This Obi-Wan Kenobi review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 1 and 2
Ewan McGregor’s return as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Prequel kid dream. With the sort of cast reunion the Sequel Trilogy provided for the children of the ’80s, McGregor and Hayden Christensen are poised to stoke the same fervor for fans who grew up in the early 2000s. Luckily, Deborah Chow brings her directorial confidence from The Mandalorian to a strong start for the six-episode Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries. Backed by the tragic events of the Prequel Trilogy and McGregor’s powerful acting, the two-part opener offers plenty of Star Wars delight and solid characterization for the Jedi on the run.
Ten years after Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, Obi-Wan is trying to keep his head down while working a 9-to-5 for his meals, just carving away meat from a desert whale day after day. A slightly slow first episode in fact nails the rhythm of life on Tatooine: every day pretty much the same, with the occasional unpreventable and un-avenged injustice or death. One can see why Luke wanted to leave. Obi-Wan is also feeling lost in regards to his dead mentor, Qui-Gon, who refuses to talk to him from beyond the grave despite Obi-Wan training to speak to Jedi ghosts. It’s clear that so many years later he feels cut off from the Jedi ways. We see this too when the Empire’s Inquisitors arrive on Tatooine hunting Nari (Benny Safdie), a Jedi runaway who Obi-Wan refuses to help.
With that comes the premiere’s biggest surprise and one of its greatest delights: Vivien Lyra Blair strikes a perfect balance as 10-year-old Princess Leia Organa, combining qualities from both Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Natalie Portman’s Padmé to create something all her own that feels effortlessly suited to the Star Wars universe. Leia even uses decoys like Padmé, in this case to run off into the woods instead of attending a political function. While Luke (played by Grant Feely) is just a glimpse from afar, the show delights in showing Alderaan royal life in detail (including the return of Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa). Little Leia is headstrong, precocious, and clearly adores her parents, all of which endears — and reminds us, tragically, that Alderaan has about another decade of existence left.
Even in this time period, not all is well in the house of Alderaan. Pirates working for the Inquisitors capture Leia, so Bail sends a distress call to Obi-Wan. Despite not wanting to raise his head above the sand, Obi-Wan does follow the princess’ trail to a seedy city on the planet Daiyu. It’s there, in “Part II,” that the series gets up to speed, with faster-paced storytelling and some remarkable one-off characters. The Inquisitors are hunting Obi-Wan and Leia, but it’s Reva (Moses Ingram), aka the Third Sister, who’s willing to go the extra mile to be the first to bring Obi-Wan to Vader. She wisely uses Leia as bait to draw out the Jedi Master from hiding, and Reva quickly shows just how ruthless she is when she even kills her boss to catch her prey.
It looks like there might be something personal driving Reva’s anger towards Obi-Wan but the first two episodes only drop tiny hints about their possible connection. Fortunately, Obi-Wan and Leia manage to escape Reva and the other Inquisitors, but not before the Third Sister reveals Anakin is actually alive. A glimpse at Christensen as the heavily scarred Vader at the end of the second episodes promises a long-awaited confrontation to come. If these two former brothers-in-arms didn’t know about each other before, they absolutely do now.
McGregor utterly sells Obi-Wan as both kind and haunted, playing a mix between his own Prequel adaptation of the character and Sir Alec Guinness’ original performance. The show doesn’t hesitate to twist the knife in him: Leia reminds him of Padmé shortly before Reva reveals Anakin is still alive. Instead of inventing a change of heart for the main character like The Book of Boba Fett‘s Tusken arc did, Obi-Wan Kenobi draws directly from the Prequels, using 20 years of history to tell a story with a clear through-line. Yes, there’s some sense that Disney Star Wars is eating its own tail here, presenting yet another “lone man and kid” story like The Mandalorian, but the formula ain’t broke.
From the very first trailer, I was intrigued by the idea of the fugitive Jedi of this era being incapable of truly staying out of trouble. As the Inquisitors say, a Jedi’s “compassion leaves a trail” in a way that tends to make Obi-Wan’s life harder. McGregor sells the difficulty with which Obi-Wan resists helping people in need. The script also shades this with the question of how much of Obi-Wan’s altruism is anxiety or self-centeredness, though. Bail suggests that Obi-Wan’s vigil on Tatooine isn’t about Luke at all, but about Obi-Wan’s feelings of having failed to save Anakin. As much as hiding from the Empire is a practical move, it’s also a way for Obi-Wan to run from what he sees as his mistake.
Even Kumail Nanjiani’s fake Jedi, a con man named Haja, gestures toward the theme of the light side being more difficult. Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is another standout character, his lack of Force sensitivity more than made up for by his mastery of Skywalker-style snark.
“Part II” is full of fun action, including bounty hunters inspired by the Original Trilogy, such as 1-JAC, the droid modeled after 4-LOM, and the big-headed dinosaur guy who might as well be a puppet from Return of the Jedi. While some of the action feels floaty and like very obvious wire work, Ingram’s Third Sister is firmly established as a juggernaut, and her aggression contrasts nicely with the other Inquisitors’ more alien, patient menace. The Inquisitors also have that classic Star Wars villain antagonism for each other. Like Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin or Kylo Ren and General Hux, there’s a sliver of bickering workplace comedy among the space magic and laser torture that makes the Inquisitors richly entertaining. Teamwork is the realm of the good guys, but the bad ones are sure fun to watch.
The episodes have hitches here and there: the Order 66 flashback breaks the episodes’ otherwise refreshing focus. The Grand Inquisitor’s (Rupert Friend) makeup doesn’t hold a candle to what his species looked like in the Prequels. And if the Grand Inquisitor was really killed by Reva, it creates a continuity problem, since he’s meant to show up again in the Rebels animated series, which is set a few years after the events of Obi-Wan Kenobi. We’re just going to assume the Inquisitor leader isn’t truly dead here.
But “Part II” in particular was still delightful with its straightforward action and humorous and cutting side characters. (Shoutout to Temuera Morrison as the down-on-his-luck clone.) Blair’s impeccable delivery (“Where’s the army?”) makes her a more-than-worthy addition to the Star Wars slate, too. And while this show’s budget clearly pales a bit in comparison to even the Prequel flashbacks, Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s inventive embrace of the Star Wars spirit leaves me ready for more.