Runtime: 6 x 45 minute (approx.) episodes
Director: Deborah Chow
Writers: Stuart Beattie, Hossein Amini, Joby Harold, Hannah Friedman & Andrew Stanton
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Moses Ingram, Vivien Lyra Blair, Kumail Nanjiani, Indira Varma, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rupert Friend, James Earl Jones, Hayden Christensen
By Calum Cooper
Warning: This feature contains spoilers
In a time where the “Star Wars” franchise appears to be looking increasingly backwards, a new Obi-Wan Kenobi story seemed inevitable. After the eye-rolling showers of member berry juice seen in “The Book of Boba Fett” (2021), many of “The Bad Batch” (2021-) episodes, and especially Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” (2019-), Deborah Chow’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (2022) could have easily been an exercise in quotes, nostalgia, and callbacks – many of which have been immortalised via memes as much as the films themselves.
However, this 6-part miniseries is a lot more than that. While it certainly does have its fan service moments, and others of questionable craftsmanship, “Obi-Wan Kenobi”(2022) understands what makes “Star Wars” so engaging even forty-five years on. Although the imaginative worlds, exciting action, and wondrous mythos have always been staples of “Star Wars”, it is the characters that occupy these spaces, and the emotional journeys that change them, that make “Star Wars” what it is. “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, at its core, champions that same sentiment.
Set mid-way between “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) and “A New Hope” (1977), the ageing Jedi Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor, reprising his role from the prequels) has all but given up. Although he maintains his role as a watchful, but out of sight, guardian over the young Luke Skywalker, he seems to be doing it more out of a lack of purpose rather than a defined one. He is a broken man haunted by the mistakes and trauma of his past.
But he is called away from Tatooine when Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) of Alderaan is abducted. Obi-Wan finds her, but this places him in the crosshairs of the Imperial Inquisitors, a squad of ex-Jedi who have turned to the dark side. Impulsively leading the charge is the Third Sister, Reva (Moses Ingram). Obi-Wan’s journey to get Leia home brings him face-to-face with not just Reva, but with the source of much of his trauma, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones, but with Hayden Christensen physically portraying him).
Narratively, and to an extent thematically too, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” draws the biggest parallels from Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” (2017), which is still comfortably the best thing that’s come out of Disney’s treatment of “Star Wars”. This is because “Obi-Wan Kenobi” similarly deconstructs its leading character so that it can build him back up again stronger than before. When we first meet Obi-Wan in this show, he’s about as lost as anyone can be. Everyone and everything he’s previously known is gone, and given what happened to his padawan, Anakin Skywalker, he feels a mountainous degree of responsibility for this. He’s a tired veteran, sitting in the ruins of his mistakes, waiting for his time to run out.
However, the best “Star Wars” properties have always believed in the philosophy that anyone is capable of greatness, anyone is capable of change and anybody can make a difference. The original trilogy was built on this principle. “The Last Jedi” understood this in spades. Even “Revenge of the Sith” offered a clever inversion of this by depicting Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Thus, Leia’s abduction provides ample room for Obi-Wan to confront his demons and, in his mind, atone for his mistakes. Even though his duty is to Luke, Leia’s adoptive father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), rightfully declares, “And what of your duty to his sister? She’s as important as he is!”
Women play vital roles in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, both in front of and behind the camera. Deborah Chow serves as showrunner and director for every episode. Her focus on the characters that make “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is abundant in its emotional payoff. Even though this is a prequel show, and thus the outcome is effectively predetermined, Chow explores the psyche of her characters, showcasing how they overcome the challenges of her story in order to become the people they’re meant to be for future appearances. She explores the how as much as the why when it comes to Obi-Wan’s character arc. Yet, outside of Obi-Wan himself, it is the show’s female characters who prove the most engaging and dynamic.
Among them is young Vivien Lyra Blair as a 10-year-old Leia Organa, filling in the shoes of the late, great Carrie Fisher. Blair embodies the sass, charisma, and emotional strength that Fisher brought to Leia, while also making the role her own through confident wit and a natural assuredness. Some of the most satisfying scenes involved Blair’s Leia verbally outwitting others – her suggestion that her cousin is a lower life form being a special highlight. Yet the way her character interacts with these new worlds, different people, and even how she subtly interacts with the Force at times wonderfully sets the stage for Leia to become the fearless leader she’s destined to be. Blair is a true find; her snarky chemistry with McGregor being one of the show’s biggest delights.
“Although the imaginative worlds, exciting action, and wondrous mythos have always been staples of “Star Wars”, it is the characters that occupy these spaces, and the emotional journeys that change them, that make “Star Wars” what it is. “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, at its core, champions that same sentiment.”
