I have minimal interest in what “Ben” Kenobi was doing on Tatooine before Star Wars, whereas I have maximum interest in seeing how the Legends Of Tomorrow get out of time-jail. As someone who’s proudly in the “Obi-Wan was actually terrible” camp, the very notion of Disney trying to redeem filled me with contempt. I was so disinterested in this that I didn’t even give this Jedi’s solo series a shot until after the fourth episode premiered. It’s … better than I expected. Is Obi-Wan Kenobi the Hawkeye of Star Wars TV shows? SPOILERS for a series that shouldn’t have any by design follow.
This Disney+ series has been referred to as a limited series, yet it also has a worrisome “season 1” label on the site. Every episode is directed by The Manalorian’s Deborah Chow, giving it a unified tone. It’s a bit murkier than it needs to be at times. Why is it color corrected like an Underworld sequel? The promo character sheets look like assorted thespians were cast as Two-Face thanks to digital cigarette burns.
Even George Lucas’s stilted writing & directing couldn’t suppress Ewan McGregor’s charm. (The real best actor in the prequels, however, was Ian McDiarmid.) Now he’s just about the right age to play Kenobi a decade before Episode IV. He’s a watchable lead, although I still don’t think he elevates Kenobi into a truly engaging character. At this point the character is more repentant about his failings than his inscrutable Alec Guiness introduction. He’s less frustrating that the star of The Book Of Boba Fett, which should’ve been written by ND Stevenson.
One of his real daughters, Esther-Rose McGregor, cameos as Tetha Grig, a spice dealer who gives him a free sample. I’m a bit surprised his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, didn’t get a role as somebody with badass name since they worked well together in Fargo season three & the Harley Quinn movie whose title was too long. Her pregnancy probably conflicted with filming though.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is similar to Logan in the broad strokes: After his brethren were wiped out by someone he once trusted, an over the hill hero comes out of retirement to rescue a young girl from the specter of his past. The issue is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope already was Kenobi’s Logan. It also appears to cover similar ground to the Jedi: Fallen Order video game starring Space Joker. Pairing Kenobi up with a youngling evokes Din Djarin & his adorable adopted son. So you’ve definitely seen some version of this before.
The series begins with a flashback to Order 66 happening at a Jedi academy. Unlike the eerily similar beginning to Stranger Things season four, it wasn’t originally preceded by a content warning. I was worried we’d be stuck watching incognito Obi-Wan not interfere on overexposed Tattooine for six episodes. Ben Kenobi is called out of retirement by Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits returns) when his adopted daughter, Leia
Skywalker Organa is kidnapped. This is obviously a trick to draw him out, but Kenobi answers the call to action anyway.
Vivien Lyra Blair is great as the precocious young princess. Her green disguise poncho adds a lovely splash of complementary color while evoking the camouflage she’ll wear on Endor. So this mini-series explains why Leia asks specifically for Kenobi’s help a decade later & why she names her son after him. We really needed six hours of content to justify one of JJ Abrams’s dumb decisions? It’s not even one of the most egregious!
The Inquisitors don’t fly by spinning their lightsabers like helicopter blades, so why bother? Grand Inquisitor has been recast from Jason Isaacs in Rebels to Rupert Friend. Is he not First Brother? He’s got a Cenobite vibe, yet animation fans say he should look even creepier. Unlike being the Big Bad of Superman & Lois season two, Rya Kihlstedt barely does anything as Fourth Sister. Is she supposed to be a Twi’lek with tiny lekku? Grand Inquisitor & Fifth Brother get actual dialogue. Is the dumb Rule Of Two no longer in effect?
Inquisitor Reva the Third Sister uses The Force to parkour across rooftops like Batwoman. This is a nifty use of her limited power that distinguishes her from other Force wielders. (Can you boost your connection to The Force with Midichlorian enhancing drugs?) What sets her apart even further is she expresses resentment at the Jedi scooping her away from all her loved ones & belongings. The Jedi’s enforced law of non-attachment is traumatic to padawans! It’s no wonder she defected to The Dark Side. This hasn’t soothed her issues as her Sith siblings condescend to her for being the least powerful among them. (This sadly mirrors the racism that Moses Ingram received for existing. At least the official Star Wars accounts finally stood up for her after sitting by while John Boyega & Kelly Marie Tran were cyberbullied.) The Grand Inquisitor had it coming.
Daiyu the Blade Runner planet debuts a dinosaur bounty hunter that surprisingly doesn’t have an official name yet. I might’ve been more excited about this character if they weren’t killed off immediately. This underscores a problem I have with the franchise as a whole: Why make such cool background aliens if you’re not going to move them to the foreground to do anything? It’s a waste of resources.
