Reviews

Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-fi;
Not rated.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Vivien Lyra Blair, Moses Ingram, Rupert Friend, Sung Kang, Indira Varma, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Kumail Nanjiani, Grant Feely, Joel Edgerton, Bonnie Piesse, Jimmy Smits.

Shortly after Disney bought the rights to “Star Wars” and announced a series of spinoff films, the character fans most wanted to see return was Obi-Wan Kenobi as played by Ewan McGregor, to see what the Jedi master was up to in the decades between the prequels and the original trilogy.

So, naturally, Disney didn’t do that, instead making Rogue One, about the Rebels stealing the Death Star plans, and a movie about a young Han Solo that no one seemed interested in.

When Solo underperformed at the box office, Disney put all the spinoff movies on hold, including a rumored Kenobi trilogy, according to writer Stuart Beattie.

Had Disney started with the Kenobi movie in the first place, it might have established a solid foundation for the studio to make whatever spinoffs it wanted. Then again, given the lackluster writing of the sequel trilogy, maybe its delay was for the best.

Instead, “Star Wars” spinoffs were repurposed into fodder for the Disney+ streaming service following the massive success of “The Mandalorian.”

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Presented in six parts, the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series tells the story of Obi-Wan 10 years following his exile in Revenge of the Sith. Living in squalor on Tatooine under the name Ben, he has abandoned the Force and seems resigned to his fate under the reign of the Empire, carrying out perfunctory duties to keep an eye on young Luke Skywalker. While he pays lip service to the idea of one day training Luke to become a Jedi to oppose the Emperor, he seems to have no real plan to accomplish it, with his biggest obstacle being Luke’s uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton).

As the last remnants of the Jedi are hunted by Imperial Inquisitors, Obi-Wan remains in hiding, refusing to help. Yet he is guilted into action by his old friend Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) when Luke’s sister Leia is kidnapped from Alderaan. Leaving Tatooine to rescue the other twin who is key to future plans to defeat the Empire, Obi-Wan soon learns not only that her abduction was part of an Inquisitor’s plan to draw him out, but that his former student, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), survived their duel and is terrorizing the galaxy as Darth Vader.

To reclaim his purpose, Obi-Wan is forced to once again confront Vader.

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The “Obi-Wan” series plays a bit like “Star Wars” books did in the 1990s and early 2000s, filling in gaps in the storytelling of the movies. The show not only bridges the span between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, but also seeks to explain some other inconsistencies between the original trilogy and the prequels (while possibly creating a few more along the way, but that’s easy enough to overlook). It is mostly successful in that regard, though the writing and direction isn’t as polished as it might have been had the project stayed a theatrical feature. When binged, the series runs about three hours and 45 minutes, not counting recaps and credits, feeling like a lengthy movie, but more like a fan film than a true epic.

Another letdown is the music. While John Williams returned to provide a marvelous theme for Ben that does most of the heavy lifting, the rest of the score by other composers feels more like generic action music, when there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate other existing themes from the “Star Wars” canon that aren’t really exploited until the final episode.

McGregor shines as Kenobi, delivering the emotion and pathos of a man dealing with the guilt of failing to stop the rise of the Emperor. It’s also great to see Christensen back as Anakin, and the scenes with Darth Vader are some of the best to feature the character in the entire “Star Wars” saga. The standout is Vivien Lyra Blair as li’l Leia, who demonstrates the sass and smarts of her future self but with a childlike curiosity about the universe. Pairing Leia with Ben proves to be an inspired choice, if for no other story reason than it explains why she would name her son after him despite having limited contact in the original films.

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