Blurring the fine line between TV and movies once again, the announcement of an Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series excited Star Wars fans everywhere when it promised to reveal an unseen confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, sandwiched between their climactic battles in Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. While some were wary of potential continuity errors that might arise from inserting a new chapter between the films, I cannot understate how excited I was to see Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen reprise their roles. In fact, most of the publicity tour seemed to revolve around the fact that the prequels had seen a second lease of life – possibly by fans reconsidering them after seeing the inferior sequel trilogy – and how fans have welcomed them back to the universe with open arms.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the prequels – even though they were a bit cheesy in places – but they were essential in fleshing out the Star Wars universe as we know it today. Most of the expanded universe – both Legends and Canon – stems from the world-building present in those three movies. Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi was one of the highlights of the prequel trilogy, developing the backstory of Alec Guinness’ world-weary hermit as the Jedi Order and Republic crumbled around him. Sure, Christensen’s Anakin was the epitome of a whiny, hormonal love-sick teenager, but it was done specifically to highlight just how easy it was for him to be seduced by the Dark Side. Having him return to the role, fully immersed in the Vader suit, offered a tantalizing new perspective on the character.
Teaser imagery showcased Kenobi on Tatooine, so it initially appeared the series would take place predominately on that planet and involve him protecting a young Luke Skywalker (as depicted in Star Wars: From the Journals of Obi-Wan Kenobi), but instead the series takes Kenobi on a multi-planet adventure to rescue Princess Leia Organa from the clutches of the deadly Inquisitors. It was certainly an unexpected direction, and showrunner Deborah Chow continually subverted fan expectation by teetering close to breaking continuity, but managing to keep things in line. Unfortunately, this did stretch credibility sometimes with characters surviving events purely because they had “plot armour” and were expected to appear in later installments. There are at least three occasions where a character should have been killed, but each time they are spared because this is a prequel. Obviously, this was to be expected to some degree, but there were scenes where it made no sense for one character to let the other one go. Compare this to Better Call Saul, where characters feel like they are in peril at all times even though we know they live on to appear in Breaking Bad.
The focus on Obi-Wan and Leia is as delightful as it is unexpected, which is due to the plucky charm of talented young actress, Vivien Lyra Blair. Her chemistry with Kenobi (and McGregor) drives the whole series, and there are several key moments that highlight the bond between the two. My favourite sequence is when Leia point-blank asks Obi-Wan whether he is her real father, prompting the heart-wrenching response “I wish I could say I was”. These quieter character moments aren’t given enough time to resonate as the series is often guilty of cramming the plot to fit into the episodic format. Another highlight is the long-awaited face-to-face confrontation between Vader and Obi-Wan; an opportunity for the two men to discuss their past. Christensen, glimpsed only through a crack in Vader’s mask, sells this moment (justifying his return over that of a stunt double) and gives Obi-Wan and Star Wars fans the closure they never knew they needed.
Alongside returning icons, there are also plenty of new characters introduced in Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Inquisitors make their live-action debut, with the Grand Inquisitor leading them (albeit with a noticeable redesign from his Star Wars: Rebels appearances) and feisty new character, Reva (aka the Third Sister), adds plenty of spark to the tale. Actress Moses Ingram unfortunately got a lot of negative reaction on social media with accusations of racism amongst the fanbase, but her character develops a lot throughout the series, demonstrating Ingram’s talent at creating a fully-rounded villain. While Vader is the overarching “big bad” of the story, Reva adds a wild card to the prequel – a character whose fate is fluid and who can tug at the narrative in unpredictable ways, which she does often. Indira Varma, of Torchwood fame, appears as the likeable Imperial spy Tala, and while her fate is inevitable from the outset, she makes a strong impact in a short amount of time. Equally, Kumail Nanjiani’s turn as the fake Jedi, Haja, was a nice extended cameo and I would be interested in seeing more from that character in the future.
While the adventure is more serialized than The Mandalorian was, it still feels very episodic in nature with a change of scenery or focus in each new chapter. This creates a nice sense of pace to Obi-Wan’s adventure, but it would have been interesting to see this story released as a stand-alone movie across two hours. It would have helped tighten and streamline some of the plot elements and allow those character moments to really shine through. There were moments where it felt that logic was sacrificed in exchange for expedient storytelling; for instance, a sequence in the third episode where Tala, Leia and Reva all manage to avoid bumping into each other in a tunnel system. Similarly, there seemed to be some sort of time dilation in the finale with Obi-Wan managing to arrive back on Tatooine far too quickly for the plot to make sense.
Overall, Obi-Wan Kenobi lived up to my expectations and filled in the blanks between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, putting definitive answers to some unanswered questions in canon, such as “When did Obi-Wan learn Anakin was still alive?”. Sure, it was a bit rough around the edges at times and lacked the same cinematic sheen seen on The Mandalorian, but it gave us some truly iconic moments between Vader and Obi-Wan that rivalled those seen on the big screen. As a coda to Revenge of the Sith, it worked perfectly and is another example of the “big event TV” that makes it worth signing up for a Disney+ subscription. I’m also glad that McGregor and Christensen are feeling the love from the Star Wars fans, as they are key architects of the franchise.
Score – ★★★★ ½
Obi-Wan Kenobi is currently available to stream from Disney+