3 out of 5
Directed by: Deborah Chow
covers season 1
Spoiler: this show is essentially pointless. Prequels are, perhaps, always a bit of a gamble, but if you set your material far enough removed from its sequels, it’s less risky. The “first” Star Wars trilogy, while questionable in terms of being good movies, did have a good amount of scenarios to explore, showing how some key elements of the classic trilogy came to be, and filling in backmatter that had had some decades of time to be thought upon and defined. But with that done, further prequels become even more tricky, especially if you’re remaining bound to Known Quantities – Han, Luke, Leia, etc. That hasn’t stopped many from mining for side stories, but we still get material that touches on core mythology in a way that makes the whole thing… rather pointless.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has something very important going for it: Ewan McGregor, back as its title character. That’s quite a “get,” in my mind, and lends a nice sense of consistency to things, while also maybe giving us the thrill of seeing some good casting applied to hopefully better direction / scripting than he was originally provided. And Ewan remains one of the main reasons to watch this show.
But there’s potential besides: exploring how Kenobi may have managed the emotional fallout of failing his padawan after the events of the third film; what this famous jedi puts himself through after the Jedi-banishing Order 66. That’s… actually a really smart take; a legit legacy to explore between two known states of character, in Episode III and Episode IV, and suggestive of that more rich emotional territory.
Except, y’know, this is Disney+, and modern Star Wars, so we gotta be all about that not-challenging, readily accessible, fandom stuff, and thus let’s toss a 10 year old Leia into the mix (Vivien Lyra Blair), and make the show about her getting kidnapped and Obi-Wan being called out of retirement to save her.
Okay, this still doesn’t have to be a bad thing: it’s a fun side story setup, very focused, and gives us an “excuse” to not deal with any canon-breaking aspects, while still potentially going through dark-night-of-the-soul steps for Obi-Wan. Sure, we know Leia survives, but as long as they use this as a vehicle for character exploration instead of further fandom…
…Which they don’t. Obi-Wan Kenobi, over a short, 6-episode season, uses about 2/3rds of that runtime on pointless, this-can’t-have-any-real-story-impact clashes. They posit a villain for the series – Moses Ingram, playing Inquisitor Reva, who’s got a chip on her shoulder for Kenobi – but, sadly, Ingram seems a little miscast as a glowering baddie, not giving it much weight, and the show foes her further disservice by sitting her behind said fandom: it is clear that she cannot be a threat. Still… we can have McGregor giving us the goods as a struggling Kenobi… until the show doubles down on all of this with a final episode that is 100% table-cleared of any stakes. I’ll further knock things by saying that the fight scenes feel a bit slow – very Last Jedi Kylo / Rey / Snokes fight, with everyone kind of a step behind, trying to hit their marks – and little Vivien is a bit immersion breaking, occasionally nailing a precocious kid version of Leia, occasionally seeming like she’s practicing her scene in her head when the director yelled ‘action’. (The ability is clearly there, but perhaps there wasn’t enough time to always find the takes to bring it out.)
But you’ll note I still rated this a good ol’, average 3-stars, despite a consistent battering above. Because there’s a flipside to this: that the show may benefit from all of this pointlessness by achieving a sense of confidence that the questionable Book of Fett had to fake. Despite its flaws, it feels certain of itself, and that very much gives it watchability. Add in McGregor; and when Vivien is engaged, her scenes are actually very fun to watch; and the fantastic Indira Varma shows up for a bit to enliven things; and Sung Kang’s hilariously grim Inquisitor is great fun during his flashes on screen; and then there’s a silent robot that’s one of the best SW robot additions in quite a while; and y’know what, that final episode does actually thematic closure, and… sure: I wasn’t spending a minute of this questioning why I was watching it, while equally acknowledging that it was pointless.
Not a bad deal.