A Plea to Disney for Coherence and Quality Control in Star Wars (and More Finesse with Politics)

We don’t need perfection, but the casual ridiculousness has to stop, or, how Obi-Wan Kenobi is a perfect microcosm for so much of what is wrong with Disney Star Wars

By Brian E. Frydenborg (Twitter @bfry1981LinkedInFacebook), July 21, 2022

WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars in general, especially Obi-Wan Kenobi and other Disney+ Star Wars series

Obi Wan Funny 1

Author’s note: Regrettably, I have been sitting on this for nearly a month (mostly as is, with minimal edits).  I was excited to have this come out for an entertainment site—I will not get into specifics names here—for which I had written about Star Wars before.  No real history of any real issues there, certainly none with my editor at the time, but apparently that editor—again, not going into names, and I go into details I won’t go into here in a Twitter thread you can find if you really want to—despite never, not once, sending any critical or negative thought or communication to me about me or my work, couldn’t stand my views on Disney Star Wars or me as a person and projected a great deal onto what I did and did not mean in my communications, going far beyond my actual words into speculation and distortion.

This piece below, in earlier draft form, though, put this editor over the edge.  That editor then engaged in a temporarily successful political purge against me because of the views expressed here and projection related to them, but eventually the company realized major mistakes were made, apologized, and more or less fixed the situation to one acceptable to me after admitting the editor had behaved very inappropriately towards me.  So I was pleasantly surprised my attempts at open, reasoned discussion paid off (not with this editor, but with the company I freelanced with for some time; still, please do not seek out, bother, or engage the editor on my behalf, I absolutely am not trying to make this about this particular person, site, or company, but, rather, the larger issues this whole situation represents).

I really wanted to get my deep-dive on the Obi-Wan Kenobi series out to readers though, so here it is, with some edits/updates and a further explanatory note at the end* on what I touched upon here in this note, tying it into the larger issues I focused on on my original article. And oh, if you really hate what I have to say, feel free to disagree by actually sending me your critiques and views! Don’t be like that editor, engage and exchange!

SILVER SPRING—I try hard to go into new Disney/Lucasfilm Star Wars projects with an open mind.  Yes, mistakes are human, but refusing to learn from the body of dedicated fans giving consistent feedback is unforgiveable.  But when you don’t have a passionate, informed person or duo leading the effort from the top (three is a crowd), you basically get a committee trying to please everyone, do everything at once, shoehorn way too much in, and executing each part of the overburdened project with less finesse than more focus and time would allow.

While in George Lucas’s films, there are occasional technical errors that usually only a close rewatch can catch—a stormtrooper hitting his head on a Death Star doorframe, some of the droid voices or random side character voices in the prequels being slightly inconsistent—there are glaring moments of cringe here in Kenobi that, unlike in the J.J. Abrams Star Wars movies, stick with you in the moment because it is not trying to move at Abrams’ blazing lightspeed, skipping or not (not that Abrams’ flaws in his Star Wars films do not come flooding through as soon as the roller coaster ride ends and the credits roll, they do and easily stick with you when your brain can take a pause from the sensory overload and actually process what you have seen).

I don’t mind an awkward sequence or two.  But what we have is almost lazy, consistent, substantive flaws that are damn distracting—that is, when the show isn’t distracting with its own intentional distractions that they confuse for major plot lines betraying the titular choice of the series.

Bait and Switch

And what I mean is that Disney/Lucasfilm is constantly faking out its audiences, trying to make each new series as much as it can a “ONE-SIZE FITS ALL FOR ALL AGES!”-snare, baiting with what looks like one thing, but ends up being something else.  The key examples:

What we were sold:

A Badass Show about a Mandalorian bounty hunter!

What we got:

Mando and son, whereas Mando learns to be a dad! (I’m partly kidding, but partly not. There is less bounty-hunter badassery than we mostly all wanted, but the balance is still on giving Mando screen time vs Grogu, who can’t speak and definitely doesn’t compete for screen time, but the father-protective/mentoring dynamic, not the bounty-hunter dynamic, dominates.  But I guess we MUST HAVE the mentoring dynamic with a kid (CHECK)… (Still, I love this show)

What we were sold:

Bad Batch: A badass show about hardcore mutant clones

What we got:

Those clones babysitting an admittedly cool kid, Omega, but still…. Hero/kid mentoring/family dynamic (CHECK) dominates the series, not mutant clone badassery (I do like this series though)

What we were sold:

A show about the OG bounty hunter from the Original Trilogy, THE BOBA FETT, being a total badass!

What we got:

A show in which Boba mostly decides “I wanna be a super nice guy,” farms out most of the badassery to the more badass Fennec Shand (LOVE her, but she shouldn’t outshine Boba in his own show), the series being extremely inconsistent with storytelling/pacing, and the best episode by far is actually a Mandalorian prequel to that show’s third season, an episode in which Boba does not even appear , but we get the mentor-kid dynamic again (CHECK)

What we were sold:

“Hey, want a badass, mature show that’s about Obi-Wan’s dark, traumatized existence after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith? Here’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Ewan McGregor, and, bringing Hayden Christensen back, we might even give you some deep introspection on Vader while we’re it at!”

