Ewan McGregor is reportedly in talks to return to his iconic Star Wars role in an Obi-Wan Kenobi series for Disney’s Disney+ streaming service. If the series actually makes it to screens, it’ll mark the end of years of effort to get an Obi-Wan movie made, and it will show how Disney intends to use its streaming service.
The original plan was to make a feature-length theatrical Star Wars spinoff, according to a Hollywood Reporter story from 2017. Those plans were eventually scrapped following the lackluster success of two Star Wars spinoff films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story. A third spinoff movie was planned, but Disney and Lucasfilm decided to forgo those plans entirely, pushing back future Star Wars installments — including a trilogy from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and a trilogy from the Game of Thrones creators — to 2021.
Star Wars exhaustion hit, basically. Disney CEO Bob Iger told The Hollywood Reporter, “As I look back, I think the mistake that I made — I take the blame — was a little too much, too fast.” But even a theatrical disappointment (at least, by the standards of a major conglomerate like Disney, which is becoming used to billion-dollar box office hits) could be a perfect fit for a streaming service, and Disney execs are clearly thinking about those dynamics.
A Star Wars spinoff based on Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk’s Rogue One characters (Cassian Andor and K-2S0, respectively) is in development for Disney+. Rogue One might not have met theatrical expectations for Disney, but it won enough critical acclaim and earnings that a digital streaming series seems worth exploring. The Obi-Wan show would be the third Star Wars series in development at Disney+. While Iger has previously said Disney doesn’t rely or lean on Star Wars for hits, it’s certainly a famous brand that will draw in certain subscribers.
Disney+ could also let Disney experiment with new content without worrying about theatrical stakes. Even if the Obi-Wan series is critically panned, it will continue to exist on the platform as library content. Having a library full of exclusive series and movies that keep people watching — even if no one title is their primary reason for subscribing — is crucial.
Netflix refers to this method of subscriber retention as an “efficiency” model when it comes to figuring out whether a show is worth renewing. It either needs to bring in subscribers or keep those at risk of canceling from leaving. People might join Disney+ to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Marvel’s new Loki series, but if they’re hanging around to watch Obi-Wan, it’s still a win.
Disney+ is arguably the company’s biggest investment in Disney’s future. Iger called it one of the most important projects he’s launched in his tenure at the company. (This is the same man who oversaw the purchase of Marvel Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox.) The service is expected to draw between 60 and 90 million subscribers in five years, according to Variety, but even that would be on the conservative side, according to analysts.
Simply put, Disney+ is going to be big. That means it’ll need a vast collection of shows, movies, and originals to keep people watching. An Obi-Wan series with McGregor sounds like a perfect fit for Disney+. Who knows, with Disney’s current plans to integrate TV and film projects (things that happen in Marvel’s WandaVision will end up relating to the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, according to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige), an Obi-Wan show could translate to a movie in the future.
More information about Disney+ and the Obi-Wan series is expected to be announced next week at D23, the company’s biennial convention in Anaheim, California.