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Who killed Ben Kenobi?

May 5, 2008 |  6:23 pm

No news here, but this strikes me as one of the great unresolved disputes in pop culture history:

I watched the original Star Wars a few days ago, and noted that on the commentary track George Lucas provides a new version of the development of the Obi-Wan Kenobi character. According to Lucas, he decided at some point in the production that Kenobi had to die part of the way through the movie — over the objections of Alec Guinness, who wanted to keep on working. Nothing remarkable there, except that Guinness very famously gave a totally different version of the story: that Guinness himself talked Lucas into killing off the character because he was bored with reciting "those bloody awful, banal lines." As the late actor told the late Talk magazine in 1999, "I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo."

That's two incompatible versions of the same event. One witness is dead and the other is a fairly energetic reinventor of his own back stories. Which one do you believe? Against my usual habit of not trusting anything George Lucas says, I'm inclined to say he is telling the truer story.

Guinness built up a great reputation as a Star Wars basher over the years, but he didn't start out that way; there's very little in the contemporary record to suggest the kind of contempt for the movie he later showed. The argument-from-self-interest also works against Guinness' version. Actors want to keep acting, as Guinness himself went on to prove: Well into his career as a Star Wars refusenik, he accepted cameo roles in both sequels. Finally, Lucas earned a small believability credit with me by including the original, blissfully non-remastered version of the original movie in the DVD package, which suggests he has given up on his subtle but persistent campaign to convince everybody that the original Star Wars was always called Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

Whichever version is true, I'm well satisfied that the entire Star Wars project ran out of steam once Kenobi got killed off. They kept making the movies, but from that point I tuned out, only waking up from time to time out of respect for Lando Calrissian, inter-galactic cock-blocker.

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