What we got:

The Adventures of Obi-Wan, Lil’ Leia, and Reva!  Plenty of kid stuff for the kiddies, and plenty of Reva (because I guess the idea is Millennials and “Gen Z”—really baby Millennials—would get “bored” with Gen-Xer-age Kenobi so we need to add a younger-adult focus! Maybe my annoyance is clouding my judgment, but I think Leia and Reva get more screen time combined than Kenobi does in most episodes. And, of course, the mentor-kid dynamic (CHECK)

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those Reva haters (again, screw the racist attacks against actress Moses Ingram), and knowing what I know now after the big Part V reveal and the ending, I am not upset with her story like some or her performance, I actually like it: it works fairly well and explains a lot of what people complained about initially, but I do agree it would have benefitted from letting it breather a little with more development over more episodes or at least longer episodes.  And I like Lil’ Leia!  A LOT!  But I don’t need THAT MUCH of her.  This isn’t the Lil’ Leia show.  It’s not the Reva show.  Instead of coming off as a series where the focus is on Kenobi where there are new (Reva) or reintroduced-at-a-younger-age characters (Leia), for a show billed as Obi-Wan Kenobi, it feels like they are just about equal stars.

We Were All Oversold on Obi-Wan Himself for No Good Reason
Leia Reva

And this is where I get really angry with Disney/Lucasfilm.  I know they are a profit-driven corporation that is constantly trying to grow audience and hit new demographics (and we know, to appease Chinese censors, they minimized Nigerian-British actor John Boyega’s Finn’s appearance on Chinese posters, and Boyega felt misused by Disney overall).  I’m ok with trying to grow audience and expand demographics if done well, but the bait and switch—here is something we know longtime and hardcore fans will want, Obi-Wan, but instead of truly giving due focus in a show named after him to the titular character, we’re going to throw this other stuff in to the point Obi-Wan is competing for screen time with these new elements—has left a bad taste in my mouth and many others.

What’s crazy is that, for a show with just six episodes, we only got two episodes that focused on the Obi-Wan/Vader/Anakin dynamic above all else.  The rest all had way more going on, in many ways to their detriment.

If they called the show: Star Wars: The Hunt for Obi-Wan and Leia, I’d have been fine with what we got.  We are focusing on the main objects of the hunting—Obi-Wan and Leia—and we are focusing on the main actor on the hunter’s side, Reva.  It would be a great three-thread story on how they all tied into each other’s destinies, with some great Vader stuff mixed in.  But it’s a freaking show called Obi-Wan Kenobi.  And we didn’t see Obi-Wan before we saw Reva; it was the other way around, which may be coincidence, or it may not be.

Maul hoping

I respect Deborah Chow, who, like Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau and unlike Rian Johnson and some Disney/Lucasfilm executives/producers, respects Star Wars for what it is has been and is and could be, not far more for what it could be, not as something they can “fix” or make better because it was sooo lacking, soooo missing modern sensibilities.  And trust me, anything older could use a few updates to better fit into any new era, but you can tell the difference between people who love and cherish the old and give thoughtful updates and those who are on a mission to “correct” beloved franchises in ways destined to offend longtime fans unnecessarily.  That former is what Dave Filoni did spectacularly with George Lucas with Clone Wars, that’s what Dave and Jon Favreau did with Mandalorian.

So here, again, we get to corporate plotting to have everything at the same time and nothing as an individual element being truly standout.  Some corporate committee decided they wanted to insert X stuff for the “new fans” or “potential new fans” and for “the kids” on top of the obvious elements in Obi-Wan Kenobi built on the legacy characters of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker.  No, we couldn’t possibly just have a show focused on those two, it doesn’t check enough “boxes.”  Gods forbid!

To do this, said corporate committee hired a nobody writer to lead the writing for the series who virtually none of us have heard of before who has little ownership/attachment/knowledge of the existing material and who the committee can easily push around: Joby Harold, whose writing credits before Kenobi are only three films: Zack Snyder’s 2021 Netflix film Army of the Dead, 5.7 rating on IMDB and written with another; 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, 6.7 rating by fans onIMDB and written with Guy Ritchie and other randos; and Awake in 2007, 6.5 IMDB rating, directed by Joby Harold, too, and starring Hayden Christensen (I guess that’s why??).

Except that Deborah Chow told us that we were getting a deep “character-driven story,” like the masterpiece Logan—about Wolverine, the only superhero movie, in my view, that can compete with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which was tight-knit and very focused on Logan and his relationship with Charles Xavier and Laura, with three standout performances—or the deep psychological drama Joker, centered only on the Joker, with him being the only main character.  But at the point I was writing much of this, in the half-day before the final episode aired, I thought, no matter how good the final episode is, no matter how different it is, with five-sixths of Kenobi sealed, delivered, and opened, that is definitely not what we got (the finale mixed episode, with an amazing Vader/Kenobi showdown and a decent culmination of Reva’s story, has not changed this understanding for me).

