Obi-Wan Kenobi Review: The Ewan McGregor series can’t help but be good

Set between the trilogies, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” has enough encouraging moves in the first two hours to get you through it, especially when such a star takes the lead.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Episode 1 and Episode 2, “Part 1” and “Part II.”]

If telepathy via The Force exists among “Star Wars” devotees, then around 1 a.m. ET on Friday they probably shared the same simultaneous thought: “It’s a trap!” (Or maybe they just sent around the popular .gif.) Am At the end of the Obi-Wan Kenobi premiere, the eponymous Jedi is ambushed himself – an ambush that will be apparent to all viewers long before the episode confirms it. After a decade in hiding, Ben Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) makes the difficult and dangerous decision to leave Tatooine. Luke Skywalker, whom he has sworn to protect, is safe. Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), on the other hand, has been kidnapped. What’s a loyal old Jedi supposed to do?

Very simple: He will help. As outlined in the simple but efficient “Part 1,” Jedis have an obligation to do what is right. Rupert Friend’s Grand Inquisitor illustrates this in his opening monologue. “Jedi can’t help what they are,” he tells a terrified bartender. “Your compassion leaves a mark.” Even if it means risking their lives, Jedis, for example, will stop a thrown dagger mid-air before it hits its innocent target. They’ll spend their days carving up chunks of meat while Jawas steal their shit only to sell it back to them without a quick polish, all to keep one gifted kid in mind. And yes, they will fall into a trap if that’s the only way to ensure another promising child escapes unharmed.

Such straight forward heroism is true in the first two hours of Obi-Wan Kenobi. While director Deborah Chow (“The Mandalorian,” “Better Call Saul,” “Mr. Robot”) eschews some of the hallmarks seen in recent Disney+ series – subpar spectacle, padded storyline, predetermined emotional beats – but builds a sleek, streamlined aesthetic that balances the prequel trilogy’s colorful palette and the original set’s more austere settings. Considering that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” serves as a de facto bridge between the two — explaining how Ben spent his time after defeating Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) but before his son Luke became his That’s right – the look fits as well as he does. Our protagonist’s central dilemma: Can trying to save one life endanger another? Can good be manipulated into evil? Is the risk always worth it or should exceptions be made?

(L-R): Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) and Reva (Moses Ingram) in Lucasfilm's OBI-WAN KENOBI, exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All rights reserved.

Joel Edgerton and Moses Ingram in Obi-Wan Kenobi

lucasfilm ltd

Such dilemmas are familiar from Star Wars, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling. Taking McGregor’s friendly wing, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” uses nostalgia like a weighted blanket: it surrounds you with characters you already love, warms you with an uncomplicated quest, and invites you to lie still without discomfort to make do with the little time Guess they went with Obi-Wan – the Jedi who are so good they built a prequel trilogy just to spend more time with him and now a miniseries as well.

“Part 1” of the six-episode series works well as a reintroduction to the main “Star Wars” timeline and introduction to that story. There’s Joel Edgerton again, reprising his role as Owen Lars, Luke’s uncle and aptly grumpy moisture builder on the desert planet of Tatooine. He is soon threatened by Reva, aka Third Sister (Moses Ingram), an Inquisitor with peculiar movements and a particular impatience to kill Jedi, especially Obi-Wan. Her aperitif turns out to be Nari, a hidden Jedi played by none other than Benny Safdie (with Licorice Pizza fame in front of the camera, Uncut Gems fame behind, and Good Time fame for both).

The friend’s villain – who would forever be nicknamed White Snake because of his pale, reptilian skin and the soft hiss of his accent – is sadly no longer on this world when his ambitious second-in-command, Reva, kills him rather than share in the glory of Obi-Wan’s capture. Worse, both episodes of Obi-Wan lack the sparkle seen in most Star Wars films (and even The Mandalorian). The death of the Grand Inquisitor is one of the few scenes that seem lazy. Instead of going for the quick kill, why not let the two lightsaber-wielding villains fight to the death? Red-hot swords clashing together is always cool, and Reva needs more work before she’s seen as a serious threat. (As much as I love Kumail Nanjiani, it makes little sense that a student of Darth Vader would let his fake Jedi live after helping Obi-Wan escape.)

It’s not for nothing that a final fight may have helped erase memories of the worst running ever captured on screen. Little Leia’s chase is poorly executed: Flea’s bounty hunter actually stops when she first takes off, his green assistant can be seen rocking from foot to foot as if playing hopscotch, and twigs were at thigh height not so much of a hindrance for full grown adults since last time I went camping and couldn’t make a fire. Pick up Reva’s less-than-fast pursuit of Obi-Wan’s departing ship, and you better think Tom Cruise would be ashamed of those people.

(LR): Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) and a stormtrooper in a scene from Lucasfilm's OBI-WAN KENOBI, exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All rights reserved.

Rupert Friend in Obi Wan Kenobi

Matt Kennedy / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Thankfully, even the high-flying Maverick would have a hard time resisting McGregor’s easygoing charm. Quiet but caring, cautious yet able to kick ass, McGregor’s Obi-Wan always felt one with the character the great Alec Guinness first brought to beautiful life. His apparent investment in Ben Kenobi strengthens each of his scenes, prompting the audience to look deeper. Some may appreciate Obi-Wan as much as the actor. Others may go further and actually apply his plight to our own world.

Obi-Wan Kenobi begins with stormtroopers attacking a group of Jedis and their students. Your teacher is killed. The children run for their lives. Seeing this as a school shooting, especially this week, isn’t far-fetched, and those who make the connection may be doubly investing in Ben’s journey. He is a teacher and a guardian. He’s failed with Anakin before, and their inevitable second duel will surely speak to how he solves that lesson before dealing with Luke – before advancing on as a helpless servant of good.

“Star Wars” has always been a grand story, broad enough to encompass multiple readings, just as its setting in a galaxy far, far away was separate enough to be included purely as entertainment. Obi-Wan Kenobi will not provide answers to our pressing real problems. But it can offer comfort, with an added dose of hope. Perhaps we’re falling into a trap given past Disney+ tent poles. But now McGregor’s seriousness is reason enough to linger a little longer here, somewhere between the past and the future.

Grade B

Obi-Wan Kenobi premiered two episodes on Disney+ on Friday, May 27th. New episodes are released weekly. The final is scheduled for Friday, April 22nd.

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Lindsay Lowe

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