It turns out I’m a simple man—I can be much more excited by the prospect of seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi atop a weird, hairless, snouted quadruped than I can glimpses of Inquisitors, Skywalkers, and the heavy mechanical wheeze of Darth Vader.
Yes, the Obi-Wan trailer was full of dazzling little hints at what to expect from the next Star Wars Disney+ series, and yet the images that excited me the most were not of spinning red lightsabers or neon-soaked vistas beyond the sands of Tatooine (a truly well-worn vista, that one). Instead, they were far more simple: Ewan McGregor’s exiled Jedi, riding atop and guiding his alien mount. Eopie, as they are known, first appeared in The Phantom Menace as natives to Tatooine, although in Star Wars lore since the beasts of burden have cropped up all over the place, from Saleucami to Galaxy’s Edge’s Batuu. They’re unusual for a planet we usually associate with either Luke zipping along in his landspeeder, or larger animal rides like Tuskens and their Banthas or the Ronto in A New Hope’s special edition. But what stands out about Obi-Wan on an Eopie is that it feels like a callback to the last time we saw the story of this period in his life.
The beast is Obi-Wan’s choice of ride in the 2013 John Jackson Miller novel Kenobi—itself about to be re-released as part of Del Rey’s ongoing Star Wars Legends “Essentials Collection,” just in time for the new show—where Ben, wise in many ways of the galaxy but how to look after a weird looking space horse, finds himself owning an Eopie named Rooh. Rooh’s a minor part of the Kenobi novel, although she becomes part of Ben’s defining imagery to the other characters in the book. She is what he rides in on when he meets the other major protagonists of the novel for the first time; his quest to look after her, and eventually Rooh’s child when the former Jedi is surprised to find himself having purchased a pregnant Eopie, all form part of the sort of restless, hapless energy the put-upon man has as he adapts to his new life on the edges of Tatooine’s threadbare societies. But Rooh’s a hairless, snouted space horse, and while Star Wars can be desperate at mining every corner of its known galaxy sometimes, it never got quite so desperate to write half a novel about a space horse.
No, it’s not that Rooh is some major cameo that Obi-Wan is adding (it seems like the show will have quite enough of that already), but evoking that image from the Kenobi novel is a fascinating choice, given what comparatively little we know about this new, definitive “canon” version we’ll watch play out on Disney+. As the small glimpses we’ve seen in the trailer for Obi-Wan so far suggest, we have the close specter of the Empire in the series with the Inquisitors, we have Darth Vader himself hunting his former master, and we have Obi-Wan sent on a quest that takes him away from the sands of Tatooine to alien worlds, all in his bid to keep the next generation of Skywalkers safer than the one he’d tried to protect before it. It’s big, it’s familiar, it’s high stakes, it’s still Jedi vs. Sith, upstart hero vs. sinister, shadowy evil. So far, so very Star Wars, for better or worse.
It’s a stark contrast to what that Kenobi novel was, nearly a decade ago now. Although it is, similarly, a story of how Obi-Wan first arrived on Tatooine and settled into his life in exile, it’s also a book distinctly not about the wider Star Wars galaxy. Unlike these days, where Tatooine feels like it might as well be Coruscant in terms of big-name comers-and-goers, Miller’s Tatooine in the Rise of the Empire era feels distinctly far, far away from the events of the galaxy Obi-Wan has come to seclude himself and the son of the Chosen One away from. People talk in hushed whispers of some apparent coup, the Republic changing its name to the Empire, and more often than not they don’t really care. Kenobi is, in many ways, barely about the titular man himself, and more his momentary impact on the life of a widowed shopkeeper named Annileen Calwell, and the people around her in a small community called the Oasis, where the big concerns are Tusken attacks, moisture farming, and the encroaching lawlessness of Jabba’s criminal fringe.
It’s not this big story of Obi-Wan rushing saber in hand to defend his distant charge, or about the intergalactic eminence of the Empire and its iron grip. It’s small and intimate, about the pull Obi-Wan still feels to do good, even in the tiniest way and for the most random of people, and the pain he feels when even doing that threatens to expose him. As Star Wars’ galaxy in the modern age has gotten so big and so involved, criss-crossing cameos and sweepingly scaled plots, the thought of a major story such as this—the story of Ben Kenobi’s time on Tatooine—being such a tight, close, space-soap-opera kind of thing, instead of this huge, dramatically important story, is almost unfathomable.
And yet, it’s all I could think of when that Obi-Wan trailer opened, and our first view of McGregor’s Jedi in exile in decades was quite like how we left him at the very end of Revenge of the Sith: a lone man in the desert atop his trusty alien steed. Maybe that is all it is, and any fleeting connection to Rooh and the old version of the tale is just a happy coincidence. But if it is a little nod to the version of this story that came before Obi-Wan in Kenobi, it’ll be nice to see if there are any more influences Miller’s work had in how the show tells this tale.
Perhaps though, sometimes an Eopie is just an Eopie.
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