Warning: Spoilers for “Obi-Wan Kenobi”
The second-highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, the ubiquitous “Star Wars” has returned to great fanfare with a new Disney+ exclusive series, arguably its most anticipated yet. The team at Lucasfilm has already experimented with the trend of exclusive streamed TV shows, most notably “The Book of Boba Fett,” “The Bad Batch,” and “The Mandalorian” – which was watched for over one billion total minutes during its release week, topping more established shows such as “The Office.” But never before has one of Lucasfilm’s Diensy+ exclusives (“The Clone Wars” doesn’t fall into that category) focused on a main character from the original Star Wars canon. That is, until now. With the release of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” – viewed by two million households in its premiere weekend – Lucasfilm has bridged the wide gap between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.”
The show sees the return of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan and Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, this time in the form of Darth Vader, with 91-year-old James Earl Jones returning to voice the Sith Lord. Christensen was widely criticized for his acting as Anakin in the prequels films. After some time off, he has responded well to the criticism, and dedicated Star Wars fans have shown excitement at his return.
Set ten years after Revenge of the Sith and nine years before A New Hope, the series follows an exiled Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, now going by ‘Ben.’ The devastated Kenobi must remain in hiding from the Galactic Empire, which, with the help of the Inquisitors, is hunting every last Jedi who survived Order 66. As Kenobi lives a quiet life on Tatooine working a meatpacking job, he remains committed to looking after a young Luke Skywalker from afar as Luke spends his childhood on his uncle’s farm.
Episode 1 begins by introducing the Sith Inquisitors, three Force-wielding, lightsaber-spinning assassins under the control of Darth Vader. The Inquisitors given screen time in the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series are the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend), the Third Sister (named Reva, played by Moses Ingram), the Fourth Sister (Rya Kihlstedt), and the Fifth Brother (Sung Kang). The Third Sister is particularly interesting due to her unwavering obsession with capturing Kenobi to rise among the ranks of the Inquisitors (she even kills the Grand Inquisitor in Episode 2).
Fans are introduced to the submissive and defeated temperament of Kenobi following his exile. Kenobi has no intention of reliving his Jedi past, and he feels that the Jedi have lost for the time being and that resistance to the Empire is futile. We also see Kenobi’s cave-dwelling, where he trades with the local Jawas for household parts. Following a glimpse into Kenobi’s flashbacks to his fight with Anakin, he is approached in the night by another Jedi on Tatooine. The Jedi, Nari (Benny Safdie), asks for Kenobi’s help to escape the Inquisitors hunting him. Kenobi refuses and implores Nari to give up his Jedi ideals and live a normal life. The episode cuts to the Alderaan home of the Organa family, where we see a young Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) happily playing in the woods. Later in the episode, Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) makes an appearance to ask Kenobi to stay away from Luke after he gave him a starfighter toy. The scene is interrupted by the arrival of the Third Sister and Fifth Brother, who demand information about Nari and threaten Lars, who does not mention Kenobi to the Inquisitors. It is then revealed that the Inquisitors dislike the Third Sister, who they find impulsive in her obsession with Kenobi.
Throughout the show, young Leia is portrayed as being wise beyond her years. This is exemplified in a scene from Episode 1, in which Leia stands up to her condescending cousin (Ian Inigo). When her cousin taunts her, saying that she’s “not a real Organa” (she is adopted), Leia responds, “You’re scared of him. Your father. You want him to like you so you repeat what he says, even though you don’t really know what it means. You think being like him will make people frightened of you, but really, you’re the one who’s scared. You’ve never made one decision for yourself in your entire life, and you never will. I may not have seen much, cousin, but I can see that.”
After Leia has a touching and candid conversation with her father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), following her confrontation with her cousin, she goes into the woods and is kidnapped. The Organas contact Kenobi for help since he is the only person who knows her true identity as Luke’s sister and Darth Vader’s daughter. Kenobi refuses. He sees a dead Nari hanging in the town square, presumably the work of the Inquisitors. He then returns home, where he finds Bail Organa pleading for his help. He is eventually persuaded, and he digs up his lightsaber from the desert and departs for Daiyu, the planet where Leia is being held.
