*Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi*
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first episode opens on a high: during the midst of Order 66, where the Jedi will no longer exist. Deborah Chow’s direction and Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography are impeccable, plunging us directly into the middle of the action and reminding us that Order 66 was a turning point in the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi. Then the episode stops dead in its tracks to give us an insight into what our titular character (played by Ewan McGregor) has been doing for ten years after the fall of the Jedi.
Part I Review – Hello There
Of course, those who think the series will start smack bang with a fight between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader (Hayden Christiensen) will be immediately disappointed. The show does a great job at showcasing Obi-Wan in hiding, working at a factory, and [quite literally] living under a rock, away from everyone. He watches upon Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely), even if his uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) disapproves. I won’t lie; when McGregor’s Obi-Wan appeared for the first time on screen, it was as if no time passed between Revenge of the Sith and this one. He’s just as good as he was in the prequels, perfecting Obi-Wan’s demeanor far greater than Alec Guinness ever did in the original trilogy. Yes, I said what I said. I think McGregor is better than Guinness. And should he get another chance to play him again, Donald Glover could be a better Lando than Billy Dee Williams was. And contrary to what Kathleen Kennedy has said, recasting characters is completely fine (and a much better choice than deepfake), as long as the performers do a great job.
McGregor seems to be highly dedicated to bringing Obi-Wan to Disney+ and shares terrific screentime with his co-stars Jimmy Smits (yes!) and Edgerton, two highly underrated characters in the prequels. The nostalgia factor didn’t disappear when both side characters appeared and interacted with Obi-Wan. Both supporting actors are great in their respective roles. A tense conversation between our protagonist and Owen is a particular highlight because it leads to the best scene of the first episode. Two inquisitors, the Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) and Reva, the Third Sister (Moses Ingram), interrogate residents of Tatooine in search of a Jedi named Nari (Benny Safdie), who has been fleeing the Sith since Order 66. Both Kang and Ingram are excellent, but Ingram has the upper hand (or should I say the high ground?) in the sequence. She’s downright terrifying, constantly acting on impulse instead of the orders the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) has laid out because she is obsessed with finding Obi-Wan.
We still don’t know her endgame (or the potential beef she has with Kenobi), but the character is undoubtedly riveting and could make for an incredible antagonist in future episodes. Unfortunately, her impulsive nature will lead to the worst part of the first episode and a signal that the series could be another uninspired bout of Skywalker Saga antics when Lucasfilm desperately needs to move away from that period.
About halfway through the episode, we get reintroduced to Alderaan and see a young Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) as adventurous as she will eventually be in the original trilogy. Even if the young actress who portrays Young Leia delivers her lines in the clunkiest fashion, those segments are acceptable. Still, it’s what happens to Leia that could, in my opinion, derail the entire series. The fans have been asking for an Obi-Wan solo project involving Ewan McGregor for years. We finally have our wish, and the storytelling possibilities are endless. Sure, there will be fan-service moments where we’ll see him look after Luke and meet Darth Vader again (those are expected). However, if the entire series revolves around Obi-Wan going out of hiding to save Leia from bounty hunters who have kidnapped her in the hopes that Obi-Wan will show himself to Reva and eventually lead up to another fight with Darth Vader on Mustafar, it will be very underwhelming.
If this is the basis of the show, it’s probably the most uninspired thing Deborah Chow and series creator Joby Harold came up with. Really? A rematch with Vader, caused by the kidnapping of Young Leia? I guess she can’t catch a break because A New Hope opens with Leia being captured by Vader! Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau encouraged Deborah Chow to “go bigger” by including Vader in the series. Fine, but if you’re going to do A New Hope 0.5 and Revenge of the Sith Part Deux, it doesn’t scream “going bigger,” but kowtowing to the most basic scenario possible to please everyone. But here’s the thing: Star Wars fans are never satisfied and will complain about whatever happens in the series, regardless of what you throw at them. That’s why I loved The Last Jedi so much–it didn’t care about what the fans wanted and was focused on telling a damn good story in the first place. Unfortunately, the first episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi is too busy trying to please everyone that it forgets to establish a solid basis for the show. I’m sorry, but kidnapping a Young Leia feels so tepid and, quite frankly, boring. And if that’s the best Lucasfilm could offer with this series, consider me disappointed. Let’s see what the next episode offers us…
Part II Review – Moses Ingram, the Show Stealer
Well…oh boy. Look, I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I’ll be the first to admit it: I love a movie (or a show) that will relive the glory days of my childhood. Spider-Man: No Way Home was incredible. It was nostalgia done right. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield weren’t just in the film for purely nostalgic reasons, but their appearances served the story and made Tom Holland’s character grow. Yes, there were bouts of weaponized nostalgia, but that’s expected in a movie that tries to relive the past. Unfortunately, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels so obsessed with reliving the past, without an ounce of emotional connection, that it ultimately disappoints the storytelling department.
