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Obi-Wan Kenobi himself warned against ‘Star Wars’ obsession

Alec Guinness (who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy), recalling a fan encounter:

A sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times… Looking into the boy’s eyes, I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form; I guessed that one day, they would explode… I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities.

In this excerpt from his memoir, Guinness instructs the young Star Wars enthusiast never to watch the films again. The actor feared that the boy would “mature” into a man-child, still obsessed with a shallow children’s movie.

Of course, millions of similar “lads” (and lasses), now in their “thirties” (and forties), will eagerly revisit this “fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities” when The Force Awakens premieres tomorrow. Sir Alec would likely disapprove. Even before production wrapped on “A New Hope,” Guinness was deriding its “rubbish dialogue.” In the decades that followed, the late actor eventually grew to despise the franchise altogether.

And he had a point. Some extreme Star Wars fans do lose track of reality in their love for that “galaxy far, far away.” Check out this fake commercial from last week’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode; it ridicules grown men who collect kids’ action figures. Or recall another SNL sketch, in which William Shatner (Captain Kirk himself) tells obsessive Trekkies to “Get a life!” These parodies make us chuckle, but they also reflect the pathological fixations of some hardcore sci-fi devotees.

Of course, I probably shouldn’t cast stones here. I’ve written more blog posts on Star Wars and Star Trek than any other topics. “Second-hand childish banalities” are apparently my cup of tea.

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Salvaging Star Wars, Episode III: show some character

Recently, I’ve been outlining ways that the Star Wars prequels might have been improved. First, I suggested that the whole ‘prequel’ concept is irredeemably flawed. Then I complained about how real-world analogues cheapen the Star Wars universe.

Today’s complaint? The Star Wars prequels spoil some of cinema’s best-known, most beloved characters.

Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, that quintessential space wizard. Now, if we’re honest, the Jedi Master comes across a bit static—even in A New Hope. In that original film, Obi-Wan learns nothing and can’t be rattled; he’s more like Luke’s Jedi Encyclopedia than an actual character. Even Alec Guinness himself despised the character and cursed the film’s “rubbish dialogue”.

In fairness, though, it made sense that Obi-Wan wouldn’t change much in Episode IV. The film depicts only the very last chapter of a much longer life story. Obi-Wan’s defining moments happened decades earlier, we learn: Clone Wars heroics and a tortured falling-out with Vader.

That’s where the prequels’ potential lay; we’d finally get to see how it all happened. How did Obi-Wan become the cool, unflappable mentor of A New Hope? What flaws did he overcome? What conflict shaped his elderly personality? One idea: maybe Obi-Wan’s inability to save his mentor’s life haunts him. Maybe it makes him overprotective. Maybe that control-freak behavior pushes Anakin towards reckless power grabs. In any case, regardless of the arc’s specifics, Lucas shouldn’t have hesitated to rough up the golden boy a bit.

Instead, Lucas extends Obi-Wan’s milquetoast personality all the way back to day one. He was (we learn) always incorruptible. Always steady. He’s always been the beige palette against which more colorful characters are painted: Luke, Qui-Gon, Vader.

Speaking of Vader… there’s another great character squandered. The prequels inherit the greatest villain of all time—then manage to spoil him. To Lucas’s credit, Anakin does has an arc (unlike Kenobi); he journeys from adorable, pod-racing wunderkind to moody teenager to malevolent cyborg. But if Obi-Wan’s statis bores us to tears, Anakin’s metamorphosis confuses us. We never quite believe the reasons we’re given for his downfall. Why can’t Anakin handle his mother’s untimely death? Why does he snap. After all, his son faced nearly-identical tragedy (his family’s horrific immolation) with courageous determination.

How might the prequels have better explained Anakin’s degradation? Show us how childhood wounds fester into adult corruption. Make the Skywalkers’ slavery unpleasant to witness. Make Anakin damaged and powerless as a boy, so that his hell-bent power quest makes sense. Show us the hurt; don’t rely on Hayden Christiansen to emote it with furrowed eyebrows and a whiny delivery.


Next time, we’ll wrap up the “Salvaging Star Wars” series. In our crosshairs? The prequels’ over-reliance on CGI, to the detriment of story.