GLEN WELDON, HOST:
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WELDON: The Star Wars series "Obi-Wan Kenobi" follows one of the last remaining Jedi knights during his strange, old hermit phase, which is to say when he's hiding out on Tatooine. Ewan McGregor returns as Obi-Wan, and when young Princess Leia is kidnapped, he's convinced to come out of retirement and pull one last job to rescue her, even if that means crossing lightsabers with his former apprentice, the evil Darth Vader. I'm Glen Weldon, and today we're talking about "Obi-Wan Kenobi" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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WELDON: Joining me today is iHeartRadio producer Joelle Monique. Hello, Joelle.
JOELLE MONIQUE: Hi, Glen.
WELDON: And also with us is Vincent Schilling. He's Akwesasne Mohawk, an author, the editor of nativeviewpoint.com and a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Welcome back, Vincent.
VINCENT SCHILLING: Hey. Sekoh (ph), Glen. Thanks for having me.
WELDON: Of course. Let's get to it. "Obi-Wan Kenobi" takes place between the first two Star Wars trilogies, 10 years after the events of "Revenge Of The Sith." So it's 10 years since Obi-Wan's apprentice, played by Hayden Christensen, turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader. He wasn't the only one turns out. Several former Jedis have since turned to the dark side and become inquisitors, whose job it is to hunt down the few remaining Jedis in the galaxy. Moses Ingram plays Reva, an impulsive and ruthlessly ambitious inquisitor determined to find Obi-Wan.
As anyone who's seen Star Wars knows, Obi-Wan is hiding out on Tatooine. He's a broken man who's got a dead-end job processing desert meat and has been letting his Jedi powers atrophy, though he does check in on young Luke on occasion. Jimmy Smits plays his old colleague, Bail Organa, who informs Obi-Wan that his adopted 10-year-old daughter, Leia, played by Vivien Lyra Blair, has been kidnapped. Obi-Wan reluctantly straps on his old blue lightsaber and sets out to rescue her.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi" is a six-episode series airing on Disney+, and we've seen the first four episodes. We'll be talking about them. Joelle, let me start with you. How are you liking "Obi-Wan Kenobi"?
MONIQUE: I like it very much, Glen. I'm having a lot of fun watching it.
MONIQUE: Spoilers - I think we already said it, but when Darth Vader and Obi-Wan face off and then Darth drags him through the fire, I was like, catharsis.
MONIQUE: Oh, my God, it's happened. We're reflecting it. And then the jewel of the show, Little Leia...
MONIQUE: ...And getting to give respect to the other twin and sort of showcase, you know, our love for both Padme and Carrie Fisher. There's a lot from those performances that are being brought into this character. And then, of course, you know, I just love Jedi lore. I love that we're getting deeper. I think, you know, four episodes in, we can maybe be a little bit deeper. But I'm enjoying what we're getting. Is it perfect? No, definitely - we'll get into some critiques later. But overall, having a lot of fun.
WELDON: Cool. Great. How about you, Vincent?
SCHILLING: I'm enjoying it. The first two episodes I really enjoyed, and then Episode 3 happened. And I was really (laughter) - I almost wish I had a camera watching me because my mouth was dropped open. I was going - you know, visibly going - (gasping). And then the breathing, and then the sabers came out, and Obi-Wan is, you know, fighting with Darth. And it's just a magic moment. And I got on the phone with a bunch of my friends. We're all Star Wars nerds. And we're just like, oh, my gosh, you know? Did you see - you know, so Episode 3 just, for me, blew it out of the water. I was just like, wow, I had a blast.
WELDON: OK. And what you're referring to there in Episode 3, of course, is this lightsaber battle that takes place in stages on this mining planet in this quarry between Vader and Obi-Wan. And, you know, lightsaber battles - this is my jam because I don't care about the scoundrels and the soldiers and the smugglers, your wretched hives of scum and villainy - you can keep those.
WELDON: I want magic space wizards and their laser swords. I want people to say really hokey things about the force, like stretch out with your feelings and the power of the dark side. This is all the stuff I love.
WELDON: I didn't watch the animated series, so I'm not invested in that canon. And apparently, this show isn't either because the Grand Inquisitor's fate is, let's just say, different in the animated series than it is in this one. And that's fine with me. I don't care. But let's talk stakes. We know Obi-Wan's going to survive. We know Leia is going to get back home. Those are fixed points in the canon. So this series, more than any other Star Wars series so far, is expressly about filling in a gap, right? The draw here becomes to watch as they navigate what was established in the films. And it's certainly - four episodes in, it certainly seems like they're treating the films the way they're treating the animated series, which is - you know, on one sense, it's valid, right? It's - let everything stand on its own. I get that.
