Josh Reviews Obi-Wan Kenobi
Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi was one of my favorite aspects of the Star Wars prequel films (films that I otherwise tmostly disliked). But I loved Mr. McGregor’s depiction of a young Obi-Wan, particularly in Episode III, when Obi-Wan was at the height of his powers and full of dashing, courageous, good-humored swashbuckling heroism. I also grew to love the Prequel-era Obi-Wan even more in the animated Clone Wars series (in which the character was voiced by James Arnold Taylor). Ever since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, there have been rumors that Mr. McGregor might reprise the role of Obi-Wan in a solo film. I was very excited by that idea. I really wanted to see more of Mr. McGregor’s version of Obi-Wan, and I really wanted to see him shine in a movie that was worthy of his performance. When the news broke last year that there would be an Obi-Wan TV show on Disney+, I was very excited!
And yet, having now seen the six-episode Obi-Wan Kenobi show, I’m left disappointed and feeling like this was yet another missed opportunity.
The best part about the show is Ewan McGregor, who is once again absolutely perfect as Obi-Wan. It’s pretty incredible how thoroughly Mr. McGregor owns this role at this point. Once upon a time, I thought no one could possibly equal Sir Alec Guinness’ iconic performance as Obi-Wan from the original Star Wars trilogy. And yet we’ve now spent far more screen-time with Mr. McGregor’s Obi-Wan, and I love his Obi-Wan so much! Here in the Obi-Wan Kenobi show, set ten years after the events of Episode III, we meet a broken Obi-Wan who is but a shell of the man we knew in the Prequels. This was a very surprising choice that the show made, but I really liked that choice. I hadn’t expected to pick-up Obi-Wan as such a wreck, but it makes emotional sense to me that the psychological blow of the fall of the Republic, the massacre of his fellow Jedi, and ten years of living a lonely life as a hermit on Tatooine would have broken him. Mr. McGregor sells it all in his face and his eyes. Time and again in the series, Mr. McGregor brings an emotional power to the scenes that the show, unfortunately, usually fails to earn.
On paper, I like this show. The ideas at the heart of the series are all good ones. They successfully identified a huge gap in the Star Wars story: that we never learned when and how Obi-Wan Kenobi learned that Anakin Skywalker had survived, and become Darth Vader. What a cool idea to finally bring that important moment to life! I love that. I love the idea of getting to explore just what exactly Obi-Wan did with himself during the two decades between Episode III and the original Star Wars. I love the idea of exploring the time of the Empire. I love the idea of getting to see more of Darth Vader, wreaking merciless havoc. I was overjoyed when the trailers revealed that we’d get to see Inquisitors in live action for the first time. (These cool dark-side wielding servants of Vader played a major role in Star Wars Rebels.)
And yet, time and again, I felt the actual execution of these ideas fell short. Every episode of the show contained moments I loved. And yet every episode also contained moments that seemed so dumb to me, so poorly-conceived or clumsily executed.
First off, the set-up of the show contains two major continuity problems. The first was the appearance of Leia. This was a huge surprise for me in the premiere episode! I enjoyed being surprised, and I quite liked the performance of young Vivien Lyra Blair as Leia. She had a fun, spunky energy and she paired well with Mr. McGregor’s Obi-Wan. But this immediately stuck me as a big continuity problem, because in the original Star Wars, when Leia sends her video message, via R2, to Obi-Wan, she doesn’t seem to know him. “You fought with my father in the Clone Wars,” she tells him. After the events of this show, it seems inconceivable that she wouldn’t say something like “you helped me once when I was a child, now please help me again!” Also, Leia actually sees Obi-Wan die in front of her, but she doesn’t have any emotional reaction. She consoles Luke, but never mentions anything about how Obi-Wan saved her life when she was young. I cannot believe that the makers of this show weren’t aware of this continuity problem. I’m stunned that they seem to have simply decided that they didn’t care.
