Ewan McGregor returns to the role he made his own.
Note: Disney+ made episodes 1–2 available for review.
With the sale of Lucasfilm lock, stock, and at least two barrels to Walt Disney Studios, the film division of the Disney Industrial Complex, a decade ago this coming October, Star Wars fans were understandably excited at the prospect of big- and small-screen adventures set in the universe George Lucas created almost fifty years ago. What began promisingly enough with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story almost devolved into misfires like the ill-conceived, poorly received Solo: A Star Wars Story, a major, perhaps irrevocable split in the fandom thanks to the divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and a corporatist retreat into dubious, risk-averse fan fiction with the final entry in the third and presumably last trilogy, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
All was not lost on the live-action side, however, as the president of Disney’s Star Wars division, Kathleen Kennedy, greenlit a barrage of straight-to-streaming titles, including two seasons worth of The Mandalorian (a third season will arrive on Disney+ in the near future), The Book of Boba Fett, and now, after Kennedy mooted long-anticipated big screen adaptations after Solo stumbled badly at the box office, Obi-Wan Kenobi. The six-episode series centers on Obi-Wan “Please Call Me Ben” Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), longtime Jedi Knight, one-time Jedi Master, and mentor to Anakin “The Chosen One” Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), the once and future Darth Vader.
The new series posits that, contrary to popular belief, Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t, in fact, doing nothing, chilling in self-imposted exile on Tatooine during the two decade interim between the events in Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, but was instead engaging in various heretofore unknown side missions of varying levels of importance. At first, though, the surly, sullen Kenobi we meet in the first episode spends his days listlessly working at an outdoor meat processing plant, hanging outside his cave home, or occasionally riding his camel-like animal companion to the dirt farm where a 10-year-old Luke Skywalker lives with his uncle and aunt, Owen (Joel Edgerton) and Beru Lars (Bonnie Piesse). It doesn’t exactly make for compelling or must-see viewing. Thankfully, it doesn’t last.
After introducing Empire-sanctioned Jedi hunters that collectively call themselves “Inquisitors,” Obi-Wan Kenobi literally takes off when Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), Alderaan royalty and the adopted father of Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), appears. He’s not just dropping in for a visit, though. The naturally rebellious, rambunctious Leia has disappeared, presumably kidnapped, and given the Organa family’s prominence in galactic politics and the need for discretion, Bail practically begs Obi-Wan to put on the old dusty rubes, cloak, and lightly used lightsaber and save Leia from her captors. It’s a mission Obi-Wan, a Jedi to the core and thus driven by compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice, resists, but ultimately one he can’t reject.
The second episode focuses less on the mechanical or procedural aspects of finding Leia than the unlikely buddy relationship that forms between a perpetually frustrated Obi-Wan and a stubborn, willful Leia. To some extent, it echoes a similar relationship between the title character in The Mandalorian and Grogu (AKA Baby Yoda), though Leia has the benefit of speaking her mind in no uncertain terms. Played winningly by the 10-year-old Blair, Leia unsurprisingly emerges as a proto-version of Carrie Fisher’s older Leia we meet and follow in the original trilogy.
It’s relatively easy to see the preteen Leia becoming a co-leading character as she and Obi-Wan go on multiple planet hopping adventures together, though the main through line of the first season suggests the central conflict will be between Obi-Wan and Reva (Moses Ingram), an ambitious Inquisitor (and presumably a former Jedi) driven by bitterness, disappointment, and an outsized desire to punish Obi-Wan for a multitude of sins real and imagined. Capturing Obi-Wan also serves another key purpose: putting Reva closer to the Emperor’s chief enforcer and Obi-Wan’s former mentee and friend, Darth Vader.
At least until the final moments of the second episode, Obi-Wan appears to be unaware that Vader and Anakin are one and the same, that Anakin didn’t die 10 years earlier after losing their duel on Mustafar but was instead “saved” by the Emperor and the Emperor’s surgeons and scientists. It feels like a bit of a stretch, though one viewers at home will likely shrug past and just accept, especially given the double revelation of Reva as Obi-Wan’s main antagonist and the still unspecified re-emergence of Darth Vader. The stakes, however, will always remain relatively low, especially for legacy characters we know will survive until at least A New Hope. Until then, of course, Obi-Wan Kenobi and its nostalgic pleasures await.
Obi-Wan Kenobi can be streamed via Disney+.