Yet arguably the most compelling character is one of the antagonists – Reva. While the Inquisitors have been some of the coolest new additions to the Star Wars Universe, since their debut in “Star Wars Rebels” (2014-2018), cool is where they begin and end. With the sole exception of the Second Sister in the video game “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” (2019), the Inquisitors have not been characters so much as glorified henchmen. Reva, however, is a great character, not to mention one of the most fascinating villains to have graced “Star Wars”.
As someone who suffered as a child during the fall of the Jedi, Reva has been consumed by anger, sorrow, and a desire for justice. Obi-Wan has become the focus of her aspirations due to the nature of her backstory. Her need to prove herself, not just to the other Inquisitors, but to the ghosts of her past too, make her scary, dangerous, and, eventually, even sympathetic. She’s a layered character who, underneath her veil of cunning and want, is frightened. In many ways she’s a parallel to Obi-Wan, and in others an antithesis to Darth Vader. Ingram’s performance is spectacular. She’s a commanding on-screen presence who brings both raw power and heart-wrenching fragility to the role. She steals every scene, and the eventual resolution to Reva’s arc is one of the most satisfying of any recent “Star Wars” property.
This fundamental understanding of character enrichens much of the show. The action is much more thrilling due to the psychology of those engaging in it. The set designs of the different worlds feel absorbing as our heroes navigate them, with the Inquisitors’ Fortress and the world of Daiyu being especially impressive. Natalie Holt’s score beautifully builds on the work of John Williams’ to create something dazzling and adrenaline pumping. And the character dynamics introduced, as Obi-Wan begins to confront his demons and once again find his purpose, are a joy to behold. Alongside Blair and Ingram, standouts include O’Shea Jackson Jr, Indira Varma, and even Hayden Christensen in a reprising role as Darth Vader. Christensen isn’t in the show as much as marketing would suggest, but what we do get from him is a terrifying array of physical and expressive acting, particularly in the finale.
Yet, at its heart, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is a story of redemption. In between the action, world jumping, and cheesy dialogue that only “Star Wars” can make work, this is a story about how trauma changes people, often for worse. Yet it is also about how we can learn and grow from our trauma in order to become better than we once were and find new purpose, even in a time that feels hopeless. As Yoda wisely said, “the greatest teacher failure is”. Watching Obi-Wan evolve by acknowledging and accepting his failures, as Luke did in “The Last Jedi”, is what allows the show to ring so narratively and thematically loud. McGregor’s performance is the icing on the cake. McGregor was always one of the strongest elements to the prequels, but his performance here is one of heart-ache, humour, charm, tenacity and sensitivity. Whether he’s wallowing in regret or quipping the obligatory “hello there” line, McGregor has never been better.
There are some noticeable flaws however. At times the show makes some bizarre technical choices, especially with its camera and lighting. Some tracking shots and handheld cam decisions do occasionally distract from the story as it’s occurring. They’re not bad choices – more experiments that didn’t quite work. This is usually coupled with an abundance of dark lighting that may match the tone but, particularly when placed alongside the already massive amounts of black and red colours seen throughout, made some of the action or visuals very difficult to make out. And while its six part structure felt right for the type of story it was telling, the pacing did slow down in the middle episodes, most noticeably in episode 4, which felt like an unnecessary repeat of previous events. Nevertheless, these things did not detract from the fruits of the show’s endeavours.
Unfortunately the show has also, through no fault of its own, once again shown just how ugly portions of contemporary fandom can be. Whether it was the return of insufferable, overused buzz terms that have since lost all meaning (e.g. plot holes, bad writing, mary sues, woke agendas etc), childish screeching that certain fan requests, however pointless or contradictory to the story being told, weren’t happening, to flatout racist attacks against Ingram, the toxic incels that make up the vocal margins of the “Star Wars” fandom made their disgusting presence known. The show wasn’t perfect, but there’s valid criticism and then there’s curlish gatekeeping and hyperbolic, often media-illiterate, whining. These swathes of pop culture consumers belong squarely in the latter category. Their putrid behaviour has proven, once again, that they do not want genuine stories or characters or themes. They instead want a checklist of regressive fan service, of junk food-esque scenarios that do nothing except remind them of some utopian nostalgia that never existed. It’s maddening, and even depressing, that loudly voicing vitriol and willful ignorance is now considered a requirement to be “a true fan” in these people’s minds. Then again, to quote “Star Wars”, “the ability to speak does not make you intelligent”.
But I digress. When everything is added up, we are left with a show that offers a solid and exciting dissection on Obi-Wan, and addresses the healing that can be achieved when people are brave enough to face their demons. Is the show flawless? No. Does it occasionally fall victim to the fan service that other shows within its universe have been guilty of? Absolutely. But, when stripped down to its skeleton, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is first and foremost about the growth, change, and revitalisation of character; about how that same character, even when dealing with the weight of their mistakes and flaws, can do something remarkable and contribute to the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.
That is quintessential “Star Wars”.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” is now streaming in full on Disney+