Second is the idea that Vader and Obi-Wan would meet and battle during this time-period. Now, it’s true that the Vader/Kenobi dialogue in the original Star Wars doesn’t explicitly say that they’re meeting for the first time since the Episode III duel. But it certainly implies it. “When you left, I was but a learner; now I am the master,” says Vader. While this show makes a superficial attempt to acknowledge that (Vader calls Kenobi “master”), it seems to go against the spirit of that line, at least in my opinion. That line works much better for me if we imagine that Vader and Kenobi haven’t encountered one another since their Episode III fight, which Obi-Wan won and Anakin/Vader lost. Even more problematic is how weird the show leaves the Vader/Obi-Wan situation. Now that Vader knows that Obi-Wan is alive — and after Obi-Wan has again humiliatingly defeated him — I simply cannot imagine that Vader wouldn’t be tearing apart the galaxy in an effort to find and destroy Obi-Wan. That little scene with the Emperor was a nice try at addressing that, but I just can’t imagine Vader would be cool knowing Obi-Wan was alive and out there. Personally I’d always thought/imagined that, post Episode III, Vader assumed that Obi-Wan was dead. He’d think: why else wouldn’t Obi-Wan come back and try to defeat him and the Emperor? To me, I thought that was the whole idea of the set-up, to protect Luke: that Obi-Wan would disappear. (The incredible episode of Star Wars Rebels, “Twin Suns,” in which Obi-Wan appears, seemed to me to confirm that notion: that it was critical that Obi-Wan’s existence remain a complete secret.) And yet here, by the end of the show, not only does Vader have conclusive proof that Obi-Wan is alive, but so do hundreds of other people!! It’s so weird to me that neither Obi-Wan the character, nor the show, cares about that!!
I’m jumping ahead here, but while talking about Obi-Wan and Vader, I must say that I am mystified by where the series leaves those two characters. I have had a long-standing complaint about the end of Episode III that I didn’t think the movie adequately explained why Obi-Wan and Yoda decided to just peace out and let the galaxy suffer for two decades. Obi-Wan defeated Anakin/Vader, and Yoda fought the Emperor to a draw. So why didn’t they team up and go back and defeat the Emperor?? I’ve never understood that. And so here comes this show, and Obi-Wan and Vader fight… and AGAIN Obi-Wan leaves Vader alive!!! Why??? Why doesn’t he kill him? Why does Obi-Wan allow Vader to continue existing, murdering and torturing, for another decade??? So much blood is on Obi-Wan’s hands. It doesn’t make sense to me.
One thing I like about that final Obi-Wan/Vader duel is that Obi-Wan comes to believe that Anakin is truly gone. That’s important, because in the original trilogy, Obi-Wan doesn’t believe there is any good left in Anakin. He tells Luke his only choice is to kill Vader. So it’s important for us to see Obi-Wan come to that realization here. I like that. But because Obi-Wan DOES come to that realization here, there’s truly no reason why he doesn’t kill Vader. Obi-Wan believes his friend Anakin is dead and gone, and all that remains is this machine/man monster. So there’s no reason not to kill him. I can’t believe they didn’t figure out a better resolution to this duel. (While I object to the entire notion of Obi-Wan and Vader meeting/fighting at this point in the timeline, I wish the duel had wound up as more of a draw. That would explain why Obi-Wan didn’t kill Vader: because he couldn’t. It would also balance: Obi-Wan wins duel #1 in Episode III; they battle to a draw here; and then Vader thinks he can win duel #3 in Star Wars, but Obi-Wan outwits him by choosing to become one with the Force…)
These huge continuity problems bug me. Even more than that, though, is that I felt the show constantly undermined itself by sloppy staging/writing/editing. Here are just a few examples:
- That ridiculous slow chase in the woods on Alderaan in which young Leia somehow manages to repeatedly get away from a whole bunch of adult hunters. Was this supposed to be exciting or suspenseful? It was ludicrous, with Leia basically running between the legs of her pursuers, over and over again.
- Bail Organa visits Obi-Wan in his cave on Tatooine to convince him to help find Leia. And then Bail just leaves Obi-Wan to his own devices to get off-planet? Didn’t Bail get to Tatooine on a spaceship? Why couldn’t he give Obi-Wan a lift? That seemed so silly to me that we cut from Bail and Obi-Wan talking to Obi-Wan’s having to book his own way at the spaceport.