I checked for how long each episode was not including credits: Part I included a more-than-4-minute recap of the Prequel Trilogy, so not including that nor the credits, it’s not much over 44 minutes, I’m not cutting out the recaps for the other lengths, but keep in mind these do include recaps that take over 1 minute, sometimes closer to 2 minutes, off the length: Part II isn’t even 35 minutes; Part III isn’t even 41 minutes; Part IV isn’t even 33 minutes; Part V isn’t even 36.5 minutes; and the finale Part VI is the longest, at 44.5 minutes.

I am sorry, Disney/Lucasfilm, but if you want to engage in prestige TV, the general rule for being considered top-tier is to give your viewers about an hour an episode: this has been the case since The Sopranos, with everything from The Wire and Rome to Homeland and Dexter to Westworld and Game of Thrones (AMC with Mad Men, Walking Dead and Breaking Bad is the main example otherwise, cuz commercials, and Disney/Lucasfilm doesn’t have that excuse).  Yet half of Kenobi’s episodes feel little more than half-an-hour: they feel like half-episodes.

Which brings me to this next point, what drives me crazy even more so:  we could have had every second of Reva and Lil’ Leia we have now, and if this was a proper prestige show, given the status, respect, effort, and budget those shows had, we had plenty of time to have WAY more of Obi-Wan-himself!  That’s way more time for Ewan to act, to speak, way more time for him to reminisce, to possibly commune with Qui-Gon Jinn or Yoda (as I was hoping we would get and discussed elsewhere and finally got in the finale), to watch Luke, to have Clone Wars flashbacks (and not necessarily expensive battles but some nice downtime with Obi-Wan and Anakin, maybe even Ahsoka, which I thought maybe we would still get in the final episode, but oh well).  Disney, you had Ewan hired, and these scenes could easily have been written and produced with not a tremendous amount of effort, just a writer who really knew Star Wars and had the confidence to tackle it respectfully, or even if you had to drag Filoni in to write them, I am sure he would have obliged.  You could have added three, five more minutes of each episode, even easily more, still not exceeded an hour, and given us far more character development for Obi-Wan, you know, the main character the show is named after.

Quality Control, Please: Consumers vs. Fans

Instead, we get Obi-Wan having two episodes where the main thing he does is try to find and rescue Leia, two whole episodes in a six-episode series dangerously retreading incredibly similar ground.  We also have two chase sequences involving Leia, both of which are slow and poorly directed.  Again, I like Deborah Chow, and can’t explain this.  Maybe it was the Second Unit or Assistant Directors, of which there are literally eleven for the few episodes I checked (including the lowest-rated-by-far one at 6.3 on IMDB), something I’ve never seen before, but which explains the incoherence: Chow probably directed the best parts, and pick from among the other eleven to explain the WTF moments…

Before this final episode aired, I was dreading the fact that apparently young Luke is being dragged into this, and at least his role was kept to a minimum, but still, I think we would have been better off not bringing in Luke/Owen/Beru into the final episode for Reva’s culmination because we already made the decision to take Obi-Wan off Tatooine and to focus on Leia; making Luke the focus for the end of the final episode when Leia has been the focus of the previous five just feels contrived, and, in such a short series, rushed.  And the contrived, forced way we had Bail Organa needlessly name-dropping Owen and Tatooine when Kenobi already knew that information was just ridiculous, really bad writing along with it just being dropped like that and left for Reva to find.  It was as if once not killing Reva off during the Vader fight they did not know what to do with her or how to wrap the next episode up and they just forced everything together.

We already have three main axes around which the show has revolved: Obi-Wan, Reva, and Leia, with a sub-focus on Vader.  After five episodes, bringing in a fifth axis with Luke… in a six-episode show, just no.

With Reva and Leia, I almost felt like we were getting a product testing sample: let’s see how the audience response to X and Y, and, depending on the reactions, we may develop a new product line, more products for more money.  Hell, we could have had a whole new series: Star Wars: Inquisitor, focused solely on Reva, with her being brought into the Inquisitorius, hinting at her backstory, and setting up a crossover with Kenobi.  Instead of getting a Reva series and/or an Obi-Wan series, it seems like Disney/Lucasfilm tried to do both in one and succeeded at neither.  I could say the same for Leia.  We get some great scenes for all the main characters, but the ways they were all put together make me feel the marketing boxes having their checks drawn in them, that I am being subjected to some sort of corporate algorithm.

Which I wouldn’t mind if the show was put together in a much better way, if the final produce was of a much higher quality.  We’ve already seen this with The Mandalorian (but even it can come off as uneven sometimes).  We know of one aborted spinoff (Rangers of the New Republic) and one currently in production (Ahsoka, but, to call that series a Mandalorian spin-off doesn’t do Ahsoka Tano’s character’s history in other Star War content justice; with Dave Filoni helming that, I very confident it will be amazing).  If a show is good enough, I won’t realize, won’t notice too much, or won’t care that you are trying to sell me or pitch me an upcoming product; Ahsoka and other Mandalorian cameos did not feel shoehorned int.  It won’t feel grossly commercial or too corporate-y because I will be enjoying the content so much. 

