Note: Spoilers for all episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi follow.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a major disappointment given its resources, cast, and the general goodwill that was built up from The Mandalorian. It's easily the least of the Disney+ Star Wars streaming series so far, including the middling Book of Boba Fett, which managed to become way more fun in its second half when it essentially became Mandalorian season 2.5. Between this and Boba Fett, one wonders how quickly the Star Wars Extended Streaming Universe will run out of steam or have the fans turn against it. The film franchise took just four years to go from "victorious comeback" to "temporarily shelved for retooling" thanks to the oversaturation with five movies in that short period. Is the streaming TV universe headed for a similar fate with so many projects on the horizon?
Obi-Wan Kenobi has all the signs of a show that was retooled from a movie script and expanded, needlessly, into a six-part series. It's sloppy, full of weakly motivated and contrived scenes, and suffers — even more than I had predicted — because it has to leave intact a status quo that means nothing major between Episode III and Episode IV can happen.
This is not so much an organized essay as a series of general reactions, random musings, and a cataloging of especially head-shaking moments:
- All around, the biggest problem here is that this is relentlessly "meh." It's not awful (although it suffers from lots of poorly written plot moments), but it's certainly not anywhere close to good. There's just a general sense of narrative malaise throughout.
- This really has that long-movie serial-TV pace, where part one is an extended setup where the hero is in a state of near paralysis. At this point, I feel like I've seen this type of first episode a hundred times.
- Kenobi (pre)follows the lead of Luke in Episode VIII — stuck on a rock and not movable to action because the Jedi got their asses kicked and he can't risk messing everything up by ... um, taking any sort of proactive action? Meanwhile, Owen wants nothing to do with him and says to stay away from Luke, and he's stuck in a dead-end job with a crappy boss who exploits all the desperate labor. This is very obviously designed to be "How Obi-Wan Got His Groove Back." Ewan McGregor is predictably reliable, but even he can't make us care about a character who is so loath to get involved.
- Kumail Nanjiani for the win. He injects some much-needed fun into this overly stern and serious show. He plays a faux-Jedi con man who swindles money while kinda-sorta helping out the desperate where he can. A little bit of comic persona can go a long way in a story like this.
- The girl who plays supposedly-10-year-old Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) is really small and looks more like she's 6 or 7. I found this really distracting. (According to Wikipedia, the actor who plays her just turned 10 in June 2022; I guess that would make her 8 or 9 when this was filmed.) Also, she's just not great as child actors go. Definitely not Jake-Lloyd-as-Anakin bad, but not good.
- The Empire is hunting for surviving Jedi throughout the galaxy. They've come to Tatooine to find a Jedi who, coincidentally, is not Obi-Wan. There's some decent tension where the Grand Inquisitor terrorizes the public in his search (and squabbles with his underlings). Living under the Empire is a totalitarian siege mentality.
- Third Sister Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram) is obsessed with finding Obi-Wan and serving him to Vader so she can assume the role of Grand Inquisitor. Ingram plays the part effectively and fiercely, and her backstory is interesting (she was on Coruscant as a Jedi Youngling when Anakin slaughtered everyone at the Jedi Temple), but her overall motivation is constantly shifting because of her arc and hidden agenda, and then it goes off the rails in the final episode.
- All foot-chase scenes involving Leia are pretty terribly staged. Everyone should be able to just grab this little kid up, and yet they keep diving at her and seemingly purposely missing her like they're in a Three Stooges routine.
- Hey look! It's Flea!
- Leia is kidnapped to serve as bait for Obi-Wan, so that Reva can capture Obi-Wan and bring him to Vader. Except how does Reva know that Leia is so important to Obi-Wan? Sheer dumb luck? There's no way Reva can know Leia's true importance, but the episode doesn't account for Leia's role in this game if her true nature remains a secret, which it does to those who matter.
- So, Leia knew Obi-Wan when she was 10? And this never came up 10-plus years later when everything with the two Death Stars went down? It's a secret that she can keep better than Section 31 burying Discovery's time-travel into the future.
- Luke really got the short end of the stick as a kid. Leia gets to grow up as a princess in the metropolis of Alderaan, whereas Luke has to grow up in the crime-ridden craphole desert that is Tatooine. Then again, Leia also eventually has to watch Alderaan get blowed up real good, so maybe it's a wash.