I think it’s the most tedious and unoriginal storyline possible to have Obi-Wan rescue Leia, who is used as bait for him to reunite with Darth Vader again so they can have a rematch. But since we know that he won’t die in the series and that Anakin’ll ultimately kill him in Episode IV, everything about the series feels completely weightless. When you’re able to have an endless sandbox of fully-developed planets and worlds within them and use the same characters from the Skywalker Saga over and over again for nothing more than fan service, I believe it’s time for the series to move on from the Skywalkers and start exploring new galaxies, and introduce new characters, who have no connection (!) to what’s going on with the Skywalkers. Because Star Wars is more than the Skywalkers and The Clone Wars.
Sure, some will enjoy the fact that Obi-Wan has interacted with little Leia (I still think Vivien Lyra Blair’s line delivery is incredibly clunky, but you can tell how excited she is at playing her. The chemistry she has with McGregor is amusing here). Others will say that it gives context to Leia’s “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” That’s fine, but did that line need a six-episode series that will lead to Obi-Wan fighting Vader again? As if we haven’t seen that before? “But it’s Vader in his prime!” Of course. Look, I’m excited to see Hayden Christiensen play him (I hope we’ll get at least one flashback involving Anakin and Obi-Wan, for old times’ sake!). Still, we’ve already seen Vader in his prime during the climax of Rogue One, and I don’t believe for one second that a Revenge of the Sith rematch with Obi-Wan and Vader could ever top that incredible sequence.
In this episode, McGregor almost has nothing to do with Obi-Wan. Instead, they’re trying to keep him from using his lightsaber, which is cool because we’re seeing him unleash his martial arts skills. It definitely falls in line with what Deborah Chow has mentioned that she examined Obi-Wan as played by Toshiro Mifune. But, of course, this is done to build up the lightsaber for the Vader fight. Still, it’s particularly frustrating when all McGregor does (or says) in this episode is “Leia!” I swear to God, he utters her name at least thirty or forty times during a scene where she thinks Obi-Wan is why she was kidnapped and that he may not be a real Jedi after all.
Saying it one or two times while chasing her is fine, but constantly repeating it to the point where it genuinely becomes laughable during a scene where he uses the force to help Leia down. The editing, and framing of McGregor’s face and hands, juxtaposed with Leia’s helpless body falling on a [very obvious] green screen, ultimately detracts from the cathartic moment we’re supposed to feel. Leia doesn’t believe Obi-Wan is a Jedi since he doesn’t want to use his lightsaber or the force but has no choice when she’s in mortal danger. It’s supposed to be a decisive moment, yet the only expression I had on my face was bewilderment, and not in a good way.
The rest of the episode is OK at best–the action scenes are pretty cool (and it looks to be Chow’s strong suit, even if Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is nowhere near as exciting in this episode as his work on Uncharted). Still, I can’t help but be bored by the story it’s trying to tell, knowing full well that Leia’s kidnapping will lead further to another fight scene with Vader, without any emotional impact since we know that they’ll both survive and be off to whatever they’ll be doing before A New Hope starts. If you can’t emotionally invest me in the series for its first few episodes, then subsequent ones may not pull me in, and I’ll have a challenging time enjoying it.
That being said, the supporting cast here is excellent, with some of them outshining McGregor. The show’s star is Moses Ingram’s Reva Sevander, who owns every moment she’s given with any of her co-stars. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that she was better than McGregor in scenes where both are pitted against each other. And the way she uses her lightsaber is terrifying. Every time she’s on-screen, it awakens me from my slumber because you have no idea what she’ll do, and killing off Rupert Friend’s grand inquisitor like that was undoubtedly a creative choice (and one I’m still disappointed about the fact that Benny Safdie and Friend get the boot, with their acting talents feeling underused). Still, it perfectly showcases how menacing and impulsive her character is. Heck, if I were working with her in the Empire, I’d fear for my life. She isn’t afraid to break all rules and orders to get to Kenobi, even if it’s still unclear why hunting him down is essential. Of course, she’s working for Vader, but I feel there’s something more that could eventually deepen in subsequent episodes.
It’s a problem when I care more about Reva than Kenobi. Still, our titular character is taking a back seat on his show. He practically has nothing of interest to do and is overshadowed by Moses Ingram, and a very funny and charismatic Kumail Nanjiani is a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, Nanjiani and Ingram are great. However, when their characters are more interestingly developed than Kenobi, who is supposed to be the show’s star, I feel like I’m being robbed of seeing something exceptional. There will be some who, while reading this, will think that I had “unrealistic expectations” for this series.
Truth be told, I had no expectations. The trailers were so vague that I had no idea what to expect–I wanted to go into Obi-Wan Kenobi with as few expectations as I could and be pleasantly surprised. Some aesthetic flourishes and performances are great, but the whole of the show feels downright disappointing, with Lucasfilm seemingly choosing the easy route to please everyone instead of delivering a series for the ages, with a well-deserved return for Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christiensen. I am very much looking forward to seeing Christiensen in the next episode (after the incredible teaser at the end of Part II), but so far, the series feels like a wasted opportunity, and that’s a shame.
The first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now streaming on Disney+.