*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*
This week’s task: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars standalone film.
Writers: Kyle Kizu and Harrison Tunggal
Judge: Levi Hill
Fans have wanted a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi film for years now. But the deep crave for one seems to always brush over one fact: it’s going to be incredibly difficult to pull off. Casting anyone other than Ewan McGregor would be a publicity nightmare, so let’s operate under the assumption that he’ll return for the role. And with McGregor aging 10+ years since the prequels, it’d be wildly difficult to sell Kenobi as younger than he is in The Phantom Menace. All of this means that the only period of time a film could work with is the roughly 20 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — most of which are spent on Tatooine.
The film would obviously be a contained one, and would be much more interesting if entirely on Tatooine. It doesn’t have to be a massive epic in the vein of The Force Awakens or Rogue One. In that light, and considering that, technically, Stephen Daldry isn’t officially signed on to direct just yet, I would shift to Their Finest’s Lone Scherfig. With her most recent film, Scherfig shows an adept ability at implying scale while remaining intimate, as Their Finest is relatively contained, but the sense of World War II is still deeply felt. That sensibility could translate to an Obi-Wan film in which the aura of the galactic struggles are still present amid a story bound to a single planet. And Scherfig also could nail Kenobi’s snark and humor, qualities very present in her film, specifically with Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin’s characters — two actors that could be brought in here.
As for the story, and the themes accompanying, I feel as though it’s necessary to maintain what is perhaps the heaviest influence on the franchise: the Empire as the Nazis. After the surfacing of neo-Nazis in the U.S., the film could prove profound in today’s age while also being loyal to the timeless, very Star Wars-esque good vs. evil story. Much of what Obi-Wan Kenobi would be doing on Tatooine is watching over and protecting a young Luke, but the story could also introduce problems of the Empire ravaging villages across the planet while Kenobi attempts to shelter women and children in a similar manner to the many heroes that helped people during the Holocaust. Think The Zookeeper’s Wife meets Schindler’s List meets Star Wars. And in Their Finest, Scherfig deals with the war in which Nazis took action, meaning she’ll be familiar with these ideas.
The film could almost be an underground story, featuring world-building of much more depth than A New Hope, really making Tatooine feel like a planet with a fully informed environmental/societal system of living — something that no Star Wars film has yet truly done.
Luke wouldn’t even really need to be in the film that much, functioning as merely a named presence — perhaps just “the boy” — which could make an ending in which Luke does appear, one in which Kenobi accidentally encounters him and is forced to introduce himself as “Ben,” incredibly exciting.
Any Obi-Wan film without Ewan McGregor is bound to invite the ire of Star Wars fans across the galaxy. Likewise, such a film that isn’t titled High Ground: A Star Wars Story would be a massive missed opportunity. Thus, High Ground (okay, maybe a different title), starring Ewan McGregor, opens in the small town of Anchorhead, on the planet Tatooine. Fulcrum (John Cho) is a swashbuckling rebel spy going through a black market weapons deal, which is interrupted when Imperial forces descend on the town. Fulcrum is the sole rebel survivor, who is saved when the forces of Gallus the Hutt (voiced by Idris Elba) — larger than Jabba and capable of walking via robotic spider legs — completely destroy the Imperial presence. However, Gallus takes Fulcrum hostage, and effectively seizes control of the town. Even though Anchorhead is safe from the Empire, it isn’t safe from Gallus, who begins extorting money from residents, brutalizing them in the process.
This is where we find Obi-Wan Kenobi, living a spartan lifestyle. He watches over young Luke Skywalker and the Lars homestead, while attempting (though failing) to communicate with the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). He just can’t tap into the Force like he could before, especially since he found out that Anakin lived on, and became Darth Vader. He is a man plagued by the specter of failure.
However, his life changes when he is approached by Fendis Beed (Élodie Yung), one of the most notorious bounty hunters in the galaxy, who is hired to save Fulcrum. Kenobi refuses, insisting on keeping a low profile. But when Gallus takes Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) as ransom for not paying his dues, Kenobi joins Fendis to free Owen and Fulcrum. During the mission, Kenobi is torn between toppling the violent Hutt regime (and creating the power vacuum for an Imperial presence) and allowing Gallus to terrorize the people of Anchorhead. He ultimately embraces his heroic former self, and alongside Fendis, Fulcrum and Owen, he frees Anchorhead from the grasp of Gallus, drawing his lightsaber and using the Force for the first time in years.
Still, Kenobi’s heroic actions have allowed the Empire to settle in the nearby Mos Eisley without fear of Gallus’ forces, and for that, he can’t help but feel great guilt. In a moment of catharsis, he finally communes with Qui-Gon Jinn, who assures him that saving Anchorhead was the action of a true Jedi Master. Jinn tells Kenobi not to fear the looming presence of the Empire, as he will give him the training necessary to better protect Luke and to become the ultimate defender of Tatooine.
Your story is fully fleshed out, as I expected. It’s engaging, action-packed and ripe for character exploration of Obi-Wan. It also brings in actors that I could only dream of in a Star Wars film. John Cho?! I’m in. However, I wish you went further with investigating the character of Obi-Wan. There’s so much moving in your pitch before we reach Obi-Wan that by the time we do, it almost feels like there’s not enough time for him specifically. The idea of him holding on to immense guilt is pitch perfect and necessary, especially after what he went through in the prequels. But I fear that, with the layered plot you set forth, we would only get the surface level of those emotional concerns, which leads me to my next problem.