But the organizing principle of this show is to connect "Revenge Of The Sith" to "A New Hope" and to do it seamlessly. That's the challenge they set for themselves. And I find myself, again and again, getting my Jedi robes in a bunch about the smallest stuff, the stuff I shouldn't care about. Like, I hear myself about to go into this, and I don't like being this guy, but I'm going to be this guy. Why did hologram Leia in "A New Hope" address Obi-Wan as General Kenobi and say, years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars, when they had this whole wacky, buddy-cop, road-trip adventure together? You know, if you say, well, she was just being careful because the message might get intercepted, but then why would she say she's placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit? Right? 'Cause that'd be a tell. Why does Darth Vader say, in "A New Hope," the circle is now complete - when I left you, I was but a learner, now I'm the master?
If they had what I thought was kind of a not-great lightsaber duel, a very abortive lightsaber duel that was kind of in this really visually unimpressive quarry that could have been filmed six miles outside of Glendale - now, look; in the long run, these questions don't matter because it's about the story. But to me, they really do. I'm sorry (laughter). They really do.
SCHILLING: Oh, I agree.
MONIQUE: You don't have to be sorry, Glen. You're a fan, and they absolutely matter. I have so many points to address. I'll just start with - you haven't seen the animated series, Glen?
WELDON: Yeah, I know.
MONIQUE: The storytelling is so good. I really feel like you would like it. It's really breathing a lot of life into this.
MONIQUE: Listen, what happens in Star Wars? Clones get made.
WELDON: Yeah (laughter).
MONIQUE: I'm not convinced the inquisitor is gone-gone.
MONIQUE: He was super loyal to Vader. He was well-thought-out in his strategy, was good at following orders. I don't think you just let that guy go. And I can't imagine Dave Filoni, who created the animated series, you know, oversees a lot of these Disney+ shows, would be like, screw canon. I don't care. Like, it's just - it's not in his purview to do that. So I think there's a surprise coming for us on that front.
MONIQUE: I also think - so we have the - maybe Leia is just like her brother. She's like, Obi-Wan Kenobi? Do you mean old man Ben Kenobi? Maybe they're of the same thread, and that's what's happened. I imagine that has to be ironed out at some point.
WELDON: Maybe Kenobi is like Smith, right? Maybe it's just a really common name in this galaxy.
MONIQUE: Maybe they get their mind wiped. Like, R2 and C-3PO frequently get their minds wiped. They're like, you don't remember anything of what you just saw. Go forth and do our bidding, please. I don't know. We'll see. I hope they get it explained. But I do think that all of these canons are interwoven. I just can't see Dave Filoni going off track.
SCHILLING: I don't think they're going off track. But, you know, I have to say for me, there's the one pervasive theme that I want to, like, have a sit-down with every writer out there of fiction and say, can we please have a hero who likes his powers?
SCHILLING: Can we have a hero who, you know, uses the Force to get a cup of coffee? I mean, does everyone have to, like, go into the caves of wherever and hide in the dark for 10 years because heaven forbid he ever use this power again? I'm just so tired of that theme in which you can't embrace who you are. I get it - you've got to hide. I get it - you've got to protect Luke, and you've got to protect Leia, and that's your job, Obi. I get it. Can he just for once just enjoy the fact that he can have the Force or have some control of the Force? It's just - it drives me bonkers.
WELDON: Yeah, but there's a story reason for that, right? A, he has to hide, and...
SCHILLING: I know. I know.
WELDON: ...He would be sensed if he used the Force. But, B, this is establishing that the Force is like a muscle that can atrophy. And he hasn't been using it. He's been just processing meat. So his processing meat force power is strong, but everything else is kind of falling off.
Now, Moses Ingram plays Reva. She is a badass. I do want to acknowledge the racist attacks that the actor has been getting from online fans - or people who call themselves fans anyway. NPR's Eric Deggans wrote a piece about this. I do recommend you read that article on the NPR website. This keeps happening in this fandom and in others. Disney seems to be dealing with it by warning actors of color that it's going to happen. They've also done some social media defending her. Ewan McGregor taped himself saying, look, this is not cool. Don't consider yourself fans of "Star Wars" if you're doing this. I just want to get your reactions to what Disney is doing and if Disney is doing enough.
MONIQUE: Yeah, I think as a fan of "Star Wars," I'm glad Disney is being highly vocal about the racism their stars are facing. I think it would be very isolating to be on such a large platform experiencing racist attacks and have no one acknowledge them publicly. So I'm really glad that's happening. On top of that, you know, "Star Wars" lives so much outside of your television screen. It's your comics and your books and your conventions, and people gather at those places, and so for the company that oversees all of that to say, hey, that's not a part of our fandom, and we don't want to see it, and we're going to be vigilant about it - you know, it makes me feel to some degree safe to enter those spaces.
