Finally, after years of anticipation, Obi-Wan Kenobi is here, and so far, it’s been worth the wait. In the Star Wars TV series, Ewan McGregor’s Jedi Master is living a humble life on Tatooine. The Empire actively hunts the remaining members of the Light Side, and most other people just want to stay out of the way.
In the first two episodes, the sci-fi series emphasises the loneliness that’s come over a galaxy far, far away since Revenge of the Sith. Inquisitors and clone troopers patrol the planets, while menial labour in exchange for scraps is how most make a living. Obi-Wan, now a recluse, carves out a humble life in a cave, watching over Luke Skywalker, though his presence isn’t especially welcome.
Inevitably, he’s forced out of hiding, but – refreshingly – not because of Luke. Or not entirely, anyway. The circumstances are no less grave, and the subject of Obi-Wan’s quest is someone just as integral to the landscape of a long, long time ago. Even then, it’s not their fate that sits in the mind’s eye once credits roll on the second episode.
If you couldn’t surmise from my description, Obi-Wan Kenobi is all about saving a young Princess Leia. She’s kidnapped by some goons-for-hire to set a trap for the Jedi, who’s at the top of everyone’s hit list. Being the former best friend of the new tyrannical leader makes you unpopular with the opposition. Who knew?
Cynical of nostalgia as I am – read the first line of this piece on Ahsoka Tano – the switch over to Leia’s perspective did induce a smile. It’s a welcome change from Luke, who’s been over-exposed as the lynchpin of the franchise. Princess Leia is a Star Wars character who never got her due in the storytelling, and Obi-Wan Kenobi is rectifying that.
Leia being the target pushes Obi-Wan, and the show, into uneasy territory. Once again, the Jedi’s instincts are off as to where the real trouble might be. Even after it becomes clear the Inquisitors are out for blood, Obi-Wan doesn’t think to warn anyone on Alderaan. Maybe he thought it unwise to communicate, but then that’s a double-standard considering the conversation he has with Owen about Luke.
Such cognitive dissonance sits on McGregor’s worried brow. If anyone’s aware of the bind the galaxy is in, it’s him. When he tries to tell Owen he should train Luke, he sounds desperate, clinging to the idea that what didn’t work for Anakin could be remedied here. When he’s told about Leia and asked to help, his immediate impulse is to decline.
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As Reva, the Third Sister mentions, a Jedi must assist those in need, and Obi-Wan digs up his old lightsaber. What sounds momentous on paper is almost forlorn in practice. Director Deborah Chow handles Obi-Wan Kenobi with the mournful tone required of a situation where the goodies didn’t just lose, they were brutally destroyed.
The opening scene has students attempting to escape during Order 66. Obi-Wan suffers from PTSD. Strapping back on his lightsaber comes with an enormous weight of failure. This mission isn’t about heroism, it’s to try to avoid it so everyone can go back to living in the shadows.
Opposite McGregor is Moses Ingram as Reva, who comes remarkably close to stealing the show. The Third Sister is a loudly unrepentant executioner, to the point even her boss the Grand Inquisitor disapproves. Her methods are callous, and she knows more than she lets on. Ingram portrays Reva with a deep-seated animosity, as if all existence is an affront to her sensibilities.
Reva’s just about everything Obi-Wan isn’t – disobedient, apathetic, and violent. Where they align is in their dedication. They’re steadfast in the side they’ve chosen, which makes sense since Reva’s a former Jedi. In poking through the vestiges of life under the Empire post-prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi has started cross-examining how the Jedi splintered and mutated in this period.
It’s a welcome philosophical underpinning after The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian, both of which have been light-footed on a cohesive takeaway that isn’t just “Star Wars is cool”. Star Wars is cool, and it’s especially rad when it confronts political ideas head-on and pushes one to chew on them.
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You still have Leia’s bright-eyed curiosity as a counterweight. She’s inquisitive and forward-thinking, just as you’d expect, and approaches the universe with only adventure in mind. Funnily enough, she doesn’t want a career in politics, which is rightly pointed out to be something that’ll make her a strong representative.
It’s unfortunate she gets one of the thinner looking action scenes, where she’s chased through the woods outside her home, but a minor complaint. The hook of the double-bill comes right at the end, when Obi-Wan learns something I’d always taken as sacrosanct. His face, the look in his eyes, the fear, pain, and sadness, it’s a pitch-perfect moment that drives the emotional hook right into you.
McGregor is still every bit the sensitive, cool, but ever so slightly awkward performer he was in the Prequel Trilogy. Chow focuses the camera right on him for the revelation, and he takes us on the emotional wave. A structural issue did risk cheapening the scene – we get a canned montage to intro the series on Disney Plus, that’s then largely redone for Obi-Wan’s nightmare later.
We almost see the same thing too many times. Thankfully, Obi-Wan Kenobi delivers on the promise for the last shot, and a jolt from the score, overseen by the inimitable John Williams. Star Wars with confidence like we haven’t seen in some time.
Obi-Wan Kenobi episodes 1 and 2 are streaming now on Disney Plus.
Obi-Wan Kenobi episodes 1 and 2 review
Obi-Wan Kenobi gets off to a great start with strong performances, and fasctinating ideas for Star Wars as a whole