- How exactly does Obi-Wan manage to track Leia’s kidnappers to the planet Daiyu (in the second episode), anyway?
- In episode three, it’s insane to me that Tala and Obi-Wan are able to get away from Vader just because they’re on the other side of some fire. In the wide shots, there isn’t that much fire; it seems like Vader could have easily just taken a few steps and walked around. Or he could have jumped over the fire. Or he could have used the Force to put the fire out. Or he could have used the Force to hold Obi-Wan in place. Or he could have done any one of a million things, instead of just standing there looking like a chump.
- In episode four, in which Obi-Wan and Tala sneak into the Fortress Inquisitorious, there are long scenes of Tala talking to Obi-Wan on her com unit, in which she is clearly within hearing distance of the other imperial officers working in that quiet control room. It was absurd that the show asks us to pretend like no one can hear her talking to Obi-Wan! (The same problem happens in episode five, in which Obi-Wan and Riva casually chat about Riva’s betraying Vader while they are both within easy hearing distance of a squad of Stormtroopers!!)
- That same episode gives us the worst scene in all of Star Wars, in which Obi-Wan tries to walk little Leia out of the Fortress Inquisitorious with her hiding under his raincoat, while a million Imperials can be seen all around them, all of whom somehow fail to notice this ridiculous sight. It was so ludicrous I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
- That episode, episode five, was the most frustrating for me because of the sheer amount of dumb plot holes. OK, so the Empire used Leia’s droid to take control of the facility in which the rebels were hiding, sealing the roof doors so they couldn’t launch their ships. So, if the Empire can control the roof door, why can’t they control the FRONT door? Why do the stormtroopers spend half the episode trying to break in through the front door? Especially since Riva has a lightsaber which, as we see later in the episode, can slice through that door in two seconds?!! What was she waiting for?? When she captures Obi-Wan, why doesn’t she keep him outside in front of all the stormtroopers? Why does she move him inside, where he’s only guarded by like two guards, who he can of course easily defeat and get away from? After Vader storms in and Force-holds the empty ship, why can’t he Force-hold the second ship when it launches? If Riva had decided this was the moment to turn on Vader, why doesn’t she attack him while he’s distracted and angry, chasing after Obi-Wan? Why does she wait until AFTER Obi-Wan and the other rebels have clearly escaped, and only THEN attack Vader when there’s nothing left to distract him? Oy! I’m barely scratching the surface of the idiocy of that episode. It’s so silly how Obi-Wan gives Haja Estree his important com-link to Bail Organa, which of course Haja bumblingly drops just so Riva can find it. And of course Bail had just left Obi-Wan the most thuddingly obvious un-secret message which would make it super-easy for Riva or anyone else to discover Luke’s presence on Tatooine. OY!!
My favorite episode of the series was the first one. I really liked the set-up in the first episode. As I wrote above, I was surprised to see Obi-Wan so broken, but I thought that was an intriguing place to enter the story and I was excited to see Obi-Wan’s transformation into the zen-like figure we met in the original Star Wars. While I am sick to death of Star Wars movies and shows being set on Tatooine, this series is one where it makes sense to begin on Tatooine, and it was fun (and also sad) to get a glimpse of Obi-Wan’s sorry monotonous life. I loved seeing Owen and Beru again, and I was delighted they brought back Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse (who had very small roles in Episode III). Both were great, particularly Mr. Edgerton who is a terrific actor, and I really loved this version of Owen. Owen comes off as a jerk in the original Star Wars, but he is so likable here. It’s totally understandable that he wants nothing to do with Obi-Wan, who only brings trouble. At the same time, Owen is willing to stand-up to Riva and the Inquisitors; he doesn’t let himself get bullied and he doesn’t give up Obi-Wan, even though he has every reason why he should. I love this version of Owen!
I loved the opening sequence, seeing more of the Purge in which Anakin and the Clones brutally murdered all the Jedi, including the Younglings. That was a surprising and super-cool way to open the show! I loved that.
