After nearly two decades we finally get to see the return of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the series, ah, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Disney+ launched the first two episodes on Friday and … the results are decidedly mixed.
On the one hand, McGregor is terrific in the role of a downtrodden Ben Kenobi who spends his days chopping meat while keeping an eye on young Luke Skywalker on Uncle Owen’s moisture farm. In true Last Jedi fashion, Ben has transformed into a recluse, completely cut off from the Force and no longer interested in the happenings across the galaxy.
“The fight is done,” he tells another Jedi. “We lost.”
This is not the Obi-Wan you were looking for, and that’s a good thing.
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On the other hand, the main plot has Flea kidnapping a young Leia Organa, an action that draws Ben from his seclusion and back into action. If handled properly, this could have resulted in some genuine excitement through the first two episodes. As directed by TV vet Deborah Chow, the numerous chase scenes feel like one of those promo videos you watch while waiting in line for Star Tours at Disneyland.
At one point, a feisty Leia (adorned in a similar green jacket as the one Carrie Fisher wore in Return of the Jedi) somehow gets away from Ben and leads him on a merry chase through the streets of Blade Runner. All the while, an Inquisitor named Reva, who hunts Obi-Wan for her own personal gain, does parkour over some rooftops … and it’s all so clunky in execution that you keep waiting for the actors to look at the camera and announce the whole thing is a really bad joke.
Disney managed to convince McGregor to come back to one of his most iconic roles and this is what they chose to do with him?
On the plus side, a lot of Obi-Wan Kenobi works quite well. There’s a great bit between Ben and Lars (once again played by Joel Edgerton) where the latter essentially tells the former Jedi Master to stay the hell away from Luke; and another scene between Ben and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) in which they discuss the importance of Leia that adds a little flavor to Ben’s character. It’s actually really great seeing him interact with these familiar faces, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we see McGregor team up with Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka Tano in some capacity.
The best scenes of Episode 1 involve Ben’s day-to-day life trying to blend into the desert scenery of Tatooine. He barters for toys with Jawas, sits among other sad sacks to and from work; and spends his nights shaking off nightmares about Anakin Skywalker, his former apprentice-turned Sith Lord. He even calls out to his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, but Liam Neeson is too busy to answer. Or, he’s just watching Obi-Wan from the shadows like a creep. These scenes carry a cinematic flourish that feels remarkably Star Wars.
Unfortunately, the first episode also spends far too much time on Alderaan, which, aside from the CGI buildings, looks like it was shot by a student filmmaker behind a Wal-Mart. Here we meet Vivien Lyra Blair’s Leia and are subjected to lines like, “If you behaved as well as you climb, you’d be senator already.” Get it? Because Leia becomes a senator later, you see? There’s also more talk of droid equality, which has never really landed with me since they’re … droids.
Anyway, as mentioned above, Leia gets kidnapped by Flea (who’s slowly morphing into Ed Harris) and taken to the Blade Runner planet. Reva, you see, is hunting Obi-Wan (probably because he ditched her during the whole Order 66 bit) and figured kidnapping the young princess would draw him out into the open. For the record, it took her ten years to come up with this diabolical plan, but I suppose better late than never.
As it turns out, Reva’s obsession with Kenobi is getting on the nerves of the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend), who sounds like that turtle from The NeverEnding Story and mostly stands around looking like a more refined version of Sebastian Shaw’s Anakin Skywalker. Reva opts for aggressive negotiations and even cuts off an old lady’s hand at one point — the lack of reaction to this moment is confounding. Reva is interesting, but as played by Moses Ingram, lacks the menace necessary to set her up as a believable threat. Is it weird to say the video game Jedi: Fallen Order did this whole schtick better?
Episode 2 kicks off with Ben, now brandishing a lightsaber, back in action. Sort of. He goes off-world — but who will cut his meat?! — and sets out to locate Leia. At one point he bumps into a homeless Clone Trooper in one of the more inspired bits of the first two episodes. Seriously, how cool was that?! Again, it’s weird to think of this Obi-Wan running alongside Clone Troopers, cracking jokes with Anakin, and risking life and limb to save the galaxy. Oh, how far he’s fallen.
After more inquiries, Ben happens upon a faux Jedi named Haha (Kumail Nanjiani), a character ripped straight out of Marvel. He’s got jokes! And, apparently, information. He sends Ben to a seedy space meth lab and the Jedi clumsily falls for a trap set up by a Darth Maul-looking goon. Except, I think Ben knew it was a trap because he easily walks away using drugs. Or maybe Ben didn’t know it was a trap because the poor guy incurs a lot of hits to the stomach during his investigation and even gets blasted by Leia at one point. That’s how Houdini died, people!
