He is back. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the coolest of the Jedi masters of the saga Star Wars, returns to our (small) screens. The series that bears his name is broadcast on the Disney+ platform. He won’t be alone: Darth Vader, formerly known as Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan’s former apprentice turned Sith Lord, is also there.
In A new hope, released in 1977, Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi was played by Alec Guiness. In exile on the planet Tatooine, he guided the young Luke Skywalker, son of Anakin, towards the Force and the path of the Jedi, before finding death under the lightsaber of Darth Vader (sorry for the spoiler if you lived in a very distant galaxy for 30 years). In 1999, Ewan McGregor took over the role of Obi-Wan, in a trilogy recounting Anakin’s journey. The last time we saw Obi-Wan in live action was therefore seventeen years ago: at the end of Revenge of the Sithhe entrusted Luke to his uncle on Tatooine, before going into exile in a corner of the sand planet.
What did the Jedi do in the 19 years between Revenge of the Sith and A new hope ? This is what will tell Obi-Wan Kenobi, which takes place ten years after his exile, and nine years before his death. The teaser tease the coming of Darth Vader. If we do not yet know if his path will cross that of Obi-Wan, we know his interpreter: Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in episodes II and III.
Create a story from a sentence
Unlike Obi-Wan, Darth Vader has already returned. In 2016, he appeared at the end of Snape One. The plot of this successful film was based on a sentence from the introduction ofA new hope “Rebel spies have managed to seize the secret plans for the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. A sentence, an allusion in the original story, made it possible to create an entire film. In the same way, Obi-Wan Kenobi slips into an ellipsis of the story of Star Warsto draw a new story.
This practice, common in fanfiction – amateur stories written by fans based on an existing universe – is becoming widespread in Hollywood franchises: the series Loki or the movie Black Widow at Marvel, the future prequel to Game Of Thrones… Or the saga of fantastic animals, which seizes characters and events evoked in Harry Potter (the magizoologist Norbert Scamander, the black magician Grindelwald and his relationship with Professor Dumbledore…) to develop a story in five films.
“This narrative technique is called the transmedia storytelling, which is a way of telling stories by breaking them out on several media platforms, explains Mélanie Bourdaa, researcher in Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne. Filling temporal ellipses falls within these devices since the objective is to add narration, here in relation to the films. »
Grow the brand
It is no coincidence that franchises are fond of it. “In the creative economy, a franchise is both works and brands. A work is bound to copyright, for a maximum of seventy years; but as long as we keep a brand alive, we never lose it. The creative industries have every interest in making the brand grow,” notes Matthieu Letourneux, professor at Paris Nanterre, specialist in serial and media cultures and author of Chain fiction. “How do you enrich a brand that is a story? We produce a story around the brand, by offering a set of temporality and space, with prequels, sequels…” Or stories that slip into the interstices. “And each new series is a world to develop, so a series of new brands. If that doesn’t work, “it’s okay. We let it rest, we can always restart afterwards – as Marvel tried with Fantastic Four. »
Star Wars, whose success has largely been fueled by the exploitation of derivative products, has participated in creating this brand logic. Very early on, the very, very distant galaxy was enriched with its own extensions: an “extended universe”, made up of novels, cartoons, comics and games, whose continuity was added to that of films released in cinemas. When Disney acquired LucasFilm and Star Wars, in 2014, this “expanded universe” was removed from canon, the official narrative. “In deciding what belonged or not to history, Disney rationalized the brand,” says Matthieu Letourneux.
By exploring the interstices of the sagas, without necessarily having foreseen it, the creators of these stories nevertheless take the risk of contradicting themselves. Thus, the second film of fantastic animals, set in the 1930s, features Transfiguration professor Minerva McGonagall, younger but already in office. A nod intended for fans, but which disturbed many of them: according to information established by JK Rowling and in Harry PotterMinerva should have been only a child at the time of the fantastic animals. “These “retcons” [une altération de faits établis dans une œuvre de fiction antérieure, N.D.L.R.] are frequent with the development of the universe of Star Wars », precise Andy, administrator of Star Wars Holonet, a fan-made and powered encyclopedia of the galactic universe. “It’s a nightmare for encyclopedias like ours!” »
Obi-Wan vs Vader?
The presence of Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi could it create a new “retcon”? It seemed until then that the two nemesis had not met again for nineteen years, until the fatal duel ofA new hope. But in this case, “we do not modify the story that the fans know, specifies Matthieu Letourneux. You change the story that the fans have built from what they know; a film says nothing more than what it says…”
For Andy, the value of Vader’s presence will depend on the narrative. “If he and Obi-Wan are shown as antagonists who never cross paths, for example, that’s interesting. From my point of view, it would be disappointing for them to meet, to fight, because there is a great risk that this will diminish the dramatic dimension of their duels in episode III and episode IV…” As the summarizes Matthieu Letourneux, “in a world of fiction, there is always a tension between a desire for enrichment and the desire to find similar things, elements that correspond to what we like in it. »
When LucasFilm was acquired by Disney, the studio announced its desire to tell new stories in the universe of Star Wars. For the moment, the series and films remain linked, directly or indirectly, to the Skywalkers and the period and space they occupy. ” Star Wars is large enough to explore plenty of terra incognita, without needing to exploit even the smallest mention of a character or event. But with each new creation, we stay on the same narrative canvas, and we don’t learn much more about the planets and the species” that the characters travel through, Andy laments. “Audiovisual is made to reach the widest audience, those who know the films. We probably want to avoid taking too much risk. »
” Star Wars is linked to a fetishization of the first trilogy, notes Matthieu Letourneux, it is difficult not to always come back to it; the Marvel universe, on the contrary, is bound from the start to a greater number of stories, so it is easier to create new ones. Franchises have a hard time moving forward with the story when there isn’t a sequel yet. While a character always has a past, we have something to enrich the world. »
Even if it means losing a part of the mystery? When he appears in A new hope, old Ben Kenobi is a somewhat enigmatic hermit. And if the prelogy (episodes I to III) digs into the character, his exile keeps his life vague. “What’s interesting is that before this series, fans could imagine, especially in fanfiction, the character’s past. There, this period will become canonical and integrated into the official narration of the saga ”, remarks Mélanie Bourdaa.
What restrict the imagination of fans? Probably not: “Fans do cultural poaching, in the sense that they select what interests them in the narratives to create their own productions – written with fan fiction, video with vidding, artistic with fan art…. Their imagination is therefore not limited by official productions. »
The old Expanded Universe, Andy recalls, had already set out to tell the Jedi in Exile. “In a series of novels called The Last Jedi, a character crossed the path of Obi-Wan, who was brought to leave Tatooine”, during the 19 years of ellipsis. “Experience has proven that you can invent fascinating stories about Obi-Wan. »