This Star Wars article contains spoilers.
1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope is without question one of the most important films of its era, a movie that paved the way for the massive blockbusters and cinematic universes we enjoy in theaters today. It’s a masterclass in worldbuilding, visual effects, editing, character work, and also helped shape Hollywood’s modern understanding of franchising. Without Lucas’ classic space opera, it’s possible there would be no MCU as we know it.
So, it’s only natural that Disney has repeatedly gone back to the source material while sculpting its own rebooted Star Wars timeline, whether it’s by basically remaking the film with 2015’s The Force Awakens or fleshing out bits of its lore in 2016’s Rogue One. Marvel Comics’ rebooted run of Star Wars books also began right after the events of A New Hope, showing us what our heroes got up to next after destroying the Death Star, and animated series Rebels covered the formation of the Rebel Alliance who launched that attack.
If Disney’s goal was to mine the legacy of Lucas’ work with its new Star Wars movies and TV series, it certainly accomplished that. But has tapping A New Hope for inspiration time and again also cheapened the effect of the original?
That’s been one of many ongoing debates among the fandom since Disney popularized the concept of “legacy sequels” that act as both spiritual remakes and successors to beloved classics, revisiting well-known lore for nostalgia’s sake (or at times to overexplain it). But in a way, Lucas did this first too with the Prequel Trilogy and additions like midi-chlorians being responsible for the Force.
Of course, not all attempts to go back to the A New Hope well have been creatively unsuccessful. While in 2014, it would have been easy to assume Rogue One was the obvious cash grab over The Force Awakens, time has ultimately been much kinder to the former than the latter. Indeed, the A New Hope prequel that tells the story of the Rebels who stole the Death Star plans, Lucas’ famous MacGuffin from 1977, ends up being a better and surprisingly more original film that also adds interesting new context for its predecessor.
None of this ever actually needed explaining, but Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor’s suicide mission adds more urgency and a tinge of tragedy to the proceedings of A New Hope. Now that you know what getting those plans cost, you want more than ever for Princess Leia to get that MacGuffin to Yavin IV. Some fans will also be quick to point out that Rogue One‘s iconic Vader hallway scene helped revitalize the Sith Lord’s scary presence after his comical “no” lament at the end of the Prequel Trilogy.
In other words, Rogue One feels additive to what came before in a way that The Force Awakens really doesn’t. That’s not to say Episode VII didn’t do other things correctly. Rey, Finn, and Poe are exciting characters, but they deserved better than a movie that doesn’t so much add to the legacy of A New Hope as straight up copy it.
And now, fans must also have this same discussion about Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Disney+ series that, like Rogue One, seeks to flesh out other aspects of A New Hope‘s lore, primarily those pertaining to the titular Jedi’s exile on Tatooine, how he learns Anakin had become Darth Vader, and his first meeting with Luke. All this, while also wrapping up storylines from the Prequels, such as how Obi-Wan finds peace after Order 66 and Anakin’s fall to the dark side, and finally reconnects with his old master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Some of this certainly falls into the category of “overexplaining,” like when the show has Darth Vader reassure Obi-Wan that it wasn’t the Jedi Master who killed Anakin but the Sith lord himself as a way to absolve old Ben for lying to Luke about his father’s true fate in the movies. In an alternate universe, Obi-Wan could now say “Hey, that’s what your dad told me,” to Luke in that pivotal scene from Return of the Jedi. But an explanation wasn’t necessary back in 1983, or even an interesting storytelling choice, as it arguably robs that Original Trilogy plotline of the mystique of “from a certain point of view.” Isn’t it far more captivating to see how old Ben still struggles with his own off-screen history, how he is imperfect as a mentor, and maybe even willing to manipulate Luke a bit for the sake of the galaxy?
Obi-Wan Kenobi covers other minutiae too, such as how Luke got the T-16 toy he plays with in A New Hope, or why the Empire never tracked down Obi-Wan to Tatooine. They’re things we didn’t need the answers to and that don’t really add much to the original film. Lore explainers for the sake of easter eggs.
But there’s one element of the show that really does feel pivotal to the way people will watch A New Hope in the future: Leia’s past with Obi-Wan. Before the series, it could be assumed that Leia sought out the Jedi Master at the beginning of the movie because her father had sent her to him — an assumption made more credible by a scene in Rogue One where Mon Mothma asks Bail Organa to contact his old Jedi friend. Yet, in future viewings of A New Hope, there will now be a new way to interpret Leia’s message to Obi-Wan that arguably makes the film even better.
You know Carrie Fisher’s most famous line: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” And in truth, until this summer, there was nothing in Leia’s message to suggest she’d ever met Obi-Wan before. But you could now argue the events of Obi-Wan Kenobi change the sentiment behind that final line, lending it unexpected warmth and familiarity. Where it once sounded like a trained diplomat sending a formal plea to a legendary general, you can now watch this scene with the added context that Leia really does trust Obi-Wan to help her. The great Jedi saved her from the Empire once before and there’s no one she’d rather turn to now.
Leia’s adventures with Obi-Wan on Daiyu, Mapuzo, and Jabiim also add a little more nuance and more than a touch of tragedy to their scenes on the Death Star. When Luke reveals to Leia that he’s come to rescue her and that he’s with Ben Kenobi, the princess immediately shoots up in excitement. In 1977, you could watch Leia exclaim the words “Ben Kenobi?! Where is he?” and assume she’s just motivated by her mission. By finding Obi-Wan, she’ll be one step closer to delivering those plans to the Rebellion. But because of what we now know from Obi-Wan Kenobi, that moment can now also be viewed as something more personal and heartfelt: Leia’s is excited to see her friend again.
It also makes the fact that they never actually get to have that reunion feel all the more tragic. By the time Leia reaches the Millennium Falcon with the rest of the gang, Obi-Wan is already in the middle of a lightsaber battle with Vader. Before Obi-Wan throws the fight, he gives Luke a knowing look, but we can also assume he’s looking at Leia. By uniting this new generation of heroes, who are unknowingly powerful Force-sensitive twins, Obi-Wan’s completed his own mission, setting in motion the return of the light against the darkness of the Sith. But on a more basic level, Obi-Wan may also be glad to see Leia one last time before Vader strikes him down.
Of course, that scene in particular has always been a bittersweet A New Hope moment anchored by Luke’s own heartbreak for losing his mentor, regardless of this added context. It doesn’t need Obi-Wan Kenobi to work.
Some fans will surely roll their eyes at the suggestion that they have to watch Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One first in order to get the “complete” A New Hope experience in 2022 (and I’m certainly not arguing that they must). But Obi-Wan Kenobi does go a long way to flesh out a character relationship that didn’t exist on the big screen in 1977 beyond a holographic message. That additional backstory strengthens specific scenes in the process, adding to our understanding of what motivates Leia and Obi-Wan in the film. They’re not just on a mission to deliver Death Star plans or train a new generation of Jedi. Underneath it all, they’re also old friends hoping to see each other again. From a certain point of view, that makes A New Hope just a bit more special.