weren’t enough, the first episode begins with a recap of the entire prequel trilogy, mostly from Kenobi’s perspective. The recap serves as an occasional flashback for Obi-Wan, a traumatic nightmare of his past. I don’t like the prequel trilogy, but this is exactly why I love the prequel trilogy.
It’s why many fans love most of Star Wars really. An acknowledgement of the past even as the franchise moves towards the future. Star Wars has a lot of history, and all of it has some kind of fan base that craves representation. Obi-Wan Kenobi, like the G.O.A.T himself, is wise, and knows the kind of people who are going to be watching it. But it’s not just fans of the prequel trilogy. Many people are coming with no knowledge of Obi-Wan’s early years, some still are tuning in with no prior Star Wars knowledge at all.
Some might scoff at the idea of a mini-series centered on a specific legacy character being a good entry point for newcomers, but Kenobi puts itself at a fairly nice advantage. Being set ten years after Revenge of the Sith and nine years before A New Hope means the series can expand on events of the past while also setting up events in the future — but it also means that anyone who hasn’t seen either of those points in SW time doesn’t need to worry about them too much.
You’ll definitely get spoiled, no doubt there, the show is wrought with flashbacks and callbacks to crucial points in the prequel trilogy. But if Anakin Skywalker being Darth Vader is much of a surprise to anyone nowadays, that’s okay because it is to Obi-Wan too. The series is at such a crucial point in Obi-Wan’s time, his grief over the loss of his friend and his entire way of life is still fresh. The sudden reveal that Skywalker is, in fact, alive shocks him as much as it would anyone who came in thinking this was a sad little story about an old vet who lost his partner. For fans who stared at their TV screen and went “Duh,” the show pulls another trick out of its sleeve; a full on reveal of what we’ve all been waiting for. Obi-Wan is cool, there’s no denying him of that, but nobody in the galaxy tops Darth Vader. That powerful, ominous presence is felt once more, as Kenobi’s shocked expression cuts to Vader’s damaged face — a hissing mask and sinister theme by composer Natalie Holt in the background.
To be fair, Kenobi isn’t doing something that other recent Star Wars projects haven’t. The Mandalorian, another Disney+ series stands well on its own among other perfectly referential yet singular projects. But whereas Din Djarin only shares a mutual friend or two with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan and Anakin were practically family, making Kenobi a pivotal character in the central “Skywalker Saga” that spawned this whole crazy thing. Focusing on such an important character — in a time right between the two most consequential points in the Star Wars timeline (excluding High and Old Republic stuff because that’s its own monster) — allows director Deborah Chow to tell a story that welcomes newcomers and embraces returning fans. That includes prequel lovers.
It may not change an opinion on the prequel movies (I’m still not a believer), but it acknowledges their place in Star Wars history and assures fans that the prequel era still has some stories to tell. It’s a nice reminder that this franchise is for absolutely anybody anywhere, that’s the whole point of being a franchise. Not merch sales, silly.