I loved getting to see Alderaan, and it was a delight to see Jimmy Smits back as Bail Organa. (I really like Mr. Smits as this character. I’d love for him to get more of a spotlight in a future Star Wars show or movie.) I also liked getting to meet Leia’s adopted mother!
I really liked Bennie Safdie as a former Jedi who asks for Obi-Wan’s help, only to be denied. It was shocking to see Obi-Wan leave this poor kid to his fate, but I was intrigued at seeing Obi-Wan in such a dark place.
I enjoyed seeing Daiyu, the new planet introduced in the second episode. It was great to be on a new planet after spending so much time on Tatooine in recent Star Wars stories. (Especially The Book of Boba Fett, which had no reason to be set on Tatooine. Just because Boba Fett almost died there doesn’t mean he’d want to stay there; quite the reverse, it seems to me!) I loved seeing Temuera Morrison in a quick cameo role as a homeless veteran Clone trooper! That was great!
I loved getting to meet Kumail Nanjiani as the fake Jedi Haja Estree in episode two. What a fun new character to meet. I love the idea of this guy who was using technology to mimic Force powers, and Mr. Nanjiani brought a wonderful comedic energy to the role. I wish he’d had more to do in the show after that episode!! (I’m glad they brought him back in episode five, but he had zero to do.)
Let’s talk about Riva and the Inquisitors. I loved the new character of Riva, the Third Sister, played by Moses Ingram (The Queen’s Gambit). It was great to meet a new Inquisitor, and I loved Ms. Ingram’s fierce energy. Riva seemed like a real danger to Obi-Wan. I was excited to learn her story as the series unfolded… and I was disappointed that that barely happened. As with so much of this show, I like the idea and the general overview of this character, but it all fell down in the execution. Riva’s story should have been heartbreaking — a Youngling whose whole world was destroyed, forced to spend ten years hiding in the lair of her worst enemies, the most vicious monsters alive in the galaxy. I wish we’d gotten a series of flashbacks, allowing us to follow her story and build to an emotional confrontation with Obi-Wan and then Vader. Instead, the show tried to treat her origins as a mystery. But as I have commented on so many shows and movies in recent years, I think this “mystery box” approach is the wrong move. First of all, the show opened with Younglings in the Purge. So it was obvious to me that Riva was a Youngling. (I’m shocked how many of my friends failed to see this.) So I didn’t understand why the show tried to treat this as a revelation when it was obvious to me from square one. Furthermore, had the show NOT treated Riva’s identity as a mystery, perhaps we could have gotten more scenes that better allowed us to understand her and her suffering-filled life. I wanted to better understand why Riva hated Obi-Wan so much. Did she blame the Jedi for failing her? Did she blame Obi-Wan in particular for allowing Anakin to become the monster who murdered all her friends? I wanted the show to show us this, rather than keeping me guessing. And I wanted to have a much better understanding of where Riva was, emotionally, in the finale. Why did she want to kill Luke? Was that to get revenge on Vader? That seems like a stretch seeing as Vader didn’t know Luke existed.
While I’m on the subject of Riva and Anakin, it doesn’t make any sense to me that she knows who Anakin is. The other Inquisitors don’t know, right? It seems crazy to me that she’s in on this secret. And that she just blurts it out to Obi-Wan, apropos of nothing, felt hugely anticlimactic to me. THIS is how, after all these years, Obi-Wan discovers that Anakin is alive, and has become Darth Vader?? Riva just straight-out tells him? That was lame to me. I also find it wild that Obi-Wan didn’t know Anakin was alive for ten years. The show sort of offers an explanation for this by showing us that Obi-Wan has cut himself off from the Force… but still, it doesn’t feel quite right to me that Obi-Wan wouldn’t have heard of this creature Darth Vader and been curious about him…
And while I was happy that Riva didn’t die at the end (because I’d love to see more of this character) and also not surprised (because I just couldn’t see, in this day and age, Disney introducing a bad-ass new Star Wars character played by an actress of color and then killing her off), it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t believe Vader wouldn’t kill her after she dared to challenge and betray him. And I can’t believe the Grand Inquisitor would believe that the lightsaber through the stomach that failed to kill him just a few days previously would kill her. (It’s insane that either of them survived those wounds… and also that they both didn’t just lightsaber off the head of their opponent, to make sure they were dead…)
As for the Inquisitors… sigh. These cool characters from Rebels became nothing but bumblers here. I loved seeing Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor and Sung Kang as Fifth Brother. But they were so lame! They get defeated at every turn. Obi-Wan and Tala sneak in and out of their supposedly impregnable fortress with little trouble.
