Obi-Wan Kenobi Never Overcame Its Prequel Problem

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to complaints about spoilers despite this article's major spoiler warning about the finale of "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

There are a few unavoidable truths about "Star Wars" that we as fans simply have to accept if we want to enjoy each new story set in the galaxy far, far away. Yes, the narrative inconsistencies between the prequels and the originals are many and obvious. Yes, there was a little bit of incest along the way. While everyone's mileage may vary, thankfully none of these are that big of a deal in the long run.

But there's perhaps an even bigger and more glaring aspect that an entire generation of fans have had to conveniently ignore or retcon away: the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker's (Hayden Christensen) "friendship" is practically nonexistent.

For all the screen time that the two Jedi share throughout the prequels, we barely ever see the pair actually develop anything in the way of a strong bond. In "The Phantom Menace," Anakin's a mere child who only comes under Obi-Wan's tutelage at the very end. Thanks to the time jump in "Attack of the Clones," we skip over the formative years of their relationship and then watch as they spend much of the film apart. By the time we get to "Revenge of the Sith," they only ever allude to their past (unseen) adventures together while viewers have to fill in the blanks.

It was left to "Obi-Wan Kenobi" to turn these lemons into lemonade by focusing on Obi-Wan's lingering PTSD and guilt over Anakin's (presumed) death, and it certainly tried its best. But at the end of the day, this entertaining and well-intentioned series just couldn't overcome its inherited prequel problem.

I have a bad feeling about this...

It's rarely a great sign when movies or shows go out of their way to retroactively make previous installments mean more than they actually did at the time.

As much of a thrill as it was to see Hayden Christensen once again as the young Padawan in flashbacks last week, it felt immediately clear that this episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" was trying to make up for the inherent flaws of the prequels in a pretty major way. Set sometime before the climactic events of "Attack of the Clones," this was really the first time we'd ever seen Anakin and his master Obi-Wan engage in actual training — or even simply interact in a character-driven way in live action, without more pressing life-or-death stakes constantly diverting their attention. Though this sequence added layers to their ongoing conflict in the present-day storyline, this alone couldn't quite make up for an entire trilogy's worth of missed opportunities.

Admittedly, it isn't fair to lay the blame for this entirely at the feet of "Obi-Wan Kenobi." I call it an inherited problem for a reason, given that arguably the greatest failing of the prequels — felt most profoundly in "Revenge of the Sith," which this series is so indebted to — stems from the lack of meaningful development in the buildup to Anakin and Obi-Wan's inevitably tragic fight on Mustafar.

That said, it remains a problem nonetheless that viewers are left to depend on our residual goodwill towards the actors themselves, their great performances, and no shortage of callbacks to prior stories in order to lend the requisite amount of pathos to the show's main conflict in the here and now.

Doomed from the start

When it came telling the story of Obi-Wan struggling to eke out an existence while in exile on Tatooine after the events of the prequels, the creative team of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" had to write themselves out of a particularly sticky corner: how do they redeem the prequel trilogy while justifying the show's own existence at the same time? At the end of the day, these two main issues may have combined to sink the series before it had even begun.

In a vacuum, "Obi-Wan Kenobi" had plenty of flair for the dramatic, but never did it reach a point where the story ever felt truly essential. It's neat that the series added some added motivation for why a grown-up Leia would eventually send such a frantic message to old Obi-Wan specifically in "Star Wars," or why the renewed rivalry on the Death Star feels so one-sided between a peacefully resigned Obi-Wan and the vengeance-seeking Vader, or any number of other clever recontextualizations ... but all of those original trilogy moments still worked perfectly fine on their own. On the prequel side of the equation, we had to deal with the exact opposite problem. The prequel trilogy was simply too haphazard, too dramatically inert, and not nearly as focused on the Anakin/Obi-Wan dynamic as it should've been to give "Obi-Wan Kenobi" any narrative boost whatsoever.

Ultimately, the finale builds to the tragic turning point where, after another tense and heart-stopping lightsaber duel, the Jedi Master must finally acknowledge to the half-masked visage of Darth Vader that, "Then my friend is truly dead." Without the benefit of having seen that friendship grow and coalesce throughout the prequels, it's the biggest shame of all that such a dramatic moment — like the series overall — fell disappointingly flat.