Directed by Deborah Chow
Developed for television by Joby Harrold, Hossein Amini, Stuart Beattie
There is a lot to love when it comes to the latest branch of the Star Wars television tree; great set-pieces, engrossing performances and respect doled out towards the often maligned prequels. Still, there is also a degree to this long-awaited spin-off featuring Ewan McGregor as the iconic Jedi Master that proves frustrating in a way that has become all too familiar with the galaxy far, far away in recent years.
The good news is this; Obi-Wan Kenobi is better than The Book of Boba Fett. It manages to stay focused on what it is the series is about and never gets bored with itself to the extent that it ends up trying to be the “Star Wars and Friends” mash-up that the second half of Fett ended up falling into all too easily.
McGregor’s version of Obi-Wan, previously depicted as younger in the prequels but who is now edging ever closer to the age Alec Guinness was when he played the character in 1977’s first Star Wars film, is front and centre of the storytelling here. The series begins in an almost reflective fashion as we catch up to the character in his post-Revenge of the Sith life, one haunted by the belief that his Padawan apprentice Anakin has died at his hands, all the while keeping a watchful eye on a young Luke Skywalker in the meantime.
All six episodes are directed by Deborah Chow who brings a kinetic handheld approach to the action sequences that will work wonders for some audience members, but maybe not for others. It’s the opening episode where her talents as a director really shine through; she captures the inner silent life of Kenobi, the haunted visage on his face as he adjusts to a life away from Jedi Councils and lightsaber battles to something more brooding and lonesome with a poignant sense of sadness that recalls Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven with its evocation of a long lost and sometimes brutal past colliding with a present-day that offers new deadly dramas and an equally deadly call for a new adventure.
That adventure involves Obi-Wan having to rescue a recently kidnapped Princess Leia, played entertainingly by Vivien Lyra Blair, and a newly mounted threat from Jedi hunting Inquisitors and rejuvenated Anakin in the deadly shape of Darth Vader. We are treated to scenes of Kenobi interacting with a ten-year-old Leia and nearly being burned alive by a vengeful Vader, all of which are incredibly entertaining and dramatic but it leaves one wondering why none of these events ever end up being referred to in the Original Trilogy.
Of course, the logical answer is that this series is being made and released in 2022 and George Lucas never considered this story back then and it’s all now in the hands of new storytellers influenced and inspired by the previous instalments. However, it does give the impression that the Disney era of Lucasfilm and Star Wars are so unsure of themselves when it comes to potentially taking risks that they are leaving themselves with no other options than to dance around previous stories in the series with the same batch of characters, thus making the world it’s depicting feel too small when there is a potentially larger galaxy to play with.
This possibly sounds like a lot of criticism. Truthfully, Obi-Wan Kenobi is very enjoyable at what it does, but it is also indicative of the post-Last Jedi fear of rocking the boat and potentially alienating a few people online that don’t want anything truly new from the series. Unlike The Rise of Skywalker though, which felt way too bland and lifeless on top of its boringly safe approach to the entire endeavour, there is a lot to enjoy and admire throughout these six episodes.
McGregor, a fantastic actor who made no secret of his issues with some of the choices made in the prequels, is tremendous here. It would have been so easy for everyone here to just plunk the character into his new adventure and aim for an upbeat tone, but there is something beautifully honest in how the scripts from writers that include Hannah Friedman and Andrew Stanton, Chow’s direction and McGregor himself aim to capture the character’s sadness and withdrawal from life over his own feelings of having failed due to events in Revenge of the Sith. His reluctance to help Bail Organa and rescue Leia recalls Luke’s initial reluctance in A New Hope, while the palpable sense of fear he displays against his first rematch with Vader, a rematch that shows just how brutally vindictive a character the iconic villain can be, is a million miles away from the character we’ve seen McGregor play before, one itself that was previously based on the eagerness and cheery-eyed classicism of Guinness in 1977.
The series finds its way to that character in a finale that sums up the series in a nutshell; filling in gaps and perceived plot holes from previous movies while paying tribute to lines and scenes from the past.
It does this entertainingly well, more so than the vastly overrated Rogue One (yes, I know it’s very popular, but I have many issues with it), but what can prove disappointing here is when there is the potential for Star Wars to offer something new but it instead wallows in the safety fabric of fan service and easy tributes. Newly created for this series is the main antagonist Reva, played with well-developed complexities by Moses Ingram. A plot twist that reveals her origins as one of the younglings targeted by Anakin has left the character functioning almost in a manner akin to Vader who she desperately wants to kill. That she has allowed herself to become the very thing she despises, even going so far as to try and kill Luke in the finale (a sequence that sadly has little to no suspense because we know nothing can happen to him here) gains most of its power by Ingram’s performance as she learns the error of her ways.
These character beats are the best things about the series, not to mention the dynamic between Kenobi and young Leia who learns not only about her parents but through who we get to learn about the previously untapped story of Obi-Wan’s own origins. The action sequences are entertainingly done, even if one has to turn the brightness levels up to maximum on their televisions to see the final battle between the former Master and Apprentice, but it gets to the heart of the biggest issues facing Star Wars in the present day. There is nothing new being done here and seemingly nothing new to say. The world its set in has become smaller, beset to the same bloodlines, the same characters, the same dynamics, with plot holes from previous stories being filled in because it wants to deliver the equivalent of the Leonardo DiCaprio meme amongst the fans pointing at the television in recognition of things as opposed to trying to come with something different or even original.
It is, for all intents and purposes, a very entertaining season of television, but it leaves one wondering if this type of easy-going nostalgia is all we have to look forward to from this galaxy far, far away for the foreseeable future.