By the way, the show had the same problem with Vader, who also gets repeatedly defeated. This defangs Vader! Star Wars Rebels faced this challenge when they brought Vader into the story in season two, but they handled it far better. The Rebels heroes were able to escape without getting murdered by Vader, and yet it always seems that Vader won and got what he wanted. So Vader remained a powerful, scary, threat, at a power level far above our Rebels heroes. He didn’t come off like a chump like he does here.
I did love the Vader/Obi-Wan duel in the third episode. (Right up until Obi-Wan’s silly escape.) I loved Vader’s entrance into the town, using the Force to murder and torture the poor townsfolk, just to get Obi-Wan’s attention. What an entrance. This is what Vader should be like at this time-period. I loved that Vader’s plan for revenge on Obi-Wan was to burn him alive, as he himself had been burned. I love that this is the plan Vader had clearly been thinking about for ten years!
Is this a good time to talk about Hayden Christensen? Like most, I found his performance as Anakin Skywalker in the prequels to be disappointing. But I’ve always blamed George Lucas’ writing and directing more than Mr. Christensen himself. I was excited by the announcement of Mr. Christensen’s return to the character of Anakin/Vader. Dave Filoni’s animated The Clone Wars series had done so much to turn prequel-era Anakin in a great character (he was voiced on the show by Matt Lanter), that I was actually sort of excited to see Anakin again. I’d hoped this series would redeem Mr. Christensen’s performance as Anakin. Instead, I’m left wondering why the heck they bothered bringing Mr. Christensen back. He’s barely in the show!! He appears in one short vision Obi-Wan has… and then in the flashback scene in episode five… and then we see/hear him for a moment in the finale after Obi-Wan slices open Vader’s helmet. It can’t total more than five minutes of screen time. Apparently Mr. Christensen was also in the Vader suit, at least some of the time, but why bring him back for that?? This was a huge missed opportunity for me. When they announced that Mr. Christensen would be in the show, I was sure we’d get some Clone Wars era flashbacks to Obi-Wan and Anakin as brothers. I was excited to see a live-action version of the animated Clone Wars Obi-Wan/Anakin partnership!! But that didn’t happen. I did love that one flashback in episode five, of the lightsaber duel. But that was not a very consequential scene. (I was also shocked they didn’t use de-aging on Mr. Christensen, who clearly looked two decades older than the teenaged Anakin was supposed to have been in that scene.)
I liked the look of the Imperial-loving truck driver Freck in the fourth episode; I enjoyed Zach Braff’s work voicing the character. I liked seeing Indira Varma (Luther, Game of Thrones) as Tala, though I wish the show had better developed her character. I liked her noble, silent droid (though his end was a bit too reminiscent of K2SO in Rogue One for me). I liked the idea of the Path, a group who helped Jedi to survive the Purge and find new lives. (Though I’m not sure how I feel by the idea, suggested in this show, that so many Jedi did survive. On the one hand that makes sense that some Jedi managed to slip through the Empire’s nets; on the other hand, it seems to poke further holes in Yoda’s “the last of the Jedi will you be” line to Luke in Return of the Jedi…)
Things really fell apart for me in the fifth and sixth episodes. I pointed out many of the plot holes in episode five earlier. I don’t understand how the little rebel ship could possibly escape from a Star Destroyer. (The endless shots in episode six of the little ship weaving and bobbing while the Star Destroyer shot at it made me grimace. I can believe that Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon could maybe escape a Star Destroyer, at least for a little while. But these guys should have been pulverized in an instant.) Riva somehow survives getting impaled by a lightsaber and then magically beams herself to Taotooine in an instant, while Obi-Wan & Leia & co. are still being chased by the Star Destroyer.