Episode 2 continues the storyline of Leia’s kidnapping. Kenobi arrives on Daiyu, where he realizes that Imperial security is tighter than he had imagined. Kenobi stumbles upon a Jedi impersonator (Kumail Nanjiani) taking credits to help those in need (because it makes so much sense for someone to impersonate a Jedi while they are being hunted and killed). He threatens the impostor and enlists his help to find Leia. Kenobi finds a suspicious creature walking into an alley and follows him, where he discovers a tunnel containing prisoners. He attacks some guards and demands to know where Leia is. They trap him inside a cell and he realizes kidnapping Leia was a setup to get to him. Kenobi uses a toxic drug given to him earlier to disable his attackers. But the guards were able to tip off the Inquisitors, and Kenobi becomes a target on Daiyu. He finds Leia and they make it out of the prison. The Third Sister defies the Grand Inquisitor and puts a bounty on Kenobi’s head so she can advance her power if she captures him herself.
With everyone on the planet searching for Kenobi and Leia, they attempt to lay low. This plan is thwarted by Leia, who discovers that Kenobi was hiding the fact that he is the reason she was kidnapped. She runs away from him and a chase ensues. Leia climbs onto a roof, where she is faced with bounty hunters attacking her. When Kenobi fires at them with his blaster, the Third Sister witnesses the shots from a few roofs away and moves to engage with them. Leia continues running, but she is trapped on the edge of the roof. She jumps off, and as she plunges to her death, Kenobi uses the Force to save her. Kenobi gains Leia’s trust as she realizes he is a Jedi. When a bounty hunter tries to kill him, the fake Jedi, Haja, saves him by shooting the assailant. He gives Kenobi directions on how to escape the planet using a cargo transport, explaining that he is trying to make amends for his past mistakes. Kenobi heads to the transport, while Haja tries to buy him time. Haja runs into the Third Sister, who uses a Jedi mind trick to find Kenobi’s location. Kenobi hides in the hangar behind some boxes while the Third Sister taunts him and tries to coax him out of hiding. Leia makes it to the transport unseen. The Grand Inquisitor interrupts the Third Sister and demands that she step aside. She appears to comply but then betrays and kills him. Kenobi uses the opportunity to dash to the transport and escape with Leia as the Third Sister curses him.
The third episode is the most recent. It features Darth Vader promising the position of Grand Inquisitor to the Third Sister if she captures Kenobi. In stark contrast to the intensity of Vader’s threats, we see Leia and Kenobi on the slow-moving cargo transport. Leia asks Kenobi what the Force feels like, and he fixes her droid, Lola, in a touching moment. The pair arrive on the planet where Haja told them to meet someone. As they walk across the barren plain, Leia once again shows her endearing innocence and naïveté by asking a disheartened Kenobi why Haja would lie about someone meeting them.
The scene shifts to a meeting of the Inquisitors in an Imperial base. After speaking to Darth Vader herself, the Third Sister orders an enraged Fifth Brother to send out probes to search for Kenobi, believing she has found his location. Next, Leia flags down a transport, despite Kenobi’s warnings about its possible danger, and after the driver, Freck (Zach Braff), questions the two, he agrees to take them to the nearest port. Kenobi reluctantly agrees, making up a story about him and Leia being a father and daughter from Tawl. The transport stops to pick up some stormtroopers, who reveal that they’re looking for a Jedi (while sitting directly across from one). Kenobi slips up and calls his daughter Leia, after telling the troopers that her name was Luma. Luckily, he manages to avoid confrontation by saying that Leia was his wife’s name. Freck stops the transport at a stormtrooper inspection outpost, telling the troopers that they might want to check out his two passengers. The trooper orders Kenobi and Leia to step out of the vehicle. After a probe droid scans Kenobi’s face and detects his identity, he shoots it and begins attacking the remaining troopers. He kills all but one, who puts a gun to Leia’s head. Kenobi pretends to drop his weapon but masterfully shoots the trooper dead. Three more troopers and an officer arrive and order Kenobi to the ground. He inexplicably complies despite his immense power (lame writing), but then the officer, Tala (Indira Varma), kills the three troopers and reveals she’s the person Haja wanted Kenobi to meet.
The Inquisitors agree to shut down all the ports on Mapuzo until Kenobi is captured, and Vader is informed of Kenobi’s presence. Kenobi and Leia make it to the town where the port is and they hide out while Tala scouts ahead. She leads the two into a hideout for rebel sympathizers. Kenobi finds a message on the wall from Jedi Quinlan Vos, who survived Order 66. Two stormtroopers attempt to search the hideout, but they leave after encountering just the loader droid. Vader and the Inquisitors arrive in the town square. Kenobi stares, transfixed, at Vader, as it’s the first time he’s seen his former apprentice since Mustafar. He orders Leia and Tala ahead while he continues to foolishly stare at Vader. Kenobi eventually leaves his hiding spot to meet up with Leia at their ship. As he runs, he sees Vader in front of him with his lightsaber. He continues to run but Vader is always a step ahead. He ignites his lightsaber to illuminate Vader, then keeps running away. Meanwhile, the Third Sister locates and enters the hideout. Vader appears out of nowhere and he and Kenobi engage in a lightsaber battle…if you could call it that – Kenobi is clearly out of practice since Mustafar. Leia urges Tala to go back and help Kenobi while she continues to the ship. As Kenobi struggles to fight Vader off, Vader Force pushes him backward. Kenobi releases a cloud of steam at Vader and keeps running. Back at the hideout, Reva locates the tunnel. The scene cuts back to Vader, who Force chokes Kenobi and ignites a fire on the ground. He drags Kenobi into the fire so that Kenobi will suffer like he was forced to ten years earlier.