And these actors, even from, like, a social media side, the writers - they're going to be with this property for a long time, most likely. And so, you know, stretching and giving that some longevity and support - I think it makes it easy to come back and makes you want to come back. You know, "Star Wars" should be a safe place. It's literally space wizards. I just - so we have to take it with a grain of salt. You know, people are like, this is the fandom. I'm like, I understand that there are people out there that are hateful, but I think the "Star Wars" fandom is - this is not to me the identifier, but it is a reality that people have to live with. And so I'm glad that they're doing something. I think the least you can do is say, hey, we don't support this kind of behavior.
WELDON: Right. Well, it's certainly more than they were doing with John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran, right?
MONIQUE: Yeah, I hope the lesson was learned, you know? I hope they were like, oh, they went through a lot, and that was really a struggle, and we can do better as an organization to protect these people that we're putting on this large platform to be criticized in this way. I hope that's why we're seeing these steps now.
SCHILLING: Yeah. And let's recognize, too, that "Star Wars," as many of us know, has now become part of the Disney world. Disney certainly has no stranger to making racially charged content in the past. But I can tell you, as a Native American journalist, Disney has reached out to me on many, many, many occasions about the work that they're doing. They have stuff coming out that's going to be based upon the Comanche Nation with "Prey," you know, the "Predator" series, the "Echo" series for next year. And they're actually using consultants that are Native directors. So I feel like Disney has an ugly past. They're not running from it. They're addressing things head on. And I think part of that narrative should be, you know, if you're going to be vocal in this way in terms of the content that you're creating, you can be just as vocal on social media the same way Ewan McGregor was and say, you know, there is no place for this. Actors and actresses that might come into this do need to be supported by the company that's hiring them.
WELDON: And the simple fact is that regardless of this racist backlash, the character itself and this performance is really interesting to me. I mean, this is a villain who has a motivation. She's ambitious. She's ruthless. She's there to do something besides, you know, twirl a mustache.
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MOSES INGRAM: (As Inquisitor Reva) The Jedi are cowards. They failed you, abandoned you. There is no point in protecting them. They would not do the same for you.
WELDON: Now, Joelle, earlier you mentioned the actor playing young Leia - 10-year-old Leia - Vivien Lyra Blair. And I see exactly what you are saying. You can see some Carrie Fisher takes. You can see even some Natalie Portman. And they're making her what in any other universe would be a precocious kid. But she's Leia. She's the Leia of "A New Hope." She's the Leia who has seemed to have been used to being kidnapped. She was kind of over it.
MONIQUE: Yes (laughter).
WELDON: And that - they're planting a seed here. Talk to me about this performance.
MONIQUE: Oh, my gosh. First of all, anyone criticizing this child can go straight to you-know-where. I don't like it. She is so talented, and I think she's doing such an incredible job. But on top of that, she's a child, so leave her alone.
MONIQUE: I love everyone who came into making this child a person - right? - like, so, yes, Carrie Fisher, but also, like, Bail Organa and, like, the father-daughter relationship they have. I'm a person who came to "Star Wars," like, for Leia initially - the long gun, the, like, take-no-prisoners spy attitude. Like, everything about her is so freaking cool. And so to see this young girl coming up and figuring out how to be that and for the series to then take a look at like, OK, how did we highlight Luke? I mean, the first thing we see Luke do is, like, he's looking up at the sky. He's naming the planes. It's, like, literally from a cut scene. And they're like, OK, we'll just put that on Leia, too. I love the validation. I was thrilled when she was revealed to have force powers. And so to show her being a politician who uses the force as opposed to a warrior who uses the force, that's all I want out of "Star Wars."
I'm a person who loves force wielders. The Jedi are cool, but they make a ton of mistakes, and they don't like to acknowledge it and it's really problematic for me. I like people who are like, I'm trying to figure out how I can use this power to help myself and others, OK? We're multifaceted beings. And I think Leia really gets into that. And for her to have all of this knowledge - and she even - when she goes up against the Third Sister, she shuts the Third Sister down. And it's believable.
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VIVIEN LYRA BLAIR: (As Leia Organa) I'll tell you where they are. I just don't want anyone to get hurt.
INGRAM: (As Inquisitor Reva) I give you my word.
BLAIR: (As Leia Organa) I'll have to tell my father first.
MONIQUE: I would die for this - every version of Leia, but very particularly this version of Leia. She's so, so good.
SCHILLING: Yes. Well said. #LittleLeia. To me, Little Leia is the Grogu of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" - you know, the little - the Baby Yoda.
