Directed by: Deborah Chow
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Anna Harrison
If there is one thing that “Star Wars” fans—a notoriously fickle bunch—can agree on, it’s that Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the best in the franchise, so a reprisal of his role seemed a no-brainer, especially as the assumption was that this continuation would possess better plotlines and writings than the clunky prequels had.
Well, you know what they say about assuming.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” finds our titular hero camping out on Tatooine, a location already beaten to death by “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett” and whose double-sunsetted charm wore off by about its second galactic appearance. Obi-Wan, to recap, had his entire belief system shredded to smithereens, murdered (or so he thought) his best friend and apprentice after said friend slaughtered a bunch of children, and then watched his best friend’s wife die after giving birth to their twins. (Let’s not dwell on Padmé’s cause of death at this moment.) Understandably, Obi-Wan is a bit depressed, and so he spends his days being curmudgeonly and getting told off by Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton, reprising his role from the prequels) for getting too close to a certain young Luke Skywalker (played here by Grant Feely). Elsewhere in the galaxy, Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) lives a very different life as the Princess of Alderaan, but soon enough Obi-Wan will find his fate linked with hers far before the events of “A New Hope.”
I could give more plot basics, but the thing is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because there can be no stakes no matter where the plot goes—we already know the fates of these characters, and we don’t care enough about the new ones (played by actors like Indira Varma, Kumail Nanjiani, and Benny Safdie, but with zero distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, despite the show trying its best to convince us otherwise) to mind much if they live or die. So when Leia gets captured, or Obi-Wan is in dire straits, why does “Obi-Wan Kenobi” insist on pretending we’ll be on the edge of our seats when the most compelling moments come when the show focuses on its broken hero and his relationship with his former apprentice, the man who would become Darth Vader? Showrunner Deborah Chow even said, “For me, across the prequels… there’s a love story dynamic with [Obi-Wan and Anakin] that goes through the whole thing… What’s special about that relationship is that they loved each other.” So why does the show shy away from this?
Unfortunately, some of these issues spring from the character of Reva (Moses Ingram), a lackey of the Empire’s Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend, adding to the list of strange glorified cameos from established actors), who becomes much more interesting in the last two episodes but whose presence—due to no fault of Ingram, who has been subjected to the worst impulses of the “Star Wars” fanbase—becomes a distraction from what should be the beating heart of the series: Obi-Wan and Anakin.
Hayden Christensen, much maligned in the prequels (which, to be clear, he was not great in, but then again very few were), finally returns as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, and yet his presence feels cursory more than anything else. His story connects to Reva’s, but the reveal doesn’t come until too late and the two barely share screen time before then; his story (of course) connects to Obi-Wan’s, but the focus on Reva and the Skywalker children distracts the show from this connection. Who cares how these characters with an established tragic relationship feel when we can introduce new characters whom we won’t give you a reason to care about other than “because Disney said so”?
It’s a shame, because the moments that do hone in on that Obi-Wan/Anakin relationship—the strongest in the prequels by far—the show can be quite affecting, but it’s surrounded by so much meaningless clutter that it’s hard to sift through and get to the good parts—not to mention that it by and large looks dull and lifeless, and additionally features some of the weakest dialogue in “Star Wars” history (which says quite a lot), hindering the slew of strong actors making up its cast (though as in the prequels, McGregor can make it work most of the time).
So in the end, what could have been a poignant continuation of the best part of the prequels and one of the best characters in the whole franchise instead becomes a soulless corporate nostalgia play that can’t even properly capitalize on that nostalgia, leaving the whole thing an ineffectual mess. The show cannot be recommended on its own merits, but nor can it be applauded for its continuation of the “Star Wars” legacy because it fails to do anything even remotely interesting even when handed a compelling tragedy on a silver platter.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” you’re breaking my heart… You’ve gone down a path I can’t follow.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” Trailer
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” is currently streaming on Disney+.