There are people who consume and enjoy a product—let’s call them the consumers—who enjoy most of what’s thrown at them without really thinking about it much or ever allowing themselves to get that bent out of shape over a particular property.  They enjoy Baby Yoda or Rey or whatever, but it’s not that important to them and they don’t feel that deeper connecting to Star Wars.  They may even post Baby Yoda memes or own Baby Yoda dolls or get their kids Baby Yoda lunchboxes, but they are primarily consumers without any deep emotional attachment even if they find Baby Yoda adorable.

But then there are the people who care deeply about the characters, themes, and worlds of Star Wars—let’s call them fans, who will think carefully about anything, will still consume but do far more than that and not without thoughts and reactions, analysis, or sometimes protestations.  Star Wars for fans is much more than entertainment and distraction.  And, at least in the George Lucas era, that is what set Star Wars apart from, say, the Transformers series, Fast and Furious series, all the Jurassic Parks after the original, and most of the other current blockbuster franchises.

The Star Wars consumers aren’t really thinkers when it comes to Star Wars content, they will happily take the flashy distractions, but the fans, they demand vision, storytelling, something more than exciting sequences strung together.  For them, Star Wars—a lot like the Lord of the Rings—was never just another fun property; it transcended entertainment, was about so much more than just fun, spoke to our souls, and was something that has to be treated gingerly and respectfully in order meet the minimum standards of what made these franchises great.  Instead, Disney had made its era feel like the Hobbit Trilogy if the Hobbit had the same weight and reverence as Lord of the Rings (it doesn’t so it was easy to shrug off those problematic, drawn-out films and even they did not mess up the main characters in the ways Disney often has).

If Lucas didn’t make the Original or Prequel Trilogies, just the first movie, and it kept being handed off to different directors and a whole plethora of different writers selected by a corporate committee, it would never have evolved into the franchise it is now: a staple of global pop culture for four decades, quoted so often in other movies (Tom Holland’s Peter Parker plays with Star Wars Legos), the subject of so many amazing video games and novels (including bestsellers), its exact costumes from 1977 appearing all over the world constantly, its references seeping into politics and everyday references, its music played at nearly every major sporting event from NCAA college sports—played by college bands—to being played on the organ at Madison Square Garden during New York Rangers hockey playoff games.

Such a team would perform embarrassingly poorly, out of line with tis stories history.

With Kenobi, this has manifested itself in significant ways.  The action apart from the lightsaber duels was almost invariably sloppy and poorly coordinated.  Things that defied belief—not sending Tie-fighters after a snowspeeder or a refugee ship (even when the Millennium Falcon had a tracking beacon on it after leaving the Death Star, a few token ties were sent to make it convincing), a roadblock that can easily be walked around, Bail’s ridiculous holomessage to Obi-Wan in Part V that forces the whole Luke subplot for Part VI, that cartoon moment when Obi-Wan walked out of a base full of Imperials with Leia walking with him under his jacket, and apparent canon issues—were just fed to us as if we should simply accept them and not think about it, let alone complain.  All of this is symptomatic of laziness, lack of respect for the audience, and rushing, none of which belong in our Star Wars.

And keep in mind, this comes after a whole Sequel Trilogy that they made up as they went along with no real plan and poorly handled, to varying degrees, the legacy characters of Han Solo, Leia Organa Skywalker, and, especially, Luke Skywalker, ranging from missed opportunities to just doing a character dirty with a postmodern deconstructionist attitude wholly inappropriate for the Skywalker Saga (but admittedly could have worked in Star Wars in a different era with all new characters unrelated to the original characters).

So the idea is that they would take more care this time around…

I will admit that I loved Liam Neeson back as Qui-Gon Jinn, I loved the final battle between Kenobi and Vader (and the first), hell, I even cried during that final duel, and I cried when Kenobi was telling Leia about her mother and father—those two scenes alone were worth the price of admission—but the journey matters, not just the destination, and so much of what got us to that final lightsaber duel was just so-so, B-level TV writing and action of questionable quality.  On my 4k TV, some of the scenes even looked poorly shot, with some of the larger scenic shots in the final duel looking grainy and buffer-y, even low-quality, not anywhere near how it should look in 4k.  Disney, where was the quality control?  Why the RUSH??  While I could give the fight a 9 or a 10, I cannot give the whole episode that, let alone the series.