We see Tala arrive on the ridge above the battle and blast a power generator, creating a wall of flames separating Kenobi and Vader. Vader watches as the loader droid lifts Kenobi to his rescue (as if he couldn’t have used the Force to drag Kenobi back through the flames, it’s as if he’s just playing with him). Tala readies a transport to take Kenobi to the nearby planet of Jabiim. We see Leia running through the tunnel, where she finds Reva at the end. The episode ends as Reva takes Leia.
The show addresses the previous plot hole of how Leia knew of Obi-Wan in “A New Hope.” Now we know that he saved her nine years earlier. But that raises the question of why she only knew Kenobi as a friend of her father’s. Shouldn’t she have remembered how he saved her life? She knew him very personally, and that’s not the kind of thing you forget in nine years.
The “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series is meant to appeal to a mainstream audience, not to the core group of dedicated “Star Wars” fans. How do I know this? First of all, the writers portray Obi-Wan as a joke. If you’ve seen “Revenge of the Sith,” you know he is not a joke. He is a very powerful Jedi who is able to best Anakin Skywalker (now Darth Vader) in a lightsaber battle. To see Kenobi’s unwillingness to use his powers, or even his ineptness after ten years of inaction, is an insult to fans of Kenobi across the globe. And we know he still has skill. Nine years after the Kenobi series, an older Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) has no problem using a Jedi mind trick on a stormtrooper; why doesn’t the same apply now? Furthermore, there are so many plot issues that it’s difficult to count. For example, remember how I mentioned earlier that the Grand Inquisitor was killed in Episode 2? Well, the character also appears in the first season of “Star Wars: Rebels,” where he dies several years after “Kenobi” would have taken place in the “Star Wars” canon. On top of this, the Inquisitors seem pretty weak in “Kenobi” compared to their appearance in “Rebels,” and I’m not a huge fan of Moses Ingram’s over-the-top portrayal of Reva. Another widely-criticized inconsistency is that the Empire knew of Senator Bail Organa’s relationship with Obi-Wan during the Clone Wars, so why didn’t they use him to get to Kenobi earlier? In an interview, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” writer Toby Harold defended the writing, stating that the Empire would have never been able to kidnap an Imperial Senator’s daughter and maintain their public image. Harold explained that many citizens of the galaxy didn’t mind the Empire’s reign, so the Empire actually had unspoken guidelines for their public relations that they had to follow in order to maintain their waning support. Also, it would have been nice to get the award-winning Star Wars music rather than the current “Kenobi” soundtrack – “Imperial March,” anyone? The show is supposed to harken back to both “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” I wish the writers would lean into that further.
Despite a few Star Wars fans review-bombing the show on Rotten Tomatoes, I think only the fans who set their expectations too high are disappointed in the “Kenobi” series. It’s truly the only one of Disney’s cash-grab Star Wars series since “The Clone Wars” that feels like it’s a part of the original canon. The fans bashing Kenobi’s withdrawal from his past forget that this is a man who had to abandon it out of necessity and has lost everything. It is realistic, if not a bit disappointing, for Kenobi to be out of practice after ten years. And yes, it would have been nice for there to be an epic confrontation between Kenobi and Vader, rather than a three-minute encounter in which Kenobi tries to run away. Kenobi reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the sequels: old and cynical when he should be badass. The continuity from episode to episode is very refreshing when compared with “The Book of Boba Fett,” although I do wish that the show didn’t just follow one story (Obi-Wan rescuing Leia). It would be great to see more original Star Wars characters return in later episodes. Watching Obi-Wan reunite with Ahsoka or Captain Rex would feel like a dream, for example.
I only criticize the series because I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I want to see the show succeed. Overall, I’m really impressed with the “Kenobi” series so far. I think Ewan McGregor’s acting is top-notch, and I can’t wait to see what Episodes 4-6 will bring.