The latest Star Wars TV show to stream on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is naturally focused on the noble Jedi Knight and his story of redemption ten years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When we last saw Obi-Wan (reprised by Ewan McGregor, who played the character in the prequel trilogy), he was devastated after his Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), turned to the dark side of the Force, assume the identity of Darth Vader and decimated most of the Jedi Order. The show picks up years later on Anakin’s home planet Tatooine where Obi-Wan is in exile watching over Anakin’s young son, Luke (Grant Feely), from afar.
This version of Obi-Wan is a far cry from the confident and brave warrior from the prequels. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who goes by the name of Ben, lives a quiet life in solitude and generally avoids contact with other people. He also manages to avoid the prying eyes of dark side followers called Inquisitors, including Third Sister Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram). For some reason, Reva is obsessed with finding Kenobi and capturing him for the Inquisitors’ leader, Darth Vader.
On the planet Alderaan, Luke’s twin sister, Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), is kidnapped to lure Kenobi. Her adopted father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), travels to Tatooine to ask Obi-Wan to help find her. After some prodding, Obi-Wan Kenobi realizes he has a duty as a Jedi to help his friend and sets out to rescue Princess Leia. After rescuing Leia on the planet Daiyu, the Jedi Master is pursued by Reva, and later Darth Vader, across several worlds. Before long, Obi-Wan realizes that although he left the Jedi lifestyle years ago, he cannot let go of it and his responsibility to the cause of freedom in the galaxy.
Unlike the other Star Wars Disney+ TV shows, at certain times, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels more like an extended Star Wars film, even the end credits follow the style of the films. But at other times, the limits of television are obvious in terms of scope and budget. Of course, this has no bearing on the quality of the show, which is excellent, but the clash in style and scope may offput some viewers. However, the show is a near-perfect presentation about one of the most revered Star Wars characters. In the prequel films, Kenobi was a supporting character but thanks to McGregor’s performance the Jedi rose in stature to the eyes of many fans. Unlike the conflicted and bratty Anakin, Kenobi was a noble and gallant presence who personified the perfect Jedi. To see him as a hollow, pessimistic, and timid person hiding in the sands of a remote planet at the start of the series was disheartening to watch. Disconnected from the Force and taking pains to avoid conflict, it was disturbing to see how far Kenobi had drifted from the courageous Jedi way. It was also realistic. But, when he slowly regained his connnection to the Force during the show, well, those moments were very gratifying. Of course, McGregor’s performance is stellar as always and his love for the character clearly shows.
One of the best moments was during a flashback sequence that had Obi-Wan dueling with Anakin before he became Vader. The sequence was a brilliant way to reunite the two actors as it showed not just the arrogance of Anakin, but Obi-Wan’s hubris, which would blind him to Anakin’s fall later on in Star Wars Episode III.
There are many other thrilling and inspiring moments throughout the series, such as the final duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader; Kenobi reconnecting with the Force in dramatic fashion; Kenobi’s interactions with young Leia; Vader’s moments of quiet rage and explosive and vindictive menace; suspenseful chases and battles; and the fanatical nature of Reva, who hid a tragic backstory. At first, Reva came off as a one-dimensional, cartoonish villain but through the course of Obi-Wan Kenobi, she became more nuanced and complex as her cause was finally revealed. A lot of credit has to go to Ingram who delivered a commanding performance.
There are many great scenes with secondary characters who had their shining moments and left an impact. Take Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor, his savage putdowns of Reva were epic. Then there was Indira Varma as Talla, a Rebel spy masquerading as an Imperial officer. She had a natural chemistry with Ewan McGregor and her inner strength and sacrifice was truly inspiring. Kumail Nanjiani gave an inspired performance as Haja, a con man pretending to be a Jedi and later has a spiritual change of heart. Blair did a fine job as Leia as she captured the essence of the Rebel princess and we saw the laying of her emotional foundation. And finally, the onscreen rivalry of McGregor’s Kenobi with Vader was completed with the return of Christensen, who shone as Skywalker/Vader. As noted above, their friendly rivalry was well executed in the flashback scenes as we witnessed the underlying insecurity of Skywalker. Christensen pulled this off fantastically with subtle facial revelations.
Despite its greatness, Obi-Wan Kenobi had its narrative flaws, which were alarmingly blatant. Take the fourth episode (arguably the series’ weakest, though it was entertaining), where Talla clumsily slapped around some stormtroopers in an Imperial base and defeated them. Or later in the episode when Kenobi threw on an Imperial cloak as a disguise and obviously hid Leia underneath him as they walked around unnoticed among oblivious Imperial personnel. Then there were the common Star Wars space and time puzzles where characters instantly travel from planet to planet, non-fatal stabbings from lighsabers, and spaceships with broken hyperspace engines being able to traverse star systems and avoid Imperial star destroyers.
Thankfully the merits of Obi-Wan Kenobi far outweigh its negatives. It was great to see Ewan McGregor return to a role that he made his own, but now as the central character. It was also fun seeing other actors from the prequel trilogy reprising their roles and seeing how the prequels connect more strongly with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Even though it is a limited series and its main story feels complete, there is talk about continuing the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi-In-Exile. It’s not clear what direction more episodes would take without feeling repetitive, but they would be welcome.