Star Wars vs. Marvel MCU and the state of Disney Star Wars
Marvel vs Star Wars
Austin Lang/Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm

I will confess that I have been turned off by the Marvel MCU its sheer volume of content (and the X-Men comics were my big Marvel reads growing up), most of which isn’t terribly highly rated (of over two-dozen films, only a handful have an 8.0-or-higher IMDB rating and the two highest are only 8.4, plus, you can’t count the Spiderman movies because they aren’t Disney), because it seems like the point isn’t to tell a great story or a great movie but to simply keep pumping out content that will be consumed by linking it to all the existing content.  If I feel like I am being fed one thing just so I will consume the next thing, I because suspicious, old geezer that I am.

But I must put some stock in die-hard Marvel fans, because they seem to generally love the MCU.  I hear relatively few complaints, let alone bitterness, rage, betrayal, or that combination leading to indifference, common to find these days among a large portion of Star Wars fans.

So Marvel must be doing a better job, because Star Wars fans are not eating up their version of the MCU.

Some were fooled on a nostalgia overload by Force Awakens, and most longtime fans hate Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, both of which help people who missed the shallowness of Force Awakens realize it upon subsequent viewings (two directors pissing on each other’s work over the course of a trilogy is not how you make a quality trilogy.  For anything.  Ever.).  Rebels is hit or (mostly) miss but I think people just took the excellent Vader/Ahsoka content and pretended the rest of the repetitive, underdeveloped, low-production-value rest was good when it was just ok or meh…  Resistance?  OOPS.  Solo is underrated (best of the Disney-era films!) and Rogue One is overrated (an awesome final combined-space-and-ground battle with Vader icing and sprinkles a great movie does not make).  The entire approach to Book of Boba Fett left most people scratching their heads, and even if the show was overall enjoyable, it was also incoherent and disjointed in some ways similar to the Sequel Trilogy, just not as horrifically so.  Yes, Favreau and Filoni were attached, which makes is even more confusing, but let’s just say we lucked out with the different-director-episode-to-episode-approach when it came to Mandalorian, let’s not repeat that with anything else. The point is, that’s three major projects with a patern.

That leaves Mandalorian and Clone Wars as the only newer content that united nearly all fans.

I think about how the Marvel section within Disney can take a new show about a second- or third-tier hero and generally please both its audience and its critics, tend to do this consistently, and then I think about this Kenobi show, from a mile away pretty clearly going to feature two of the four most important characters for the bulk of the more than forty years Star Wars has existed—Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker—which will even include some of the other two, Anakin’s children, Luke and Leia—and I am mystified as well as enraged: how could Disney allow a more coherent, well-thought-out, crowd-pleasing vision and production for even lower-tier Marvel shows get the treatment and effort that should obviously have been there from a corporate organizational standpoint for Vader and Kenobi?? As a case in point: the apparently meh The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not even in the top ten Disney-era Marvel TV-shows by rating, and yet even it is rated slightly higher (7.2 on IMDB) than Kenobi (7.1 on IMDB) but with nearly 50% more ratings.

(Or even getting away from Marvel, I never heard of The Boys before the show, and the show just keeps banging out well-produced, well-written, coherent, consistent, good-looking episodes episode after episode.  Why is The Boys getting better treatment than Star Wars??  Or how about Peacemaker?  A very diverse show, dealing with complicated issues, that turned out to be superb, about a character I never knew and never cared about, why is this character given grade-A treatment?? [Because a person of stature with a great track record and with a vision was able to execute that vision as that person saw fit, and a studio gave him pretty much as much as he wanted to be able to do that.])

In short, why is Disney not pulling out all the stops, bringing in the best talent, bringing in veteran hands, throwing money (it has plenty), giving Obi-Wan Kenobi A-list, first-tier treatment?

Don’t try to answer this question, because there is no logical way to understand the paths that led Disney to more of less succeed and skillfully execute shows for non-top-tier Marvel characters like Wanda Maximoff (7.9 on IMDB), Loki (8.2 on IMDB), and Jessica Jones (7.9 on IMDB) but not so much with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth freakin’ Vader.  Or to understand the management approach behind any masterpiece film or TV show compared to what Disney did with Kenobi.  Those successful showrunners and film creators do not, for one thing, bring in a writer like Joby Harold.  But let’s not hate on Joby: the blame is with the mentality of the corporate powers that be thinking it would be anywhere near acceptable to do this for a series with flagship characters.  There are numerous writers who have written well-received Star Wars novels—some New York Times bestsellers for years, but, hey, let’s go with some guy who doesn’t seem to even know Star Wars particularly well.

It would be like one of the most storied franchises in sports history—Real Madrid, Manchester United, the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, or the Montreal Canadiens—hiring some person who done an ok job as a college coach for a few seasons and just that in any of those sports (I know some of you Star Wars folks are like “what is sports?” I promise the analogy works).  Or, better yet, it is like Disney/Lucasfilm hiring Rian Johnson to do Star Wars: Episode VIII…  I don’t blame Joby Harold, though; I do, again, blame those who put him in that position.

