Obi-Wan Kenobi is perhaps the biggest undertaking Lucasfilm has taken since Disney acquired the studio. There’s a lot riding on the six-episode limited series. For starters, it’s meant to redeem the prequel trilogy while also bringing back one of the most beloved legacy characters to the bigger picture. So with all those expectations, how does the two-episode premiere fair?
After a brief introduction set during Order 66, where some younglings seemingly survive the ordeal, we flash-forward ten years later to our favourite desert planet, Tatooine. A very tense introduction then plays out, as three Inquisitors interrogate the patrons of a local cantina, who likely know the whereabouts of a local Jedi (not Kenobi). The scene reminded me a lot of the opening of Inglorious Basterds, where Hans Landa interrogates the farmer in search of the Jews. Later on, when the Inquisitors do find their quarry, they string him up from the gate as if he were a cartel victim. This show definitely gets dark and pushes the boundaries of a Disney-produced product, while keeping things in line with the PG-13 rating.
I also liked how the red lightsabers came off as menacing objects of intimidation and fear, rather than laser swords for combat like we saw in the opening segment. You almost want to avert the gaze when the sabers are ignited because we know characters like Mose Ingram’s The Third Sister, also known as Reva, has no problem using them as tools of violence and interrogation. She is an interesting character in that she seems much more violent and impulsive than her counterparts, which creates a lot of tension within the villainous faction. I hope they don’t try to redeem the character though by the end though, as I wonder what her arc will be like over the remaining episodes, as her future is already seemingly compromised in the faction.
Kenobi, now living as Ben, has shut himself off from the Force and works a menial gig slicing meat in the middle of the desert for terrible pay. You can tell Kenobi is weary and jaded, this is a man who has given up on just about anything. He hides, unlike the Jedi who died at the hands of the Inquisitor, who sought to help others and thus, draw attention to himself. Ben stays hidden in his cave, buying scrap from a Jawa and watching over Luke, the only connection he has to Anakin. Ewan McGregor eases gracefully back into the role he started over 20 years ago in Phantom Menace, but this is very much a different Kenobi. Reluctant to help others, reserved and quiet, you can tell this is a man who carries tremendous sadness and guilt with him wherever he goes. When Reva reveals to him in Part II that Vader is in fact still alive, the terror on his face is palpable and is the highlight of the two-part premiere.
Where the show takes a surprising turn is how much time is dedicated to Leia. She actually plays a surprisingly crucial role in the story, as she’s the bait the Third Sister uses to lure Kenobi out of hiding in hopes of delivering him to Lord Vader to gain favour. I’m very curious as to why she’s so fanatical in her quest to uncover Kenobi, to the point where she sets her own plan in motion that isn’t authorized by the Inqusitorious. Why does she seemingly hate Kenobi so much?
Vivien Lyra Blair steps into the role of Leia Organa and does a great job capturing the curiosity and sass of “her worshipfulness”. It’s a little hard to buy that she’s ten years old though, she looks more like she’s six but alas. Her sense of curiosity does get the better of her, but she’s wise beyond her years and she captures that rebellious princess who has an eye for adventure over politics. I know a lot of people will be crying foul over her inclusion as it may muddle up A New Hope’s message of “you served my father in the Clone Wars” rather than “you helped save me that one time as a child”, but if Kenobi is simply known as “Ben” to young Leia, then she may not realize that Ben and Obi are the same person.
What is a little harder to buy though is how she keeps outrunning bounty hunters and Kenobi while at a low jog. Leia is kidnapped in Part I by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and it’s comical how she was outrunning the trio while moving so slowly. The hunters also seemed moronic, constantly tripping and running into obvious branches. It made them come off as less of a threat. Hopefully, this is a limitation of a child actor, versus Chow’s action directing skills, but considering her action in the third episode of Mando in season one, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.
Unlike The Mandalorian or The Book of Boba Fett, every episode of Kenobi is directed by Deborah Chow. This allows for a very consistent tone across the first two episodes, which feel very much like two parts of a larger movie, rather than episodes of television. Case in point, the show opens up with “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” and concludes with the same credit roll as the films. The show isn’t in a rush and is more focused on character than rushing to the end of a standalone arc. It’s taking its time and I praise the show for it. The tone of the show is quite serious, with little room for humour. When there is humour, it often feels out of place. Case in point, Khalil Nanjiani’s character in Part II, which did break imersion a bit for me, as he leaned heavily into that “Marvel humour”.
What didn’t though was the locations. Daiyu in particular, in Part II, was stellar. A mix of Hong Kong and L.A. in Blade Runner, it oozed style and character and is further testament to ILM’s StageCraft technology. I’m glad the show won’t be stuck on Tatooine for six-episodes and I’m curious as to where we’ll go next. We know that we’ll be going to Nur at some point, where Fortress Inquisitorious is, but where else might we go?
There were a lot of neat details in the premiere, such as Temura Morrison returning to play a homeless Clone veteran. But details like this also raise some continuity eyebrows, as one has to wonder why said Clone didn’t hunt down Kenobi when the bounty was placed on his head in Daiyu, because we know that “good soldiers follow orders”. Reva also seemingly assassinates the Grand Inquisitor and I’ll be quite shocked if that’s final, as the character is around in Rebels. Would Lucasfilm retcon that detail to serve the Kenobi story due to the much smaller viewership of the animation department? Time will tell.
What’s most interesting though is that Reva knows that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker. Vader is notoriously protective of this secret, just look at the comic panel below from Marvel’s second Vader run. Reva seems to play by her own rules and perhaps found the same holorecording that Yoda and Kenobi found in Revenge of the Sith and chose to keep that ace up her sleeve. Another possibility is that Anakin offered her a place in his new Empire during Order 66 and she’s become fanatically loyal to him and him alone. Hopefully, there’s a sound explanation for this, rather than a lapse in continuity.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is off to a solid start. I suppose my main concern with the remaining four are contradictions in continuity and that the show will lean heavily into the whole “gruff adult protects important child” trope we’ve seen in The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch. Star Wars can’t just be a one-trick pony here. Hopefully Ben will deliver Leia back to Bail and that will conclude that story arc, but Nanjiani’s character gave Kenobi the access to the cargo ship where the destination is very much not Alderaan. We’ll have to find out more next Wednesday. All of the footage concerning Kenobi in the trailers was from the first two episodes, so we enter uncharted territory going forward for the character. There’s a lot going right so far, with plenty of questions being raised and a few concerns. Regardless, I’m very much on board so far and can’t wait for next weeks episode.