Seth Rogen Zack Braff fares better as Freck, a star-noled mole trucker that supports The Empire. This is change of pace since non-humans are generally depicted as either being Rebels (Wookies, Mon Calamari, Nien Nunb, Ewoks) or indifferent to Imperial rule (virtually everyone else).
The Empire sets up ineffective chokepoints. There’s a laser fence that’s neither high nor long. Obi-Wan still feel compelled to blast it into inoperability instead of just hopping over it or walking around. Likewise the Inquisitor base has some sort of ID scanner set up in an open room well past the entrance. Meanwhile they don’t have any aerial defenses to thwart enemy spacecrafts.
A big to-do was made about Hayden Christiensen returning as Darth Vader. There’s two scenes with him under prosthetics. How much is he even wearing the full Vader suit for? So I can’t actually tell whether his acting has improved since the prequels. Much more important is that James Earl Jones returned to dub him. He’s the true crucial Darth Vader ingredient. The penultimate episode does have new duel flashback with pre-Sith Annakin. Joel Edgerton & Bonnie Piesse reprise Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru Lars too.
Darth Vader kills random bystanders hiding in their house on the way to get to Obi-Wan. He’s extra sadistic. This tracks with him slaughtering unarmed Tuskens & padawans. I appreciate that they’re willing to lean into his atrocities rather than downplaying them since he’s arguably the franchise’s biggest character. Quit saying Anakin Skywalker was a good man! He has no honor!
A big reason I didn’t want to watch this initially was that it was a sure thing they’d have an Vader/Kenobi rematch. I interpreted their duel in the original to be the first time these two squared off since Revenge Of The Sith. It’s not the biggest retcon to have to massage in, but it still feels unneccessary. The fight scene where Vader brutally burns Kenobi was actually good. It made me wish this was set in an alternate continuity where Kenobi, Vader, & Leia weren’t destined to survive. Unpredictability was one of Rogue’s One’s strengths in centering on unknown characters. (This shares some writers.)
Even lower stakes than usual kept me from getting further invested. It basically has the same problem as Arrow. Since you know
Oliver Queen Obi-Wan enters the main narrative on Lian Yu Tatooine, none of these flashback sidequests on different locales can convincingly endanger the lead. You know for certain they won’t kill him off & have the Sir Alec Guiness version be a replacement. It’d be too late to confirm the theory that he’s really a clone designated OB-1. This can’t even be a turning point for Kenobi’s character since he resumes being a hidden hermit for a decade until Luke Skywalker accidentally intercepts his long lost twin’s distress hologram.
Obi-Wan uses The Force to let stormtroopers drown. This reconfirms that their armor is useless, unlike TBOBF showing their helmets have air supply. You’d expect the troopers on the semi-aquatic base to be the ones to have emergency SCUBA gear built in. Kenobi trying to sneak Leia off the base under his trenchcoat is adorably desperate yet goofy. This is a very solemn show, so I welcome this rare bit of comic relief.
Reva plants a hacking tracker on Leia’s LOLA droid, whose lights switch from blue to red. That’s exactly what you don’t want a surreptitious bug to do! This isn’t the first to use that counterintuitive trope, but I wonder why they didn’t trust audiences to believe Reva when she told Vader. The Imperials are going to catch up to them next episode, so it’s not like whether she was being honest would be viewed ambiguously.
The most important class in stormtrooper school is Wilhelm screaming. Contrariwise nobody cares about missing marksmanship classes. A platoon opening fire upon a crowded refugee stronghold only manage to injure Tala Durith the Imperial turncoat. (Indira Varma can cross another franchise off her list.) They don’t even kill her. She has to valiantly explode herself & her droid, NED-B, to buy the others time. Darth Vader is tricked into squandering The Force to destroy a decoy transport before the real one takes off. That makes him even more furious.
Reva is a new contender for most tragic Star Wars character. After being stolen from her real family by Jedi, she’s further traumatized by watching Annakin Skywalker murder her padawan playmates. She survives the school massacre by playing opossum. Reva puts up with Inquisitors’ harassment for years as a plan to get close enough to Darth Vader to kill him. She puts in the work to earn the rank of “Grand Inquisitor.” Kenobi preys upon her need for revenge. Rather than help her kill Darth Vader, he flees with the refugees. If Kenobi hadn’t used Reva as a distraction while he fled with the refugees, the two of them might’ve been able to kill Darth Vader together. Not only does Vader strike her down with ease, he reveals he’d been stringing her along since he already sensed she’d betray him. Vader gives her promotion back to the still living Grand Inquisitor. Reva isn’t quite dead yet either, which reinforces the need to confirm kills.