Imperial Hubris

For my other recent work, I have been reading and writing about the 1939-1940 Soviet Finnish Winter War between the USSR and plucky little outgunned Finland as a prism through which to examine the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.  For most of the fairly short war, the Finns embarrassed a colossally misled, improperly equipped, poorly led, mind-numbingly-stupid Soviet Red Army, inflicting enormous losses on the Soviets to far fewer losses for their own forces, with far-less advanced equipment and far less ammunition than the Soviets (think the Ewoks vs. the Imperials at the Battle of Endor and it’s honestly not that much different, except think Arctic snow instead of temperate forest.  I’m not kidding).  In other words, like the Empire vs. the little fuzzy bears, they had the resources, technology, and manpower to crush the little furballs.  But they kept making the same mistakes, week after week after week, and it boggles the mind.

At this point, that’s how I feel with Disney/Lucasfilm when it comes to Star Wars.

Those who study business in MBA programs would be at a loss, too: it is incredibly hard to understand the rhyme or reason of their approach because they keep taking an ad hoc approach where vision and consistency is obviously needed.  They did not do this with Sequel Trilogy, and it is painfully obvious.  Now, we are hearing about how Disney/Lucasfilm is making it up as they go along as to whether Kenobi really is going to be a limited six-episode series or to have a whole second season.

Enough… please!

The fans, as opposed to consumers, really want art.  They have every right to expect the prestige treatment, the quality of the Sopranos or Rome or most seasons of Game of Thrones.  Apart from Mandalorian and Clone Wars, fan reception—and with Star Wars, there is a massive fanbase, not just a consumer base—has been decidedly mixed, hit or miss.  We have every right to expect the studio to take the time, expense, and consideration to churn out a Star Wars series featuring Kenobi and Vader as the presumed centers of the series actually focus mainly on them, that matches the efforts put into the best of television and movies, not some cheaper, wildly uneven mishmash put together by twelve directors per episode and a committee of generally not-known writers without serious resumes as writers.  This isn’t your experimental product test-balloon, this is the first time we are seeing Kenobi against Vader since literally 2005.  Instead, we get unfocused and uneven, repetitive episodes.  We get cheap-looking scenes.  We get some things that really don’t make sense in jarring ways.  We get lightsabers that look like the expensive replica lightsaber toys, that look like they are rounded glass 3D blades used by coplayers but with brighter lighting that made otherwise solid-to-excellent action scenes sometimes look off visually.  We get a flashback with Anakin designed to show “ANAKIN AGGRESSIVE WANT TO WIN TOO MUCH” and that’s it, nothing deeper.  We get mostly unmemorable music (compare to the Fallen Order soundtrack; hell, compare the writing and action in that game to this series, the focus on great characters, the excellent pacing from world to world, level to level, without characters feeling shoehorned in, to Kenobi…).

Kenobi quality
Disney/Lucasfilm: 4K HDR image (click for full size); just look at that pixelation/lack of clarity in the background, the strange lighting around the lightsaber being drawn
Kenobi quality 2
Disney/Lucasfilm: 4K HDR image (click for full size); more background pixelation & look at that strange lighting effect & how fuzzy it is; compare these to screenshots from the older even PRE-4K 1080p Star Wars version from the prequels and remastered originals, to Lord of the Rings pre-4K 1080p versions…

Yes, we ask for a lot.  But the thing is, it has been done with Star Wars before, and Lucas, Filoni, Favreau, and the developers of Fallen Order at Respawn have shown us it can be done.  Instead, Disney/Lucasfilm keep doubling down, to one degree or another, on the errors of the aimless, non-planned/poorly-planned direction of the Sequel Trilogy.  Book of Bob Fett was the worst offender since Rise of Skywalker until Kenobi, but let’s be honest: I love Boba but he’s not Anakin and he’s not Obi-Wan.  So the carelessness is even worse here, given the weight of the material.

I loved certain scenes in this show.  That doesn’t forgive the rest of the series.  Don’t tell me we needed buildup and that explains it.  So do all other great series and the best Star Wars movies, the issue here is the quality not just of the execution, but the approach taken to hiring writers and directors, planning, staffing, everything.  Kenobi is a microcosm of the range of Disney’s version of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: highs, lows, end everything in-between.

Especially with the finale, I can say “Obi-Wan Kenobi is pretty good!”  But not great.

I’d rather they just slowed down, hired much better and better-established writers (ideally one or two-maximum, with VISION) that idolized Star Wars, better assistant/second directors, had Filoni involved as an executive producer, and spent another year developing everything far more carefully, limiting the side-plots, side-characters, giving us more of the main characters and in live location shots in the desert, not only The Volume (as Vader himself said of the Death Star in A New Hope, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”).  I want Rome and Game of Thrones and Band of Brothers and production values.  I want a masterpiece of high-art television for Star Wars, Logan-level character development and scripts, Star Wars-quality music (Clone Wars’s and Narcos’s Kevin Kiner or the Fallen Order guys, Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab), your best damn effort, Disney!

That isn’t what we got.  We got a product, trying to do too much, appeal to too many audiences, we did not get art with a singular vision, which is perhaps what characterizes the best Star Wars Content: I-VI and Clone Wars.