The final Vader/Obi-Wan duel was exciting and beautifully realized. The visual effects were terrific. (Though, wow, it would have been WAY cooler had it been scored to “Battle of Heroes,” John Williams’ music for the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel in Episode III.) I loved the moment in which Obi-Wan finally reconnects fully with the Force and lifts up what seems like an entire asteroid field’s worth of boulders. THIS is what I wanted to see the Jedi doing in the Prequels!!! It was a cool moment, though I don’t think the show succeeded in depicting a satisfying arc to Obi-Wan. On paper I understand the idea that saving Leia rejuvenated Obi-Wan and helped bring him back to the man he used to be. But the show didn’t really show us that! We saw broken Obi-Wan, but we never really saw the full arc of his returning to himself and embracing the Force and his destiny. I wish that had been more satisfying. Also, again, I don’t understand why this super-powerful, reborn Obi-Wan didn’t 1) kill Vader and 2) get back into action and start helping people and fighting the Empire. Or are we to imagine he did that?? At the end of the show, he says that he feels “free” and, while we see him back on Tatooine (moving out of his cave… one presumes to eventually buy the nice little hut we see him living in in the original Star Wars), we don’t know if he stayed there. It’s weird for the show to be so unclear on this point. My understanding had been that Obi-Wan spent two decades on Tatooine, secretly watching over Luke. (I did love the moment, early in this show, in which Bail Organa throws in Obi-Wan’s face a question I have wondered for years: why was Luke more important, and worthy of his protection, than Leia??) I thought the arc of this show would be to see Obi-Wan’s making peace with that destiny. But it seems that the opposite happens, and as the show ends Obi-Wan is ready to get back into the world. Is this all just to set up a second season?? What a weird way to end the show!
- I was happy to see Ian McDiarmid back as the Emperor in the finale. He’s great, as always! I wish he’d had a more substantial scene.
- I was also delighted to see Liam Neeson back as Qui-Gon Jinn, though I was super disappointed he basically did nothing. I’ve had a ton of questions about Qui-Gon for years, mostly driven by the revelation at the end of Episode III that it was Qui-Gon who discovered how Jedi could survive death and exist as Force-ghosts. What does Qui-Gon think about Anakin’s fall? Does he regret his decision to take Anakin from Tatooine and start his training as a Jedi? Does he blame Obi-Wan for Anakin’s fall? I’d guessed that Liam Neeson would return to the character on this show, and I’d hoped we’d get some insight into these questions. Sadly, no.
- I loved seeing Vader’s castle on Mustafar, something we’ve seen in books and comics but not much in love action (other than a brief glimpse in Rogue One). Though I was less sure about Vader’s commanding a Star Destroyer. He did that in Empire, but in Star Wars he seemed subservient to Tarkin and the other Imperials. I’d always imagined that Vader and his Inquisitors were off doing their own thing, hunting Jedi and other Force-sensitive people, and it was only after Star Wars that Vader started commanding Star Destroyers in the Imperial Fleet. It’s a minor quibble, but it’s all part of my general feeling that this show doesn’t fit smoothly into Star Wars canon.
- I wish the slicing-open of Vader’s helmet during the final duel in episode six didn’t feel so ripped off of the (far more emotionally moving) duel between Vader and you-know-who in “Twilight of the Apprentice” in Star Wars Rebels. (In case any readers haven’t yet seen Rebels, I won’t spoil this moment; one of my all-time favorite Star Wars scenes in any media!!)
I must say, after not loving the season finale of The Mandalorian season two, and being very disappointed by both The Book of Boba Fett and now Obi-Wan Kenobi, I’m not feeling great about the status of these Star Wars Disney+ shows. I’m excited for the series they have in the works (the trailer for Andor was awesome, and I have high hopes for the upcoming Ahsoka show, not to mention season three of The Mandalorian). But I’m nervous about how weak these last few shows have been. I hope the next series rights this ship and brings back the high-quality of storytelling we saw in most of the episodes of the first two seasons of The Mandalorian. I’m a fan, and, as Princess Leia taught me, I continue to hope.
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