Kenobi lures Darth Vader away from a slow moving space chase until Roken can fix the ship’s hyperdrive. Why can’t the Grand Inquisitor continue the pursuit in in the fully functional star destroyer since Darth took his own craft? Kenobi & Vader have another duel, this time telekinetically throwing rocks at each other like they’re both Batman pretending to be Killer Croc. Obi-Wan slashes his former pupil’s life support breastplate & mask yet still doesn’t kill him when he has the chance? He doesn’t even get a bad feeling about Luke until he returns to orbit, so why didn’t he put Vader out of the galaxy’s misery? Not slaying Vader when he had the chance again makes Kenobi worse!
Reva has already gone to Tattooine to kill Luke to avenge her slain padawn companions. (Apparently there was a spare ship on Jabiim?) Kenobi rushes there just to find that she couldn’t lower herself to Anakin’s level. So that’s another anticlimax. There’s no closure for the Inquisitors since they apparently survive into media set afterwards. Li’l Leia is obviously returned to Alderaan. Kenobi doesn’t try training either twin. A gratuitous cameo by Qui-Gon Jinn’s ghost caps off the lackluster finale.
The Empire not noticing that Obi-Wan gave Luke to Annakin’s stepbrother to raise while in exile on Skywalker’s homeworld already takes a huge suspension of disbelief. He only bothered changing his first name, which means either Kenobi is the space equivalent of Smith or the Empire had terrible census takers. It works, however, if both Kenobi & Luke are hiding in plain sight. So long as Kenobi laid low for twenty years, it’s understandable the Empire would divert resources to more active enemies or even presume he died. Once Kenobi puts himself back on Darth Vader’s radar, it becomes absurd The Empire didn’t wise up. Vader apparently gives up searching for Kenobi because Palpatine questions his commitment to
Sparkle Motion The Empire. Why isn’t Palpatine interested in hunting him down since he has Inquisitors specifically for this purpose?
Obi-Wan & Yoda used to be known as the only surviving Jedi, but this & several newer media establish other Jedi escaped Order 66. So where were they during the original trilogy? Do all of them besides Ashoka Tano die by then anyway? Ditto the Inquisitors on the Sith side of the equation. Haja Estree the con artist “Jedi” (Kumail Nanjiani) is a more fun addition to the lore than these retcons.
This may be both the most unnecessary prequel yet while also being the best prequel. This is not a high watermark. It doesn’t have the engaging open future of The Mandalorian, but its story & characters are more coherent than The Book Of Boba Fett. (Technically those series are also prequels, but I don’t classify them as such since they’re set after the original films. They’re interquels!) The episodes are straightfoward & well paced individually, but the story being a series of abductions & rescues is a bit tiresome on as a whole. The finale is very underwhelming. Overall this didn’t give me a deeper understanding or appreciation of anything. Unless you’re a Star Wars junkie or just need something on while you do chores, you can skip this one. Please don’t try to make a second season to even more diminishing returns.
Now can we please be through with adding new chapters to The Skywalker Saga? A two season Andor prequel is on the way next. This vows to chart Cassian Andor’s journey to becoming a Rebel. Between Leia, Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Lando, Finn, Rey, Jynn, & Tala, hasn’t that arc already been thoroughly covered? I meant more Ewok media!
What is the point of making fake nostalgia figures with cardbacks mimicking Kenner if they’re gonna slap a giant “Retro Collection” red circles on them?
Hasbro is making a Black Series Tala in her Imperial uniform. Will they do another in her Rebel outfit? Either way, I can put her with to Din Djarin to recreate the best Game Of Thrones couple. It’s too bad she’ll be out of scale for my Torchwood toys.
Despite being a major character, little Leia is snubbed across various scales. If you purchased an extra Kingo on clearance, you can kitbash your own Haja the Jedi impersonator.
I have no clue if there’s anything distinctive about the new Darth Vader figures beyond packaging, nor do I care enough to find out.
As I noted in my buff Natalie Portman action figure blog, it’s nuts there’s only one Back Series Padme Amidala. I thought this bore repeating as this is more directly about Star Wars. Hasbro only needs a few new parts to make the iconic Nexu battle Padme. Why aren’t they making one to capitalize on the twentieth anniversary of Attack Of The Clones & people hyped for her to be in Thor: Love & Thunder? Many of her figures could just be a generic blank body beneath new softgoods robes. At least make her foreshadowing fetish gown. She’s a major character so it’s not like I’m asking for rando one scene aliens. (Hasbro should still make the rando one scene aliens from my wishlists though. They keep prioritizing the wrong ones.)
Why must we wait until the fortieth anniversary of Return Of The Jedi to get the rest of the Ewoks? They already have a standard Ewok body. There ought to be a Padme variant & an Ewok in each assortment!
Netflix decided to drop The Umbrella Academy’s third season the same morning of OWK’s finale (& Ms. Marvel’s middle) just to confuse my priorities. So look for that review hopefully sometime this week. Then Superman & Lois & The Flash season finales tag team next week.