SCHILLING: And I'm telling you what, Disney. You want to sell some T-shirts? Get some with Little Leia and Baby Yoda on it. Take my money. Because I can imagine them already in their own show. I mean, I just - that little actor is holding her own, and she's up there with giants. And she's just owning it.
MONIQUE: That little run takes me out every time (laughter). She's such - a child's, like, silly little (laughter)...
WELDON: This was originally conceived as a movie. It became a TV show. That is sometimes evident, as in that Glendale (ph) quarry sequence.
MONIQUE: You mean the one with the, like, laser gate that wasn't a full-out gate but just, like, a stopping point for no reason?
WELDON: Like, for example, that.
SCHILLING: As much as I tease it - and yes, it was in a quarry - I have to say, though, I still just about jumped out of my chair with that whole sequence. I have to give that third episode credit when Vader comes marching down. And then the - you know, and he's just pulling people out by his - the force and snapping necks and doing all this stuff. And then I was just like, whoa. And then the sabers came out, and I was again like, whoa. So I would have loved something a little more magical in terms of the environment of where they fought, but it is what it is. They're - you know, they're on a mining planet. So, you know, OK, I'll give that to them. But overall, I was very pleased.
MONIQUE: Vader fought that entire fight with one hand. And that, to me, was the brilliance of the choreography. You see how far Obi-Wan has fallen off of his skills. It's so, so far from where we last meet him, where he's doing air tumbles and, like, fencing but also sort of with a broadsword style fighting.
MONIQUE: It broke my heart a little to be like, what's happening? You know, like, not only is he facing this brother-son that he had to raise, not only does he have to face all of the consequences of the actions he didn't take - and then on top of that, for you to be beat so easily.
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HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN: (As Darth Vader) The years have made you weak.
MONIQUE: Just like "Rogue One," they were able to make Darth Vader terrifying.
SCHILLING: Yes, yes.
MONIQUE: Oh, thrilling in that moment - totally excellent. And so, you know, another critique about this scene that I'm hearing a lot is, you know, why would Vader let him go? I really think that Vader is toying with him. I think he's totally fine with letting Obi-Wan go and being like, I'm going to get you. I have all the time in the world, and I'm happy to torture you along the way.
SCHILLING: The super intense Vader breaths scared me and literally just came right through me. And I had the nostalgic feelings I hadn't had since I was a 10-year-old kid, 45 years ago in the theaters watching this in 1977.
WELDON: And Ewan McGregor is really selling broken guy, right? He is not the hello-there Obi-Wan that we remember.
SCHILLING: Yeah, yeah.
WELDON: He is certainly someone who has been beaten down. And he looks - he doesn't look, you know, nine years younger than Alec Guinness was. But who cares? Like, he is selling the age. He is selling the weariness. He is selling a man who's given up.
MONIQUE: You get the vibe that while he has to go back to Tatooine and look over Luke, that there might be space for other small missions. Like, Ewan McGregor is so good. He's so dedicated to this. He accidentally revealed in the Vanity Fair article that came out earlier this month that his wife is also going to be a part of "Star Wars." It seems like it might be a little bit of a family affair. We know Disney likes to bring people back. What I really hope we see is the dawn of superspy Obi-Wan. They'll release me when they have to, when no one else - I will be the maverick of this universe. Call me when we need crazy spaceflights. You know, I think that there's a lot of potential for growth for Obi-Wan. We - again, if you've seen the animated series, he gets to fight Darth Maul, who he halved in the prequels. And it's so much more impactful because an entire relationship was built up between those two.
That's what I love about the Disney TV shows is characters that may have fallen flat get new life. I think it's the best part about the TV shows is that, you know, when "Star Wars" fails, it tends to fail pretty epically, where you're like, oh, God, no, why did this happen? And I hate it, and it's really upsetting me. And then here come, you know, six hours of TV shows to explain why that had to happen. And here's backstory to make you care that that happened. I can enjoy the prequels because of the animated series.
MONIQUE: And I just really love that we're in - all of the shows are taking place in the same time frame now.
SCHILLING: Yeah, it's nice.
MONIQUE: There's a lot of growth for characters we love. I want to spend more time with Ewan.
WELDON: Well, we've got two more episodes, as we tape this and as you hear it, of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" to go. And we want to know what you think about "Obi-Wan Kenobi." Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Joelle Monique, Vincent Schilling, thank you both for being here.
SCHILLING: Thank you, Glen. Appreciate it.
MONIQUE: Thank you, Glen.
WELDON: May the force be with you.
A reminder before we go. NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like you spend time with podcasts. Please help us out by completing a short anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. We would really appreciate your help to support NPR podcasts. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey.
And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. And Hello Come In provides the music maybe you're bobbing your head to right now. I'm Glen Weldon, and we'll see you all tomorrow.
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