Catharsis and Kenobi

So, the Disney+ series about Obi-Wan Kenobi (titled, uh, Obi-Wan Kenobi) came out on Friday and it is a fantastic exercise in catharsis. And I want to talk about that, because after this week I needed some damn catharsis.

Catharsis, as Aristotle defined it in his Poetics way back when, is a purging of emotions. These emotions, typically ones of fear and pity, are aroused through a story and then, at the culmination of the narrative, being able to release it all. Part of the idea is that, by watching an exquisitely made tragedy, the Greek audience would feel all the feels and then rid themselves of them, thereby being able to go on about their lives without their pesky feels. While I’m not sure I agree with Aristotle’s need to give storytelling purpose (I prefer to think of it as being an intrinsic part of society done sometimes in search of meaning but usually for the sake of it), there’s no doubt that that catharsis is a wonderful part of stories.

And Kenobi does it so well. 

When we meet Obi-Wan he’s not the famed Jedi we know him as from the prequels, nor is he the wizened wise man we meet in A New Hope. He’s just Ben, a stranger on Tatooine who keeps to himself, works a menial job, and has buried his Jedi life in the sands. We know this isn’t how Obi-Wan should be, not just because we’ve seen him in other Star Wars stories, but by how Kenobi itself shows us. Director Deborah Chow paints a picture of an Obi-Wan alone; we’re treated to quiet reaction shots of him standing by and refusing to intervene in injustice. The show makes it very clear when we’re meeting him: He’s a broken man with a thin purpose to keep living.

Of course, the point of a story is to leave that normal world. And after a few Refusals of The Call (as befitting the Campbellian narrative that is Star Wars) he (reluctantly) sets on his New Quest. Along the way, we see signs of the old Obi-Wan peeking through, we get glimpses of who he really is. In those beats, we surface from the miasma of despair and catch sight of a beautiful ray of hope. The cycle repeats itself, but every time despair fades just a little bit. The first two episodes are wonderfully strong and are setting us up for even more heartbreak, but with it comes that promise of catharsis. The fear will end and hope will arrive.

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