Disney’s Kenobi: A Case Study In Sizzle Reel Blindness

Although movie and television show reviews are some of the most popular things we do here on Grailrunner, I don’t personally like to write them. The main reason for that is we try and stay positive and encouraging here, optimistic about the future and the importance of good escapism. Any time you put up something focused on opinion, you’re risking alienating half the folks reading it.

And although there’s plenty to like about Kenobi on Disney+, I’ve found a particular disease in it that is unfortunately common in Hollywood productions today, and thought I’d focus there…a short-sighted lapse in logic in key moments of the show driven by the desire to get to specific plot points or hyped scenes.

Let’s call it ‘sizzle reel blindness’. Hear me out – I’ll define my terms and make the point without griping about anything.

Here’s wikipedia’s brief if you’re unclear what show I’m talking about:

Obi-Wan Kenobi is an American television miniseries created for the streaming service Disney+. It is part of the Star Wars franchise and stars Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, reprising his role from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Set ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), the series follows Kenobi as he sets out to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) from the Galactic Empire, leading to a confrontation with his former apprentice Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen).

A ‘sizzle reel’ refers to short promotional videos used by marketing folks, usually to promote an upcoming movie or show. Any sort of movie trailer needs to focus on big, eye-popping moments to get people talking and build up anticipation, to get reactions one way or the other, and to break the attention barrier.

When I first heard the announcement for Kenobi, the dialogue and scenario of his situation as laid out in previous films came to mind:

Yoda, speaking of infant Luke: “To Tattooine, to his family send him.” Obi Wan in response: “I will take the child and watch over him.” –Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

“Master Kenobi, in your solitude on Tattoine, training I have for you…an old friend has learned the path to immortality, one who has returned from the netherworld of the Force. Your old master.” -Yoda to Obi Wan in Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

“General Kenobi, years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.” – Princess Leia in Episode IV: A New Hope

“When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” -Darth Vader to Obi Wan in Episode IV: A New Hope

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” -Obi Wan to Darth Vader in Episode IV: A New Hope

So based on dialogue like this, I envisioned a mystical setup for the show, where Obi Wan is floating in mid-air meditating and digging deeper into the Force, all the while spying on young Luke and his antics, presumably getting himself into all sorts of trouble. If Kenobi had to intervene at all, it would be from the shadows and behind the scenes, since Luke as a young man only knew vague stories of ‘Ben Kenobi’ as a magician who lived among the dunes. I mean, that’s what was said – I’m not making these things up. To make anything other than this happen will require ‘mind wipes’ or ‘time alterations’ if not flagrant, careless continuity revisions in my opinion.

But this whole show seems designed as a spectacle to get Obi Wan and Vader into a light saber duel, even though that doesn’t make sense given the contexts above. It would just be cool to see, so screw it. Let’s build a show around it. That’s my point, ‘sizzle reel blindness’.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW….

Leia and Bail: Then out of the gate, Bail Organa drags Obi Wan into a rescue mission to save young Leia. How in the world does that make sense? Why would Organa jeopardize Obi Wan and Luke so callously when so much was at stake that Vader not discover he has children? Later in Episode 5 of the show, why is Organa again jeopardizing everything sending a careless message to Obi Wan, going so far as to mention Tattooine and ‘the boy’? You can say it’s because he’s a worried father, but the guy is a seasoned senator, key figure in The Clone Wars, and fought alongside the bravest, most pivotal characters in the galaxy. It’s weak, man. Weak. I think it’s because Disney wanted a strong female protagonist, despite the fact that didn’t make sense as a concept. Sizzle reel blindness.

Force-squelching flames: There’s a scene, possibly Episode 2 of the show, where Vader drags Obi Wan through flaming ground in a terrible echo of the torture Obi Wan left Anakin to when he abandoned him on Mustafar in Revenge Of The Sith. Clearly, that scene was a sizzle reel moment the producers wanted because of ties to the prequel and it would look cool on the screen. But in that scene, Vader squelches the flames using the Force, a simple flick of his hand. The plot demanded that Obi Wan not be too injured, so the torture had to stop – a little float in the bacta tank needed to get things moving again. The plot demanded that Obi Wan escape, so when Tala reignites the ground with a blaster, Vader stands helplessly watching as his main quarry is rescued. But WHY NOT SQUELCH THE FLAMES AGAIN like he just did moments before? Why not seize Obi Wan’s body with the Force like Vader showed he could do multiple times? Sizzle reel blindness.

The tracking device: I think it’s the end of Episode 3 of the show, where it’s revealed Reva has installed a tracking device in her floating droid, Lola to pursue Obi Wan and young Leia. It would make for a good episode-ending shocker, a quick plot device to show how devious Reva is, and would keep the plot moving. But with a little consideration, this is nonsense. When Reva held that little droid during the previous interrogation scene, they were in one of the most presumably secure and impregnable places in the galaxy with no reason to believe a rescue was underway. She didn’t ‘feel it with the Force’ or ‘intentionally let them escape’. You can say she was just being prepared because Obi Wan is that good, but it’s so weak. Sizzle reel blindness.

The blast door: It’s probably Episode 5 of the show, when Reva and her stormtroopers are blasting the heavy door with everything they have to get inside where Obi Wan is. Cannons and heavy guns, all struggling to significantly damage the door and frustrating Reva. The plot needed to buy time for what was happening inside. She clearly didn’t have any better ideas on how to get through that door. Then a few moments later, simply for shock value and to elevate her character, she pokes her light saber through that same door like it’s made of soft cheese. Seriously, why didn’t she just cut an opening in that thing in the first place then?! Sizzle reel blindness.

Letting Obi Wan go: Same scene, Reva finally gets Obi Wan on his knees and in captivity. Vader’s on his way, after she’s told him she has him. And in front of at least 30 storm troopers, Reva lets Obi Wan go after some secretive whispering. She LET HIM GO, when Vader was coming to take him. And when Vader arrives, not a mention from anyone about the fact that they JUST HAD Obi Wan and SHE let him go? Sizzle reel blindness because they needed Vader pissed off and chasing Obi Wan. Terrible plotting.

I’ll stop because I’m getting too negative here. There are clearly things to like about the show – McGregor as Obi Wan and James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader are killing it. They’re stretching to new ground in use of the Force, showing a powerful Vader. That’s fantastic. Light sabers are always great. It’s really nice to see the same actors from the prequels in their roles, and there’s some solid use of de-aging technology that’s believable. A lot to be proud of here, despite my whining.

But how hard would it really be to stop and think about your script, bounce it against what’s been previously established, and ensure that when the viewer (or by extension since I’m a writer, a reader) makes the honest effort to suspend disbelief, that you don’t betray that trust, that contract between creator and appreciator, that things hold together?

Anyway, I’ll watch whatever they put out with Star Wars in the title. I’m just asking for a little more common sense in the creation.

Thoughts?