While reading through your pitch, I was engaged, but I was questioning what might the value of this story be to the larger idea of Star Wars. I think that if you sell Obi-Wan’s character journey more thoroughly, we could feel this sense of history, fate and interpersonal relationships of Star Wars on a whole, which could make the moment when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in A New Hope even more profound than it already is. But right now, I don’t really feel that when reading your pitch. You definitely have notions of it in there, but there’s more work to be done for it to be fully realized because, right now, I don’t know if this film would be, in the larger picture, as satisfying and valuable as it could be.
I feel as though my thematic concerns make up for the lack of plot, as plot can be built more easily around theme, while theme is more difficult to insert into an established plot. And with prevalent imagery akin to the Nazis, an evil force we’re beginning to struggle with again today, and a deeply intimate, contained and harrowing journey for Obi-Wan as well as for the people in crises at the hands of the Empire — at the hands of deranged nationalism — my idea for an Obi-Wan standalone film both works on its own terms while also contributing to the grander narrative of the universe.
First and foremost, major props for suggesting a Star Wars film that functions as political allegory. Even more props for putting Lone Scherfig in the director’s chair. I thoroughly enjoyed her work in Their Finest, and I couldn’t agree more about her strengths — she can balance intimacy and scope like Anakin balances the Force. But for an Obi-Wan film, I don’t want an epic scope at all, implied or otherwise. An Obi-Wan film should be as intimate a character study as possible, and I think the scope that you implied would detract from that intimacy.
More specifically, I don’t think the Empire should figure heavily into another spinoff, since stormtroopers have been cannon fodder for Rogue One and (presumably) for the Han Solo film. Additionally, since the First Order is essentially a re-branded version of the Empire, we will have gotten seven total films that feature the Empire as the overarching antagonist. Many fans have complained that the Disney-era of Star Wars hasn’t dared to expand its universe, and making the Empire the antagonist of an Obi-Wan film would only further this problem. My film sidesteps this issue by making Gallus the Hutt and his army of scum and villainy the primary antagonists. Even though Gallus was inspired by the comic book character Grakkus, it would allow for the familiar iconography of the Hutts, while expanding the canon of the film universe.
Most importantly though, your film lacks emotional resonance. We know Obi-Wan is a hero, so I think a subversion of our expectations — a broken man who doesn’t believe in himself, and can’t even use the Force properly — is more interesting. My film ratchets up the emotional impact by having Obi-Wan reluctantly return to heroics, before finally communing with the Force through his contact with Qui-Gon Jinn. Qui-Gon represents the specter of failure that haunts Obi-Wan — he failed to save Qui-Gon, he failed to kill Anakin and he failed the entire Republic. Qui-Gon’s appearance to Obi-Wan to validate his actions and offer consolement would be one of the most emotional moments in all of Star Wars canon.
Ultimately, I believe that my film does more to expand the universe while offering emotional stakes that we haven’t seen fully realized since The Empire Strikes Back.
First off, both ideas are perfect, and if there was a way to find a happy medium between the two, a balancing of the Force, let’s say, then I think all Star Wars fans would see a standalone masterpiece. However, as in most lightsaber duels, someone will inevitably win and the other ends up missing a limb, but able to fight another day. So let’s just hyperspeed into this thing, like the Millennium Falcon…
Thematically, reading Kyle’s pitch, it just felt right. The power of Star Wars movies, and really genre films at large for that matter, is their ability to have social commentary about political machinations. It’s not a hidden truth that the Empire is meant to represent the Nazis, and the Rebels are meant to represent anyone with the decency to stand up to them. Thus, having a film almost explicitly laying out that good vs. evil dichotomy, under those terms and having them stand in for today, is a brilliant move. Also, Lone Scherfig, while not an obvious choice, is literally a perfect choice. Their Finest balances humor, action and drama with the best of movies — all elements that have made Star Wars the most endearing franchise in the world.
With that being said, though, Harrison is my winner. The amount of Star Wars lore he’s able to fit into his pitch, along with the incredible casting (EWAN MCGREGOR, JOHN CHO, IDRIS ELBA AND ÉLODIE YUNG TOGETHER!!!), as well as having a perfect character arc for the one-and-only Obi-Wan just felt right. Both Kyle and Harrison were right in making the films have a more intimate scale, because truly, how many more Death Stars and countless Stormtroopers can we see destroyed before Star Wars finds something a tad more original. But where Kyle focused on the theme, and rightly pointed out Harry’s lack of theme and potentially too jam-packed story, I think Harry’s rebuttal ultimately was the deciding factor for me.
To see Obi-Wan struggle with a crippling inability to use the force and with the guilt of his (in)action only adds immense depth to his character. And assuming Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows an equally down-and-out Luke, there could be some interesting thematic parallels regarding the pressure of being the Jedi tasked with saving the Rebels and destroying the Empire. Or, if Rey does end up being a Kenobi, is she destined to follow in the same tracks as her ancestor?
Regardless of plot details for sight unseen films, Harrison’s Obi-Wan standalone is both an emotionally resonant tale of one of Star Wars most loved icons, as well as a perfect set-up for Rogue One and A New Hope.
Winner: Harrison Tunggal
Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which pitch you would’ve chosen, or if you have a pitch of your own.
Featured image via Lucasfilm