Disney’s first move when they bought the Star Wars IP was to wipe the slate clean and de-canonize everything that wasn’t depicted in the movies or Clone Wars TV show. This was a sweeping but necessary step, and one that foreshadowed Disney’s misguided approach to the Star Wars universe: If something didn’t happen on the screen, then it didn’t happen at all.
This is the only rationalization I can come up with for why a show like Obi-Wan Kenobi exists. I don’t have a problem with character-focused stories per se. I enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story because it takes Star Wars and turns it into a heist movie; telling a story we haven’t seen in that universe. It’s pastiche, which is the essence of Lucas’ original films. My issue with all the spin-offs is that they’ve made Disney incredibly lazy about worldbuilding.
Take Han Solo. When we meet him in A New Hope, he proves his credentials as a pilot by boasting about making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. This is a nonsensical quip (a parsec is a unit of distance, not time) but in the context of A New Hope that doesn’t matter. Lucas needs to tell the audience that Han is a daring pilot, and bragging about the Kessel Run gets that point across. Crucially, the literal meaning of the line is left open to interpretation: What is the Kessel Run, anyway? This question is never answered, but it leads the audience to think about the fictional universe beyond the scene that’s in front of them. That’s worldbuilding.
Disney took a successful piece of world-building and threw it in the bin. The climax of Solo explains exactly how and why Han made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, because if something didn’t happen on the screen then it didn’t happen at all. It had to be explained, and it didn’t matter to Disney that doing so would retroactively negate the dialogue of A New Hope.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is more of the same. The premise of the show is Obi-Wan going on an adventure with a young Princess Leia, after which he also meets a young Luke Skywalker. In between Obi-Wan meeting Leia and Luke there is a plot with absolutely no stakes or character development, because the purpose of this show is simply to connect two points in a cinematic universe timeline. Disney can’t change anything or add a twist because Obi-Wan’s character arc has already been written and Revenge of the Sith pretty neatly set up his next appearance in the Star Wars canon. Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t even an origin story, where we learn why a character developed into who they are, it’s just meaningless filler.
What I find most frustrating is Disney did make a great worldbuilding film with Rogue One. Audiences got to learn about how the plans for the Death Star were stolen and how Leia ended up pursued by Star Destroyers above Tatooine. The film adds context to established events in Star Wars lore without bogging itself down in ret-cons of existing characters. Rogue One is more plot-driven, which allows the story to have tension even though we know how it will end. Seeing the “how” of the universe on screen is more compelling than just understanding the “what.”
Rogue One was wildly successful, even by Disney’s high standards, ranking third among Star Wars films in domestic box office gross. Despite that, Disney ignored every possible lesson they could have learned, released Solo to a resounding shrug, and then decided to ditch the Rogue One formula entirely.
I’m disappointed in Disney’s recent efforts, but I don’t think this spells complete doom for the Star Wars franchise — rather, I think Disney is undergoing a messy process to “Marvel-ize” the IP. Instead of epic three-part trilogies about the struggle between Light and Dark, we’ll get more character-driven anthologies. This isn’t all bad; some Marvel movies have been very good, especially when a talented director is given space to execute their creative vision (looking at you, Taika Waititi). But the size of the Star Wars universe will be shrunken down to whatever is on the screen in front of us, which is a far cry from the galaxy of possibility George Lucas first introduced us to.