- I was really curious who the voice of Darth Vader would be and how they would address it. They went to the trouble of casting Hayden Christensen as Vader, and it seemed unlikely that they wouldn't use his voice somehow, and it also seemed like it might be time to move beyond the availability of James Earl Jones for the Star Wars Extended Streaming Universe. But, no, there was James Earl Jones' voice as Vader as always. This is not a complaint.
- What's really missing here is truly effective storytelling. The whole imperiling of Leia does not get the job done, because obviously, she will be fine and Vader will not learn her true identity. So we're reduced to moving plot pieces from A to B to C and it's just way too mechanical and uninvolving.
- The first showdown between Vader and the diminished Obi-Wan lacks juice, but at least it feels like something with meaning behind it. But this is the story coasting on its larger scope from what has come before.
- The whole showdown at Jabiim between Reva and Obi-Wan is really tediously executed and contrived. While Reva is trying to break down the door, Leia is up in the ductwork trying to rewire the hangar bay door so it can open and the rebel ship can escape. She's up there a ridiculously long time while half the episode plays out; the editors should've figured out how to make this less silly and static. Then, only after Leia has opened the door and the stormtroopers come in blasting, do the rebels think to board the escape ship. WTF? Sure, let's just stand around waiting rather than getting ready to leave!
- The Grand Inquisitor, whom Reva appeared to have killed at the end of the second episode, turns up not dead in a twist that mostly just had me scratching my head as to why this was even a character we needed to bring back into the story. (Does he have plot armor because he's in one of the animated shows?)
- Even more head-scratching is the fact that Vader, after Reva's true motives are revealed and they have a major lightsaber duel which Vader wins, inexplicably leaves Reva alive and just ... walks away? To leave her to ponder her crushing defeat or something? No, there is no reason for Vader, who kills people without delay or remorse all the time, to do this except to service the plot, which needs Reva for its final act. Speaking of...
- Reva survives, conveniently finds the incompetently dropped recording detailing Luke's identity and location and is suddenly magically on Tatooine? How did she go from wounded on the ground on Jabiim to Tatooine in between episodes (with no ship), while no time has passed in the other plot, where Vader's star destroyer is pursuing the fleeing rebels. Speaking of...
- Obi-Wan decides to abandon the ship so Vader will be forced to pursue him instead of the rebels Obi-Wan is trying to protect. This is presented as a false either/or choice where Vader must either pursue his obsession with Obi-Wan, or follow the rebels, which are the more tactically important mission. But Vader is on a star destroyer, which should have plenty of other ships capable of carrying out both missions simultaneously. (And why can't this star destroyer overtake or overpower the ship it's firing on?) As the star destroyer slowly turns to chase Obi-Wan's ship, it's almost comically silly.
- Hey, this isn't all bad. We finally get the big showdown with Vader and the now-refreshed and powerful and groove-gotten-on Obi-Wan, and it's a good one. Lightsaber duels, Force-hurling of people and boulders, and a titanic struggle between the master and the apprentice, with no shortage of sound and fury. Ultimately, Obi-Wan slashes Vader's helmet open and he (and we) see the burned remains of Anakin beneath the mask. The way they electronically meld Anakin's and Vader's voices is effective, and it finally gives Christensen a chance to get his voice on the soundtrack as Vader.
- So Vader is defeated, and Obi-Wan just ... walks away? Because he can't bring himself to kill his already-effectively-dead-by-evil-transformation apprentice? So Vader can keep on Vadering for the next decade? It's asinine. The only reason he can't kill Vader here is because it's written on a stone tablet that he needs to be alive for Episode IV.
- Reva's decision to attempt to murder Luke just doesn't feel like it's motivated by anything except to create one more crisis to solve and action sequence to execute, as she stages an exhaustingly trite home invasion at Owen and Beru's. At least this is ultimately solved by Reva deciding on her own not to revisit evil upon the child of the one who wronged her, but this was a rather needless detour.
- Hey, look! It's Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon's ghost! (This felt more obligatory than anything, but the Star Wars name has pull.)
I dunno. Star Wars, like everything else, just seems to suffer in its relentless need to produce ever-more product. There is nothing remotely necessary about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and aside from here or there, the writers and director Deborah Chow can't make this feel truly vital or alive. Instead it feels routine and obligatory. Some foregone conclusions can be made interesting. Alas, not this one.
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