Please, Disney and Lucasfilm.  PLEASE.  It’s time to take a different approach.  All-things to all people run by a corporate committee just hasn’t worked, and even if it has made you money, it has really divided and disappointed audiences.  Learn from what has united, not divided fans, form both within Star Wars and Disney and without.  Don’t fall the corporate Dark Side, open your minds to the artistic light-side, and stop repeating the same needless, careless mistakes.

And, as a writer, above all, bring quality writers who know Star Wars to write these scripts.  It all starts with the script matched with love of the material.  When you do that, it’s hard to go wrong.  When you don’t, you fail, and have no one to blame but yourselves for the messes that get created and recognized for the messes that they are.

Please, stop giving us messes.  Slow down.  Take your time.  Listen.  And learn.

Obi Wan funny 2

Between “finishing” this piece and its final publication, I rewatched the last episode of Season 3 of HBO’s magisterial Westworld and the premiere of the brand-new first episode of its Season 4 (and, since sitting on this piece, the next three episodes).  To appreciate my argument on its most simple, visceral level, I ask simply this:  if you are caught up on Westworld, watch the same two episodes I did; if not, watch the next two episodes from where you are in the series, and if you have not started the show, watch the first two episodes.  As you watch, notice and then compare the incredible story, mix of high-level and crass yet superb dialogue, the seamless general writing and transitions, the deep philosophical references, the Emmy-worthy acting, the lush set design and quality mixed with incredible location shots, the high general production values, the mesmerizing cinematography, the spectacular lighting, the evocative and highly memorable music, the incredibly detailed pacing and editing that gets to almost exactly an hour or even occasionally more, the dance-like-conceived action choreography, the intricate way character arcs develop and characters make decisions, the nuance competing with the intensity—and all of this built upon the overall level of effort, care, and planning that was required to pull all this off throughout the entirety of the episodes, along with the budget and patience to execute these scenes as well as they were executed—to all their counterparts in even the two best episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Then ask yourself: which is the prestige and artful television show, and which is not.

And then, you will understand where I am coming from.

After that, ask yourself why this is the case.

Then, you will understand the depth of my frustration.

*Explanatory note for author’s note: I knew next to nothing of editor’s views or work until right around the time all this went down and after I had sent this draft as a submission.  Instead of simply rejecting the draft, sharing what problems this person as an editor or human had with it, or engaging with me at all—and I would have welcomed a spirited discussion, been ok with rejection—this editor went around me and gathered a number of other folks at the company (freelancers like myself and the editor) with whom I had little to no direct interaction (most likely none) but who really didn’t like my views on Star Wars.  They went like a woke mob of the type that saw Bari Weiss and Donald McNeil, among others, driven from their journalistic home (two people whose work and views I often admire, even if I don’t always agree with them; Weiss has, since her departure from The New York Times, disappointingly moved somewhat to the right in ways with which I don’t agree, but she is still a voice worth hearing and I embrace her resignation letter’s criticism of the Times).

After days of no response of my editor to some different and related inquiries (nothing hostile), I got an e-mail with this pretty Orwellian line from a much-higher-up at the company: “Our chief goal at ___ has always been to establish active communities around each of our sites. We accomplish that through our content, primarily, and that is, in part, why we welcome and encourage opinionated content from all points of view. Some of your work, however, has challenged other members of the site and left them feeling uncomfortable. Some of the criticism you’ve included in your work has crossed outside of their comfort level.”  After that series of wholly contradictory thoughts, the conclusion was a variation of adios/sayonara to your role here, an abrupt unilateral act with no warning that seemed an extreme overreaction.

Again, this was from an editor’s and other staffers’ reactions to a series of Star Wars articles published with the approval of the staff (I cannot post directly, only an editor or higher-up can) that no reasonable person would react to this way.  Not Trump.  Not Gaza.  Not abortion.  Star Wars.  Reasonable people could disagree with my Star Wars views (and admittedly I myself in some of those pieces bring some heavy issues into the discussion), of course, but for reaction to rise to that level an enraged secret purge campaign, thinking that was a justifiable response, was extremism run amok, liberal Millennial snowflake intolerance at its worst (and I say that as a lifelong liberal). 

I suspected what was going on and was able to later directly confirm, but before I confirmed, I did my own research.  I had already known that a number of authors were very into leftist social and political activism, particularly around identity-driven issues, and were also vert pro-Disney (I’d even go as far as to say they are shills for Disney Star Wars), enthusiastically greeting each new movie, show, comic, book, toy that comes out with Star Wars on it from Disney.  Looking at the site in general, the vast majority of the content is positive on Disney Star Wars and you’d never know how incredibly serious the problems are between Disney’s Lucasfilms’s version of Star Wars and the Star Wars fandom.

To be fair, lots of Star Wars content out there is like this, particularly from voices attached to larger entertainment fan sites that seek to have a relationship with Disney to have early access to products and to interview folks involved in Disney Star Wars.  This is a serious problem in journalism, not least in political journalism, as I highlighted with The New York Times’s Glenn Thrush and that paper’s biggest political reporting star, Maggie Haberman.  Access can either blind journalists or, at worst, corrupt them.

