Obi-Wan Kenobi shows a different side of Obi-Wan. No longer the swashbuckling, quippy Jedi we know from the prequels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this Obi-Wan is pushing through it. Alone with his loyal eopie on Tatooine, Obi-Wan—now known as Ben—watches over Luke from afar. He tries to lead a normal life. He puts his Jedi instincts to help aside in order to stay alive and protect Luke. Guilt and memories haunt Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan Kenobi writer and executive producer Joby Harold tells Nerdist, “The guiding principle that I had throughout was that it had to be a 360-degree view on Obi-Wan. Who he was, what he’d been through, and everything was fair game because he’s the byproduct of those experiences.”
And those experiences include Padmé. A fierce leader and fighter and Obi-Wan’s friend, Padmé made an impression. Obi-Wan sees Padmé in her daughter, Leia. Harold says, “She’s a massive part of where he was, who he was. The guilt to which you speak, that is really important. And it’s not what the show is about. But to not acknowledge Padmé… I agree she’s a massive part of the prequels, and I just didn’t want her to not be part of the conversation of the show because she deserves to be. Padmé and her relationship with everyone, and the residual feelings of the past and that which he carries with him, she’s part of that.”
Padmé is one of the ghosts who haunts Obi-Wan. While the audience members who don’t know the prequels well may not pick up on the reference, it strikes deep for so many. Harold explains they didn’t want the Padmé nods to be distracting, but he adds, “You take the hit a little bit on that a couple of times, because it’s so worth including her within the subtext of a scene. And certainly when she becomes part of the storytelling. Like in the scene with Leia on the transport, then it works because it’s about Leia within the scene. Padmé is the chess piece within which we get to have that character relationship evolve. And that makes her vital, as opposed to just a piece of the context of canon.”
The connection to Padmé comes through vibrantly in young Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair). The Third Sister (Moses Ingram) uses Leia as bait to catch Obi-Wan. And Leia’s parents take the risk of calling upon Ben for assistance. Harold relates they really had to consider what would pull Obi-Wan away from Luke.
“The notion of it being Leia was really important,” he says, “It also brings to the conversation what’s great about the original trilogy—the degree to which Leia rises and becomes as important as Luke. When they begin, you think it’s all about Luke. And then you realize, ‘No, it’s the twins and they both carry the weight. And the Force is strong with both of them.’ And the notion that Obi-Wan was always looking over Luke somewhat dismisses, within canon, the notion of Leia, who’s just, ‘Well, she’s fine. They’ll take care of her.’ But that conversation then is brought right into the audience’s face when he’s asked to, not to choose, but is reminded of the fact that Leia’s important too. It doesn’t correct the past, but it acknowledges to the audience they are both important.”
If two Obi-Wans existed, he would have looked after both Luke and Leia. But they had to make choices. Obi-Wan became Ben and began a life on Tatooine. He buried his and Anakin’s lightsabers beneath the desert sand. Obi-Wan put aside his connection to the Force. When we see him use it to attempt to save Leia’s life, it appears to be a struggle for him. Whether it’s the nature of the Force or that he’s suppressed his abilities for so long that he’s created a mental roadblock, it doesn’t come easy. Harold says that was intentional.
“He’s been 10 years in a cave. And to use the Force or the lightsaber is to draw attention to yourself,” Harold explains. “He’s habitually gotten to the place where that’s in his past for now. So we deliberately didn’t see him use it effectively until that moment, because it should be a moment. He shouldn’t just grab his cup of coffee in the morning. And he would only do it for something that’s important as that. That needed to be the first step. He has to wrap his arms around who he is. And it’s a great metaphor for who he is, his relationship to the Force, and his ability to use it.”
While Obi-Wan reconciles himself to using the Force again, he also has to process a startling truth. It turns out Anakin Skywalker is alive and he’s Darth Vader. The news hits Obi-Wan almost tangibly. We see Ewan McGregor’s raw portrayal of the realization that his former student didn’t perish on Mustafar. It’s a dagger to the heart. Harold notes he didn’t realize at first that this storytelling moment was on the board as something they could use. He wasn’t aware of the specifics of how much Obi-Wan and the galaxy knew about Darth Vader and when they learned it. But they saw the opportunity for the truth to come to light in the series. Harold says, “It makes the storytelling very active for the audience because they get to see it being played out on Ewan’s face.”
He continues, “The original incarnation of all this—Vader had appeared much earlier in the storytelling, and his name had been thrown around. And I very much went, ‘Just slow everything down, really be patient and really build who Obi-Wan was.’ And then introduce the notion that he’s out there, to then play it, and then end on him saying, ‘Anakin.’ That word is very seismic to him by then in the audience’s minds, because they sat with him for those two episodes. Then you get to cut to the bacta tank and all that… The notion that he doesn’t know, it’s a great card to play, so why not play it live? Why not watch Ewan do it? Why not see him realize and then, and only then show the audience the character? “
And while episode two teases Anakin Skywalker’s changed form in that bacta tank, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s third installment brings Darth Vader fully into the story. This is a man focused on revenge. It becomes evident that Vader is holding the hatred that burned in Anakin’s eyes at the end of the Revenge of the Sith close to his heart. He stalks angrily through the town on Mapuzo, snapping a neck and tossing innocents about. His anger is visceral in a way we haven’t seen before.
Harold notes, “I think the difference between this Vader and the Vader that we’ve seen is that he is professionally sadistic in other incarnations and is doing his job as efficiently as Vader does. Certainly, the end of Rogue One is forever fresh in the imagination because of the strength of that sequence. The confidence and the grace with which he gets his job done is he is ruthlessly efficient.”
Harold continues, “It was important to me that Obi-Wan isn’t yet this Alec Guinness finished character, and he’s in transition, and he is not yet the man that we know he will become. Why not look at Vader through the same lens, in the sense that we know who he is in Episode IV. And last time we saw him in Episode III, it was the expectation for who he was going to become. But I’m glad that he feels that way because that was the intention, that the rage is still strong, and it is personal for him. You feel, hopefully, that anger come through. It needed to feel tweaked, a little bit of a different Vader, our Vader consistent with this show. Otherwise he just lapses into being a silhouette villain.”
New episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi drop on Wednesdays on Disney+.