The meat of the episode has Ben and Leia running through the city, hiding in plain sight in open alleyways, and fending off John Wick-like assassins. Why is Star Wars copying other movies? Star Wars used to set the bar, so this is quite sad to seee.
At one point, Leia tries to leap from a building and Ben has to use the Force to save her life. This should have been thrilling, but it’s mostly just bad TV. Still, Obi-Wan is back, with the Force! (Chow and Co. know we’re all just waiting for Obi to use his lightsaber and are cruelly delaying the big moment by having the powerful Wizard karate chop opponents with his fists for the time being. Bastard.)
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Admittedly, I like the camaraderie between McGregor and Blair. He’s like a pissed-off father walking his daughter through a strip mall, and she’s a spoiled brat enjoying her first taste of life outside of her planet. The pairing works surprisingly well.
Anyways, Episode 2’s big moment arrives at the very end when Reva lets slip that Anakin Skywalker is alive and hunting his former master. McGregor’s reaction to the revelation is perfection — a mixture of shock, horror, and sadness all at once. We need more moments like this (and less half-assed action) for Obi-Wan Kenobi to truly succeed.
The final shot shows Anakin chillin’ in a tank, seemingly making a connection with his master. Pretty cool. And yes, I’m really curious to see how this series shakes out. I love this stuff … probably too much, which is why I’m always let down with new material. Please don’t ruin Vader, Disney.
Odds and Ends
- The bit where Obi-Wan tries to lie to the other Jedi was hilarious. His entire plan was to tell people that he’s a fellow named Ben. No disguises. No tricks. The other Jedi is like, “Uh, no. You’re Obi-Wan,” and Obi-Wan’s like, “No, I’m Ben.” “No, you’re Obi-Wan.” “Dammit. What gave me away?”
- So much for the Grand Inquisitor. Dude gets stabbed in the stomach by Reva immediately. That was really disappointing to see. Disney clearly loves going against expectations. Are you curious about the Grand Inquisitor after all of our marketing centered around his person? Well, surprise! Reva is the real bad guy. Um, OK.
- How did the kidnappers not search Leia’s pockets for her droid? Also, why does the droid look like Mickey Mouse?
- Ben was going to straight-up let Lars die … that doesn’t seem right.
- Who knew Ben bought that toy for Luke? Fan wanking at its finest.
- Ben seems to have cut himself off from the Force, but he keeps crying out for Qui-Gon … and he’s not communicating with Yoda, either. So, is he only partially disconnected, or completely oblivious to the fact that he needs the Force to speak with Force Ghosts? (Also, who else feels like Qui-Gon is gonna show up at some point? Liam Neeson essentially said TV is beneath him, but that could all be a ruse. Maybe.)
- Sung Kang’s Fifth Brother is awesome. His voice modulation and makeup … all of it works. Every Star Wars villain needs some sort of mask or voice distortion, which is why I think Reva comes across as bland. Next to the Grand Inquisitor and the other members of her group, she’s just a normal gal in a cape. Imagine if she were wearing a mask or changed in some way that made her part cyborg or whatever … such flourishes would go a long way in making the character more intimidating. As is, Ingram is left doing a lot of heavy lifting on her own, which seems a little unfair. Bad guys in Star Wars are always theatrical. Why is she so normal?
- Kumail Nanjiani is a great comedic actor, but he seems completely out of place in Star Wars. It’s like Bill Burr in The Mandalorian. It just doesn’t fit.
- I joke about the Blade Runner planet, but it actually looked great from a visual perspective. How refreshing was it to leave behind the desert landscape of Tatooine?
- My biggest worry about this show is that we won’t gain anything from it outside of a few nifty action scenes. I’m as excited as the next person to see Obi-Wan vs. Anakin again, but do we really need to see that showdown? Are we going to learn anything more about these characters that we didn’t already know?
- Also, how exciting can a series be that features characters who we know will later appear in future films? There’s a genuine lack of suspense in Obi-Wan Kenobi because we already know how this story plays out. This could be really interesting or a The Book of Boba Fett level disappointing. Honestly, I’m not expecting anything on the level of Empire Strikes Back, but at least give us Rogue One or Solo quality. Pretty please? At least don’t ruin Vader.