Anyway, I specifically did my due diligence on this editor, and found this person’s articles and Twitter feed, especially, full of a crusader mentality, a clear history of not getting along well with almost anyone who challenged this person, an abhorrence of engagement with people who held sharply different views, and very much focused on this person’s social causes in a way that demanded they be fused with Star Wars and Star Wars fandom, anyone who disagreed be damned (or, blocked and denigrated as “toxic” simply for not being in full agreement with this editor).  It was appropriate to be controversial if you were in agreement with this editor, but if not, you did not deserve to speak or be heard.  Star Wars was to primarily (or at least as much as anything) be about advancing social and political agendas, and if people didn’t like it, well, they shouldn’t complain and should just be grateful for the content, the thesis of an entire article by this person (unless, again, you were unhappy from a social/leftist political perspective, and then, your complaints were valid and enthusiastically supported, the contradiction laid bare).  In particular, any Star Wars content that promoted a non-male/white/heterosexual character in a strong way was to be celebrated as wonderful, regardless of the quality of storytelling, writing, production values, plot continuity, if it damages the existing key Star Wars films and canon, if it made no sense… you get my drift, per my above article; if that person overpowers, saves, or corrects a non-diverse character (say, Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker), then it’s even more awesome, cuz, it’s about time!

Quality is redefined as that which advances the agenda, the views of the editor and that editor’s self-selected allies.  Personally, I deeply value and respect elevating marginalized and underrepresented or poorly represented groups if done well, with care and not at the expense of story or tearing down beloved characters to make a political/social point that takes us away from a Galaxy Far, Far Away and right into the muck of our current culture wars.  That’s not to say you can’t touch on sensitive issues that resonate in our world, of course you can, but you should do so without making it so pointed and specific that it feels like your bringing us back into our world in a way that will staunchly alienate many needlessly and make them feel like they and their favorite Star Wars characters are being attacked or denigrated; again, I am a liberal, but don’t want to cheapen Star Wars by making it about scoring shallow points in a culture war at the expense of quality and coherence, hence my title).  And, again, with this editor and this crowd, if you complain about the content lacking good writing, pandering instead of really representing, or anything else reasonable to complain about, you’re bad, your views are bad, and you shouldn’t be given a platform.  You should not get a response, just a nothing or a block; there is no engagement unless it comes from a perspective these people want to elevate.

The more the Disney Star Wars content offended more longtime fans, the more they loved it and attacked the people criticizing it.

This nonsense resembles only one other thing in my writing career:  when a Russia-government affiliated think tank, the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), censored, purged, and gaslit me as a contributor for publishing views very much against the Kremlin line on the human-rights related U.S.-imposed Magnitsky sanctions that infuriated Putin and were the subject of a clear attempt to bribe and corrupt the Trump campaign in 2016 at an infamous meeting at Trump Tower, on Jared Kushner-linked Prevezon and Russian influence campaigns (all the details are here, including the gaslighting e-mails from RIAC).

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to just meekly slide away.  I did not, ended up engaging a very respectful senior staff member at the company, and that staff member admitted major mistakes were made, that I was treated in an extreme and unfair manner, that the whole situation should have been handed much differently, that the editor had behaved wrongly and disingenuously concerning me on a number of fronts, and basically rescinded the other e-mail ending my relationship with the company for a mutual, shared understanding that would have me step away on Star Wars content, at least for now, with a chance to perhaps reengage on that front in the future.  I was inspired by the company’s response to my concerns and it was an inspiring victory for decency, openness, engagement, and hashing out difficult issues respectfully and fairly and being able to admit mistakes (all the things which the editor’s approach and those who think like this editor don’t practice).

I took on a woke mob on a corporate level and was surprised by the results.  Treat people as people, that’s the main lesson I took away from all this.  And I was almost certain it would be pointless but forced myself to give respectful engagement a chance, anyway. There needs to be far more of such engagement in our society, with journalists and commentators having serious engagement with their critics, like I was surprised to find in this awesome video

Snowlfakes need to purge intense disagreement and wrap themselves in a Linus-blanket of an echo chamber, but the adults in the room need to know better and need to teach the younger Millennials (I will note that corporate staffer I engaged with was [or was almost] a fellow Gen X-er, like me) especially, how to do betterIt’s not just Star Wars at stake: it’s our increasingly polarizing entertainment culture overall (look at the different intense reactions to the Lord of the Rings prequel-prequel, Rings of Power, and, on the other side, The Terminal List) and our politics and society overall. 

The original George Lucas Star Wars. Like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, UNITED people, did not divide them.  If Disney and Amazon are finding that their new content for these storied franchises are doing the opposite, and not just dividing people who did not like them from those who did over taste, but dividing intensely along social, political, and identity-driven axes, they really, really need to rethink their approach, just as Trumpist fascists and the far-left need to rethink their approach to politics.

© 2022 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

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