The rebel base on Jabiim, for example, didn’t do a very good job of hiding the artificial, styrofoam look of its cave system. Scenes of Obi-Wan’s rescue mission deep inside the Inquisitor stronghold were hard to dive into when it appeared that our Jedi hero was just running down the same hallway over and over. The final duel with Vader on a barren moon hardly hid the fact that it was all happening inside a soundstage, with nothing but a murky Volume backdrop, fog machines, and fake boulders to transport us to this new place.
This all raises a big existential question for the franchise. Does Star Wars always have to look “cinematic” to be great Star Wars? Absolutely not. While Disney+ shows have often strived to emulate the look and feel of big-budget movies (to varying degrees of success), made-for-TV productions should also be allowed to exist as just that. Maybe the Dave Filoni-directed “The Jedi” from The Mandalorian season 2 looks a lot more like an hour of television than the more ambitious “The Siege,” which sees Carl Weathers expertly recreate the exhilarating trench run from A New Hope, but I’d argue the Akira Kurosawa-inspired backdrops of the former make it the more visually interesting episode. And for what it’s worth, Filoni’s besieged city of Calodan also manages to be a far more dynamic setting than most of the environments featured on Obi-Wan Kenobi despite its own use of the Volume.
Obi-Wan Kenobi perhaps stands as a prime example of when too much of a great new VFX innovation is a bad thing. Maybe what Lucasfilm needs to learn here is that the Volume should be a complement to great sets, not the main feature. Of course there are also other factors to consider, like the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was filmed during a tumultuous time when productions were still dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, likely affecting the scale of certain scenes as well as the timing needed to build sets.
After the finale, production designer Todd Cherniawsky opened up about the breakneck pace at which sets had to be built and completed, with only “100 days of prep” in fall 2020 before shooting began in spring 2021: “On a 100-day shoot, you’ve probably got, at least on that Star Wars show, we had about 100+ sets. So that means every day, you have to design, build, paint, light, and finish a set.”
Sets built on soundstages instead of in the real world, with the Volume in place for more ambitious shots of alien backdrops, didn’t quite paint the best canvas for Obi-Wan Kenobi, so is another direction needed for the future Disney+ slate?
Upcoming Rogue One prequel series Andor is asking that exact question, imagining what life would be like for Star Wars Disney+ series without the Volume and with more practical sets and location shoots. As filming commenced on the show in late 2020, photos from the set quickly made their way online, including many images of star Diego Luna acting on hills, ports, and other locations around the UK instead of the usual Lucasfilm soundstages in California. Then, a few weeks ago, showrunner Tony Gilroy, the seasoned director and screenwriter who also helmed extensive reshoots for Rogue One, made headlines when he confirmed Andor abstained from using ILM’s LED tech.